So that’s another 2 opinion polls confirming that Yes remains the majority choice of the people of Scotland. 14 opinion polls in a row this year have shown Yes in the lead and independence is becoming established as the settled will of the Scottish people. You know things are bad for unionists when they ‘welcome’ a poll that shows Yes ’only just’ in the majority. How things have changed since the days when the polls showed them with consistent substantial leads.
Whilst independence is racing ahead in the constitutional race devolution is apparently a ‘disaster’. The remaining devolution supporting Nos must be wondering why on earth they should support a union led by a loose talking buffoon who so casually dismisses Scottish democracy. Meanwhile the crisis in unionism is such that they are conflicted as to whether to continue with the disastrous ‘aggressive unionism’ approach or adopt something more conciliatory. The dilemma for them is that the union was always supposed to be the favoured choice and they simply do not know how to adapt to being beat.
You would think with all of this that the Yes movement would be ecstatic and even thinking of that first dram celebrating the impending death of the union, but not a bit of it. There are some, particularly on social media, who have become consumed with the view that there will never be an agreed referendum and a strange gloom and fatalism has taken hold. We could actually soon be knee deep in fighting the next contest and there will be some still swearing blind ‘it will never happen’. It doesn’t matter how much the Tories are gearing up for the next referendum and how many resources are being assembled the idea that ‘they will never agree’ has now become a matter of faith for some.
Now, I am sincerely of the opinion that the Tories will agree to another referendum particularly if the conditions of 2011 are recreated and there is another SNP majority. This, combined with a majority in favour of independence means the only chance the Tories have of saving their union will be to agree to an early contest. They know that to continue to say ‘No’ they will only drive support for independence even higher. They also know that if they continue to hold out they will not be saying ‘No’ to a referendum anymore they will be saying ‘No’ to democracy itself and that is an altogether different prospect and uncomfortable place for any government.
But just say those who profoundly believe ‘he will never agree’ are right and we are in a situation where even with a majority a referendum is ‘refused’. What happens next? Well something would have to give. It would be intolerable for any Government to forbid a nation to progress to a new constitutional arrangement if a majority desire it.
At this stage we would face two choices. We could either embark on a series of measures to ‘make’ the UK face up to its democratic responsibilities or we determine a process that would no longer involve the UK as a partner and hope that any outcome would be respected by the international community and continue to carry the support of the Scottish people.
Why we stick to an agreed process with the UK is because it is quite simply the easiest and most convenient route to get to independence. If a referendum is agreed with the UK both sides of the question would be put to the Scottish people and if Yes prevailed we would go straight to independence, being immediately recognised by the international community. That would be it, we would be an independent country! I know there are people starting to suggest that the UK would try and gerrymander a referendum but any contest would have to be agreed by both sides with electoral authorities arbitrating.
Doing this without the UK being involved is an altogether much more complicated and riskier prospect. If we were to proceed without UK participation there would be no ‘No’ proposition leading to all sorts of questions about democratic legitimacy. The UK would then inevitably say ‘No’ to the result of any uncontested plebiscite or wildcat referendum. The danger would be without that UK acceptance we could be forced down the route of a Unilateral Declaration of Independence, the consequences of which could not be more serious. Where we are not Catalonia, we can see from their recent example the likely response from the international community if we were to pursue such a course of action. The EU have always said that they would welcome an independent Scotland back into its ranks but only if independence was pursued constitutionally, legally and in their view, correctly. An uncontested plebiscite and talk of UDI would simply appall them.
There is also the very big question of whether the Scottish people would be prepared to go along with such a course of action. Since the inception of the SNP we have pursued independence with a firm belief in democracy, consent and constitutionality. It is a huge ask to expect the Scottish people to abandon that approach and embrace anything that looks like UDI.
So what do we do if the UK does indeed continue to say No? Well, we turn up the heat, start to withdraw consent and build up international capacity. Where we should not give away the complete game plan the first thing we must do is to give the UK Government every opportunity to engage. We must burst every sinew to have them sit round the table to discuss the democratic choice of the Scottish people. We can allow them to draw up any agenda they want (as long as a referendum is on it) and we say to them we are prepared to meet any day, anytime, anywhere. We have to demonstrate to the International community and the EU that we have done everything possible to get them to the table.
At the same time if a No persists we should be starting to think about withdrawing from the structures of the UK state. If they are to deny us our democracy we should not be prepared to serve fully in theirs. The most obvious first point would be the inter governmental machinery and institutions that manage relations across the UK. Another example could be Westminster MPs no longer serving on public bill committees or participating in legislation designed for the UK. We could reconvene an unofficial ‘Scottish Grand Committee’ of Scottish MPs to consider the UK legislation and reserved powers. MPs should continue to serve our constituents and speak out in Parliament but it would not be business as usual. In the Scottish Parliament legislative consent could be increasingly withdrawn. The Scottish Parliament could also start to legislate on issues at the edge of the devolved powers challenging the UK Government to strike Scottish democracy down again. We could then start to grind them down with successive constitutional disputes.
We should also start to behave like the independent nation the Scottish people desire. This would most obviously be done in international missions. These would be concurrently utilised to put our democratic case and build international support capacity. These are just a few of the options open to us. There are many, many more.
But what if after all of that if it’s still a ‘No’? Well it is then we start to put in place our own Scottish designed referendum. In the absence of the UK accepting its obligations as a partner in the process we would turn to the international community to help facilitate such a referendum. We could demonstrate that we have tried absolutely everything and there is nowhere left to turn but them. At this point not only will democracy have been denied, democracy would have seen to have failed. The international community could not allow that to stand.
At the end of the day this could either be a straight forward process that respects democracy and the choice of the people of Scotland or a messy, drawn out affair that precipitates actions that could damage future relations. All of this will be the UK’s choice. What we must not be drawn into is precipitative action that would put us on the wrong side of the international community. There will be strong lobbying from some within the movement to embark upon actions that would lead to that situation just as there will be provocation from the UK to divide us and try and force us down a route unpalatable to the international community and the Scottish people. Patience but determination will be required.
I sincerely believe that the UK will not want any of this just as much as no one in our movement wants it either. That is why I come back to where I started – the UK will agree to a referendum if we win in May. They will have looked at the consequences of saying No just as we have. They will not like the look of it at all.
But it will be all down to them. Whatever they choose – we win, because we must.