If there is one critical difference from the independence referendum of 2014 and the impending second contest, it is in the composition of the forces of Scottish unionism. The Scottish Conservatives are not just the principle political opposition in Scotland, they are now also the de-facto leaders of the case for the union. This elevation changes everything about the next contest and the rules of engagement.


The calamitous near extinction of Labour has, of course, been the main catalyst for this realignment. Scottish Labour continues to reap the bitter harvest of their disastrous dalliance with the Tories in the last referendum and it is hard to see how their situation can be improved as long as they remain defiantly opposed to their former voters on the constitution. Where most of their vote has been lost to the SNP, they are now haemorrhaging votes to the Conservatives. In the Scottish Conservatives, Labour unionists have found a more natural and accommodating home for their support for the UK. When you look at the fall out of the last referendum you can only conclude that Scottish Labour are the biggest, most useful, idiots in Scottish politics and they have been played as prize fools by the Tories.

What happens now though? And is the growing support for the Tories any more than an anti-referendum unionist alliance? Scotland has not, and is unlikely to, become in thrall to a Tory agenda of austerity, tax cuts for the rich and the privatisation of public services. Added to that, the Scots Tories will be called on to do the heavy lifting in the selling of the hardest of hard Brexits to a reluctant Scottish public. The affection of former Labour voters might be sorely tested when they observe Tories behaving like, well Tories. This is why the rhetoric against a second referendum must be maintained at fever pitch.

The Conservatives now almost exclusively own the ‘No’ franchise and in making it their own, they have consolidated the ‘No’ support, but at the same time shrunk its ideological base. The cause of vociferously opposing a second referendum is, therefore, the Tories’ greatest salvation and also their eventual downfall. It is also immensely helpful to us. Their leadership of the union cause allows us to frame the constitutional contest as one that pits the Westminster Conservatives against social democratic Scotland. The more the Tories rage against a ‘second referendum’, the more they make that contest more likely. The more a union cause is seen as an exclusively Conservative cause, the harder it will be to sell that cause in Scotland.


To be a ‘No’ voter next time round you will, therefore, have to be at least willing to accommodate Conservatism as an almost permanent feature of government in the UK. To be a ‘No’ voter next time also means that you have to at least be prepared to accept a Brexitised Tory UK, economically isolated with social policy crafted by the ideological victors of the Brexit solution. A hard right Conservative-run Brexit Britain is the reality that will await another successful union vote. It is perhaps right then that the union cause will be delivered, prepared and mainly argued by the Scottish Tories.

No wonder what’s left of the Labour Party are running a million miles from being included in another cross-party campaign.


It’s 4am on the morning of the Seventh of September 2018 and the final declaration of the second Scottish referendum has just come in. Highland has voted for the proposition that ‘Scotland should become an independent country’ and Scotland will now leave the union. The overall result is a convincing victory for the independence side of 58% to 42%.

Scottish independence supporter

The disconsolate looks on the ‘Scotland in Union’ side dramatically contrasts with the ‘Better Together’ campaign in 2014. The Yes2 campaign are just simply overjoyed. Leader of the union side, Ruth Davidson, has long conceded whilst campaign director, Alan Roden, is dispatched to the media to deliver a message of acceptance and conciliation.

The closing weeks of the campaign had indicated an even bigger victory for independence but the large leads that Yes2 had commanded was tempered by ‘the offer’ in the last few days of the campaign. Headlined in the Daily Record as ‘the offer we can’t refuse’ the ‘offer’ was a carbon copy of everything that the SNP Government had asked for in its differential EU arrangement that was so roundly rejected in the early months of 2017. If we voted to stay in the UK we apparently would now secure single market membership, powers over immigration and even a new undefined ‘devo-max’ arrangement. It was the classic too little, too late, too been there before.

When the SNP Government first said it would hold another independence referendum following the rejection of what is now just simply referred to as ‘the Scottish EU solution’ there was huge resistance to any further plebiscite in London. Defiantly refusing to allow a further Section 30 Order Scotland responded with outrage. Opinion polls immediately pointed to a double digit indy lead with the Scottish Government saying it would hold a referendum anyway. As tensions increased a compromise was agreed whereby the UK Government would grant a Section 30 Order if it was allowed to determine the question and set the date. The Scottish Government reluctantly agreed and the date of 6th September 2018 was fixed. The UK Government optimistically believed that, by then, a convincing Brexit deal would be concluded and it would be something that the Scots would be able to support. This time there would be a dual option referendum to stop a Yes campaign – Should Scotland remain in the United Kingdom? Or Should Scotland become an independent country? Campaigning started immediately.

