What a few months it has been for the independence movement. After the SNP’s incredible victory in December we have seen the first clear example of sustained majority support for independence with 3 polls in a row showing Yes in the lead. Out on the doors we are finding more people than ever considering independence and our Brexit opposition has brought us to the attention of a whole new swathe of Scottish public opinion. It certainly now feels like we are approaching the tipping point where support for independence is becoming the new consensus. Independence has never been closer and the only people that can now beat us is ourselves.
What the Tories and the unionists are counting on is for the independence movement to be consumed with impatience, frustration and fragmentation. The Tories are looking for anything to get them off the independence hook and are hoping beyond hope that we embark on a strategy that will alienate our new support and confine ourselves to illegality and unconstitutionality. They counted on aggressively opposing a further independence referendum to bring Scotland to heel. Instead what has happened is that support for independence has risen with every Johnson denial of our democracy. They are now looking at us and observing with satisfaction what they see as the seeds of division.
Where our new support for independence has been hard won it remains tenuous. Our new recruits have come mainly from former No voting remainers and they are looking to see if we are worthy of their continuing support. Talk of UDIs, ‘dissolved unions’ and wildcat referendums terrify them half to death and pursuing any such strategy could very well return them back to the Nos.
Just now all the talk of is of an ‘advisory referendum’. This is now being presented as a cost free strategy to break the deadlock. The suggestion is that the Scottish Government simply legislate to hold a referendum and in doing so provoke a legal challenge from the UK Government. The supporters of this approach suggest that nothing will be lost if this is judged illegal and that all could be gained if successful in court. I’m afraid that the suggestion that this course of action would be consequence free is simply fanciful.
Let’s look at what would in fact happen if the Scottish Government went down the ‘advisory’ referendum route. Firstly, there wouldn’t be a Brexit type drama at the Supreme Court, instead there would just be the UK Government continuing to say their usual ‘No’. Their strategy would be to boycott the whole process and refuse to engage and acknowledge any result. They would not dirty their hands on a legal challenge on something they refuse to even countenance. Instead, they would leave that to any number of unionist groups who would be positively salivating at the prospect of having independence declared ‘illegal’.
If somehow a legal challenge fails and an ‘advisory’ referendum goes ahead it would no doubt be won (given that there would be no ‘No’ proposition). It is in what happens next that we enter the unknown and where things could get really messy. Firstly, we would need to win over 50% of the total electorate as the boycotters would claim ‘victory’ with anything less. This is a huge threshold to achieve and would have to be done with co-operation from unionist local authorities who may not be particularly well disposed to participate in such a referendum.
Then what happens with this ‘victory’ with or without such a majority? The view from supporters of the ‘advisory’ referendum route is that this would make the UK Government engage, though why they would then when they won’t now, remains unexplained. Much more likely is that the UK Government would just decide to change the law as they did with the Scottish Government’s Continuity Bill and retrospectively declare any poll illegal.
With the UK refusing to accept the result we’d be right back to roughly where we are having indulged in a one sided supra-opinion poll that may or may not have given us a useful result. More worryingly there could be pressure to use the result as a mandate for independence and simply declare UDI with all the Catalan style consequences and impacts on our international standing. In the meantime the people of Scotland will be observing all of this and we can only start to imagine what their reaction might be.
Then there is more than a good chance that any advisory referendum is declared ‘illegal’. You could just imagine the whoops of joy from the unionists. A court case would have turned independence form a political cause into a legal one and we could well have confined ourselves to our own designed legal cage.
An ‘advisory’ referendum is therefore anything but consequence free. It is something that could set us back significantly and could also unleash a range of forces that could quickly escalate out of control.
If I believed for one minute that this or any one of the number of ‘Plan Bs’ being considered would get us to our goal easily and quickly I would back it, and them all, in a blink of an eye. But none of them do, and this was always going to be hard work. I can also understand all those who want to grasp at ‘anything’ and who feel we should ‘just do something’. But this is about securing our nation’s independence and we have to keep our patience and constraint and not set out along a route that could be playing in to our opponents hands and could set us back years.
With majority support in place there is a feeling that things could in fact move on quickly and this is all likely to come to a head at next year’s Scottish election. If we win that with a clear majority for independence then there will be no available grounds on which the UK Government can legitimately continue to oppose. If they do then the ‘section 30’ road may indeed be running out. It is at this stage we consider all options to progress our cause. What we have to demonstrate to the international community is that we have tried everything possible to secure our independence legally and legitimately in the face of a belligerent and non compliant parent state.
Right now we are winning and the Tories know that they can not continue to hold out. They are praying for our discipline to break – do not oblige them