by Colin Campbell
ANGUS MacNeill, MP for the Western Isles, is a nationalist extremist, a definition that fits him by any yardstick you care to apply. His constituency is remote from the SNP heartland of the Central Belt and his views on how to secure independence are equally remote from the SNP hierarchy’s way of thinking.
He is one of a fringe group of awkward squad SNP politicians who are not prepared to accept Nicola Sturgeon’s grindingly slow – or some now say non-existent – plan to hold another decisive and winning independence referendum.
Perceiving what he sees as a hopelessly ineffective “Plan A” strategy – gaining Westminster permission for a legal referendum – he’s been the most ardent advocate of pursuing a “Plan B”, which is short on detail but at least has clear intent.
That is, force through another referendum or gain independence by any and every means possible, with the requirement for Westminster approval simply being swept aside.
Last year he pressed for a debate on his “Plan B” to take place at the party conference. That was rejected by the SNP leadership.
Since then he has been a needlesome thorn in their side, repeatedly insisting that the supposed drive towards independence is going absolutely nowhere.
In a sense, he deserves some grudging admiration for his commitment to the cause. Unlike Westminster freeloaders like Ian Blackford and Drew Hendry, content to rake in huge salaries and expenses from the place they claim to hate, and happy to do so for years ahead, MacNeil would toss all his MP’s perks and privileges into the Minch without a second thought if it brought him closer to securing his life’s ambition, independence.
But now there has been a peculiar turn of events.
On Friday arch-extremist MacNeill said that if Johnson maintains has stance against another referendum, the only alternative would be to turn the next Scottish Parliamentary elections into a poll for independence.
But the next Scottish elections won’t be held for another five years, in May 2026. And now the extremists have started feuding bitterly among themselves as to how extreme they should be.
MacNeil’s five-year timescale was met with fury and despair among what seems to be the dwindling hardcore who want “Independence Now!”
Amid an outpouring of wailing and rage, it whipped up a storm of protest and condemnation of the SNP, the Westminster chancers and money grubbers, and their prime target, Nicola Sturgeon, who had “thrown away mandate after mandate” and is now branded a traitor to the cause.
Angus MacNeill can, if he wishes, slide away into obscurity until 2026 or any year thereafter, and no one will much notice.
But there is no such escape route for Sturgeon. She faces difficulties that do not change. Boris Johnson will reject a request for a section 30 order for a legal referendum with a contemptuous scrawl of his pen.
If, with the support of the Greens, she tries to hold an illegal referendum instituted by Holyrood, it will be boycotted by half the population. The SNP would end up a laughing stock, across Britain and across Europe. The outcome would be entirely meaningless.
In the run up to the May elections the SNP and their cult followers made the utterly foolish blunder of grossly over-inflating expectations, predicting not only a parliamentary majority, but insisting they were on course for a “super majority”. In the event they failed to gain any majority at all.
Apart from tearing up their SNP membership cards and throwing darts at a picture of Nicola Sturgeon attached to bathroom walls, what else can the extremists do?
This time last year in the long, long build up to what was supposed to have been a “historic” May election there was talk of civil disobedience and mass street demonstrations if Boris Johnson refused to cave in to the demand for a section 30 order.
But we need be concerned about the streets being overrun by seething nationalists no more. Not that we were in the first place.
Alex Salmond and his Alba Party, created directly as a new base for extremists, explicitly said that they would be the launchpad for street demonstrations and civil disruption if Johnson vetoed indyref2.
In the event, no Alba MSPs were elected to Holyrood and Salmond and co gained just over one per cent of the vote. The prospect for street demos by rebellious nationalists was doused right there and then.
Where Sturgeon goes from here, who knows. The general rise in popularity she enjoyed for a few months over her supposedly successful handling of the pandemic has vanished. Sturgeon has tossed out many headline grabbing soundbites on her daily BBC TV show, but none begins to compare with the designation last month of Scotland under Sturgeon as “the Covid hotspot of Europe”.
Far from Boris Johnson caving in and opening up a clear and alluring path to independence, it now looks much more as if nationalist extremists like Angus MacNeill are caving in and virtually giving up under the burden of never ending frustration and despair.
The Western Isles MP may henceforth become a recluse holding on somehow to his hopes of securing independence on 2026. And with no Plan A or Plan B anywhere in sight, begin slowly working his way through the alphabet, all the way down to Plan Z.