The independence side simply and defiantly called itself Yes2. With so much of the previous indyref infrastructure still in place the joint leaders of Yes2, Nicola Sturgeon and Patrick Harvie, let campaign co-ordinator Kevin Pringle get on with a campaign that was long planned. Chair of Yes2, Henry McLeish, put together a formidable board of civic Scotland and the most far reaching engagement with Scotland’s public started apace.

Scotland in Union’s birth wasn’t quite as straight forward. When it was announced that Ruth Davidson would lead the campaign Labour initially refused to join. It took a fractious special conference of Scottish Labour before they eventually decided to participate in a cross party campaign. Many Labour activists refused to take part and key Labour figures said that this time they would be voting for independence. With their own electoral and leadership woes in the rest of the UK, Labour simply didn’t feature as a force in the second referendum. The battle this time was characterised by Yes2 as a battle between social democratic Scotland and the Westminster Tories.


There were other problems for Scotland in Union. The UK Government were consumed with Brexit and it was not going well. The hard Brexit was becoming ‘bargain basement Brexit’ as negotiations with EU leaders broke down. As the relationship with the EU soured EU leaders were increasingly making it clear that a pro EU Scotland would be more than welcome in its club.

What existed of a union campaign centred round the well rehearsed economic and currency themes of the previous independence referendum. They were easily dealt with by Yes2 who had spent months considering its new approach to these issues. Despite the best efforts of the Scottish press the scaremongering this time also seemed ridiculous, having been tempered by experience. The suggestion that an rUK wouldn’t trade with an independent Scotland was simply laughed off as the UK was finding it hard to secure a deal with any significant country.

The union side were also hampered by the fact that they couldn’t present themselves as a status quo option this time. Yes2 carefully framed the contest as a choice of two very different futures which both presented opportunities and risks. Would Scotland be better off in a Brexitised Britain or would we be better off taking decisions ourselves with the full powers of independence? Scotland was already beginning to witness the crafting of the new soon to be out of the EU Britain with the success of UKIP in the many by-elections following all the Blairite Labour resignations. The ugly side of this new isolation in the treatment of child refugees and privatisations in the English NHS was becoming only too apparent.

What no-one could properly understand is why the Tory Government faced with the complexities and dangers associated with Brexit just couldn’t respond positively to the Scottish Government’s compromise plans to keep Scotland in both the UK and the EU in the first place? There had been an arrogant view that a) Scotland wasn’t serious about holding a further referendum and b) if we did it would be easily seen off. Those early days of early 2017 now seem a long way off.

As all the deflated unionist activists head home disconsolate they were only thinking one thing – ‘if only we had responded differently when we had the chance……’

‘The cold beating Heart of this Bad British Brexit’

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP)

“I will start by putting my cards on the table. I loathe and detest this Tory Brexit. I despair of what this Tory Brexit would do to my beautiful country.

This is, as we know, to be the hardest of hard Brexits, with cuts yet unimaginable and consequences yet unconceived—and for what?

If we were doing this for some lofty ideal or grand purpose, like maybe addressing global poverty or some of the huge issues of injustice around the world, that might make it just about palatable, but no—we are doing it because the UK does not like immigration.


That is the cold, beating heart of this bad British Brexit, and it underpins absolutely everything concerning our departure from the EU. It takes precedence over everything else, and all other considerations are merely consequential.

The fact is that we live in an interconnected, globalised world where the movements of people have never been so profound, sometimes fleeing from persecution, or perhaps exchanging skills and ideas. Yet we are asked to believe the myth that a Brexitised UK will beat back this historic tide like some sort of Farageous Canute.

I actually laughed out loud when I heard all the guff about a global UK. A global UK is the last thing the Tories want to create—they are trying to create a drawbridge UK.

Look at the response from the rest of the world: when they are not laughing at us, they are simply taking pity on us. As the Foreign Secretary goes out of his way to insult the very people we have to negotiate with, they are thinking of nothing other than the hardest of conditions to deter anybody else from considering leaving.

The negotiating position seems to be to threaten our EU partners by saying that we will indulge in even further economic self-harm if they dare look after their own interests. Apparently we are even considering turning the UK into some sort of offshore deregulated tax haven if the EU actually thinks about looking its own interests. That’ll show them, won’t it?

