Scottish Soothsaying 

Prophecy is a staple trope of mythology, and if Nationalism is anything, it’s an emotional appeal to mythology, often of an idealised past. The mythology of Scottish Nationalism has included a prophecy of the inevitability of victory, the surety in the collapse of the union, a glorious day coming where real or imagined wrongs will be righted, and a nation will rise again.


In Greek mythology, Cassandra was the daughter of Troy, cursed by the Gods with the gift of having perfectly accurate prophecy, but never to be believed. Scotland’s curse is different. We have an anti-Cassandra in our Nicoladamus: She makes regular inaccurate prophecies, but we’re cursed that a significant minority of Scots believe her.

A Proud Tradition of Problematic Predictions

To namedrop another character from Homer, we can look to her Mentor.

In the 1990s, on the eve of devolution, Alex Salmond famously said he

“wouldn’t trust Labour to deliver a pizza, never mind a parliament”.

Not that long before the Eurozone crisis, he suggested Scotland should adopt the Euro because the pound was

“A millstone around Scotland’s neck.”.

Together, in 2014 they predicted that an independent Scotland could stay in the EU; right before the European Commission wrote to the Scottish Parliament to rule it out.

They predicted that the rUK would concede to a formal currency union even though the bank of England and all UK parties had ruled it out.

They predicted that Scotland would have a

“second oil boom”

right before the price of oil crashed so far it cost more to extract from under the North Sea than it was worth.

And, of course, they predicted that Scotland would vote for independence …right before they lost by 10 points.

Her Cloudy Crystal Ball

Nicola has predicted variously that Brexit, Boris, and Tory Budgets would shift the dial to a majority for independence. They did not.

She’s used paralipsis to predict “Tories could be in power now at Westminster until 2030 or beyond”

She’s predicted, against probabilities, polls and precedence, that Scotland would vote by a considerable majority for independence: She predicted it would happen in a referendum “between the autumn of next year, 2018, and the spring of 2019,” then in 2020, most recently in 2023, in a referendum she, in all likelihood, knew wasn’t happening.

Now presumably, she will predict the elusive majority will appear in a galvanised defacto vote in the general election by 2024 / 2025.

By the pricking of my thumbs…

Political predictions are a mug’s game, perhaps most helpful in showing how wrong people can be. But, coming off the back of my analysis on self-determination, which I think is fully vindicated by the Supreme court ruling, and my article on the separation of the judiciary from the executive, which has backed up, I’m feeling confident enough to outline what I think will happen next.

De Facto Denial

We know that Nicola intends to treat the next UK general election as a ‘de facto referendum.

However, as there is no such thing, we might not know precisely what that means; indeed, there was confusion when it was announced (majority of votes or MPs), and she has now called a special SNP conference to decide. I’ve previously outlined what I think is her preferred exit strategy, but to expand on how I see it playing out.

In 2024 Nicola will lead the SNP in a general election campaign that will nominally be fought on the single issue of independence, claiming that if independence parties get over 50% of the vote, then it will be a mandate for an independence referendum.

SNP strategist Toni Giugliano has indicated that this will be the plan. One important thing to note is that Nicola Sturgeon is putting little personally at risk in a Westminster election: she can’t get personally humiliated with a vote because she won’t be standing for a seat. It doesn’t risk her position as First Minister or an MSP.

Alba and Green come into play.

There are risks to the strategy for SNP MPs. If the vote is not meant to be about voting in an MP ( as it has been in the past to be ‘Stronger for Scotland’) then it is purely a symbolic protest vote. If Sturgeon has co-opted Alba and Green votes to count towards her nominal 50%, then there is less risk for independence supporters unhappy with the SNP to give their vote to the Greens or Alba. Theoretically, a vote for them is just as good, right?

Well, Looking at some of the polls, they are showing Labour winning seats from SNP even where SNP, Green and Alba votes might add up to over 50%.

After the de facto dust settles

Nicola is hoping to hit the cross-bar – to come in between 46% and 49% of the vote. She will not have to deliver independence or even a referendum. She will, however, have probably maintained or increased the number of SNP MPs from 44, perhaps even back to their 2015 peak.

Labour Government Honeymoon Period

Meanwhile, even if adding Green and Alba votes did bump on 50%, a Labour government will be comfortable in knocking back further demands for a referendum.

After all, the SNP have repeatedly said that independence is required to get rid of the Tories: which will be another prediction disproved.

Labour can confidently say that they recognise that people in Scotland want change, but that this is clearly in line with what the whole UK wants. And that they will be enacting constitutional change across the whole UK, addressing many of the reasons that people want independence.

This will fall flat on the ears of Scottish Resistance types, Alba Sovereign Scots, and our class of career politicians who have no marketable skills beyond wearing a yellow ribbon: but it may well appeal to weary voters: and who knows what this narrative will have done through the campaign itself.

This honeymoon period of post-tory bounce will still be playing out at the next Holyrood elections, possibly changing the dynamic.

Post-Political Career Planning

The period between the 2024 General Election and the 2026 Scottish Election will be the optimum time for Nicola to step down as First Minister and leader of the SNP.

She can claim to have progressed the movement, to have been thwarted by the Westminster franchise not including 16-year-olds, and be passing the torch.

