There’s a very important point which has been raised by Ruth Davidson’s return from maternity leave. It’s an issue she raised which was also raised by David Mundell, and one whose implications have – entirely predictably – not been explored by the Scottish media. Both the Scotland Secretary and the leader of Ruth Davidson for Ruth Davidson’s Ruth Davidson party have insisted that not only should the current British Prime Minister refuse to accede to a demand for a Section 30 order for a Scottish independence referendum, but so also should the next British Prime Minister. They go even further, and have stated baldly that this refusal should continue past the next Scottish elections in 2021, and indefinitely into the future.
This is nothing less than a fundamental and unilateral rewriting of the political understanding of Scotland’s constitutional place within the UK. It is, in effect, a constitutional coup and a direct assault upon Scottish democracy. Ruth Davidson and David Mundell have just told us that it doesn’t matter who Scotland votes for. It doesn’t matter if Scotland elects a parliament elected with a clear and unambiguous mandate for a Scottish referendum, the Conservative government in Westminster will make that decision, not the people of Scotland. Scotland’s votes will be subject to a veto from a government elected by the rest of the United Kingdom. What we’re now being told is that even if Scotland votes for pro-independence parties by a massive majority, it will be vetoed by English and Welsh Conservative votes, and by DUP votes.
Ruth and David’s statements have gone largely unchallenged by that Scottish media that likes to tell us that it speaks truth unto power. Although as we’ve discovered is that only holds when the power concerned is an SNP led Scotttish government, and the truth is a Labour or Tory press release. Yet what their statements represent is a theft of the democratic will of the people of Scotland. Until now, it has always been understood that Scotland is willingly and freely a part of the UK, that it remains so subject to the consent of the people of Scotland – with the crucial implication that the people of Scotland have the absolute right to withdraw that consent. That was the basis upon which the 2014 referendum was fought, it was a point which opponents of independence were eager to agree to.
Yet now we discover that the Conservatives have unilaterally decided that it is no longer the case. It is now no longer for the Scottish people to decide the form of government best suited to their needs. That decision is for the Conservative party to make, and the Conservative party will make that decision as and when it suits the interests of the Conservative party.
It wasn’t so long ago that Ruth Davidson was saying that the Westminster government shouldn’t block a Scottish referendum, even though she personally didn’t want a referendum. Referring to the possibility of an independence referendum because of the outcome of the Brexit vote, in an interview in July 2016 Ruth said that “constitutionally, the UK government shouldn’t block it.” It was only a short while before that that she had stated that the way to get a referendum was for the pro-independence parties to get a majority at the ballot box, and then secure a majority in the Scottish parliament. That’s democracy, said Ruth.
It now appears that Ruth has decided that her party’s veto is more important than democracy, and she’s not being held to account for that undemocratic volte-face by a Scottish media that’s far more interested in gushing interviews about how motherhood has changed her. The British nationalist media in Scotland is not challenging her, not questioning her change of mind, not exploring the constitutional implications for Scotland. It’s not just Ruth Davidson and David Mundell who are undermining Scottish democracy, they’re being helped along by a Scottish media which is increasingly unfit for purpose. Holding power to account doesn’t just mean finding a succession of SNPbad stories, guys and girls.
The fact that Ruth Davidson and David Mundell were both insisting within days of one another that there should be a blanket and indeterminate refusal to allow an independence referendum for the foreseeable future, by the next UK Prime Minister and well past the next Scottish elections, clearly shows that the line was agreed between the two of them. These are not off the cuff remarks in interviews, this is a planned and coordinated strategy. The new harder line is a marked departure from “now is not the time”, a line which although infuriatingly patronising, at least seemed to leave open the possibility that the time would come at some point. The line is now “the time is never”.
A Scotland which is being told by the ruling British party that it is subject to a veto on its desire to ask itself about its future within the UK is not a Scotland which is a free agent. Davidson and Mundell’s shift in stance means that we are certainly no longer in the union that we were told we were a part of in 2014, and that we’ve been told for generations that we’ve been a part of. The Conservative party has now unilaterally ripped up the Scottish Claim of Right. They have destroyed any pretence that Scotland is freely and of its own will a part of the UK. Because if that will can never be questioned or tested, then it does not exist.
By making such a fundamental change to the nature of the UK and to the understanding upon which Scotland is a part of it, the Scottish Conservatives have created a new significant change in circumstances which justifies a new independence referendum. Do we want to be a part of a state in which our democratic will can be so casually brushed aside in the interests of a party which has only minority support in Scotland? That was not what anyone voted for in 2014. That is not what anyone understood as the nature of this so-called precious union, this supposed family of nations.
This hardline new position is born of hubris and arrogance. Arrogance because the Conservatives believe that the only legal route to a referendum is via a Section 30 order, because they have a confidence, perhaps misplaced, that the courts would rule in their favour against a referendum without the order. Hubris because they seem to believe that they will always be able to rely upon votes from elsewhere in the UK to overrule the democratic will of the people of Scotland. It is profoundly undemocratic and it will be their undoing and the undoing of the United Kingdom. This time they have overreached. This will not end well for them.
I have always said that the United Kingdom will be ended, not by Scottish nationalists, but by those who claim to love the union. Ruth Davidson and David Mundell are proving me right.
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