By Russell Bruce
A primer on why we do not have a date yet for the next independence referendum
In the last article I mentioned the growing frustration many supporters of independence are expressing, unhelpfully, on social media. For well over a year it did seem that agreement on Brexit might just be achieved but the turmoil in both the Conservative and Labour parties ensured that May’s Withdrawal Agreement, criss-crossed with complex red lines, failed to achieve the backing of parliament.
The SNP, in its manifesto for the 2016 Scottish Parliament election stated that Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will constituted a mandate for a second independence referendum. The SNP was returned as the party of government in 2016. In the 2016 EU referendum Scotland voted 62% to Remain. In this year’s EU elections the SNP won in every Scottish local authority area except Orkney and Shetland, won by the LibDems. When, and if, Brexit is finally sewn up the mandate is triggered.
Opinion in favour of EU membership continues to grow as the Brexit Westminster farce continues into a fourth year. Using some common questions or statements from social media Newsnet has compiled responses to urge patience and solidarity. I am just as anxious as everyone else about the cloud of uncertainty hanging over Brexit Britain and to achieve independence.
Could Scotland not just opt to remain in the EU?
No. The UK is the member state and Scotland and Northern Ireland leave as part of the UK. Nicola Sturgeon argued for the UK to remain in the Single Market and Customs Union as a compromise solution to limit the economic damage for all the nations of the UK, including impacts on cross-border trade. Mrs May turned that down. So our First Minister argued for a differential solution for Scotland as the Single Market and Customs Union is, short of membership, in Scotland’s best interests. Mrs May also ignored that.
The EU is sympathetic to Scotland’s position and suggestions were made about a ‘holding pen’ to enable Scotland to join quickly as we are already compliant with EU law, an essential requirement for all laws passed by the Scottish Parliament. Once the UK is no longer a member state the EU is expected to make an offer to Scotland. Following a referendum and becoming independent Scotland can expect to join EFTA at an early date, forming part of a Nordic alliance with common interests in strategic defence in the North Atlantic, fishing, oil and gas and renewable energy.
Did Nicola Sturgeon expect PM May to listen to Scotland?
The answer is on a scale from Highly Unlikely to Never in a Month of Sundays. Competent politics demands building a future case by arguing in line with majority opinion for better solutions and taking constructive and positive positions that will move former No voters to Yes because Scotland’s interests and values lie with a European future.
But Boris is going to crash us out of the EU with no deal!
That is his stated plan if the EU won’t negotiate a new deal more to his liking. Trouble is he has 40 Tory rebels who do not agree with a No Deal Brexit. The EU will not change the Withdrawal Agreement but will talk about the Political Declaration if Boris engages constructively. Boris is not given to being constructive. Expect Mrs May to either vote against or abstain in Commons votes on No Deal and in the subsequent no confidence vote on Boris’ government. Theresa May is still working at getting ‘her deal’ through parliament from beyond the grave. Meanwhile she is emptying the coffers with big spending commitments. Sorry Boris the money for your tax cuts and spending plans has all gone and tax revenues have fallen dramatically.
But these are reasons to have an independence referendum now
This may be difficult, but Nicola Sturgeon is not responsible for the Brexit delays. Nicola Sturgeon is following what she has always said was her position. When we know the outcome she will fix the date and not before. Politicians doing exactly what they say are few on the ground in Brexit Britain. Our First Minister is just as frustrated at the incompetence of the Westminster system and their inability to organise Brexit in a competent manner. The positive is 2014 No voters are moving to Yes and many others are more inclined, but waiting until the Brexit outcome is known as they hope against hope the UK will not leave the EU in the end.
Brexit is to do with England. We should just leave and let them get on with it
SNP MPs are working with others at Westminster to prevent Boris’ No Deal exit in October. If the UK has a transition period Scotland’s economy is protected from damaging tariffs and we have much more flexibility following a successful independence referendum. The Scottish Government must work in Scotland’s best interests to maximise the potential for economy stability within this brief period.
Independence does not happen as soon as we vote for it but everything does change in regard to becoming an EU member state during a period of UK transition and negotiations with the UK government as we extract ourselves from the UK.
