Time to challenge received wisdom about second Scottish referendum


Commentary by Carolyn McCole

I have a good friend. Let’s call her Claire. We met in 2014. Our values and political opinions are pretty similar, though she was as stridently ‘No’ as I was ‘Yes’. She called me on the morning of 19th September. Though she’d never admit it, I sensed she too felt deflated.

“You never know,” she said, “In five or so years, I might vote yes too.” I was too upset to respond and admittedly felt there was little point now the vote had passed. But I wondered – what did she want or expect the next five years to change?

It’s all a matter of time. This is what we hear, time and again. The date of Indy Ref 2 has to be perfectly timed. Independence is a question of time. Now is not the time. The problem with time though, is eventually it runs out. At that point, you either completed the task or you didn’t.

For generations, students entering exams have been given the same advice. Use the time available. Don’t waste the first half an hour planning your approach. Don’t give up with half an hour to go. The same advice applies to the Yes movement today and the clock is already ticking.


Supporters of independence have waited long enough.  Post 2014, we confidently waited for the shit of a ‘No’ vote to hit the fan. Then we watched as that shit repeatedly hit the fan, through EVEL, the trappings of the Smith Commission, HMRC job losses, disappearing frigates, reduced budgets, increased austerity and ultimately Brexit. Then we wondered how much shit needs to hit the fan before those who placed their no vote in good faith start to question the competency of our masters in Westminster?

Yet still we see passivity in response. The no vote hasn’t significantly shifted. There might be a general acceptance that Brexit spells disaster, but this hasn’t naturally evolved into the groundswell for independence which many expected. And why should it when there is not yet an alternative on the scale we saw in 2014 to gravitate towards? I think now of Claire. Three years have passed and she’d still vote no. But what really have we done in that time to convince her otherwise? Yes there has been a lot of hard work behind the scenes, but for those don’t watch political programmes or read a daily blog – what messages have they received?

How many times have you heard agnostic voters say they’re sympathetic to the notion of independence, but don’t want another referendum? Now is the time to challenge this reprise before it becomes established rhetoric. Accepting it only indulges the passivity and delays progress.

Of course there’s a lot of fatigue. There’s voter fatigue after annual elections and referenda. There’s understandable activist fatigue after repeated campaigns into which foot soldiers across the country invested their heart and souls.

There’s also a legitimate fear of burnout. I used to think there was little point in campaigning without a date on which to focus. I even feared it might cost momentum. But isn’t that approaching the situation back to front?


Rather than securing a date before we create an appetite for independence, shouldn’t we create the appetite for independence first, or we may never secure that date. For as we debate the perfect time to revisit the issue, people are watching Brexit unravel, with growing reluctance to pursue anything which in their eyes may lead to further upheaval and uncertainty.

The FM steers through the indyref debate

As such, a key aspect of the revisited campaign must be to distinguish Scottish independence from Brexit. To illuminate independence as a solution, rather than an additional problem. Whether we like it or not, Joe Public – who might not be up to date with the devolution settlement, or who is perhaps a little rusty on the specifics of the EU Withdrawal Bill –  may view these vastly different situations as two sides of the same coin. Allowing one to run its potentially catastrophic course, risks making him less sympathetic to the other and the mortal danger of this to Scotland’s chance of independence must be recognised – before it’s too late.

Yes there was a valid argument to say we should wait to see what the terms of Brexit are before re-launching an official campaign or declaring Indy Ref 2. But clarification on the final terms of Brexit could drag on for an undefined ‘transition’ period and then the case for Scottish independence risks being postponed until ten past never. Will Theresa May’s decision to enshrine the date in law change that? Probably not. Alternatively, Brexit could take us by surprise with a deal which falls through at the eleventh hour and pulls us into the abyss of a cliff edge scenario. At that point, it’s too late to start talking about the escape route we might have had. We’ll be lost in the chaos and so will the last chance for an independent Scotland. It’s not an inevitability, it’s an opportunity that’s running out of time.


Of course the premise of said caution is to wait until conditions are more certain, so that voters are provided with a clear choice. That is the ideal scenario. Back in real life, that certainty may never appear. Perhaps we should instead remind the electorate that nothing is certain and we must have the maturity to recognise that this is fundamentally a more simple choice than many imagine: Do we want to face inevitable uncertainty with the tools to make decisions for ourselves? Or do we want the terms of an uncertain future to be decided by somebody else? A distant Parliament that time and again, has treated our people, our votes and our resources with contempt? A Government that time and again, puts party interests before those of our nation?