It is not just the fact of leaving the EU that concerns me, ghastly enough though that is: it is the new ideology—the new world view—that has hastily been designed to accommodate this new splendid isolation. I see a Brexitised Britain as a world of weird, ’50s nostalgia and antipathy to foreigners—a reality that will feel very much like the pages of a Daily Mail editorial. People of Britain: work as if you live in the early days of a UKIP UK, because that is what is coming.

Scotland, of course, did not want any part of this, yet we have to be driven off the cliff edge with the rest of the United Kingdom. What we have now, though, is options. We have presented a plan to stop Scotland indulging in the worst of this madness. If that is not listened to, we have every right to reconsider our membership of this United Kingdom”.


The next indyref will be absolutely fascinating and totally unlike the contest last time. Last time the unionists managed to ensure that the debate remained a choice between a ‘safe’ ‘continuity’ UK  which they successfully were able to contrast against the ‘uncertainties’ of a future independent Scotland. What was scrupulously avoided was any examination of the risks associated with remaining in the UK. The risks, as we now know, are manifest and an impending reality. Out of the EU, endless Tory rule, billions taken out of our economy, the probable need for visas to travel, a collapsing pound and the flight of business. The staying in the union was then not the risk free option that was so craftily presented.


This is a trick that won’t be afforded to the union side next time round. Brexit has completely turned that on its head. There will be no seamless continuity choice and both sides in the next referendum debate will have to present/defend an opportunity/risk option. Scotland will have to choose on the basis of whether we believe that we will be better off in the new Brexitised UK or an independent Scotland with the risks/opportunities of determining our own future.

Already the Brexit option is becoming more apparent. We now know we will be out of the single market and customs union and that we will end freedom of movement. There are now hints that if/when we don’t get the deal that we want with the rest of the EU we may become some sort of offshore deregulated tax haven. This is going to be difficult to sell in Scotland particularly when it will have to fall upon the Scottish Conservatives to put this case. There is no doubt that the Scottish Conservatives will lead the unionist side in the next referendum. After being enthusiastic Europeans the Scots Tories will now have to sell the virtues of this new isolated Britain. The Scots Tories running the union campaign will also inevitably mean they will bring their own particular political values to the campaign, particularly when there is absolutely no prospect of a Labour Government in the UK. It will increasingly be a Tory union verses a future social democratic Scotland with a Scottish Labour party on the wrong side of this political divide, rendering themselves almost irrelevant.

Scottish Labour Party Leader Johann Lamo

There is already alarm at how the next indyref will be fought from unionists conscious of the coming contest. The attempt to suggest that we will be cut off from the UK ‘single market’ and we will be ‘doubly’ worse off in leaving the UK is their favourite early desperate salvos in a attempt to fruitlessly rerun the economic arguments of the last indyref. They know, though, that ‘economic uncertainty’ will work both ways this time round as we see the ‘real’ evidence of an economy tanking with the prospects of its looming economic isolation.

There is also the key question of what type of country we will want to be? An independent Scotland will now be very different beast from a Brexitised UK. The Faragists and rightist Tories having won the terms of our departure from the EU are now carefully assembling the social agenda of this new UK. It will be one of antipathy to ‘foreigners’, weird nostalgia with a healthy dose of economic chauvinism. Shunned by the EU these Brexiteers are likely to seek solace in a Trumpian embrace. A Brexitised UK pulling away politically, economically and culturally can only seek some sort of new accommodation with this strange new president.

The choice this time will then be huge with massively contrasting options available. The Scottish people will be invited to scrutinise precisely the details of remaining in the UK just as they will consider what would be involved in securing full self Government. We will also have to properly consider what sort of Scotland we want to be. It is going to be so different from last time, as will the outcome.


We’re now only a few weeks away from starting the process of leaving the European Union and I am still no closer to being reconciled to this dreadful decision. We now know that it is to be the hardest of hard Brexits with economic costs that are as yet unimaginable.


But it is more than that. I actually loathe the idea that I might be out of the European Union. That the right I had to live, work and love in a shared community of 28 nations will be lost to my son, his generation and those that will follow.

And it’s all so ridiculous and ludicrous. Never before has a nation indulged in such a pointless exercise of economic and cultural self flagellation. Never before has there been such a clamour to participate in such national self harm, and for what?

If we were perhaps doing this for some lofty ideal, maybe to tackle global injustice or assist in alleviating the condition of the world’s poorest, then perhaps it would all be a bit more palatable.

