Respect, the Referendum, and the Union

Ever since the result of the independence referendum was known, the unionist mantra has been to demand that Yes voters, particularly the nasty SNP types, should respect the result.

“The Scottish people have spoken”, they say, “so you must respect the will of the Scottish people “.

However, it soon became clear that the Unionist argument would have been more accurately expressed as “you respect the result of the referendum because somebody should”.  Because ever since the result was known, the Tory government and the unionist media have shown clearly that they have absolutely no intention of respecting the result, a result obtained by Scots making a judgement between two offers, one for independence and one for remaining in the Union.   Unfortunately (for us), the Union offer turned out to be smoke and mirrors. In fact, it was so smoky and mirrored that it gave smoke and mirrors a bad name.

Only hours had passed when David Cameron, a signatory of the now world-famous Vow, had announced his intention to introduce EVEL, the well-named scheme to deprive Scots MPs of the opportunity to vote on bills which supposedly only apply to England, but, as it turns out, also includes bills with a knock-on effect on the Scottish block grant.  This was followed by the infamous Smith Commission, which reduced the concept of “Home Rule” to the ability to design street signs and little else.  Scottish Labour, presumably on the instructions of their bosses in London, were particularly keen on making sure the Scots got nothing.

Worse was to follow when the Scotland Bill, (very) loosely based on the outcome of Smith, came before Westminster.  Tories, and often Labour too, few of whom could be bothered to attend the debates, would turn up at each division to vote against any sensible increase in the powers being offered to the Scottish Government.

In the meantime, in May 2015, we had an election to the UK parliament.  Respect the result of the referendum, the Unionists said.  It’s time to move on, they said.  Scots voters, obviously so impressed by the concept of “respecting the referendum result”, turned out in numbers and elected 56 SNP MPs out of 59, leaving the Unionist parties, Labour, Tories and LibDems with a rump of 1 MP each.  Funnily enough, no one in any unionist party suggested that we should respect the result of the General Election.  The SNP haven’t got a mandate, they bleated, because they got less than 50% of the vote (true, it was a mere 49.97%).  The fact that the Tories got elected in Westminster with only 37% of the vote seemed to have escaped their memory.  For Unionists, the will of the Scottish people should only be respected when they get the right answer.  Otherwise, they should be ignored … because they’re just … WRONG … obviously.

Now, to bring us right up to date, we had the Scottish Parliament elections just a few days ago.  Respect the result of the referendum, the Unionists said.  It’s time to move on, they said.  However, once again, Scots voters chose to ignore the siren calls of the Unionists and voted for a third term for the SNP with an increased number of constituency votes and an increased  share of the votes.  For a variety of reasons, including the so-called tactical voting effect and the virtual collapse of the Labour vote, on this occasion the SNP did not get a majority in Parliament, despite their increased vote share.  The collapse of the Labour vote allowed the Tories to overtake them for second place and the kudos of being the official opposition.  This allowed the Tory media, including the BBC, to claim the election as a triumph for the Tories and a disaster for the SNP and allowed an overexcited Ruth Davidson to claim that she had a mandate to say no to a second referendum, despite the huge difference in the number of MSPs and share of the vote..  In all the excitement, many people didn’t even notice that the Tories had  a lower vote share than Labour, 22% to Labour’s 22.6%.

Breaking news.  The appointment of Ken Macintosh as Presiding Officer slightly reduces the gap between the SNP and the rest, but makes no material difference to the current parliamentary challenge for the SNP.

Breaking news 2.  Very impressed by my (new) local MSP, Clare Haughey, who took the oath today with calmness and aplomb.  A great start.  She’ll do Rutherglen, and the Scottish Parliament, proud. Gon yersel, Clare.

So what have we learned about the attitude of the Unionist parties post referendum.  We know now that the Unionist desire for all of us to “respect the will of the Scottish people” and move on only applies when the Scottish people give the right answer and, in any case, only applies to the Scottish people.  So, it applies for the referendum result, but doesn’t apply when the Scottish people deliver an overwhelming mandate to the SNP, such as in the 2015 and 2016 elections. It only applies to Scots   It doesn’t apply to anybody else.  So when Unionists totally ignore the promises made about what would be delivered following a No vote, this is not disrespecting the will of the Scottish people, this is just … politics?  Others might describe it more like taking the piss, but I wouldn’t use such phrases myself.

Do we think they’ll change?  Does anyone think they’ll change?  Of course they won’t.  Only independence can take us away from the malign influence of the Westminster Tories, and it can’t come soon enough.

