With Brexit fast approaching and the increasing likelihood of a no-deal exit, there is much discussion about the current state of the independence debate and how close we are to a second referendum. Though we are still behind in the polls, though Johnson and Hunt are doing their best to change that, it has become tantalisingly close and many independence supporters point out that, in the last referendum, support for independence increased from 25% at the beginning of the campaign to 45% at the end. True, of course, but it was all about winning and we didn’t. No matter how many lies were told by BritNat politicians, no matter how many pensioners were frightened by threats of losing their pensions, no matter how many scare stories were printed in the BritNat MSM, no matter how much the BBC and, to a lesser extent, STV twisted the facts to convert every story into SNPbaad and no matter how many rules the No side broke, they won and we lost. Many supporters were convinced we were cheated out of the win, but no one who could do anything about it complained. So we are where we are.
So what now for Scottish independence? How far have we come since the disaster of September, 2014 (don’t tell me it wasn’t a disaster) and where do we go from here? Perhaps if progress was measured by the number of times it gets mentioned by our politicians, we would be independent by now. At every PMQ in Westminster, Ian Blackford tells Treeza that Scotland has a way out, though, unfortunately, no one seems to be able to find the door. So many MPs and MSPs have threatened an independence referendum but are we any closer than we were then? Or are the SNP in danger of becoming the party who cried wolf?
We have seen some small steps potentially supporting independence. The announcement of the Scottish investment bank, the expansion of Scottish business offices abroad and the continued contact with senior political figures in the EU and elsewhere are all good, as is the planned introduction in Holyrood of framework legislation for a referendum, but though they are actions that should make the transition to independence easier, they don’t bring independence any closer. In a statement in the Scottish Parliament earlier this year, Nicola Sturgeon outlined what might trigger a referendum. She promised us a referendum sometime before the expiry of the mandate granted to the Scottish Government in the 2016 election, two years from now, but only if Brexit had happened by then. It appeared that only if Scotland were dragged out of EU against our will could we even think of asking the people what they want to happen.
In the 2016 SNP manifesto, being dragged out of the EU against our will was considered just one example of something that would trigger a second referendum. However, since then, and I don’t know how or when this happened, it now seems to have become the only valid reason. Nothing else seems to be good enough. That every promise made by the BritNats in 2014 turned out to be a lie isn’t good enough. The lack of respect shown to our elected representatives in Westminster isn’t good enough. The removal of powers from Holyrood isn’t good enough. The fact that Scottish opinions and concerns are routinely ignored by Westminster isn’t good enough. Nothing other than Brexit is good enough.
But what happens to this plan if Brexit doesn’t go ahead or if even more extensions are requested by the UK and granted by the EU? Does that mean independence delayed further, or even indefinitely? Although some mention has been made of other circumstances which may prompt a referendum, the lack of any serious discussion about the other options may make it difficult to convince the sceptics that these are real fears and not just something invented when the ‘real’ problem (Brexit) no longer justifies a referendum.
Then we have the problem of the Section 30 order. At the time of IndyRef1, my opinion always was that agreeing a Section 30 order as a condition of going ahead was always going to be a hostage to fortune. This wasn’t demonstrating the sovereignty of the Scottish people. This was going along with the unionist idea that Holyrood could do nothing without Westminster’s approval. And so it has turned out. Now, umpteen Tory ministers, including Theresa May and both her potential replacements, have stated, unequivocally, that Westminster will not agree to a Section 30 order unless a variety of conditions are met, with some even going as far as saying that it should never be granted, including those who are supposed to be standing up for Scotland, like tRuthless Davidson and Fluffy Mundell. One of the ongoing mysteries of the Scottish independence debate is what makes Scottish BritNats even more extreme than their Southern cousins. Is it because they are closer to the action or because they are just desperate to demonstrate their allegiance to their English masters by keeping Scotland as Westminster’s cash cow? If the latter, it must be a blow that recent opinion polls have shown that a large majority of English voters would be happy to dump Scotland if that was the way to ensure that Brexit was delivered. You would have thought that must have really hurt, but it seems only to have encouraged the Scottish BritNats to shout the same tired comments even louder.