But no, we’re doing this because the UK doesn’t like immigrants.

Stopping immigration informs everything concerning our departure from the EU. It takes precedence over anything else and all other considerations are merely consequential. The costs associated with this obsession is simply to be borne in this grand mission and dismissed and discounted. No price is too high to ‘take back control’.


The thing is we live in a global, interconnected world where the movement of peoples has never been so profound. From the exchange of ideas and skills to people fleeing wars more people are on the move than ever before in history. Somehow we are asked to believe the myth that Brexitised Canute UK will beat back this historic tide.

It is now clear that it’s the Faragists and the hard right Tories who have won the terms of Brexit. People who have hitherto inhabited the fringes of our politics are now mainstream and their world view is now convention.

I actually laughed out loud when I listened to this guff about a ‘global’ UK. ‘Global’ is the last thing that the new UK wants to be or will become. ‘Drawbridge’ UK would be a much better description.

And look at the response from the rest of the world. When they’re not laughing at us they are simply taking pity on us. As this joke of a Foreign Secretary goes out his way to insult the very people we have to ‘negotiate’ with they are thinking of nothing but the hardest of conditions to deter anybody else from considering leaving.

A negotiating position, you ask? Well the negotiating position seems to be threatening our EU partners that we will indulge in even further self harm if they don’t do as we want. Apparently, we are actually considering turning the UK into some sort of off shore de-regulated tax haven if the EU actually thinks about looking out for its own interests. That’ll show them….

Its not just the actual act of leaving the EU that concerns me, though that is ghastly enough. Its the ideology – the new world view that is hastily being designed to accommodate this new national splendid isolation.

The biggest cheer leaders of the Prime Minister this week have been UKIP. Paul Nuttall actually said “it did sound like a UKIP conference speech and the Prime Minister is now applying some of the things that we’ve been talking about for many, many years”


People of Scotland – work as if if you live in the early days of a UKIP UK. A weird world of 50s nostalgia, being antipathetic to ‘foreigners’ and a reality that will feel like living in the angry, agitated, ultra Conservative pages of a Daily Mail editorial.

Scotland of course wanted nothing to do with any of this but yet we are to be driven over this cliff edge with the rest of the UK. If we don’t get out of all of this soon we will be marooned on this small island with these ultra right Tories running the show. If we meekly go along with this they will feel emboldened to do whatever they want with us. Backbench Tories hate the Barnett Formula and when the post Brexit economy tanks (as it very quickly will) it will be things like Barnett that they will have the confidence to tackle.

Things are coming to a head. We have tried to compromise with this, to deliver a plan that will spare us the worst of this madness, but we will soon be forced to choose again.

This time the choice will be very clear. Stuck in a new isolated UK ran by ideologues we didn’t vote for or determining our own way in the world according to our own national values.



Let me take you back to last year in the House of Commons, to one of the first pieces of legislation that was discussed in the new Parliamentary term. To the debate on the still then Scotland Bill. Remember, the newly installed Secretary of State proudly telling us about this ‘historic’ piece of legislation? We listened in awe about the ‘permanence’ of the Scottish Parliament and how the Sewel Convention would be ‘enshrined’ in law in the making of this, the most ‘powerful devolved Parliament in the world’.

We now know of course that this Scotland Act isn’t worth the vellum its written on and that this ‘most powerful Parliament’ can be simply done away with on a Westminster whim.

Letting the ermine clad cat out of the bag, Lord Keen, the Tory Government’s top Scottish legal officer at Westminster, helpfully clarified the situation for Scotland, when he said – ”the correct legal position is that Westminster is sovereign, and may legislate at any time on any matter.” In a piece of unusual candour and honesty from the Tories it was a case of you’ll have had your ‘most powerful devolved Parliament in the world’ then.

The Tories petrified that Scotland might have some sort of legal entitlement and say in their cluelesss Brexit were obliged to dispense with the myth of permanence, statutory footings and respect for our national Parliament. On ‘serious’ issues such as Brexit where large swathes of Scots law is impacted we are simply subordinate, as we are in every aspect of our relationship with Westminster. Keeping us out of any Brexit say was worth dispensing with the veneer of constitutional equality and respect.

Just to make sure that we fully knew our place, there was more from the noble Lord. Legislative Consent Motions, where Holyrood has to give permission for Westminster to legislate on its behalf, are simply “a self-denying ordinance, a political restriction upon Parliament’s ability to act, no more and no less than that” and “in no sense any qualification or inhibition upon parliamentary sovereignty.”