 

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The end of the world as we know it.  That seemed to be the general reaction to the Westminster Government’s decision to implement EVEL, English Votes for English Laws, a new process by which a committee of English or English and Welsh MPs get to debate bills defined as “English only” or “English and Welsh only” matters,  and amend them as they see fit.  Surely only fair say the Government and the MSM political pundits.  It’s only giving the English (or English and Welsh) what the non-English nations already have through their national Parliaments/Assemblies.  Strangely, it does give the Welsh two bites of the cherry, so I suppose they’re bound to be pleased.

Will it make a difference?  Stats tell us that Scottish votes decided the outcome in less than 5% of Commons divisions, but the other side of that coin is that the English got their own way in more than 95% of the votes.  However, the Tory government thinks that’s not fair enough.  They think that the English should get their own way more often. Is that maybe 96% of votes; or maybe 98%; or maybe even 100%?

Do Cameron and his mates really worry that the evil (note spelling) Scots might decide anything at all?  That seems to be the case as even the Scottish Affairs Committee is stuffed with English MPs, presumably because the Tories can’t countenance the possibility that the Scots might get their own way, ever.  So the English deciding what’s good for the Scots is OK, but the other way round is so awful that rules have to be introduced to make it impossible.

But what are these “English Laws” that the Tories want to keep pure.  Some suggestions have been made, such as HS2, a rail line which will only go from London to Birmingham initially and maybe, in another 20 or 30 years time, to Manchester and Leeds.  Obviously, nothing to do with Scotland, so why should Scots have any say in whether it goes ahead.  Surely,it’s only fair that it’s decided by the English themselves.  Except, of course, when it comes to paying for it.  Then the Scots get to play a much bigger part. And when I say bigger, I mean BIGGER.  Not just the under 5% that applies when voting.  Oh no. When it comes to paying, we Scots get an almost 10% share.  Shouldn’t that make us feel good.  Zero% of the deciding, but 10% of the paying.  Of course the observant among you will be able to spot the difference between HS2 and the Borders Railway.  That’s right, one is funded entirely by the Scottish Government and one also has a contribution from Westminster.  Can you spot which is which?  Is this a case of taxation without representation?  Well, we know where that led

Of course, EVEL creates other issues.  What about the great offices of state?  Since the beginning of the last century, several Scots MPs (and several Welsh) have held one or other of the major offices of state, Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary or Foreign Secretary.  Could EVEL signal the beginning of the end as far as non-English holders of these positions.  How can someone lead a government or a major government department when barred from taking part in debates for perhaps half of all bills brought before Parliament?  How could someone bring a measure before the House when unable to speak in its defence?  So if you believed that the occasional Scottish (or Welsh, or Northern Irish) PM would be enough to keep Scotland in Westminster’s thoughts, looks like you’re destined for more disappointment.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, the rule that the Speaker can arbitrarily decide (and no one can challenge that decision) that any bill before the House is “English only” doesn’t apply to Scottish matters.  Oh no.  Not only is the Scottish Affairs Committee full of English MPs, and not only do some English Tory MPs think that Scots shouldn’t be allowed on committees dealing with reserved matters (yes I do mean you Alberto Costa), but the fate of the Scotland Bill currently going through Parliament is entirely dependent on the good offices (or otherwise) of the majority English Tory MPs.  English Tory MPs get to decide what Scots can and can’t do.  English Tory MPs, who mainly don’t even listen to the debate, drift out of the bar at division time and vote against Scots’ wishes.  And don’t expect much help from English Labour MPs.  They mainly find that the bar stools are too comfortable or too difficult to get off to be bothered to vote, but when they do, they are just as likely to vote with the Tories as they are to oppose the Tories.  Opposition is a long word, so perhaps I’m being unfair to expect many English Labour MPs to understand it.  Scottish Labour MPs, of whom there are a very, very small number, seem to inhabit the same voting world as his (oops, gave the game away) English colleagues.  Don.t expect Scottish Labour MPs to vote for Scotland.

However, all is not lost.  Though things may look bad in the Commons, bills still have to get through the Lords.  Surely we can depend on the Scottish Lords and Ladies (and there are many) to set aside party posturing and stand up for Scotland.  In some cases, I admit, standing up may prove to be just a little tricky, but you know their heart is in the right place.  With the likes of Lord McAvoy,  Lord Robertson, Lord Reid, Lord Watson and not forgetting the incomparable Lord Foulkes on our side, how can we fail to improve on the nasty little can of worms that is the Scotland Bill.  Or  am I just dreaming?