In 2014 we allowed the unionist establishment to dictate the terms of debate. We spent much of our time defending the arguments for independence, rather than attacking claims made for the union. Then we lost. By waiting for Brexit to play out, we’re falling into the same trap. We’re allowing Westminster to dictate the terms and implicitly agreeing that “Now is not the time.”

Now strikes me as the perfect time. If the Yes Movement resurges as the Brexit crises develops, Westminster is left unable to cope with a battle on two fronts. We have a choice. We can build our campaign now while another situation is demanding attention and resources– or we can go home and continue to eat our cereal.

One side is facing at a time-bomb. Come Brexit day, either the union, or the independence movement will be seriously wounded by the shrapnel of missed opportunities and time wasted. At that point, the prospect of recovery becomes much more difficult.


Of course it’s easy for all of us to sit in front of a screen and pontificate. But what does it mean in reality? Where do we start? What can we as individuals do? In short, whatever you can, but I suggest we invoke the strategy of ‘One at a Time’. We all know a Claire. We all know one person, who should have been a yes voter in 2014. Someone whose ideology was far more in keeping with the pro-independence camp than Better Together, but who for whatever reason, didn’t quite make the leap. This might be a pal, a colleague, your hairdresser or postie; and you are best placed to know the approach most likely to convince them. If we all convinced the Claire in our life through a bespoke strategy then the union, not independence, is living on borrowed time.

It’s time Scotland took inspiration from Catalonia and grew a set of cojones. Of course they could have waited until the constitution was amended, or a legal referendum agreed, but in reality that was never going to happen. So they demanded progress. They demanded recognition of their rights. They threw caution to the wind and enacted what the people had voter for. Across the nation there were countless examples of extreme personal bravery as individuals ventured to the polls in spite of state authorised violence and police brutality.

In Scotland the situation is in many ways is simpler. So what are we waiting for?


  1. I agree. Why are we sitting back? Let’s get out there and create the buzz! Independence is ours to go and get, not Westminster’s to give.

  2. “In Scotland the situation is in many ways is simpler. ”
    This is so true. We have a constitutional political union, Acts and Treaty etc, established by a majority of Scotland’s MP’s, that can be undone in precisely the same way. Now. “So what are we waiting for?” Let’s call this Plan B.

    “The no vote hasn’t significantly shifted”
    The reason for this is largely connected to the population census trends, which tells us that each decade over 500,000 mostly No voters come from the rest-UK to live in Scotland, while over half this number of Scots leave. This is a large cultural inflow of No voters that will not easily change their views or their sense of Britishness. A second referendum (lets call this Plan A) is a flawed strategy on all counts, i.e. 1. population shift, 2. Westminster’s refusal for a referendum, indefinitely, or 3. Westminster’s refusal to accept any Yes vote anyway should that somehow transpire.

    Plan B anybody?

  3. Plan B; the SNP, at the next Holyrood election, should stand on a platform of declaring independence and all YES supporters should get behind this.

    • Westminster wad nae doot claim that the constitution is a reserved power which Holyrood does not have any jurisdiction over, hence MSP’s cannot change the constitution. There is rather more constitutional and hence legal grounds to claim that it is Scotland’s elected MP’s who hold (i.e. as given, by the people) sovereign power over Scotland, should they wish to exercise it. 39 SNP MP’s is a Scotland majority and therefore sufficient to give notice (now, today) that they wish to withdraw Scotland from the union; that notice could be made subject to another election or referendum to ratify withdrawal, if desired. Mind you, some of us have been arguing this since 2015 when 56 SNP MP’s were elected, which was even more emphatically de facto independence. As Carolyn and others such as Craig Murray have noted, maybe this is just a matter of ‘cojones’, and our allegedly ‘nationalist’ MP’s preference to ‘settle in to Westminster rather than settle up’.

    • The ‘plan’ to wait until the 2021 Holyrood election make it a referendum on independence would be fine, were it not for realpolitik. It assumes that the British political elite will be sitting idly by just waiting for events to unfold. It ignores the fact that the British establishment is absolutely determined, not only to prevent any expression of Scotland’s will on the constitutional issue, but to lock Scotland into a ‘One Nation’ British state.

      Brexit represents an opportunity for British Nationalism every bit as much as it provides a spur for Scotland’s independence movement. Leaving the EU will require that the UK be constitutionally redefined. It became a different legal entity on joining the EU. We all became EU citizens. So, the UK must become a different entity again on becoming a former member of the EU. There is no requirement that the UK simply revert to the status quo ante. In the absence of a written constitution, there are really no effective constraints on what the executive of the British government may do. Especially if it can be sure of cooperation from the nominal opposition.

