Re­vealed: in­side the plans for the indyref2 Yes cam­paign

SPE­CIAL RE­PORT

Sunday Herald - - 19.03.17 SNP CONFERENCE - BY AN­DREW WHI­TAKER

SE­CRET work led by SNP ex­ec­u­tive Peter Mur­rell has be­gun to pre­pare for the launch of a new cross-party in­de­pen­dence cam­paign. It in­volves creat­ing a war chest as part of work to help “de­sign a new Yes Scot­land2-style body”, a source con­firmed. Ni­cola Stur­geon’s bat­tle of wills with Theresa May about the tim­ing of an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum is likely to dom­i­nate the po­lit­i­cal agenda for months. How­ever, the is­sue of how any Yes cam­paign will be fought has yet to be pub­licly aired.

The SNP lead­er­ship has de­cided to fo­cus dur­ing the next few months on ob­tain­ing a Sec­tion 30 or­der from West­min­ster that would al­low for a legally-bind­ing ref­er­en­dum to be held.

How­ever, the Sun­day Her­ald spoke to lead­ing fig­ures in the in­de­pen­dence move­ment about the work al­ready go­ing on be­hind the scenes to en­sure a cam­paign could be launched soon af­ter any ref­er­en­dum deal is reached.

Since Stur­geon an­nounced her in­ten­tion to hold a new ref­er­en­dum on Mon­day, the SNP has raised al­most £350,000 to help fund the Yes cam­paign.

Mur­rell, who is also Stur­geon’s hus­band, has con­tacted se­nior pro-in­de­pen­dence fig­ures about pre­par­ing for the launch of a new cam­paign while the party deals with Sec­tion 30 is­sues.

He was in touch with Scot­tish In­de­pen­dence Con­ven­tion (SIC) lead­ers about that work the day Stur­geon an­nounced she would seek per­mis­sion from West­min­ster for a ref­er­en­dum be­tween au­tumn 2018 and spring of the fol­low­ing year.

Over­seas po­lit­i­cal strate­gists and se­nior fig­ures from the Alex Sal­mond era will also be tapped up to en­sure enough cam­paign per­son­nel are in place. Polling and fo­cus groups will also be com­mis­sioned in the months ahead to help iden­tify weak­nesses from last time around and plan a new cam­paign.

Set­ting up an in­stant re­but­tal unit to deal with con­certed at­tacks from the No cam­paign over is­sues such as Europe and currency will also be ex­plored.

How­ever, a key task will be to ap­proach pro-in­de­pen­dence donors from 2014, such as the UK’s big­gest lottery win­ners Colin and Chris­tine Weir, who will be asked to bankroll a Yes Scot­land 2 push. SIC’s chair­man Elaine C

Smith will sound them out. The Weirs, from Ayr­shire, have been the in­de­pen­dence cause’s most gen­er­ous bene­fac­tors since they won the £161 mil­lion jack­pot in 2011. Dur­ing the first three months of 2015 they gave £500,000 each to the SNP.

They also do­nated a fur­ther £1m to Yes Scot­land in the run-up to the 2014 ref­er­en­dum.

A se­nior source con­firmed that the Weirs will be asked to dip into their pock­ets once again to sup­port in­de­pen­dence.

The SNP is al­ready on board with the cross party SIC, which has MPs Tommy Shep­pard, Dr Philippa Whit- ford and MSP Ivan McKee al­ready on its or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee.

Sal­mond’s for­mer chief of staff Ge­off Aberdein was last week also un­der­stood to have been in talks with SIC’s chair­man in a move that would mean the group had a ma­jor link to the SNP hi­er­ar­chy.

Aberdein was a spe­cial ad­viser to the for­mer first min­is­ter for four years, then his chief of staff for three. He is now head of public af­fairs at Aberdeen As­set Man­age­ment.

Yes Scot­land, which had an ad­vi­sory board and full-time staff, was dis­man­tled soon af­ter the 2014 ref­er­en­dum.

How­ever, last night a source said that while SIC would not form a Yes Scot­land2 cam­paign it was hoped it “could give birth to it” if a Sec­tion 30 or­der is granted.

A se­ries of fo­cus groups and ex­ten­sive polling will be com­mis­sioned by SIC be­tween now and the SNP’s au­tumn con­fer­ence to help in­form how a sec­ond cam­paign could be fought.

There will also be at­tempts to make con­tact with ex­pe­ri­enced cam­paign­ers from over­seas, who could po­ten­tially be brought in to take charge of strat­egy.

How­ever, a source said any cam­paign would move away from the “heavy man­age­ment struc­ture” of Yes Scot­land in 2014 when powerful roles were held by fig­ures such as Blair Jenk­ins who served as its chief ex­ec­u­tive.

This week, Elaine C Smith con­firmed that SIC was car­ry­ing out back­ground work for a sec­ond pro-in­de­pen­dence cam­paign. She said: “We hope that we can make a very help­ful con­tri­bu­tion to de­sign­ing and get­ting ready for the big­gest cam­paign of our lives.”

MP Shep­pard said: “It’s im­por­tant that all parts of the in­de­pen­dence move­ment can talk to­gether to get the best cam­paign pos­si­ble pre­pared for when the time comes.

“We need to draw on the best skills we can find and they will ex­ist in dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal par­ties and in none.”

We need to draw on the best skills we can find and they will ex­ist in dif­fer­ent par­ties and in none

Pho­to­graph: PA

SNP ex­ec­u­tive Peter Mur­rell

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