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By Jason Michael
THE FIRST MINISTER OF SCOTLAND and leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, has said she will make an announcement in the coming weeks concerning the timetable for another independence referendum. Ms. Sturgeon added that this timetable would not change even if the London government secured a twelve-month extension of Article 50. All we can take from this is that something is coming. As usual – used as we are to being kept in the dark, this is nothing concrete, but something is coming. What this means is that we should ready ourselves for action – if we are not already suited and booted for the job. But, before this announcement, there are a few things we should consider; there are a number of options for the road ahead.
Last time round, in 2012, the Scottish and British governments agreed on a Section 30 Order. In the Edinburgh Agreement arising from this the negotiated terms and conditions of an independence referendum were laid out, giving the Scottish people – for one day – the freedom to decide the constitutional future of their country. It is altogether likely the Scottish government feels that the best way forward from here is to seek another Section 30 and, in effect, have another referendum in the form and likeness of the 2014 referendum. Peter Bell, however, fears this might be a mistake. In a recent interview on the Through a Scottish Prism podcast he said that another Section 30 would give a reluctant British government too much power over the details of the next referendum. It could, for example, refuse the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds and EU citizens.
The iron is white hot. Support for independence is rising daily due to this Brexit mayhem. We are over the 50% mark… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) January 17, 2019
He makes a very good point. When David Cameron agreed to an independence referendum in 2012, he did so in the entirely reasonable belief – given the state of the polls at the time – the Yes side would easily be defeated, putting the question of independence to bed for another 30 or 40 years. Today, all of that has changed. Right now, before a campaign has begun, anywhere between 47 and 59 per cent of Scots – depending on the shape of Brexit and the poll in question – believe Scotland should be an independent country. From the get-go the next referendum will be a hard fight for the union, and so this will likely have a serious impact on the actual terms of “IndyRef2.” Other than the vote being taken from EU citizens and from 16 and 17-year olds, we might even see the threshold for decision moved up from 50 per cent plus one.
Giving this much power to the British government might prove to be fatal. It would be wise, then, to approach this from another angle – perhaps by insisting the terms remain the same as they were the last time round, thus forcing the British government to refuse. But what if it is refused? We simply cannot allow that to happen, and so we must be thinking of alternatives from the start. There is no legal requirement that a Section 30 must be granted. In 2012 one was sought as a matter of courtesy, and, admittedly, that has created something of a precedent – but, strictly speaking, it is still not a requirement. Within the framework of the unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom it is possible for the Scottish government to draft, by the consent of the Scottish parliament – which has already been given, its own terms and present these to the Prime Minister.
Of course, the British Prime Minister can – as she has done before – opt to ignore the Scottish government, say again that “Now is not the time,” or point-blank refuse a referendum. But denying a referendum the democratically elected government of the people of Scotland has requested; a referendum requested by the electorate and the parliament of Scotland, will create its own problems. It will undermine the pretence of British democracy and further agitate Scotland at a time when the UK needs all the support it can get. Such a front from the Scottish government would be putting to the Prime Minister an offer she can’t refuse – not really. If she does in fact refuse it, she will only realise – as David Cameron did – that that would guarantee Scottish independence.
Mark Hirst (@Documark) December 23, 2018
But neither must Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish government back down. In the face of a Downing Street refusal it is conceivable that Ms Sturgeon will run instead with a legally non-binding consultative referendum, something unionists would probably boycott so as to give London grounds to ignore it – and resist it, if needs be. Instead, the First Minister must stick to her guns; making it clear that this referendum is mandated by the Scottish electorate in the pro-independence majority at Holyrood and the dominance of the SNP on the Scottish benches at Westminster and by the expressed will of the Scottish parliament. From the very beginning of the process the Scottish government must be resolute in its intention to hold a binding referendum and ratify the decision, if successful, with a declaration of independence.
It would be a mistake on the part of Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish government to hand the initiative to the British government. This is a Scottish decision to be made in Scotland and by the Scottish people. At every stage in the process the initiative must be the Scottish government’s, forcing the British government always to react – and with it knowing that each reaction risks exposing itself as anti-democratic and tyrannical.
Eleanor Bennett (@Eleanor_Beee) January 15, 2019
There are other routes, namely those attaching themselves to one of two ideas – a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) à la the Dáil Éireann declaration of 1919 (of which yesterday was the centenary) and the ill-defined notion of “Dissolve the Union.” Let’s forget a UDI, please. We are a democracy, and our independence must be established firmly on the democratic foundation of a referendum, the only mandate which would express the will of Scotland without any suggestion that a fictive unionist majority would still have voted No. This led to British military action against Ireland in 1919 – the Irish War of Independence – and it would lead to the same thing here. As for dissolving the union, other than that being the goal we are all aiming for, it’s not entirely clear what this chant means. If it means dissolving the union by a referendum, sure – let’s do that. If not, then let’s park it with the UDI in the big hut of really bad ideas.
Something is coming. The First Minister is preparing to make an announcement on the shape another independence referendum will take. What this cannot afford to be is a grand gesture. Nothing will do now but a firm statement of intent, followed up by the untrammelled resolution of the Scottish government to follow through on the decision of that referendum. Anything short of this will be a colossal disappointment. It will risk puncturing the resolve of the independence movement, and it will more than likely see Scotland taken over the Brexit dead-ball line – ending the independence cause for the rest of our lives. Whatever this something is, it is clear that this is it: It is time to shit or get off the pot.
Nicola Sturgeon calls for second Brexit referendum