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By Jason Michael
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has hit the snooze button on a second independence referendum, meaning we won’t have our say on leaving the United Kingdom until after Brexit. This changes nothing.
Nicola Sturgeon has today, according to the British media, “dropped” plans for a second independence referendum in Scotland. Yet Wings Over Scotland has presented the most succinct analysis of what has actually been said by the First Minister; there are “no changes.” Indeed nothing has changed. The Scottish government, rather than dropping the idea of another referendum, has simply delayed introducing the required legislation until after the Brexit process has been completed. In essence, other than a short delay, this is no different from the position first proposed. There are, however, a few things I would like to add to what Stuart Campbell has said.
There is the knee-jerk reaction; my own and a growing fear in the country that Brexit is dangerous to Scotland and the entire project of independence. Leaving the European Union will return significant powers to the UK – powers that will not necessarily be shared with the Edinburgh parliament, thus giving Westminster serious leverage when it comes to denying Scotland its democratic right to another referendum. Moreover, the timing of the finalising of the Article 50 talks will mean that we are faced with returning to the independence campaign in an altered political and legal environment. Theresa May’s proposed Digital Charter – threatening to effectively shut down the internet to those who would challenge the British state – will, without more and improved media on our side, make it more difficult for us to mount as powerful a campaign as we did in 2014.
Then, of course, there is the question of momentum. Criticism of the SNP’s general election campaign has been near universal across the independence movement, a sign perhaps that the party’s strategists weren’t entirely on the ball. While some of this in-house criticism was at times harsh, we have to be honest and admit that it is more likely the case that the sluggishness of the SNP throughout the campaign was indicative of the current state of inertia in the independence movement. Things have slowed down, and this is perfectly natural for any political or social movement. The problem, however, and in light of this deceleration, is that a further delay might stop this ball rolling altogether.
In short, as with everything in politics, anything can happen. Delays in any expected offensive are never ideal. So how do we put our minds at rest over these initial reactions to the delay? Well, for a start and to quote one campaigner I was chatting with today, “the [soft unionists] have to realise what Brexit actually means if we are to get them on side.” We can’t argue with this logic. Some people need harder lessons than others, and, considering the abysmal start the talks have gotten off to, it looks as though those harder lessons are in the pipeline.
European leaders have made it more than clear that they suspect the British delegation in Brussels for the Article 50 negotiations doesn’t quite know what the hell it is doing. Only yesterday in his initial reaction to the UK’s “fair and serious offer” Guy Verhofstadt, the EU’s chief negotiator, was forced to remind the British Prime Minister that any attempt by her to limit the rights of EU citizens residing in the UK before the date of withdrawal would be a breach of European law. This is pretty basic stuff, but that the most senior members of the EU team feel the need to spell this out to Theresa May is worrying in the extreme. It would lead us to believe she is plying for a hard exit from a union and set of international treaties she scarce understands.
Guy Verhofstadt (@GuyVerhofstadt) June 26, 2017
Adjustments in law invariably have unforeseen repercussions, and that the British government is showing all the signs of not understanding the situation as it stands it is not likely that it is even in a position to start considering any of the adverse effects of Brexit. We don’t need anyone to tell us that this is not good. This is potentially disastrous. Think disarming a landmine with a sledgehammer.
Even in light of this inauspicious start can May pull this out of the bag? Not likely. She has geared absolutely everything in her political strategy towards a hard and uncompromising exit from the European Union; bulldozing peace in Northern Ireland, any hope of goodwill from Scotland, and continued support from Wales on her way. The cost of Brexit meaning Brexit has been the complete undoing of political stability within the United Kingdom. She is doing all this now on the back of a backfired general election which has left her minority government completely at the mercy of the DUP, a party that has extensive experience at extortion and knee-capping. May has run right into the lion’s den dressed in a frock made of fillet steaks. She’s in trouble and so are we.
Leaving the EU – as is now the case – without a trade deal will have a catastrophic effect on Britain and Northern Ireland’s economies. There is no denying this. With moves already underway in both Northern Ireland and the Republic for a unity referendum – now the only way of preserving the conditions of peace on the island – it is altogether likely there will be a united Ireland before or very shortly after the conclusion of Brexit, fundamentally weakening confidence in the London government over the rest of the UK. In the event of such a Brexit its meaning will be all too apparent to the people of Scotland and Wales. The pound will plummet, trade will take a nosedive, and already soaring unemployment levels with skyrocket. Scots will have no alternative but to seek independence.
As for the other worries about having an independence referendum after the end of the Brexit negotiations; namely the changes to the internet and the possibility of Westminster denying Scottish democracy, Brexit will open other doors. Theresa May made it clear in her 2017 manifesto that she would be introducing legislation to “identify and remove terrorist propaganda” from the internet in the UK. Much like every other piece of counter-terrorism legislation in the UK and in the United States definitions are vague for the purposes of broad application. In the context of Scottish agitation for independence – absolutely a threat to the integrity of the British state – “terrorist propaganda” will be read as any and all information and political campaigning directed to the end of breaking the state.
In the event that social media and other online pro-independence campaigning are outlawed or blocked it is clear the economy will have already become our most effective recruiting sergeant. The damage will have been done. A more extreme measure will be Westminster’s banning of another independence referendum or its refusal to grant another Section 30 order. This too can only be in our favour. A Section 30 is not, strictly speaking, legally required for the Scottish government to hold a referendum. That granted ahead of September 2014 merely established a legal precedent – which can, at best, only be considered soft law. Any attempt to ban independence campaigning and/or another referendum – indefinitely or for any amount of time – would only, as an affront to the very ideas of the sovereignty of the Scottish people and democracy, galvanise support for an illegal referendum or a parliamentary declaration of independence at Holyrood.
Ultimately we have to conclude that Stuart Campbell’s assessment, as usual, of the First Minister’s resetting of the second independence referendum timer engenders “no changes.” Personally, and I suspect this sentiment is shared by many in Scotland; this postponement is a disappointment and a frustration. I would like to see this entire business ended. I want independence and I want it yesterday, yet the delay changes nothing. Let the British media say what it wants. In Scotland – in the Yes movement – it’s business as usual.
Nicola Sturgeon to ‘reset’ independence referendum plan