As I write, the Brexit cliff edge beckons. There’s only two weeks to go until the UK makes the biggest mistake of its 218 year history by closing the door to the rest of the world. At this stage, no one, including the UK Government, in fact, especially the UK Government, has any idea what’s happening now and even less what’s going to happen after we leave.
Currently, it seems as if the country is being governed by a combination of the weirdly named European Research Group, who hate Europe, and the even more weirdly named Democratic Unionist Party, who are probably the least democratic party in the UK. In fact, seems as if the UK Government are prepared to give away pretty much anything the DUP ask for just to keep their votes. So much for taking back control. And talk of making better trade deals without the interference of the evil EU has turned out to be just that, talk. Ask Liam Fox if his deal making is going to plan .
What the Brexit debates have shown, at least to anyone who has been paying even the slightest attention, is that the UK Government has no interest in Scottish opinions and that SNP voices are routinely either ignored or abused (and no, I’m not talking about Ross Thomson here). Treeza walks out every time Ian Blackford stands to speak (is she frightened of him?) and Tory back benchers either try to drown out any SNP speech, to the extent that even the Speaker feels obliged to tell them to shut up, or they walk out on-mass, preferring a visit to the bar to bothering with the debate. Scottish Tories are the worst of the worst. They seem to have no interest either in their constituents or in Scotland. They seem to believe that they have been elected to ignore the former and rubbish the latter. I won’t list all their insults and their demonstrations of ignorance about Scotland and Scottish history, but their latest effort shows clearly what their main objective is, as they try to persuade the UK Chancellor to scrap the Barnett Formula and reduce the proportion of Scottish taxes returned to the Scottish Government because “they will only fritter it away” on things the Tories don’t approve of, like free tertiary education, decent social security payments, free meals for school children and free care for the elderly, when everyone knows it should be given to their rich pals.
Labour are just as bad. Remember the Bain Principle, that Labour would never support any action proposed by the SNP, even if it was something they really agreed with. However, under Corbyn, Labour have adopted a new strategy. Whereas they used to treat SNP amendments as an opportunity to get pissed on cheap Westminster alcohol, knowing they would be abstaining when it came to the vote, now they simply sit on their bums in the chamber while voting is going on, still abstaining, but staying more sober. The impact on the Westminster bars must be considerable.
Surely by now, anyone who cares about Scotland’s place in the UK must realise that there is no chance of the UK ever becoming a union of equals and of Scotland ever being treated fairly in Westminster when English representation is so much bigger that they can even outvote the three other countries put together. Westminster is the de-facto English parliament.
The Brexit debates have prompted much discussion about a date for a second IndyRef, particularly as several recent polls have shown independence ahead of all possible Brexit outcomes. There seems to be four “popular” options for the timing of a referendum, two of which can be described as the “audacious” options and two as the “cautious” options. Let’s look in more detail at the options.
We make an announcement as soon as the EU and the UK Government reach (or don’t reach) an agreement and the full horror of the impact of the exit terms becomes apparent, so the referendum can be announced on or before the Brexit date of 29th March. This is the option favoured by a large number, maybe even a majority, of Yessers. In fact, most would probably prefer an even earlier date, tomorrow, say.
* Pros: Announcing a new independence referendum will energise the huge number of supporters becoming frustrated at the lack of action
* Cons: A short independence campaign may not provide sufficient time to convert enough Noes to Yes to give a winning result.
As we have an existing mandate, with a pro-independence majority in both Holyrood and Westminster, we need to hold the referendum after Brexit but before the end of the current Scottish parliament in 2021 when the mandate expires.
* Pros: It makes use of the existing mandate, not guaranteed to be available after the 2021 election and it prevents upsetting voters who voted for independence last time not turning out because their last vote was “wasted”.
* Cons: Free of EU control, it gives Westminster time to introduce rules to handcuff the Scottish Parliament and make another IndyRef difficult, if not impossible. Not making use of the existing mandate can create difficulties among those who voted SNP on the basis of the pledge to bring forward a referendum if (e.g.) we were dragged out of the EU against our will. Will all of these people be prepared to give the SNP a second chance?
We should wait for some time after the 2021 until people have more direct experience of the full horrors of Brexit foisted on us by the lunatic fringe of the Tory party, when they will realise that they can’t escape the disastrous impact that Brexit will have on their lives.
* Pros: The problems brought on by Brexit will have impacted the lives of the majority sufficiently for those who voted no last time to be encouraged to look favourably at the option of independence.
* Cons: By that time, Brexit will have been in place for several years and will have started to become the accepted norm, so we may be in the same situation as in 2014, that some will be reluctant to risk independence. It also gives Westminster even more time to act against Holyrood to prevent a second referendum.
We should seek a fresh mandate in the 2026 Scottish election, with a specific manifesto pledge to hold an independence referendum within a year (say) of the start of the parliamentary session.
* Pro: It provides the opportunity to get an indisputable mandate for independence that Westminster might find hard to ignore.
* Cons: As before, it gives Westminster time to act against Holyrood and many voters may think Brexit has been in place too long to change.
Don’t let us forget that there are two other possibilities which have been pretty much ruled out by the Scottish Government but still could come back into play, UDI, which might be considered as the nuclear option, and the Margaret Thatcher option, that if a majority of pro-indy Scottish MPs are elected to Westminster, that would be enough to trigger independence. Pity we hadn’t pushed for that in 2015.
Re-reading this before posting, I almost wish I hadn’t written it as it crystalised my own thinking that the SNP were depending too much on the failure of Brexit and on developing a reputation as a safe pair of hands, and, as a result, independence was taking something of a back seat. The years since IndyRef have seen caution as the watchword and the excitement that characterised the run-up to 2014 isn’t front and centre as it was then. The Scottish Government have concentrated for too long (in my opinion) in trying to save the rest of the UK (mainly England) from the Brexit problems they’ve brought on themselves and not enough time on independence. We even had the ludicrous situation that the BritNat parties were talking more about independence than the SNP. Is that right? Even many of the comments made by Nicola about independence in her speeches seemed more aimed at what the grassroots could do and were not really saying that the party would be leading from the front. Recently, there has been talk about how Brexit is making the case for independence stronger, but talk without action is in danger of making the SNP into the party who cried wolf. Perhaps the Spring Conference will bring more clarity.
Think folks, while there are dangers in going too early for independence, there may be even more dangers in waiting too long. Strike while the iron is hot. Grasp the nettle. Take the bull by the horns. Etc. Etc.