Despite the obvious problem, the Scottish Government continues to say they will ask for a Section 30 order and several senior SNP figures are on record saying that a referendum can never go ahead without one. Taken at face value, all Westminster has to do is continue to say no and that means a referendum cannot happen. There is an argument that it would be illegal to refuse to grant a Section 30 order, but this has never been tested in court and the Scottish Government don’t seem keen to try. Perhaps something that could/should have been done sometime in the last five years? The suggestion has been made that a Section 30 order is not required, that it’s only confirmation that both parties will accept the result no matter what, but again, that’s not been tested in court, so it would be subject to legal challenge if a referendum was held on that basis.
You might have thought that defining a legal basis for a referendum under any circumstances might have been a priority for the Scottish Government, but this hasn’t happened. Indeed, over the three years since the EU referendum, much more time has been spent on Brexit, effectively trying to save England from itself, than has been spent on independence preparation, much to the displeasure of an increasing number in the Yes camp. If the campaign either to cancel Brexit or at least, put the question back to the people, was to reach a successful conclusion, it would blow away the current justification for an independence referendum, but that doesn’t seem to worry the Scottish Government.
The Scottish Government would no doubt argue that we haven’t yet been taken out of the EU, so we must wait until it actually happens before acting. While logical, such a delay is not a no-risk option. There will of course be a significant time period between the announcement of a referendum and its taking place, to allow for organisation, campaigning, etc., and during this time, it is naïve to imagine that the UK government will simply sit on their hands, waiting for the referendum to take place. This will be a period of unfettered Westminster control, without having to worry about EU interference. So Westminster can do whatever it likes. We must always remember that Holyrood is a devolved government, depending on Westminster for the maintenance of such power as it wields (‘Power devolved is power retained’). The period between announcement and occurrence provides Westminster with the ideal opportunity to introduce legislation to delay IndyRef2 or even prevent it going ahead altogether. Who believes that they wouldn’t take the opportunity to throw spanners in the works. These could be small spanners, such as taking as long as possible to complete anything they have to do, or they could be medium-sized spanners, like introducing legislation to remove Holyrood’s ability to even hold a referendum, or they could be very large spanners, such as dissolving Holyrood all together. And the more time Westminster gets, the worse the outcome is going to be for the people of Scotland.
So what now? What next steps should Yes supporting Scots do? Should we give up on the SNP, who seem reluctant (to say the least) to put the question to the people, unless, of course, the question is Brexit. I accept and understand that we don’t want a neighbour whose economy has tanked, especially a neighbour that we do a lot of business with, though not as much business as the BritNats would have us believe. But surely the priority is independence. Once independent we can make our own decisions. If we want to help out the rUK, we can do that. But it will be our decision, not Westminster’s, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll even get a bit more gratitude than we do now.
But if we give up on the SNP (and don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind), who do we support to make independence a reality? Could it be one of the ‘British’ parties, headquartered in London? Anyone who expects the Tories, Labour or LibDems to support Scottish independence needs to seek medical help. And the same goes for those who think the UK could become some sort of federal state. It will never happen, because it would mean Westminster giving up some real authority to the federal parliaments, something they will never do. And please don’t even think of bringing up the current devolution settlement as an example of Westminster giving up powers. The devolution settlement was designed to fail. It was designed to make sure the SNP could never get into power. It was designed to demonstrate that Scotland were incapable of self-government. The SNP’s success in the Scottish Government comes despite the devolution settlement, not because of it.
What about the Greens. They already support independence, so that must make them a better choice than the ‘English’ parties. Unfortunately. their support base is too small to think that they could ever form a government in Scotland, at least in my lifetime.
So that leaves us with the SNP as the only option to create the political conditions for self-government. We might all wish they would get their collective fingers out, stop focussing on Brexit, it’s really someone else’s problem, then tell the elected representatives to stop abusing people who have different opinions on any subject, we can do without it. All the conditions for IndyRef2 that have been talked about have happened. We know we’re leaving, we know Boris is going to be PM. What more do we need? The UK’s direction is obvious. If there’s a plan B, now would be a good time to reveal it. Waiting only provides Westminster the opportunity to destroy Scotland. We need to go quickly before Boris has time to completely screw us. We need to go now.
If anyone in the Scottish cabinet reads this, please start a conversation with Nicola before it’s too late. Please remember that SNP are the party of independence. We elected you to bring us independence, not to sort our Brexit. For God’s sake, start the independence process NOW.