There were two political rallies in Scotland on Saturday. There was a pro-independence rally in Dundee which attracted 16,000 participants and was one of the biggest demonstrations that the city had ever seen. Then there was a rally in Edinburgh calling for a second EU referendum, which attracted a few hundred people, fewer than are attending some of the Festival events currently going on in the city. Guess which one of them was reported more prominently in the media?
The Guardian carried a report about the Edinburgh event on its front page. The Dundee rally wasn’t even mentioned. In yesterday’s Herald the Edinburgh event was the leading story on the paper’s website for some time, it took until Sunday for the Dundee rally to get a mention, and then it came below a story about that favourite trope of the Labour party, problems with the NHS. But we did get an opinion piece from Iain McWhirter claiming that hopes of an Indyref2 are fading, which must come as a surprise to just about every SNP member I’ve ever met. The Scotsman, which calls itself “the paper which knows Scotland”, carried a story about the Edinburgh rally focussing on former Lib Dem leader Menzies Campbell’s call on the SNP to back a second EU referendum. I couldn’t find any coverage of the Dundee rally on the Scotsman’s website . Although to be fair the paper’s website is such a mess of adverts and automatically loading videos that it’s pretty difficult to find anything on it at all.
There’s a deep hypocrisy that runs through the anti-independence Scottish media and many prominent opponents of independence. They’re determined to build political pressure to bring about a second referendum on the EU, while at the same time they are resolute, indeed staunch, in their opposition to a second referendum on Scottish independence. It seems that that once in a generation thing only applies selectively. Menzies Campbell campaigns for a second EU referendum while refusing to countenance a second Scottish independence referendum and is seemingly blind to the hypocrisy. But then he’s a Lib Dem, and hypocrisy is very much their thing. Just ask any student or voters in Orkney and Shetland.
As a supporter of a second Scottish independence referendum it would of course be hypocritical not to support a second referendum on EU membership. Both those referendums were won by campaigns which based their pitch on claims which were never going to be realised, and all too often on outright lies. In both cases, the electorate was sold a pup. If this was a commercial transaction, we could sue under the Trades Descriptions Act.
Better Together promised that if Scotland voted No then it would remain a part of the EU, that Scotland would be an equal partner in a family of nations, that devolution would be strengthened and entrenched and that no changes would be made to the devolution settlement without the express consent of the Scottish Parliament. We were promised a bonanza of jobs and investment. None of that turned out to be true. The campaign was won with the BBC being turned into the propaganda arm of the British state, and an overwhelmingly anti-independence media which systematically sidelined pro-independence arguments. There was no level playing field.
The Leave campaigns promised that the UK could leave the EU and strike the easiest deal in the history of deals, that leaving the EU would unleash millions a week to spend on the NHS, that British citizens, companies, goods, and services could continue to enjoy the same ease of access to the EU that they do with the UK a member of the EU. None of that turned out to be true. The campaign was won by dark money and a leave campaign which broke electoral law. There was no level playing field.
So yes, of course there ought to be a second EU referendum, and there ought to be a second Scottish independence referendum too. Democracy is not an event, it’s an ongoing process. Democracy is like a growing living tree. It needs to flourish. It needs to spread its roots. It needs to grow. Opponents of revisiting those votes want to cut down the tree and spray it in varnish, then tell us to stop complaining because we’ve still got a tree.
However as an independence supporter, I am not going to get behind a UK wide campaign for a second EU referendum, not until such time as that campaign recognises that what is sauce for the British goose is sauce for the Scottish gander. As supporters of Scottish independence we can offer all our sympathies and good wishes to those campaiging for a second EU referendum. But that doesn’t mean that we should give up on our own campaign in order to support theirs, certainly not while our support doesn’t come with a quid pro quo from the People’s Vote campaign, and an explicit recognition and promise from them that the question of Scottish independence needs to be revisited too.
Until that happens, and there’s no sign that it’s going to, I’m going to continue to concentrate my energies and efforts on ensuring that Scotland gets a Scottish vote on Scottish terms. There is no political advantage for Scottish independence supporters to defer our demands and political goals, and to subsume them in a UK wide campaign which will not answer our own demands. Yet again, Scotland is subject to demands from the English left and liberals to subordinate Scotland’s interests to those of England. We’ve seen where that one leads.
However what makes it worse is that there is not the slightest recognition from those leading the UK wide People’s Vote campaign that Scotland voted to remain in the UK in 2014 under false premises. It’s not simply that there are no apologies from them, it’s that there isn’t even the vaguest recognition from them that there is anything to apologise for. Instead we get the arrogant assumption from the leading lights of Britishness that the sole political purpose of Scotland is to rescue England from its own mistakes, that the job of Scotland is to clean up England’s political mess, and to do so without any recognition from that same British political establishment of Scotland’s needs or concerns. If we do get behind their EU referendum and bring about the result that they want, those same people who campaigned against Scottish independence in 2014 will just go back to telling us that we need to vote No or we’re out of the EU. Well frankly, screw that.
However it’s also a practical question of political realities. The reality is that it’s far more productive for supporters of Scottish independence to revisit the question of EU membership via an independence referendum. That means that Scotland can decide for itself whether it wishes to remain a part of the EU, and if it’s going to leave, on what terms, or if it’s going to be a member, then on what terms. There is a majority in the Scottish Parliament for an independence referendum, which means that the political will exists in order to bring one about. There’s a mass grassroots movement with the support of many thousands and local groups in every corner of the country which exists to campaign in it when it does come about. A yes vote in that referendum will lead to a fundamental restructuring and realignment of Scottish politics.
That’s not the case with a second EU referendum. Even in Edinburgh, in the most pro-EU city in the entire UK, even with speakers who have UK-wide prominence in the media, the pro-EU rally struggled to attract more than a few hundred people. There’s no grassroots mass membership campaign on the ground to campaign in any vote that comes about. The leaderships of both the Conservatives and Labour remain implaccably opposed to another EU referendum. Even if a referendum did take place it’s not going to solve the divisions over Europe which plague British politics. It will still be the same old story.
Campaigning for a second EU referendum may very well be the political equivalent of banging one’s head off a brick wall. On the other hand, campaigning for a second Scottish independence referendum is chapping on an unlocked door, a door which opens to a very different and better country.
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