From the 1960s onwards, social opinion in Scotland began to change.

Until then, most people in Scotland regarded themselves as British.

Gradually the unity weakened. Some now thought of themselves as exclusively Scottish; the majority found it possible to have a shared identity as both Scottish and British with the primary emphasis on their Scottish identity.

In 1997, the SNP committed itself to progressing the path to independence through the establishment of a Scottish Parliament and this was accentuated in 1999, when the party found itself in the Scottish Parliament with a large group of MSPs.

Implicit in this change was the strategy to win power by persuading the people that the SNP was fit to govern and should become the Scottish Government.

The path to this goal was achievable by fighting elections on the basis of expanding the powers of the Parliament gradually until it became a short step to cross the line and convert Holyrood from being a provincial assembly into a fully sovereign parliament.

Indeed, in the party's 1999 manifesto, out of the 10 priorities, independence came last in 10th place. And so as not to frighten the horses, a vote for the party was for a referendum for independence, not for independence itself.

It was hardly surprising that when the SNP came into government in 2007, it settled into a new, gradualist establishment.

By showing that it was skilled in administration, it was hoped to build confidence and to demonstrate that it was safe to vote SNP.

Certainly, the landslide victory of 2011 was ample proof that the strategy could work.

Any fears that there was too big a gap between Yes and No were dispelled by the SNP coming from behind to overtake Labour to win the majority.

If it could be done in 2011, it was argued, there should be no problem in doing the same in the referendum campaign. Most assuredly, those of us who were worried by the difference in support for independence and staying in the Union hoped that they were right.

An alternative strategy was for the Government to have used every opportunity to show how Scotland was being held back by the Union instead of clapping itself on its back, as it had to do when under constant attack from all sides.

Paradoxically, the success of the SNP made devolution work and independence unnecessary for many. Thus the opinion polls repeatedly placed the SNP Government at a high level, contrasting with no improvement in support for independence.

All theory, but what other reason can there be for the disparity in support between the two objectives?

The SNP should have sustained its attacks on the Union when it came to power.

If independence was the goal then it was essential to raise the profile of Scottish identity and dissipate British identity.

In most cases when countries gain their independence it is because of identity.

Win the argument on identity and then everything falls into place automatically.

Of course, the plain fact is that nobody expected the SNP to win a majority in 2011.

It was not until the closing weeks of the campaign that the SNP also began to believe. 2011 changed the game. The referendum was now a reality.


Scotland: Battle for Independence will be published tomorrow by Scots Independent (Newspapers) 
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