Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Once More With Feeling - but let that be the end of it

Less than two days in, and I'm already sick of Indyref 2. Mostly thanks to the constant rolling coverage, and especially the crazy explosion of nonsense, lies, and fantasy that this has all thrown up.

Unfortunately, I'm in agreement with the basic argument that there does need to be another vote: it's absolutely right that in light of Brexit many people (on both sides) may well have changed their minds, and it's also absolutely right that a vote to Remain cannot be taken as any sort of endorsement for Independence itself. So, since the people of Scotland have expressed a preference for two mutually-exclusive things, we need a new vote to sort out the mess. Fair enough.

And I'm also in agreement with the timing of the vote. In some ways, the economic case for independence is hurt by Brexit (because an iScotland and rUK both within the EU would obviously have a significantly easier trading relationship than if iScotland is in and rUK is out). However, once the UK as a whole is outside of the EU, and the longer the UK as a whole is outside the EU, the harder that case becomes - the longer we're out, the further we'll diverge from the requirements for EU membership. Whether we stay in or have to reapply, getting iScotland into the EU will be much easier now than it will be in five years time.

So the vote should be held, and it should be held in about two years - once the shape of Brexit is known in some detail but before it's too late.

(I'm not sure any of that matters. It looks like the Labour, Tory, and Lib Dem parties will resist any referendum on any timescale... and will be outvoted; and while Westminster technically has a veto I don't think they'd be mad enough to use it - I can think of few better ways to drive floating voters towards a pro-independence stance than a widely-hated Tory government telling Scotland we don't get a say in our own future. Doing that would delay the vote, but would probably also guarantee that it is lost when it does happen.)

All that said, we can't keep doing this. Every referendum is necessarily divisive and is a distraction from other issues. Sometimes, those distractions are necessary, but we can't keep going through the pain.

So this vote should be permitted, because circumstances demand it. But in addition, it is long since past time that Westminster formally devolve the right to hold independence referendums to Holyrood, but with an appropriate cool-down period between them. They should have done this in the Edinburgh Agreement in 2012 but didn't, and then they should have done it in the Scotland Act in 2016 but didn't.

As for the cool-down period, I would advocate 7 years. Ideally, I'd prefer longer (10 years, maybe), but there's a precendent in the Good Friday Agreement that should be followed. Though even better would be for there to be a periodic window in which such things can happen - that is, if Indyref 2 happens in spring 2019, then another vote could happen in 2026, but if not then the next opportunity would be 2033. (That said, if it is a window, the duration really should be 5 years, making it a "once in a parliament" deal, or some multiple thereof.)

One more thing, being a little no-doubt unwanted advice to the pro-union camp: please step back from this mad flood of Project Fear stuff. It was a lousy campaign in 2014, that turned a comfortable 70/30 lead into a nail-biting 55/45 end result. It was a lousy campaign in 2016 that lost for Remain. And in 2017 it's still a lousy campaign... and you don't have a massive lead to squander - the polls seem to be sitting at 53/47ish in your favour, so if Project Fear works as well as last time you'd looking at a 38/62ish loss. Find a positive case for the union, and campaign on that.

And if you can't find a positive case for the union... well, maybe you should reflect on that.

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