It is quite extraordinary the level of whining I see from Unionists about both the SNP and Scottish Greens 2016 manifestos with regard to a second independence referendum.
It seems that many are suffering from a collective (or more likely a selective) blindness.
I have seen Unionists swear blind (too late, methinks), that the SNP Manifesto stated that the SNP would only seek a second independence referendum if there was clear evidence that the majority of Scots wanted it.
The important word there is only. The manifesto did state the above about a majority of Scots, but there was no only. Quite the contrary to only, there was an or followed by a further provision that Unionists regularly seem to fail to spot or mention.
I have also seen Unionists describe the wording as “buried”, “smallprint” and “in the margin”.
Here are two screenshots of how this manifesto pledge appears in the main manifesto document. Both have the full wording, plus some additional highlighting that I have added for emphasis, to indicate that if you saw the first part of the text, then you have no reason to miss the rest of it.
In case you are in any doubt about the above, I will make it absolutely clear: this text appears twice in the SNP’s 2016 downloadable manifesto.
It is abundantly clear that the “material change” has occurred. The specific circumstances, given above as an example, have occurred.
The Scottish Green Party has supported the SNP over a second referendum as it is also their policy to seek independence through such. The Greens however have also had to endure Unionist grievances along the same lines – that they have not acted in accordance with their own manifesto on independence.
Again, Unionists are guilty of collective or selective blindness. They quote a section of the Greens manifesto that states a (NB) preference for a second referendum to come about by way of a citizens petition.
Unionists ignore the Greens’ commitment to campaign for independence should a second referendum come about, but most of all they ignore the word preferred when talking about how it comes about.
Unionists often then go one stop further and replace or add only or must or shall, which changes the meaning of what was written significantly. Instead of this being a preferred way for a referendum to come about – thereby leaving the door open for a referendum to come about by other means – Unionists have re-written the manifesto in their heads so that it says The Greens were only supposed to support a call for a referendum if there was a petition.
The following are two screenshots with what it actually said in the Greens’ manifesto, with regard to an independence referendum. From page 36 (page 19 of the PDF).
It is quite clear that a) The Scottish Greens would support Scottish Independence and, b) they would prefer it to come about as described, which means that they are open to a referendum coming about by other means.
The SNP is the largest party in the Scottish Parliament. It has formed a minority Scottish Government. Their manifesto commitment describes conditions for calling a referendum, conditions they did not control but have still come about. The SNP is therefore following through on its manifesto commitment.
The Scottish Greens, whether you like it or not, are perfectly entitled to consider supporting this call. The fact that the SNP has 63 seats and the Greens 6 is also a factor in the decision to support the SNP, as the vote share indicates Scots prefer the SNP manifesto to the Scottish Greens’ manifesto, and parties have a duty to respect that, even if they rail against it. Despite what certain journalists have said (see below), the Greens’ manifesto does not in any way exclude them from supporting the SNP’s referendum call.
The Scottish Parliament has voted on the matter and called for a second referendum. That is the nature of democracy in the UK – and Scotland.
A lot of Unionists do have some excuse for their ignorance, but it is a poor one. They have not read (or checked) what it actually says in the manifestos (which to be fair, a lot of people don’t do, despite The Internet making these documents much more accessible than before) and are therefore relying on the likes of journalists to accurately report what manifestos say.
Have a look at the BBC’s reporting of the Scottish Greens’ manifesto back in 2016, as an example (there are links there for the BBC’s reports on other party manifestos).
The BBC reporting here is straight. They refer to the Greens campaigning for Independence but do not regard their preference for how it happens as important to their summary; hence no mention of it.
Step forward then Fraser Nelson, Conservative supporting journalist and editor of The Spectator magazine, who wrote, shortly prior to the Scottish Parliament’s vote on a second referendum, “How can the Scottish Greens reconcile their manifesto promises with backing Sturgeon?”
Despite quoting most of the text I have screen-shotted above, which includes that word preferred, Nelson wilfully ignores it and then inserts the word only into his text to describe what the manifesto means.
So here, in black and white, is the Green’s pledge to the voters who returned its MSPs to Holyrood: they would only approve a second referendum if it was manifestly the “will of the people” which (then) they rightly distinguish from “party political advantage” of the SNP.
The manifesto clearly does not say or mean that. This is clearly The Greens’ preferred option for how a referendum should come about.
What Nelson also does is take advantage of the woolly phrase, “party political advantage”. This phrase is not defined so Fraser refers to it, but also without defining it. He merely attributes it to the SNP and, through the tone and text of the article as a whole, leads the reader to make negative assumptions and that the phrase applies to the current circumstances.
So what does “party political advantage” mean?
In the context that it was written, I believe it is intended to mean that The Greens would not support e.g. The SNP calling for a referendum purely on the basis that they form the Scottish Government and without any other reason, or on a pretext.
Bear in mind that this manifesto was written for, and therefore before, the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary elections, at a time when the SNP formed a majority Government and could, in theory, have called for a vote on a referendum and won it with their majority.
The Scottish Greens were effectively telling the SNP, and everone else, that they would not support a referendum call without good reason. It is clear that they agree that, as the SNP manifesto conditions for calling one have been met, they consider that satisfactory.
Had the Scottish Greens been more specific, or had given an example, such as mine above, to define the phrase “party political advantage”, then this wording would not be so open to the misinterpretation that Fraser Nelson has manipulated others into performing.
But bear in mind also that this manipulation also involves Nelson’s wilful substitution of the word preferred with the word only, which is not a ploy that anyone is likely to have anticipated and therefore guarded against.
Perhaps upon reflection, Unionists should be inclined to be more careful about their sources of information, and make more of an effort to read the source material – which you can download from the SNP and Scottish Greens web sites.