By Paul Kavanagh
It’s been an interested few weeks in the insanity that passes for politics in the Benighted Kingdom. Nicola Sturgeon stole Theresa May’s Brexit thunder by announcing that the Scottish government is going to press ahead with a bill enabling an independence referendum, and a couple of days later an enraged Theresa May responded by announcing that she’s not disposed to discuss granting a Section 30 Order. Get back into your shortbread tin, Scotland, was the very clear message from Westminster.
Now is not the time.
I had planned to take the dug for a walk, but then I heard Theresa’s speech saying “Now is not the time,” so he’s just going to crap all over Ruth Davidson’s lawn instead. Scotland was regaled with the incredible sight of a party with a single MP and a mere 22% of the Holyrood vote claiming that they speak for Scotland. Standing beside an increasingly huffy Fluffy Mundell, secretary of state for telling Scotland what to do, Ruth Davidson, the leader of the opposition party, a party that came a very poor second in the 2016 elections, had the gall to appear before the media at a press conference and announce that she and her party were not going to permit the party which won the election fulfil one of its manifesto commitments. The only thing that’s going to happen is that a whole pile of ordure is going to fall on the Tory party in Scotland.
This perversion of democracy has put a lie to the comforting myth that Scotland is a partner in a Union, because in a true union one partner does not tell another partner that it cannot have a say on its own future. The Scottish democratic deficit has never been put into starker relief. It’s that democratic deficit which is the real driving force for the Scottish independence movement, and the nawness from May, Davidson and the Fluff in a Huff has just given that movement a new boost
The Tories have changed their tune. But that’s hardly surprising. Etymologically speaking the word Tory comes from the Irish word tóraigh meaning a robber or a thief. Honesty is the last thing you should expect from a Tory. Back in 2011, Ruth Davidson said,
“You don’t get a referendum for free, you have to earn it. So if the Greens and the SNP – and the SSP or any of the other parties who have declared an interest in independence – get over the line and can make a coalition, can make a majority, get the votes in the Parliament, then they’ll vote through a referendum, and that’s what democracy is all about … it’s perfectly simple.”
Suddenly it seems that it’s not so simple after all. Ruth has done more U-turns than a funfair ride, only it’s the rest of us who’ve been left with the feeling of nausea. The Tories are now trying to deny that there’s any mandate at all, despite the fact that there is a majority in the Scottish Parliament for holding a second independence referendum, and the main party was elected on a manifesto commitment to holding a referendum on Scotland’s position in the UK should there be a material change of circumstances. A Brexit against the will of Scotland was explicitly cited as an example of such a material change of circumstances. The democratic case, the democratic mandate, for a second Scottish referendum is unassailable. But still the Tories run roughshod over it while complaining that Scotland is a one party state. The truth is that if a party with just one MP can dictate to everyone else what’s going to happen then Scotland is indeed a one party state, it’s just it’s not the SNP we need to worry about.
Instead of defending her precious Union, all the Prime Minister has done is to expose Scotland’s true position within it. We’re little more than a colony, a possession, a satrapy. The real reason that she doesn’t want Scotland to have an independence referendum before Brexit is finalised is because she wants to use Scotland’s resources and assets as bargaining counters in her Brexit talks with the EU. She’s going to find it pretty difficult to sell out the Scottish fishing industry if the EU knows that before Brexit is finalised the Scottish fishing industry will not be Theresa’s to sell out.
She wants to prevent Scotland from having its referendum at a time of Scotland’s choosing because she doesn’t want Scotland’s 183,000 EU citizens to have a say in their future. She wants to gerrymander the election and cut out a large body of voters who are now highly likely to break for yes. Theresa May wants to take it on herself to define who gets a say in Scotland’s future. In her eyes, it’s her, and no one else. If we value Scottish democracy, if we believe that we live in a nation which has rights, which has a choice, then we must resist by all legal means Theresa May’s undemocratic disdain for the views of the Scottish people and the Scottish Parliament.
The good news is that Theresa May can say what she likes. She can try to play hard ball, but in order to do that you need to have a ball to play with. The ball is in Scotland’s court here, not Theresa May’s. Scotland requires Theresa to consent to a Section 30 order in order to make a referendum legally binding, but that’s not the only way to skin a constitutional cat. If Holyrood passes a bill for a second referendum and it is rebuffed by Westminster, there’s nothing to prevent the Scottish parliament pressing ahead with a consultative referendum. The EU referendum was a consultative referendum, and once a result is achieved in such a ballot it takes on a political imperative of its own.
Alternatively the Scottish government can dissolve itself and hold early Holyrood elections. If there is an agreement in place between the SNP, the Greens and the wider Yes movement the election can be transformed into a plebiscite election. A majority in Holyrood for independence in such a ballot is a mandate to seek independence.
It would be desirable to hold the referendum under the same conditions as the 2014 vote. However the advantage of these two alternative strategies is that they don’t require the permission of Theresa May, and the point is that Theresa May’s intransigence cannot prevent a Scottish vote from happening, no matter how much she stamps her kitten heels. All she’s doing is illustrating the contempt in which Scotland is held by the Westminster establishment, and weakening the Union even further. The United Kingdom is coming to an end, and it’s coming to an end not because of anything that the independence movement or Scottish nationalism has done, it’s coming to an end because of the arrogance and short-sightedness of those who claim to hold the Union dear. Hell slap it intae them, as yer mammy would say.
Meanwhile over in Norway, an independent country of five million souls, ship building goes from strength to strength. The lesson is clear. We can either continue to rely on the promises of a Westminster which has not got the slightest intention of fulfilling them, or we can rely on our own efforts and resources, like Norway. It’s painfully obvious which of the two is more successful.
There’s going to be another independence referendum, and in that referendum every promise and commitment that is made by Better Together Mark II is going to be countered with, “But you said that the last time, and it turned out to be a lie.” Independence is coming, not because of anything that Scottish nationalists have done, but because of what the British state hasn’t done. It hasn’t kept its word to Scotland.