      The British establishment can pretty much redefine the UK in any way it likes. Which means it can redefine Scotland’s status within the UK as it wishes. And it is both able and willing to do this unilaterally. There is evidence enough and more in the way the Scottish Government has been sidelined in the Brexit negotiations, and in the British political elite’s contempt for the Scottish Parliament, to be quite certain that the UK will act to lock Scotland into a ‘One Nation’ British state; and do so with no more than a flimsy pretence of consultation with Scotland’s democratically elected representatives.

      In short, the new referendum must be held on Thursday 20 September 2018. Don’t dispute this. Don’t debate it. Don’t even discuss it. Because, even in the very unlikely event that I’m wrong, we have to act as if the referendum will be held next September. We cannot afford to wait and see what the British will do. We can be totally certain that it will not be good for Scotland.

      • Ok.

        We must also win the referendum and that means persuading soft No’s to change their minds and vote YES next time.

        We have ten months to do this.

        What is your plan?

        • That is Carolyn’s point. The plan starts with each one of us doing our best to persuade the soft No voters of our acquaintance to move to Yes. We can’t sit back anymore waiting for the launch of a referendum. Start the work now and always ask positively of independence being the solution.

  4. Having the referendum after Brexit could backfire. There is over 182000 non British EU citizens in Scotland which represent 3.4% of the Scottish population yet those EU citizens are responsible for 50% of Scotland’s population growth.Imagine what the impact would be if they decide to leave just before Brexit. In a referendum before Brexit most of those would vote for independence.

  5. The SNP took a risk with the 2014 referendum and as a result the leadership has become cautious and risk averse unfortunately at a time when the system is showing marked signs of division and weakness. We are not here to give succour to this system, quite the opposite.
    There needs to be a return to dealing with the major task in hand and rather less concern with Guardianish social engineering initiatives to placate vociferous minorities.

  6. Ottomanboi, that’s just what I was thinking – from a distance, it seems that now is probably the best time to go for it, all or nothing, instead of fannying about 😉

    • The old Irish slogan cited above concerning the opportunities presented by ‘England’s difficulty’ ought to be ours too. The British state is our adversary. We have no moral, ethical, historical obligations towards it.
      Nationalists who manifest a certain nostalgia for the ‘softer’ aspects of Britishness can have an issue with that. They might benefit from a critical reading of the history of Britain, its empire and our rôle in it.

  7. The demographics are against the independence movement. The only chance is for the Scottish government to engineer an election, to declare it an independence election , and for all supporters of independence to be persuaded to vote SNP. If a majority is achieved they can then declare independence. This has to be done very soon, as in before March 29, 2019.

  8. totally agree with you on taking the fight to Westminster and your observation of their fear regarding “a war on two fronts” is the key to unlocking the door to Independence. Put simply, we must be bold because after this effort there will be no other chances ….. we will sink with SS Britannia.. Excellent article.

  9. A start would be to stop defending Unionist lies and myths and go on the offensive. Yesterday on GMS when being interviewed on Brexit, Stephen Gethins was asked a final question on Alex Salmond appearing on RT..he immediately fell into their narrative about RT being Kremlin backed and that Alex Salmond was ‘ unwise’ . I couldn’t believe my ears, why not answer back with ‘ well some might argue RT are no more bias than the BBC’ ? zero political savvy!
    On so many fronts the SNP fails to take the initiative and articulate the counter argument. It happened in 2014, over the pound and Europe, and today there is a wealth of examples of Scotland either being lied to or misled, but when do you hear this from the SNP when they are given a media platform?
    Despite 3 years on Brti Nat onslaught the core YES vote has remained steady at 40-45%, they will not lose any support by taking the fight to the British establishment and exposing the lies and hypocrisy, putting out a bold alternative to Brexit within an independent Scotland, re affirm their democratic mandate and marshall the entire YES movement towards a definite referendum date.
    You cant march troops into battle without a map and compass. Give them direction and reason, and they will fight.

  10. Well said, Charles. Now is the time for some in-your-face work by all parts of the independence movement. We need to cause a problem or two and we need a leadership that is a tad more feisty and confrontational!!

  11. Sturgeon needs to give us a date !!! Once we get a date people, not normally interested in politics, will be ready to listen.

    • I suspect Nicola Sturgeon is no Carles Puigdemont, unfortunately. Time for the SNP leadership to shift up a gear, or four.

  12. Irish UK Border Precedent for Independent Scotland
    On Radio Shortbread, Irish Journalist, ” the Irish Government are being very careful to ensure that whatever agreement is arrived at between Ireland and the UK can’t be seen as a precedent for an Independent Scotland’s border with RUK” . . . . . So why can’t this border arrangement deal be seen as a precedent for Scotland. . . . For no reason other than . . . . They are going to say it can’t.

