LET me put this out there straight away. A de facto referendum is just about the worst possible way to settle the constitutional future of Scotland. Let me also put it another way. A de facto referendum is now the only way we’re going to be able to settle the constitutional future of Scotland.
The issues and potential difficulties with a de facto referendum are now well-known and familiar. From the fact that it’s almost certain Westminster won’t engage in the exercise (and could ignore any positive outcome) to the sheer challenge of securing 50%-plus of the vote when all other parties will be contesting the next UK election as a normal General Election.
Nothing like this has ever been tried in a western democracy before and the risks are huge. If we fail to pull it off, we may surrender our leading position in Scotland and could possibly kill off any hope of independence being secured in a “real” generation. It is a massive gamble – with the emphasis on massive.
But what else can we do?
Something has to give in the current constitutional deadlock – unless and until we are able to demonstrate to the UK (and the rest of the world) that a majority of the Scottish people want to see Scotland become an independent nation, that deadlock will continue to dominate our politics. A move has to be made and in the face of UK intransigence, it is incumbent on us to move the pieces and push this forward.
We now know there are no other legal means to test Scottish public opinion. The Supreme Court concluded we do not have the legislative powers in our Parliament to hold our own referendum and it seems apparent that the UK Government will never agree to a Section 30 order or the devolution of legislative powers.
This then is the only way forward and for all its difficulties, challenges and drawbacks it is our only, and possibly best last chance.
Firstly, we have to set out what it is, what it’s not and what happens when we win. We also have to determine when and how this will be done.
The main debate in the movement just now seems to centre around whether a de facto referendum be utilised at the next UK General Election or at the next Scottish election. A UK election is the next scheduled election and if, as anticipated, it is held next year, it has the advantage of being held two years ahead of Holyrood.
Using a UK election will also have the advantage of taking a de facto referendum to the very heart of Westminster making it difficult to be ignored.
The drawbacks are the voter franchise (no 16 and 17-year-olds or EU nationals) and it has a greater chance of being lost in a debate about who should govern the UK. A Scottish election has the advantage of the franchise and it being played out on “home” territory.
The obvious difficulty is it would be significantly later this decade and has a greater risk of antagonising an electorate which would want the opportunity to elect a Scottish Government focused on a full delivery of services.
Westminster government, in being more remote, less valued and less invested in by the Scottish people possibly just edges it for me as to the when and how.
What can not happen is any attempt to “dissolve” the current Scottish Parliament and cause an early Scottish election. That would only lead to First Minister Douglas Ross.
MORE importantly, the Scottish people would be likely to punish any government that simply walked away from its responsibilities of governing at a time when that it is so crucially required. The optics of this on the people we would need to win over would be simply awful.
So what exactly will we ask the Scottish people to endorse? If it is to be a proper “de facto” referendum we will be asking the people to vote for us as an exclusive endorsement that they agree Scotland should be an independent country. It couldn’t be more straightforward and we as a party have every right to determine the platform on which we stand. A victory would involve taking a majority of the combined votes of all parties prepared to stand on this platform as a mandate to open negotiations with the UK and determine the settlement that would lead to Scotland becoming an independent nation.
It is also important to determine what it is not about and what it does not represent.
Firstly, it won’t represent anything approaching UDI or precipitate any illegal unilateral actions. Everything we do must be underpinned by legality and the principles of international law. We will only become independent and be recognised as an independent nation internationally when there is an agreement with the UK.
We cannot be responsible for whatever comes from the UK Government if we were to win. That will be up to it.
At this stage, we don’t even know what shade of government will be in place when the next UK election is concluded and it is not out with the realms of possibility that SNP votes could hold the balance of power in a UK Parliament which we have just voted to leave.
Our one and only job is to show to the UK and the international community that Scotland has democratically decided to become an independent nation and therefore the expectation is that democratic outcome be respected. But this is a messy, unsatisfactory way to determine a nation’s future and all of us in the independence movement wish it didn’t have to be this way.
The way to solve the constitutional future of a nation is to have a referendum in which both sides of the debate put their case in respective campaigns. This is what the people of Scotland voted for and it is what they should secure.
We won’t have a properly agreed referendum because the UK Government defiantly refuse to engage in even the broadest discussion about a referendum and simply ignore the will of our Parliament.
In the face of this intransigence there are therefore only two options. One is to do this. The other is to simply give up, do nothing and continue with this constitutional deadlock.
After coming this far and getting so close I’m not for giving up. What about you?