I just want to campaign for independence but I need the date and the SNP isn’t doing anything
Following the successful EU elections in May the SNP has been running regular action days and these will continue throughout the summer. YES groups throughout the country have also been consistently active. Pensioners for YES has been particularly active in many areas. Work done now will ensure we are in the best possible position once the date is known. Even a small amount of time spent with either the SNP or a Yes group will make a real difference.
The SNP has got too comfortable in government
This is a line that absolutely delights unionists and they are sharing it on social media with an army of trolls. Elected MSPs, many with ministerial roles, are out campaigning with their local activists. No MP at Westminster finds their presence there comfortable. Scots have always found Westminster a hostile environment and it is especially hostile to SNP MPs.
In Scotland the SNP is the governing party and has the country to run at a challenging time with UK government budget cuts. New departments are being set up to deal with new powers transferred to the Scottish Government. This allows early preparation for independence when we will have to deal with the totality of the government of Scotland. Much is being put in place to enable the structures needed for independence, including setting up a Scottish Investment Bank, preparation for a Scottish Central Bank and a fair social security system where everyone is valued.
I worry about English Nationalism and just want out!
And rightly so. The mandate for a second independence referendum is based on Scotland being taken out of the EU against the express wishes of the people of Scotland. However much we would wish to avoid a Boris ‘Do or Die’ or ‘Do and Die’ outcome, the reality is raw English nationalism is destroying rational political options south of the Border. It is rather like that pear in the fruit bowl. Looks sound and lush but when you cut it open it is rotten to the core and turns to mush in your hands. Rational people and markets cannot believe Boris will really go through with a Brexit we know the country is not fully prepared for. Only if and when he does or gets a deal through parliament will our mandate be triggered. Then those hovering on switching support for the union to supporting independence will move to us in floods.
Nicola Sturgeon isn’t up to the job and should be replaced
Wow, that is straight out of the unionist handbook and is designed to cause disillusion within the independence movement and fracture cohesion between people and groups supporting independence. The health and determination of the grass-roots movement is vital for success.
Nicola Sturgeon isn’t going anywhere, she has been preparing for this period since she was 16. She is clear about the lessons of 2014 in which she had a core role. In the latest YouGov poll of the most admired women internationally, UK respondents ranked Nicola Sturgeon 10th. That is quite an achievement for a Scottish politician. Nicola Sturgeon is the only person that can call an independence referendum.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission, is an admirer of the First Minister. Interestingly for a Christian Democrat, von der Leyen shares much on social policy with Nicola Sturgeon having increased childcare provision in Germany, introducing parental allowances for fathers and also campaigned for women on company boards during the 4 years she was Labour minister.
The First Minister works and talks across the political spectrum to bring people together for the betterment of everyone. On diverse issues she has worked to keep alive alternatives to Brexit in the UK but especially concerning Scotland’s interests.
Last month Scotland voted for Scotland in Europe so what’s the problem?
Independence was never going to be easy to accomplish. In the fourteenth century wars of independence Bruce used slash and burn to ensure English troops would not be sustained as they penetrated deeper into Scotland. This time we will have the EU to watch our back. It is incumbent on all of us to back Sturgeon’s careful strategic approach to deliver independence. Les jeux ne sont pas encore faits – or to put it another way we must not gamble with amateur armchair betting strategies.
Scotland’s place is in Europe, whatever the outcome in England and as Ursula von der Leyen said: “Yes, the door is open because we want you in.” Like Ireland, Scotland has friends in Europe to watch our back. Having Germany clearly on our side provides confidence that much has changed since 2014.
We should indeed discuss our options and what we want to achieve with independence. The Scottish Government will set out its strategy when the time is right. No general publishes his/her game plan ahead of operations. The SNP is campaigning now because there is much to do before a date is set. Only Nicola Sturgeon can set that date and she will.
Independence will redefine Scotland’s place in the World. That is so much more than just gaining the powers of a normal country. Alignment with Europe will enable Scotland to be part of a strong Europe determined to share and support our values against outside pressures.