  13. Of course we need to be campaigning for Independence…but was not the 56 seats given to the SNP by our voters not a basic mandate to demand maximum powers or declare Indy anyway? It was not in the 2015 manifesto, but it has been the de facto reason for the party’s existence since its inception hasn’t it?

    Yet what did we get?….managerial mediocrity..cringing Uncle Tomism playing by the corrupt ‘rules ‘ of a stinking Imperial sham called Westminster…result?…a disastrous loss of seats and half a million votes disappearing like snow off a dyke. The embarassing display of ‘farting at thunder’ as AS led the lemmings in a chorus of ‘ode to Joy’ to empty Unionist seats summed up the utter pointlessness of the exercise.
    No answers to currency..no answers to control over the economy (stupid) and jobs and pensions…even three years after losing the REF over those same issues.

    Yes, I know there were answers given at the time..but were they heard by those who needed to hear?…That’s rhetorical, because they weren’t’and still have not been made explicit. Yet the SNP refuse to make a fight of those issues..or more importantly our Sovereign rights as an equal member of the UK to dissolve that Union at any time, over the overwhelming ongoing breaches of that Union by England’s Parliament. Which masquerades as a UK entity. We should not be quibbling about Brexit, we should be negotiating to stay in the EU until our population decides otherwise and the EU should be made to face up to that and deciding to accept it or not. Make no mistake…if the English tories bottle Brexit and implode and tey (or Labour) beg for forgiveness and do a deal..then we are fucked as far as indy is concerned…as things stand…status quo will suit many of our spineless citizens.

    Yes let’s campaign for Independence …before the white flight flood from over the border finally outnumbers us, or the media convince our fearties that they really are ‘Brits’ after all…which ever comes first.

  14. Normally i’m a big fan mate, but this article is a bit far off the mark.

    Don’t see how any of this is possible as it’s basically down to WM whether we get the vote or not.

    So we can sit around all day and make ‘call’s to action’, but until we get approval of a vote, it will only further tire folk of the message, never mind the messengers themselves.

    No calls to action until we have our shit sorted first/ the outcome of brexit is clear. (a credible economic plan would be a great start for example. )

    • Hi Jamie, Thanks for reading the article and for your thoughts, much appreciated.

      Gonna have to agree to disagree though. I understand what you’re saying, but my point is that waiting for Westminster’s ‘permission’ is to dance to it’s tune; and run the risk of Scotland missing the (life) boat entirely.

      • I sympathize with that position greatly if I am honest. The only possible workaround I could see would be a ‘joint ticket’ between the SNP and Greens, where the SNP took the constituency seats and the Greens took the list seats, meaning all independence supporting voters have a very clear option that represents independence.

        Even after that, we would essentially need to make a UDI declaration, if we were even successful. Which comes with its own problems as evidenced by the situation in Catalonia. Namely, i’m not sure if we would even be recognized as a sovereign state afterwards and only sovereign states can apply for EU/EFTA membership. (surely the whole point of the exercise).

        Failing that, whether we like it or not, it is down to WM to give us the vote, that’s not my opinion or even something we can agree or disagree on, its bone hard fact. I don’t like it either.

        Lastly, are we ready to run for independence yet?

        No, not in my opinion.

        We have advanced nothing in our agenda (mostly down to the recent importance of the SNP), so we would be wholly reliant upon the failure of our opponents in WM. Now whilst WM’s failing is almost always a given. There’s a part of me that would much rather have a ‘sure win’. Where not only is staying in the sinking UK a bad idea, but an independent Scotland is a great idea. That takes a plan and a good one, not fantasy economics and well wishes like the last time.

        If only the SNP had built Scotland into such a state as to make independence irresistible we could be confident, hell we could be proud.

        Right now, as a yes voter, I’m worried about independence. Worried that these schmucks will take be the government of an indi Scotland and run it into the ground in their dogmatic pursuit of a ‘socialist utopia’ that only a few of their vocal supporters actually want.

        The only thing that keeps me yes, is faith in my people, faith that they are smart enough to see through the double speak of the SNP.

    • Hi Jason,

      In case you’re still interested- ‘Claire’ recently told me she’d no longer vote no. She might abstain, but she wouldn’t vote no.

  15. Hi Jason,

    No she doesn’t, but that’s sort of my point. There are a lot of people like her and it’s time now for us to become as visible and vocal as we were in 2014 or we can’t really expect people to change their minds.

    I’ll be diplomatically working on Claire in the meantime, as I’ve always believed she will ultimately vote yes if we ever get the chance again.

    Thanks for taking the time to read and respond.


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