According to an article in The Times today, Theresa May will refuse to agree to any request from the Scottish government to hold another independence referendum. Well that’s a relief, because no one in Scotland has the slightest intention of requesting anything from Theresa May. Scotland will be informing Theresa May that it’s going to have a vote on independence, that will be at a time which suits Scotland, and Theresa May’s permission is not required.
I’ve laid out the points in this blog article before, but they are worth restating, given the willingness of the media in this country to go along with the mistaken notion that Scotland requires the permission of the Prime Minister before it can have a vote on independence.
The reality is that if Theresa May really believes that the UK is a “precious Union”, then she has no moral grounds for refusing to allow Scotland to vote. Either this is a Union and Scotland is a constituent part of it where the people possess the absolute right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs, or this is a unitary state and Scotland has no more rights than an English region. Either the people of Scotland really do have an absolute right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs, or we don’t. Because if it’s up to a UK Prime Minister to decide whether Scotland can have a vote on independence, if it’s up to a UK Prime Minister to unilaterally override a mandate given to the Scottish Parliament by the people of Scotland, then clearly we don’t. If we don’t, then Westminster was lying when it approved the Scottish Claim of Right and this isn’t really a Union, precious or otherwise. And if this is not a Union, Scotland is a part of the UK under false pretenses. That all by itself is a reason for an independence vote.
What’s it to be Theresa? Because you can’t have it both ways. The word Union, if it is to be used, must have some actual semantic content. It must mean something. But then we are dealing with a government for which black is white and up is down. This government of incompetents, swivel eyed ideologues, greed driven bloodsuckers, and money grubbers on the make is only good at one thing, and that’s hypocrisy.
Let us, for the sake of argument, imagine that the SNP wins a snap general election by a massive amount and wins all but a handful of seats in Scotland, yet Theresa May manages to cling on to power. Or, let us imagine that there’s been a snap Scottish election and pro-independence parties are returned to the Scottish Parliament with an increased majority and a renewed mandate for a referendum, yet Theresa May is still clinging onto power in Westminster. Or, let us imagine that the opinion polls are showing a consistent and significant majority for Scottish independence way beyond the 3% margin of error typical for opinion polls. Do you think that Theresa May would be more likely to consent to another independence referendum than she is just now? No. Of course not. She’d be even less disposed to agree to one than she is just now because the chances of her losing it would be even greater than her current chances of losing it, chances which are already pretty high.
The greater the support is for Scottish independence, the more support there is for it in the Scottish Parliament or in Westminster, the less likely that it becomes that any UK Prime Minister is going to consent to a Section 30 order. No UK Prime Minister is going to willingly agree to a political course of action that spells the end of the UK because that would also spell the end of that Prime Minister’s career. Theresa, or whoever happens to be the UK Prime Minister next month, would just repeat the now is not the time mantra.
The obvious answer to this condundrum is that we don’t ask her permission. Scotland should just tell her how things are going to be. Scotland determines when the time is. And Scotland can do that.
What Scotland and the Scottish government ought to be doing with Theresa May right now is reminding her that one way or another, Scotland will have its vote with or without Theresa’s permission. Yes, it would be all lovely and fluffy if Westminster agreed to a Section 30 order, but a Section 30 order is not the only way a Scottish ballot on independence can occur. This is not Spain, there is no constitutional bar on independence referendums in the UK. There is no law which says that a party or a coalition of parties cannot stand for election on a platform of seeking a mandate for independence for Scotland. In other words, Theresa’s permission is not required for a Scotland to have a vote on independence. It’s only required for one route to that vote. If that route is blocked, other routes are available.
Scotland can have a consultative referendum without Westminster’s permission. It might be the subject of a legal challenge, but if it was worded appropriately it is likely to be legal. And as we have seen from the consultative referendum that led to Brexit, the political difference between a binding referendum and a consultative one is about as deep as the intellectual heft of the Scottish Conservative party. Theresa would then find herself facing an independence campaign being fought against a backdrop of her party legally challenging Scotland’s right to be listened to, and all the while her and her anti-indy pals are trying to persuade Scotland that we’re respected and listened to within the UK. That’s not going to play well for them.
Or Scotland can convert any election held in Scotland into a plebiscite election on independence. The Scottish Parliament already possesses a mandate for a referendum, there is no need to campaign for another one. The next vote on the subject should be a direct vote on independence itself. Theresa May’s permission is not required for Scotland to have a plebiscite election, and the anti-independence parties can’t realistically boycott it. They’ll still be forced to fight an independence vote, trying to persuade Scotland that it’s loved and wanted and respected, while they themselves will be seen to have fought to reject Scotland’s right to a voice. So much for a precious Union. That’s not going to play well for them.
If opponents of independence have a modicum of sense, they will consent to a Section 30 order, because that is the only way that they can maintain the fiction that Scotland is a part of a Union and not an ignored and sidelined province in a unitary state. But then we’re talking here about the likes of Theresa May, Ross Thomson, and David Mundell, expecting a modicum of sense is a very big ask. The real reason that they’re terrified of another independence vote is because they know that they’re likely to lose it, and they know that they have nothing to offer Scotland except scare stories, threats, bullying, and intimidation.
But we must not forget that the bottom line is that one way or another, Scotland can have a vote and Theresa May’s permission is not required. We need to shout that from the rooftops. That’s a line that gets lost in Scotland’s overwhelmingly anti-independence media, and that’s why it’s all the more important that the Scottish Government needs to assert it loud and proud. It’s not for Theresa May to tell the people of Scotland what we can or cannot vote on. It’s not for Theresa May to give permission for a vote on Scottish independence. The only permission required is the permission of the Scottish people. There is already a mandate in place for another independence referendum. The people have already spoken on that question.
Theresa May is a bully. You don’t beg for concessions from bullies, you stand up to them. Theresa May refuses to listen. You don’t ask nicely of people who don’t listen to you, you tell them what you’re going to do. Theresa May is a control freak. You don’t seek permission from a control freak, you present them with a fait accompli. We are not asking Theresa what the time is. We’ll tell her. And the clock is ticking.
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