That title reminds me of a linguistic joke, so let’s get that over with:
New student at Harvard, seeing a clearly established student whom he can ask for information: “Say, is this where the library’s at?
Established student (snootily): “This is Harvard. We don’t end sentences with a preposition.”
New student: “Oh, I’ll rephrase my question. Is this where the library’s at, asshole?”
To the point, now. It’s been a long time since the Scottish independence movement has been anything other than murky, unpredictable, unbelievably baffling or just plain hopeless. However, things are beginning to turn the corner, with some upcoming dramatic events:-
- This coming Wednesday, it is said, Nicola Sturgeon will set out her response to BJ’s refusal of the request for a Section 30 order. This either will or will not contain a commitment to an indy referendum this year. It’s difficult to see how it will plausibly do that. But if it doesn’t, the SNP’s credibility will slide down by another notch.
- The background to this, and the basis of all SNP policy on independence since 2015, is their belief that independence can only be securely won with the consent of the British government; anything else will create too much division in Scotland, and too much risk of non-recognition abroad.
- An alternative explanation of the SNP’s conduct since 2015 is that they don’t in fact want independence – they want to stay in power and keep their jobs and perks for ever. Political life after independence will become much more difficult for the SNP, with their primary aim accomplished and the rise (let us hope) of a proper Scottish opposition.
- The Alex Salmond trial opens soon, and there’s open discussion among commentators that this will destroy the SNP. It will destroy the SNP because the accusations against Salmond are (commentators say) a stitch-up, and Sturgeon (they say) played a large part in setting that stitch-up up. She did this (they claim) to demolish a rival who wanted to take the party in a direction she didn’t favour. (The thought of the honest, open, red-headed wee wifie whose mouth butter wouldn’t melt in being revealed as a corrupt and self-seeking political turd is an unsettling one, until you remember Blair’s metamorphosis in just a few years from left-wing poster-boy to financial scammer and international war criminal.)
- A line of argument that might mitigate the SNP’s dishonesty is that their proposed direction – indy with consent – is truly the only viable one, but that this will take ten to twenty years. Their only dishonesty is that they haven’t admitted to that timescale.
- If the SNP is eviscerated by the Salmond trial, a new party will head the independence movement (let’s just assume it’ll call itself the Scottish Independence Party, for heaven’s sake!). It’ll be much more aggressive in calling out the lies of the mass media on Scotland’s economic and cultural strengths, and in challenging Westminster’s machinations to erode devolution. If the movement is eventually forced to go for UDI, it will be a UDI which Scottish voters are in favour of because they’ll have listened to all the arguments, and one for which international recognition has been prepared through diplomatic initiatives.
- This might not be far off. After January 31st, an EU that wanted Scotland to join it (because of its economic potential and cultural compatibility) would be able to twist the arm of the UK, because the UK will no longer be an EU member and the UK will want a trade deal.
The Scotsman doesn’t believe this last point: it reports that the EU has stated categorically that it will not readmit a Scotland that has separated from the UK without consent. What The Scotsman doesn’t say, however, is that the EU will twist the British government’s arm to give consent, and that will be the price of the trade deal. So there’ll be consent, and therefore indy. And the Northern Ireland settlement shows that BoJo does actually back down when he has no cards.
It’s disappointing, for three reasons, to see that the EU has extended the Brexit deadline to October 31st. The three reasons are:
- It’s a compromise between those EU leaders who called for an extension of a year, and those who called for no extension. What do you do when you have opposing extreme viewpoints? You agree at a half-way point. However, that doesn’t deal with the underlying issues, which are that one side thinks the UK can get its act together if given time (Donald Tusk), and that the other side thinks that EU should cut its losses and terminate the Brexit process in short order (Emmanuel Macron). The ‘half-way’ compromise doesn’t settle that point (it doesn’t even come near to acknowledging it), and the underlying issue bubbles on, underlyingly.
- The second reason it’s disappointing is that the EU, in my view, has misjudged the UK’s ability to come to a consensus. The UK – and that means England – doesn’t do consensus: it’s the only European country, and one of only one-third of countries worldwide, to use First Past The Post in national elections. Its record of consensus-building since the EU referendum is beyond non-existent. So if we can guess at the future by looking at the past, the UK Parliament is not going to agree any deal before the October 31st deadline. (And how does the end-of-June review change that prospect? Not at all. “They’re not ready. – Oh, dear, we must tell them again.”) The EU has bottled it. The April 12th deadline was firm and final, and the October 31st deadline is equally firm and final, which means that the EU will bottle it again then.
- The third reason it’s disappointing is that it kicks not only the Brexit can down the road, but also the IndyRef2 can. Nicola Sturgeon’s constant promise had been that she will lay out the IndyRef2 strategy “when the terms of Brexit are known”, and they won’t be known now until maybe six months hence, and possibly not even then. This leaves the SNP open the charge that it’s not really serious about independence, a charge that’s difficult to refute without revealing prematurely your strategy, and it demands from supporters more trust than many feel comfortable with. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that the SNP is playing a very long hand indeed, keeping the independence démarche under wraps until most voters give it their engaged support. That (as Ian Blackford has said) is the kind of IndyRef2 we need, where we convince doubters by the merits of the argument.
