Ukraine’s tragedy is no reason to delay a vote on Scottish independence

In the space of a few days we’ve seen the SNP’s leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford pour cold water on a new referendum for Scotland only to have that position spiked by his First Minister boss, Nicola Sturgeon when she proclaimed that her plans for a second independence referendum in 2023 “would still go ahead”.

That’s left many in the wider movement still wondering what exactly are those plans and why the continued equivocation and delay? As Burns once wrote, “Suspense is worse than disappointment” and the suspense has been denting the spirit of the movement for quite some time.

When I returned to Scotland in 2009, I was impressed by the devolution gains and the record and vision of the minority SNP government headed by Alex Salmond. Devolution had brought about tangible and meaningful changes in Scotland across a variety of policy areas. It also demonstrated convincingly the potential for self-government.

How we engage with democracy is affected by world events. That was the case in 2011 as well as now. In the midst of the 2008 global financial crisis, the SNP campaigned based on their record as minority government, securing an unrivalled majority, and making a commitment to hold a referendum for independence. In just over two years that promise was kept and delivered, yet despite my disappointment with the result, Scotland’s political landscape was turned on its head when Scotland elected 56 out of 59 SNP MPs.

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Despite clear democratic expressions and repeated mandates for a referendum over the seven years, no progress has been made on independence. Freedom of Information enquiries revealed that there was very little preparation by the Scottish Government, no sign of the promised referendum legislation, and a First Minister who insists on a Section 30 order. There has also been no debate on alternative routes to independence, which she repeatedly denied to the SNP conference.

However, Scotland faces serious challenges as a part of the UK. We are unable to unlock and realize our economic potential, which could allow us to address the cost-of living crisis and create jobs and prosperity. The Scottish NHS is dependent on Westminster’s will and the independence of the Scottish government means that there are very few opportunities to improve our people’s health and well-being. We are limited in our ability to tackle the climate crisis and provide local sustainable energy for our people without independence.

Scotland is rich with energy resources. But the current National Grid model discourages investment. Scotland has seen little employment and supply chain benefits due to Westminster control over transmission and contracting costs. We need fresh thinking, a growth of microgrids, and community dividends from the power generation.

These are ambitions that diminish when tied to Westminster. Even with independence-supporting MPs at Westminster, the last seven years have shown that independence does count. Despite protestations, we have witnessed Scotland being dragged out from the EU against its will. We have seen the implementation of harmful welfare cuts, pernicious immigration policy, and devolution-busting legislation like the Internal Markets Act.

The SNP leadership has repeatedly denied promises of a new plebiscite in 2019, fuelling the growing frustration of the independence movement. This has been articulated as a necessity to stop Brexit, to stop Boris, to wait for post-pandemic economic recovery and now the tragic circumstances of the war in Ukraine have been invoked as a reason to temper Scotland’s potential.

While the conflict is clearly distressing, there is an urgent need to address the many problems we face in Scotland. This is just the latest excuse in a long list of excuses that the Scottish Government has used to justify its inactivity in promoting independence.

Yet, the humanitarian crisis that’s unfolding sees Scotland impotent to respond to the escalating refugee crisis in a way most of us would wish. The economic fallout from conflict will make it more difficult to address the cost-of-living crisis. This is a country with huge energy resources but where profits are more important that tackling poverty and inequality.

Another vital goal of independence is also brought into sharp focus by the war. The removal of weapons of mass destruction from Scotland’s shores.

Securing independence won’t be easy, building a new country will be challenging, but we need those with courage, vision and determination to lead and make progress. It won’t be easy to complain in Westminster.

As an Alba MP and Westminster Group leader, my immediate focus is on advancing independence as a priority. The Scottish people have suffered enough. Independence is the gateway to realizing the ambition and potential of our country. It is a requirement that simply cannot wait.