Friday, October 14, 2016

Here We Go Again

It's fair to say I'm not hugely enthusiastic for a second independence referendum. Had the powers-that-be actually delivered the things they solemnly vowed to deliver, and had England not engaged in the monumental self-harm that is Brexit, the issue would have been put to bed for a generation.

However, the people of Scotland voted to stay in the UK by 55% to 45%, and voted to stay in the EU by 62% to 38%. And after the Brexit vote it very quickly became apparent that we can't have both - neither the EU nor the UK government have any interest in any sort of a "reverse Greenland" deal that might see Scotland retain both unions.

That being the case, someone has to choose which to preserve. And while you can argue many different ways about which mandate supersedes the other, the bottom line is that there's a choice: either we the people decide what we want, or some group of our elected politicians decide what we want for us.

In that case, better that it is us. That way, we get what we actually want, and not what someone else decides that we want.

So, yeah, a second independence referendum is necessary.

(And, actually, it's those who would prefer to stay in the UK who should be calling for a referendum. Because 56 of Scotland's 59 MPs, 68 of 129 MSPs, and 3 of 6 MEPs support independence. If it's down to Scotland's elected politicians, it's independence.)

Of course, there are all sorts of potential issues along the way.

Firstly, the required bill would need to pass the Scottish Parliament, which is by no means a sure thing - in theory, the SNP and the Greens together should be enough, but there's always a suspicion that the Greens may decide that now is not the time, and block it. (Of course, in doing so they would consign themselves to electoral oblivion, so it's doubtful they would... but it is possible.) There's also the question of whether the Presiding Officer would allow it, since it has always been debateable whether the SP has the competence to pass such a bill. And while in the long-term it's probably that it would indeed be deemed valid, time is rather critical here.

Secondly, there is the question of whether Westminster would be on board. Again, I doubt it's practical for them to block a vote forever, but they could certainly delay one, when timing is fairly critical. (There's also the possibility of this having to go through the courts, which would also take time...)

But, ultimately, I think this can be resolved one of three ways:

  • The best option is for Westminster to concede the validity of the vote, to arrange another Edinburgh agreement, and let things proceed sensibly. This was the approach David Cameron took last time, and as a matter of principle it was the right one. (Of course, what they also should have done, either in the previous agreement or in the post-referendum settlement, was to formally devolve the right for the Scottish Parliament to hold future referendums with a specified cool down period between them. But I digress.)
  • The next best option would be for Westminster to try to block the vote. I suspect the consequence of that is that, eventually, there would be a vote anyway, and that such a vote would inevitably lead to independence - because a Tory government telling Scots that they don't get to decide for themselves won't go down well.
  • The worst option is one I've discussed before, where Westminster simply refuses to engage - they refuse to have anything to do with the referendum, then declare the turnout too low for the result to have any validity, and thus leave us in a complete mess.

Needless to say, I really hope they go for the first of these, but given the immense competence of the current government, I'm fully expecting the latter.

But perhaps the biggest question I have is about the No campaign itself - who leads it, and what sort of an argument can they put forward?

The problem is that all the leading lights from last time are utterly discredited: Labour in Scotland have imploded; and Darling, Brown, and Murphy have lost all credibility up here. So the best candidate I can see to lead the campaign is Ruth Davidson... but, again, a Tory leading the campaign to keep Scotland under the control of a Tory government we didn't elect and widely hate isn't going to go down well.

And then there are the arguments... But most of the old ones are now useless - every promise that was made has been broken, and every threat that was made has come true anyway. (Well, except the loss of the pound. But that has been devalued so thoroughly that that threat is now a hollow one.) They can't even argue that independence would cause uncertainty, since Brexit has already done that.

Just about the only ammunition they have is the price of oil and the question over which currency Scotland would use. Which are fair enough, but I really question whether they would be enough. Especially since the Yes campaign (a) have known they need answers to these questions and (b) have had two years to come up with them.

So, I guess we'll see.

(As for me: I'll be voting for independence again, unless something very significantly changes in the meantime. After all, the reasons I voted Yes last time haven't changed, and indeed have become much, much worse. And all the reasons I had some doubt last time have become very significantly eroded in the last two years. So no change for me.)

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