Routes to Independence 2: If Not Now, When?
It is in the DNA of the political journalist that he or she will endlessly enquire of the First Minister when she will announce plans for a second independence referendum.
And it is in the nature of our shrewd, but temperamentally cautious First Minister that she will respond with a holding quote. Usually that’s been a variation on “when the fog of Brexit clears”.
In truth I have some sympathy that the FM should be currently leading the charge for a second people’s vote on Brexit, most especially as the leader of the official opposition in Westminster is getting skelfs in his backside from spending over long on the fence.
Sympathy too with the view that if the UK seems likely to career off the cliff with a helpless Holyrood in tow, then the struggle to avoid that catastrophe has to take temporary priority.
None of which alters my view that the announcement of a second Referendum campaign has to be sooner rather that later. There is still a huge tide of enthusiasm in the wider Yes camp running in its favour and that has to be taken at the flood. Otherwise constant disappointment and delay may dissipate the energy needed for a full-hearted campaign.
In 2102 Alex Salmond and David Cameron signed the Section 30 Order which did two important things. It amended the Scotland Act to give the Scottish Government Westminster’s permission to hold the 2014 poll, and it bound both parties to respect the result.
Many people take the view that without another such order in Council, indyref2 can’t take place. But of course it can. It can be held legally on a consultative basis. That does not give the same binding commitment to respect the result, but it would hold exactly the same advisory status as the 2016 Brexit vote. The result of which the UK government insists must be respected.
The sacred will of the people and all that. Except that whilst 17 million people voted Leave on what was manifestly a fraudulent prospectus, 16 million voted Remain, 18 million couldn’t vote, and 13 million chose not to. In addition to which almost two thirds of those Scots who went to the polls voted to Remain.
It makes sense to lodge a formal request for another section 30 order. Not least since the expected refusal would do no harm to the Yes cause; we have surely travelled well beyond going cap in hand to a lame duck Prime Minister of a shambolic administration and allowing her to put us back in our box.
The legitimacy of any such second poll is often questioned. The Private Fraser tendency – “we’re doomed, all doomed” – frets variously that there will be a mass boycott, that the result will be trashed, that we’ll lose again and forever forfeit the chance to be a nation again.
Let us then remember that the Scottish Government came to power with a mandate to hold another referendum vote should circumstances materially alter “such as being taken out of the EU against its will.” Not only have these circumstances altered beyond recognition, but our negotiators and those of the other devolved administrations have been locked out of any meaningful decision making.
It seems our Brexit secretary found out that the start button had been pressed on article 50 from a BBC report. Meetings with the Joint Ministerial Council, when they’re not cancelled or postponed, are little more than window dressing. And those new Scots Tory MP’s who have largely risen without trace have just suggested that Scotland should be locked out of any future trade negotiations.
This all goes beyond a lack of respect, and a failure to deliver inclusion. We are not talking about a couple of paragraphs in any fisheries deal, but the future of the Scottish economy and everything dependent on it. These are the biggest stakes we have ever played for. Do you want May, or Johnson, or Gove, or Rees Mogg taking our seat at the table?
There is too the question raised of voter fatigue, of the polls not having shifted favourably enough for long enough. In 2014, after an admittedly long campaign but in the teeth of a ferocious media onslaught, the Yes vote went from 28% to 45%. And it has remained there or thereabouts every since. It will shift again.
Anecdotally many No voters, in particular those warned that Yes meant leaving Europe, have changed camps..
You don’t win self determination with anecdotage. But neither is it on offer to the faint of heart, or those whose glass will forever be half empty.
Nor is it about Salmondites v Sturgeonistas as one commentator ludicrously suggested. It’s about tactics, timing, and self belief.
In 2014 we were advised that strength and stability lay in the union with England. Who could seriously argue that now?