Incredibly, it will have been two decades since the last SNP leadership election, as Alex Salmond passed the baton to Sturgeon uncontested.

Perhaps there won’t be one now, and Sturgeon will pass on the torch by coronating Angus or Kate. Or while Nicola is moving to some international NGO role- perhaps in an environmental charity, supplemented by the after-dinner speaking circuit, Joanna Cherry could be moving north to try and reassert herself in the senior SNP north of the border.

The SNP Holyrood narrative will be that there is still clearly continued support for independence – but that the unicorn is chained by the Westminster franchise – that they would have won over 50% of the vote if it had been the Holyrood Franchise of 16-year-olds and non-citizens.

They might also make the case if votes to Greens and Alba have allowed Labour MPs to win seats, that splitting the vote has allowed unionists to sneak in, and it must be SNP votes 1 & 2 in Holyrood 2026.

While Alex Salmond is now regarded mainly as a disgrace and something of a figure of fun – he will be speaking to the frustrated, either telling them that Nicola set the bar too high at 50% – or that if he had been in charge and had a majority of Scottish MPs, he would be negotiating independence right now.

If Alba is still a thing, Alex Salmond will make the case again for taking a proportional voting system and gaming it to make it unrepresentative as a path to a super-majority.

What’s Missing?

What’s missing from this vision are the things that matter to Scottish people now. If we let the prediction above play out, it means constitutional wrangling and obsession using up the precious political oxygen we have.

Another Holyrood election dominated by a constitution that is ultra vires to Holyrood. The nationalist MPs will be voted into Westminster with a mandate to do nothing. They might even go absentee, though I’m sure they won’t turn down their salaries and expenses.

The Holyrood election will be, once again, about using the promise of a mandate to try and protect SNP hegemony.

Who knows if it will work again – but we know that when the SNP are fighting the next Scottish Election, they want it to be, once again, about the constitution, and only the constitution.

They don’t want it to be about their record in office. They don’t want it to be about the attainment gap in education. They don’t want it to be about their disastrous mismanagement of transport. They certainly don’t want it to be about the Scottish National Health Service.

They want to reduce every issue to a constitutional nail because all they have is a hammer.

As Angus MacNeil makes clear they plan to ignore every other issue at every election going forward.

What’s to be done?

I believe there will be a Labour-led UK government in 2025.

Personally, I’d like it to be a Labour-Liberal coalition leading to a program of radical constitutional and electoral reform: the LibDems driving proportional representation and Labour reforming a second chamber.

I think that UK-wide reform can address many of the genuine concerns that have, until now, attracted some people to support independence.

I hope that people giving the next UK government a chance will open up Holyrood in 2026 to move beyond constitutional stalemate and allow people to have a government that spends our considerable devolved budget on delivering devolved services.

Rehabilitating Civic Scotland from its Nationalism habit

However, the damage of the past 19 years won’t be undone quickly. The SNP has sought to engrain Nationalism in every quango, cultural position and aspect of the civil service: could they, would they, operate under a non-nationalist government?

Pivoting Holyrood ministerial priorities to deliver policies now, especially if being done in cooperation with Westminster, could bring almost instant improvements and benefits- but still, the entire government machine will need to be reshaped, rehabilitated and reformed.

Self-fulfilling prophecy and Hubris

It was prophesied to Oedipus that he would kill his father and marry his mother – and not knowing he was adopted, he fled the country to avoid this fate – and in the process he then killed his father and married his mother only because it had been predicted.

When Croesus went to the Oracle at Delphi to check the portends for war, he was told that if he fought the Persians, “a great empire would fall” – and his own great empire did.

Loyal Macbeth and his companion Banquo were destroyed from acting on their prophecies that Macbeth would be King and Banquo wouldn’t, but his children would be.

Nicola has been predicting for years that there would be a disaster if Scotland didn’t achieve independence imminently… Perhaps that disaster is just to her own legacy and ambitions, and she has brought it on herself with her obsession.

Many SNP voters believed in the inevitability of their victory. Believed that Nicola had a plan. Believed that holding their nose and voting SNP, despite any misgivings on incompetence and cronyism, would somehow lead to a better Scotland.

Until it was actually launched some possibly even believed Nicola’s assurances there would be a detailed economic plan.

Beliefs like that can become central to someone’s sense of identity, and they don’t go away overnight. Our plasticity is considerable. Every doomsday cult that is still there the morning after a predicted rapture still has its adherents who adjust and still believe.

Macbeth was convinced to enact his own downfall because the first prophecy, that he would be the Thane of Cawdor, came true. But a growing number of voters have been failed by the Oracle too many times.

Focussing on the future

Recent focus group studies from the Scottish Fabians look at 2019 and 2021 SNP voters who are now undecided. There is a clear pattern that while they may still believe in independence in principle, they are starting to believe again in having practical and policy-based government in practice today rather than a promise of independence always tomorrow.

The safest prediction in Scotland

If there is a safe prediction, it’s that for the SNP institutionally, every practical policy Scots care about will always come second to their constitutional obsession.

For their career politicians, power, pounds and pensions will take priority over people.

But for many at an SNP voter level, perhaps, probabilities and practicalities will finally have more influence than prophecy.


Published by Bingo Demagogue

Twitter - @BingoDemagogue

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