THE word unprecedented should really be banned from all utterances for the rest of 2020. But where the SNP is now as a party really is without much precedent. A party in its third term of government, riding high in the polls with a leader whose approval ratings eclipse the other UK party leaders never mind the Scottish ones who, frankly, don’t even rank.

However, the SNP cannot afford to be complacent. The question for us now is what to do with this dominance – especially in the lead up to the 2021 Scottish elections, less than 12 months away?

 Unlike other political parties in the UK the SNP exists not just to win elections and form governments but to achieve major structural change. The structures we seek to change are socio-economic as well as constitutional. We want to win independence for Scotland, not just as an end in itself but to make sure that the vital decisions about how we run our economy and our society are taken closer to home so that we can do things differently and better.

As a result of the coronavirus, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has had to put campaigning for an independence referendum on hold. The policy papers and the Constitutional Convention promised on January 31 have inevitably been delayed. Unquestionably the public health crisis must be the focus of the Scottish Government, but the SNP as a party must continue to develop policy and I am happy that the national secretary of the party has responded favourably to my suggestion that the policy formulation that would have happened at the cancelled National Assemblies and conference is instead facilitated using digital platforms.

Last week an Ipsos MORI poll suggested that (excluding don’t knows) 55% of Scots want an independence referendum within five years. This compares to 47% in a YouGov/Times poll conducted around this time last year.   

So it seems that the desire for a second independence referendum is increasing despite the current crisis. It may increase further. It is noteworthy that the Ipsos MORI polling took place before the Cummings fiasco made a mockery of the British Government. One can only imagine that the reprehensible way in which the whole affair has been handled will increase the desire for Scotland to go its own way.

The challenge for the SNP is how we approach reframing the case for independence in the wake of the current crisis and in a world where everything has changed. How do we “build back better” with a plan for the future of our economy and our society that will take us through the Holyrood elections and towards independence?

Within the party there is a widespread recognition that the economics of the Sustainable Growth Commission report require to be revisited. That this is so is a view shared by both its enthusiastic proponents and those of us who had our reservations from the start.

The setting up of the Social Justice and Fairness Commission was announced at the 2019 spring conference in order to address the concerns of many party activists about the conclusions of the Growth Commission. The First Minister said that the new commission would show how the proceeds of economic growth could be shared more fairly and how to end poverty and deliver full employment. 

The new commission recently announced it is looking at the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI). This is an idea which has long been advocated within the party by activists such as Ronnie Cowan and is now attracting mainstream attention from think tanks like Reform Scotland. My own discussions with the business community suggest an appetite to explore this option. However, a UBI cannot be looked at divorced from the overall economy. It means looking at the taxation system as well as welfare provision. 

The questions being addressed by the Social Justice and Fairness Commission will therefore require to be looked at on a wider canvas.

Those of us advocating for a more radical approach would like to see the Common Weal think tank’s blueprint for building a more resilient economy, the first part of which was published on Tuesday, play a large part in the deliberations needed to produce a strong new economic case for independence.

THE Common Weal’s plans incorporate imaginative ideas about stimulating domestic industries and looking at creative ways of using our raw materials like timber and our abundant energy resources to drive up domestic production and consumption. Realising local government reform, advancing land reform further and faster and implementing rent control as a deliverable policy are among other proposals that are close to the heart of many SNP activists.

The Common Weal’s plans for the economy look to the long term but also incorporate steps that can be taken now using devolved powers. This is the approach I believe is needed to frame the manifesto for the 2021 Holyrood elections.

One area of agreement between the architects of the Growth Commission and the Common Weal is that Scotland should be given more borrowing powers to pay for resilience measures under devolution. Andrew Wilson’s recent proposals in this respect were favourably received across the board and are supported by our impressive and dynamic new Finance Secretary Kate Forbes.

The sort of discussions that the SNP should now have are taking place across the UK, Europe and the world. The need to rebuild our economy and society in the wake of the pandemic provides a moment for us to rethink our priorities. If we don’t take radical steps now, there will be no change and we will go back to where we were, and that was not a sustainable place.

The good news is that there seems to be widespread acceptance that this is a moment for huge social and economic change. With that acceptance independence becomes a less daunting prospect for many voters, but the SNP still need clear answers to the questions voters have about our economic future.

To say that the SNP should now revisit its economic plan for independence is therefore in keeping with the times we are in. My call for a radical rethink is not a challenge for the leadership, nor is it a challenge to the leadership. This new situation is a challenge for all of us and a challenge for our party as a whole.

A longer version of this article first appeared on