We live in interesting times.
What is going to happen with the indy ref? And why did Theresa May call the 2017 general election?
Theresa May didn’t call the 2017 general election to strengthen her majority – she already had a working majority of 17 seats. And she didn’t call it to weaken Labour – Labour was weak enough. In fact, that was the problem. Labour’s job – from the Conservative perspective – was to contain the SNP in Scotland, and Labour wasn’t doing that. But Scottish independence on the back of Brexit would be a disaster for the Conservatives, since the loss of Scottish resources could lead to the annihilation of the neo-liberal dream. So they needed to get into Scotland, win the seats that Labour wasn’t defending, demolish the SNP, and squash the independence movement for ever. They threw at it money and data: data to identify target voters, and money to inundate them with leaflets. And they nearly succeeded: the SNP lost more than one-third of its seats (21 out of 56), its vote-share went from one-half down to one-third (50% to 36%), and Alex Salmond was out. They didn’t reach their goal – the didn’t quash the SNP, or demolish the independence movement, and polls show that support for independence continues to hold up – but they sowed misery and dismay through the upper echelons of the party. They even left some prominent party members brainwashed into believing May’s mantra that “now is not the time”.
I’m indebted to the blogger at A Wilderness of Peace for the above analysis of this election, which I find convincing. But what has it to do with the indy ref? The answer is that it gives us a pointer to the UK government’s likely attitude to the first port of call in the independence journey, namely Section 30 permission to hold an indyref. Other things we need to factor in are what to do if permission is refused, and the SNP’s constant prediction stating that “Scotland will not be taken out of Europe against its will”.
So this is where I think we are now:
- The UK government will not grant a Section 30 order. David Cameron agreed to one in 2014 because he thought indy would lose, and that that would remove independence from the agenda. That’s no longer the case. The 2017 general election didn’t demolish the indy movement, and the UK government isn’t fool enough to believe the mainstream media’s constant burble that the people of Scotland don’t want another indyref (they jolly well do). No way will they now see a Section 30 order as a risk worth taking.
- The First Minister has said, pretty well unequivocally, that she won’t mount a referendum without UK agreement. There are obvious tactical risks in doing so (the opposition will make hay with the Scottish Government for allegedly exceeding its powers, an anti-indy boycott could deprive the result of authority, a challenge in the Supreme Court could delay the whole thing), but surely the real point is that it wouldn’t achieve the independence movement’s, and more particularly Nicola Sturgeon’s, overriding strategic priority. This is that independence, when it comes, must be with the consent of the whole country; the last thing we need is a vicious campaign like the EU referendum, that leaves a country irreconcilably divided and bitter. There’ll always be a hard core of bigots, of course, and for some the consent will be grudging, but we must leave every voter in no doubt that the issues have been fully and fairly debated, and that this is what we’ve agreed to do as a nation. That can take time. Phantom Power’s recent report on Norway set out how Norwegians reach consensus by debate before doing anything at all, and “it took us forty years to build an airport”. Let alone a new country.
- If a Section 30 order is off the table, and the Scottish Government will not mount an independence referendum without one, that looks like the end of the road. It leaves only the option of UDI (which can be dressed up in various ways, but is still UDI). Given that we need to build a consensus, however, UDI would be catastrophic. So it really is the end of the road, isn’t it? Well, no, if we listen to what our politicians have been saying, and perhaps it isn’t.
- “Scotland will not be taken out of Europe against its will”, they say constantly, turning the issue into one of EU membership, rather than one of Scottish independence. So the next Scottish referendum will not be solely about independence, it will also be about the EU, and the two issues will be bundled together. “Should Scotland join the EU?” would be a good first shot at a question. We all know that Scotland can’t join the EU without first becoming independent, so the question is a proxy for that. And it’s difficult for the UK government to forbid us to ask that question, since they asked it themselves in 2016. Also, there are further factors that make it attractive to bundle the two issues together:
- It acknowledges both the conditions set out in the 2016 mandate: “clear and sustained preference for independence” and “material change of circumstances”;
- It makes victory wholly attainable: 62% voted to Remain in 2016, and that figure has almost certainly increased since then;
- If the 38% Leavers boycotted the referendum, that still wouldn’t be enough to cast doubt on the result.
The clincher, of course, is that if we can run the campaign like we did in 2014 – that is, as a largely straight campaign that engages people with the issues, rather than like the EU referendum, which was based on all sorts of make-you-boak nastiness and lies – then we place anti-indy in a deep cleft stick. The only argument they have for keeping the Union together is that England needs Scotland’s wealth, and that’s the one thing they can never admit. So it looks like our hands are full of aces here.
Liked this response of Nicola Sturgeon to an awkward moment. And her self-deprecatory comment about a lot of people wanting to do the same shows a level of self-awareness and public engagement that not many politicians have. Good on the girl.
BBC video clip copied, tealeafed and duplicated from Munguin’s New Republic. Well done, Munguin!