Ensuring that there was no dubiety the Secretary of State for Scotland confirmed that this was indeed the case to the Scottish Affairs Committee telling us that we should have been paying  more attention to what was being debated in the House of Lords….

I’m pretty sure in the next few years there will be another Scotland Bill. Perhaps when it kicks off we can just gently inquire ‘what’s the point? There is, though, serious issues about where powers lie when, and if, Brexit is concluded. The Scotland Act is unusual that all powers are considered devolved unless they are listed. Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act provides that list and big EU powers like agriculture and fisheries are not there. There is a sense in the clear ‘know your place, Scotland’ statement from the Tories that we are being softened up to be disappointed in the repatriation of those powers.

But that’s all for the future because road signs are now fully devolved. Just make sure that we don’t have one directing us towards a Scotland in the EU, because, who knows, Lord Keen and the Westminster Tories might just be back with a road closed sign and all traffic redirected to Westminster.


I remember when Scottish politics was pretty boring and predictable and nothing ever seemed to happen. When I was first elected in 2001 only one Scottish Westminster seat changed hands and in 2010 absolutely no seats changed hands at all. In the Scottish Parliament the steady decline of Scottish Labour was more apparent but was always considered to be a temporary set back and something that would, in time, be reversed. The great adversaries of the era were the dominant Labour party and the insurgent SNP. Everybody understood the rules and the terrain of the fight and we got down to the business of slogging it out.

Scottish Labour Party Leader Johann Lamo

Now everything has utterly changed. The contest for political dominance is now between the SNP and the Conservatives profoundly changing the nature of our political debate and redefining the terrain that our politics are now conducted in. All of this has happened within five dramatic years and the changes in our national politics has been as quick as it has been overwhelming. Scottish Labour has all but disappeared reduced to one MP and a diminished rump of mainly list MSPs. The remarkable feat of the Conservatives beating Labour into second place in the last Scottish election has firmly established them as the main opposition in Scotland.

There may be several reasons why all this has come to pass but the only one that matters is the independence referendum. Where the Conservatives got it right in their pitch in the referendum Labour got it totally and utterly wrong. Labour took the gamble that they spoke for their support when they enthusiastically embraced the union cause. Their arrogance extended to believing that campaigning with the Conservatives would be uncontroversial and they sincerely believed that following the independence referendum they would be placed with a 1979 supremacy with the SNP humbled once again. The Tories on the other hand had absolutely nothing to lose knowing that there would never be an issue with their support.


If fighting the independence referendum war was bad for Labour the way they have tried to prosecute the peace has been disastrous. Their former ‘centurion guard’ of seats now have unassailable SNP majorities and their unionism now only seems to antagonise those that they once represented. The Tories on the other hand quickly understood that the constitutional debate instead of concluding was only getting in to its stride. If they could remain the true defenders of the union they could enlist unionist support from a diminished Labour Party and establish a new potent pitch based around personality and a cause that secured fifty five percent support.

This is why the campaign against an indyref2 is just as important for the Tories as the SNP’s campaign for another referendum is important for us. Labour meanwhile are stuck in a meaningless no-man’s land pitifully wailing about the continuing constitutional debate, hoping, praying, that the Scottish people will move on. It could not be worse for them.

With a Conservative opposition the constitutional debate will therefore be promoted even more enthusiastically as Conservative support becomes increasingly motivated and dependent on opposition to a referendum. Having a Conservative opposition as the main unionist party is also immensely helpful for us in the SNP. That’s because they help properly define what unionism now represents. Westminster rule increasingly means continuing Conservative rule and voting for the union now means endorsing the right of a Conservative Government we didn’t vote for run its writ in Scotland. The case for the union therefore will in time become a proxy and a case for Conservatism. Having the Scottish Tories as the union’s main proponents in Scotland helps crystallise the clear options available to the Scottish people.

And what of Labour you may ask? Well they seem to have made their choice. No sensible person associated with the Labour Party is talking about any sort of Labour government for a generation yet they still seem to be asking what is left of their support to get behind what can only now be a Conservative led union. After the disaster of recent years it would seem Labour have learned absolutely nothing.

The new constitutional debate is therefore quickly becoming about whether we should have Scottish self Government or Westminster Tory Government. That seems quite a good place to resume hostilities.