With Nicola Sturgeon using her position as First Minister to renew the push for separation, it is all the more important that we keep our pro-UK campaign going.
While polls show most Scots still want to remain in the UK, this is no time for complacency.
We need to remember what we are up against. The SNP have their own significant resources (the SNP had income of £5.8m in 2017 - their most recently published set of accounts). They also benefit from public money they receive for their MPs at Westminster (some of which they have pooled for a central team of spin doctors). Most immediately, Ms Sturgeon’s recent announcement in the Scottish Parliament of a publicly-funded ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ to debate independence helps to show how she is able to use the levers of government in Scotland to further the separatist agenda which she has pursued throughout her adult life.
Citizens’ Assemblies, in the right circumstances, can be helpful in gathering views and formulating policy. However, I am unimpressed by Sturgeon’s announcement, for three reasons: continuing to focus on the constitution allows the SNP to try to distract from issues which people face from day to day; the atmosphere of division and intimidation which still exists for many people will skew participation; and setting up and running any ‘Assembly’ will consume public money and civil servants’ time which could be better spent elsewhere.
The SNP has form in this area: many of us remember the ‘National Conversation’ of 2007-2009, which was launched by the SNP minority administration to lay the ground for the 2014 referendum. George Foulkes, an MSP at that time, tried to find out what it cost, but was fobbed off by Sturgeon telling him it was ‘met from within existing budgets’. That answer illustrates my concern about this new push: if the costs of pursuing more constitutional change are met from within existing budgets, something else must be getting less funding. We should all demand that the ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ should not be funded at the expense of areas such as education, health and justice.
Against the well-funded machine which is the SNP (along with their fellow-nationalists who lead the Scottish Green Party), the main political parties have crucial roles to play, and I hope you will support a pro-UK party as well as SIU. But SIU remains vital, providing a way that people from all parties, and with no party allegiance, can together challenge the nationalist narrative, as our small team have been doing so well recently.
The next couple of years are the time when we need to invest in our campaign, and keep it going, to reduce the risk of indyref2. If there were to be another referendum, it is still likely that the majority would vote to remain in the UK – but if we can avoid indyref2, then all that time and effort – both public and privately funded - which would be spent on it can be put to more productive use. That is why we need your support now, to avoid getting into another costly and divisive separation referendum.
Alastair Cameron, founder and director of Scotland in Union