Ivan McKee, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise, spells out why he believes there is no choice but to fight and win a de facto referendum ... and how we can achieve that.

The National:

THE independence movement is at a crossroads. The UK Supreme Court decision of last year has moved us into new territory. That decision clarified the law, but raises more questions about the nature of this United Kingdom. Is it a partnership, where one party has a legal mechanism to decide to leave, or not? And if not, how is the voice of the people on this matter to be heard?

This is now about politics, and how we build up political pressure on the UK Government. There are those that say there is no route forward, but history shows the opposite. In a democracy – and the UK, for all its faults, is still a democracy – the will of the people can only be disregarded for so long. Our job is to continue to increase that political pressure, finding new ways to do so, until it becomes unsustainable.

We are limited only by our imagination, and our determination.

READ MORE: MP proposes change to SNP's 'de facto referendum' motion ahead of key conference

Much has changed since 2014, not least the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. And the people of Scotland have made it clear – through repeated mandates at elections – that they want to have their say on Scotland’s constitutional future.

In her statement of June last year, the First Minister made it clear. In the event of a Supreme Court ruling that Scotland’s Parliament has no legal right to hold a referendum, then we will turn the next Westminster election into a de facto referendum. That is our route forward. Moreover, that genie is now out of the bottle and can’t be put back in. Our opponents will treat any failure to deliver that majority support as an indication that the people of Scotland are not seeking to change the status quo, whatever we say between now and then. Put simply, we have no option but to win next year’s defacto referendum.

How we position ourselves for that vote will be of critical importance, not only to deliver the result we seek, but for what follows.

To maximise the pro-independence vote, and to maximise the pressure on the UK Government following that vote, it is necessary for Yes to be explicitly on the ballot paper.

There are a number of good reasons for that.

Firstly, it makes it crystal clear what the election is about. Those putting their X against the candidate of their choice will be under no illusions what they are voting for, or against. It removes any room for any arguments about people voting Yes for reasons other than their support for independence. It also creates a clear choice for those who are in favour of independence but would normally support another party in a UK, or Scottish, election.

Secondly, it creates the greatest opportunity to energise the independence campaign and maximise the pro-independence Vote. The total number of votes cast in the 2019 General Election in Scotland was 2.75 million – in the 2021 Scottish Holyrood election, that number was 2.7 million. By contrast, the votes cast in the 2014 referendum numbered in excess of 3.6 million. The best part of a million people voted in 2014 who normally don’t vote for any party in UK or Scottish elections. Giving those people a reason to turn out and vote Yes in 2024 should be our focus. Of course, both campaigns in 2014 mobilised those “hard to reach” voters, and this is the basis for the third advantage of putting Yes on the ballot.

A 2024 Yes campaign, with momentum, and mobilising those “missing” voters on the Yes side, presents our opponents with a choice. They can continue to argue that the election is a typical party-based contest, and so limit their reach, or work to mobilise No voters by making it clear that a vote for a pro-Union party is the only way to prevent a Yes majority. Taking the latter course moves the debate on to our territory, and forces a recognition by all parties of the fact that the issue at stake is the future of Scotland, not who forms the next UK Government.

The National: File photo dated 16/09/14 of supporters at a Yes Rally in George Square ahead of voting in the Scottish independence referendum. A majority of people in Scotland would vote for independence if there was a no-deal Brexit, polling has suggested. PRESS

Putting Yes on the ballot also strengthens our position following the election. A large cohort of MPs at Westminster – elected under a Yes banner – presents a problem for the next UK Government. From the speaker calling “the leader of the Yes Party” to question the Prime Minister every Wednesday, to how they are described in Hansard. Every day, the palace of Westminster will be reminded of the choice made by the people of Scotland. Yes MPs appearing on UK TV and radio channels will be similarly described. Forcing your opponents to use your language is a victory in itself. It shifts the narrative and never allows those who would stand in Scotland’s way to forget the clear choice the people have made.

The campaign itself should focus on the issues at stake. On energy costs and the need for cheaper, more secure supplies of renewables; on the cost of living crisis and how we support the most vulnerable through the use of social security powers; on businesses and why cutting ourselves off from European markets limits their growth potential; on public services and how workforce shortages are limited by misguided immigration policies; on investment in infrastructure and in future generations stymied by a lack of borrowing powers; and on democracy, and how the people of Scotland need to be able to elect a government of their choice.

In other words, the same issues that the other parties will be talking about, but with our alternative being one that sees the shift of those powers to the Scottish people, allowing us to deliver our full potential as a normal independent country. The constitutional debate isn’t a dry dialogue, separate from the issues that affect people’s daily lives – it is at the core of the solution to those problems.

The mechanism to get Yes on the ballot can be delivered in a number of ways – from a new party, with Yes in its title, through to existing pro-independence parties choosing to use a Yes logo on the ballot paper. There are, of course, legal and financial issues to be worked through, but none are insurmountable in the time we have available.

READ MORE: SNP president condemns 'media feeding frenzy' targeted at Nicola Sturgeon

There are those who say that upping the ante, making it clear that next year’s election is a de facto referendum, is too risky a strategy. But the reality is that we have no other choice. No UK Government is going to agree to a referendum under current circumstances. Apart from anything else, no UK prime minister will want to follow David Cameron through the exit door as a referendum loser. So what we have to do is change the circumstances, by playing by our rules, and use every opportunity to increase the political pressure on the next UK Government. A clear majority vote for Yes is the best way to do that.

Is this route guaranteed to succeed? No, of course not. But faced with the alternative of doing nothing, it is the only route open to us. It is a risk we must be prepared to take.

I didn’t come into politics to be forever part of a devolved administration. I did it to be part of building a new country – a fairer, greener, wealthy, successful independent Scotland.

The people of Scotland need to have their say – our job is to give them that say, the opportunity to vote Yes. And then to make sure we win that majority next year.