I am worried about Donald Trump
And you have every reason to worry. Boris is expected to toady up to Trump within days of becoming PM. Trump in turn is usually very complimentary about Putin and even exchanges friendly words with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, rather liking they are not troubled with challenges from a democratic system. Friendly countries, so called special relationships, historic ally (France) major exporting nation (Germany) and the EU are the brunt of his ire and bullying. Trump will make a fuss of Boris. The knives to cut Britain down to size, grab the NHS and force dodgy chicken and hormone fed beef will come later in true Trump style.
Trump’s methods are those he used in business. Every deal is hard fought, grinding suppliers down before agreement is reached, then he comes back for more. He is never satisfied. This is why Scotland becoming an EU member state in its own right is so important. We have seen how 27 members have stood behind Ireland despite a barrage of attacks from the English establishment.
If we had voted for independence in 2014 Scotland would have been out of the EU and would have had to apply for membership as a new member state. That worried many and they voted NO. Now they are gradually changing their views, either supporting independence or becoming more open to changing.
I still just want independence. What about UDI?
UDI sometimes worked for former colonies as the imperial age came to a close. International recognition with UDI takes longer, if ever actually achieved. It is not appropriate for an advanced European country and would cause problems for Scotland joining the EU. It has to be an agreed and constitutionally robust process to ensure a smooth and early transition.
Of the 10 states that have declared UDI since 1990 only 2 have succeeded in gaining international and EU recognition In both cases, Croatia and Slovakia found themselves involved in short term wars. Kosovo has achieved partial recognition since UDI in 2008. Crimea was annexed by Russia and Catalonia remains under Spanish control.
The procedure for Irish independence is an important precedent. The Treaty of Union is an international agreement. Unwinding it is also a legal process that will enshrine Scottish independence in international law. The SNP will not follow a procedure that creates doubt and delays in Scotland gaining international recognition and forming new alliances as an independent nation.
UDI means leaving without a negotiated settlement and that’s a Boris Johnson approach. Devolution means that effectively sovereignty is shared between Westminster and the devolved governments. Westminster does not see it that way and UDI invites the danger of the Scottish Parliament being ‘prorogued’ for an indefinite period. Only a convincing democratic vote puts the will of the Scottish people beyond doubt. The Scottish Parliament has the powers to hold referenda. That also is beyond doubt and the legislation is going through the Parliament at the moment.
Will UK definitely be out of the EU on 31st October and the referendum will then be called?
The bad news is this could drag on but with existential consequences for the Conservative party currently imploding. Boris will not get a change to the backstop and there isn’t time for essential legislation. Parliament will stop No deal and Boris will face in all probability a vote of No confidence and very likely lose. His government will fall. Corbyn is not in a position to form a government. He is a committed Leaver and his party has a confused policy on the EU. We could have a General election as early as October which is why the SNP is campaigning now. The EU will extend the deadline and Boris, still Tory leader, will campaign to be out by Christmas.
A general election is the perfect opportunity to claim a mandate for a new Section 30. Some argue it could be used as a mandate to treat for independence. The SNP are more likely to use it for a legally agreed referendum as that position will garner the most votes.
How can you be so certain about this?
I can’t. It is the nearside probability we must prepare for. The crisis at the heart of Westminster government will unfold roughly along these lines based on what Boris has said but, as his supporters know only too well, he is completely unpredictable. Boris is looking to prorogue (shut down) parliament so MPs can’t stop No Deal.
This is where it gets interesting and good for us. The Queen has to agree and it draws the monarch into the biggest constitutional crisis in her long reign. Parliament is sovereign in the UK’s unwritten constitution. It would be rare for the Queen to disregard a Prime Minister’s request. Effectively she would be making Boris sovereign and that should cause her to pause and think. Rather than outright refuse the request the Queen might wisely be minded to send Boris off to think again.
As is often said, the only certainties in life are death and taxes. At this point in time the next time we go out to vote is probably a Westminster general election in the autumn. That is why we need to be campaigning now to return the maximum number of SNP MPs and set the scene for independence. Never in the 50 years I have campaigned for independence have we ever faced a British state in such a total turmoil. We are so close and must hold our resolve. At no time before did an overwhelming vote for independence seem so likely.
Independence will only be won with discipline, determination and drive, get behind that and the date will follow.