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By Jason Michael
The narrowness of the divide between Yes and No in 2014, the polarisation of Brexit, and events in Catalonia have all changed how the next Scottish independence referendum will be played out. We must adapt to this new environment.
Joe Pike’s 2015 tell-all account of the Better Together campaign, Project Fear, opens with an account of a British Cabinet discussion following the 2011 Holyrood election at which the idea of replicating Spain’s attitude to Catalonia and declaring any referendum illegal was ruled out on the grounds that it would only “guarantee Scottish secession.” Rather than do this the British government opted to deploy what even the No campaign would come to know as “project Fear,” a relentless campaign of negativity, fear-mongering, lies, and disinformation that would effectively intimidate enough of Scotland’s undecided voters into backing the status quo. It worked.
Now that we have reached another constitutional impasse the necessity of another independence referendum has become clear. Scotland has no way out of Brexit – an isolationist and economically dangerous exit from the European Union it rejected at the polls – unless it makes the decision it failed to make on 18 September 2014 and ends its union with England. If Scotland is to have any hope of deciding its own future it has no choice now but to seek independence. Where people voted against independence in 2014 for things to remain the same, now a vote for independence is the last remaining chance for that to happen.
Patt (@OorJoe) March 21, 2018
This must fundamentally change how the British government will approach another request from the Scottish government for another referendum. The Scottish National Party set out its table in its 2016 manifesto when the party said it would seek another referendum if there was “clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people,” or if there was a “significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.”
While support for independence has remained at or slightly above the 45 per cent of the September 2014 vote, the imposition of Brexit on Scotland – which Scots rejected with a 62 per cent vote to Remain – may well prove to be the key to changing a deciding fraction of the Scottish electorate’s mind on the constitutional question. Scotland is being taken from the EU against its will, and, while the polls on independence are not yet shifting, this manifesto gives the SNP a clear mandate to request another Section 30 allowing for another referendum. The Scottish government has already been granted the permission of the Scottish parliament to make such a request, but the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has put this on ice.
Clearly it cannot stay on pause forever. The independence movement is now anxious to get the show on the road and the SNP knows that a decision has to be made on or around the time of the party’s spring conference. Time is running out for Nicola Sturgeon on this, but this also means that time is running out for Westminster. Something has to give, and the Tory Secretary of State, David Mundell, has now publically conceded that it is now on the cards that the Scottish government will press ahead with another referendum later this year.
Peter A Bell #Referendum2018 (@BerthanPete) March 04, 2018
When the Scottish government does formally decide to seek a Section 30 order from the British government the same options will still be available to London as were available in 2011. The British government can refuse to entertain the idea and take the same position on Scotland as Madrid has taken with Catalonia. London did not seriously consider the possibility of a vote for independence in 2011, but now it knows this is a distinct possibility. In fact, given the change in material circumstances and the narrowness of the gap, a Yes vote is more likely now than it has ever been.
This material change in circumstances has also been a significant change in circumstances for the British government. Brexit poses a serious and possibly catastrophic threat to the British economy. Its desire for 1930s style isolationism and the reluctance of non EU countries to enter into trade talks with it has left the United Kingdom in a vulnerable position, and, at times like this, natural resources like oil and gas are important. London will need all the chips it can lay its hands on if it is to stand a chance of attracting the international support it needs to survive Brexit.
Where Spain cannot constitutionally allow Catalan secession, Britain has fast found itself in a position where it cannot economically allow Scottish independence. Scotland is Britain’s chief resource. Given this change in circumstances it is altogether likely that Britain will change its game plan, either making a referendum illegal or withholding consent. The bottom line here is that Britain cannot now allow Scotland to leave the union.
To the real lefties in Scotland. After all that’s happened with Catalonia, Corbyn, Brexit, Boyd, Haggerty and Slab… twitter.com/i/web/status/9…—
Cailean Donnchadh (@CokieDee62) March 26, 2018
As this not unlikely scenario plays out Scotland will find itself in much the same position that Catalonia now finds itself – having to break British law or hold a referendum without British consent in order to decide on its own future. We may imagine that the deployment of the police against the independence movement is impossible here, but when it comes to state politics and the political and economic necessities of suzerain states anything is possible. Over the past three centuries the British state has consistently used force against its own subjects to keep them in line. Northern Ireland and the shoot to kill and internment policies of the decades before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement are good indicators of how Britain will address serious threats to its territorial control. In its willingness to use brute force against dissent Britain is no different to Spain.
In light of this the Scottish independence movement would do well at this juncture to develop a good hermeneutic of suspicion. Whatever shape the next independence referendum does take it will most definitely not be the same as the first. The stakes are higher for both sides. It may even be argued that the outcome poses an existential threat to the loser; whatever side comes out on bottom will never be the same. Force is now a real possibility, and London has now had the example of Madrid. If we find ourselves in such a standoff we must follow the Catalan example and keep the head while marching unabatedly to the finish line. No nation can be dominated without its consent, and that consent we must never given.
Protests in Barcelona after former Catalan president arrested