As Nicola Sturgeon prepared to make her statement on independence to the Scottish Parliament, a spokesscoffer for Downing Street put out a statement saying that the Prime Minister has “bigger things to deal with” than the future of Scotland. Well, if we’re that unimportant she won’t mind if we leave then, will she. I don’t know about you, but Scotland’s future is my top priority as it should be for everyone who lives in Scotland, and the fact that it’s so casually dismissed by a British Prime Minister is all by itself a pressing reason for independence.
The statement, so long awaited, so keenly anticipated, so important to the constitutional future of Scotland, so crucial for the shape of Scottish politics for the next couple of years, was ignored by the BBC Parliament channel and wasn’t broadcast live on BBC Scotland. BBC Scotland only broke into the coverage of the snooker it was sharing with BBC2 after the speech was over. This was the first big political test for the new Scottish BBC channel, and it failed. The statement wasn’t broadcast live on BBC Scotland, BBC1, BBC2, BBC Parliament, or BBC News. Clearly, the BBC agrees with Theresa May that there are bigger things to deal with. Bigger things like cheesy quiz shows, the snooker, and property porn. This constant marginalisation of Scotland is precisely why the need for independence has never been more important. The only place to see the speech live was online on the Scottish Parliament’s website.
The First Minister started her statement by noting that the existing devolution settlement is inadequate. This has never been more evident. Devolution is not able to protect Scotland from the malignities of Conservative austerity. It cannot protect Scotland from the injustices of Conservative immigration policies. Most importantly of all it can’t defend us from Brexit or even allow Scotland to have any say at all in determining the shape that Brexit takes. The existing devolution settlement can be brushed aside by Westminster when it suits the British government of the day, and that’s exactly what Theresa May has done. This British government has unilaterally changed the foundations of the devolution settlement, and has done so not merely without consulting the Scottish Parliament but against its directly expressed will.
Nicola Sturgeon correctly pointed out Brexit has exposed a deep democratic deficit at the very heart of how Scotland is governed. She pointed out that devolution in its current form is inadequate and the status quo is broken. That status quo has been broken by the British government and the British state. The chaos and confusion of Brexit was not inevitable. It’s been brought about by what she described as the “toxic combination of dishonesty and incompetence” which is now what passes for policy and strategy at the highest levels of British government.
Even now, as the UK has been given a brief respite from the deadline of ejection from the EU with no deal, Conservative politicians are far more interested in jockeying for position within their own party and seizing the leadership from Theresa May. Short term party interests rule. The wider interests of the UK as a whole are a secondary consideration. The interests of Scotland don’t even register.
Back in 2014, opponents of independence promised us a glorious future of stronger, better devolution within a safe and secure UK that was firmly a part of the EU. That’s now been destroyed, by British nationalists themselves. Nicola pointed out that not only is the future of the UK more uncertain and less secure than it has been since WW2, but devolution is also at serious risk of going backwards. In Brexit Britain as Conservative governments scramble to do trade deals they will seek further centralisation and the hollowing out of the powers of the devolved parliaments.
She then went on to say that the Scottish Government will introduce primary legislation within the year to allow a second independence referendum, and pointed out that a section 30 order was not needed for that legislation. There’s no point asking for a Section 30 order from a Prime Minister who might not be in office at the end of the month, leading a government that might fall at any moment.
However the First Minister acknowledged that the agreement of the UK government would be needed in order to remove any doubt about the legality of the referendum. Once the Bill is passed it would only require the transfer of power at a later date via a Section 30 Order to proceed to a vote on independence. She wasn’t so clear in her statement on how to get that agreement. Nicola believes that pressure from Scotland will ensure that the British government realises that it has no option but to allow Scotland to have its say. That British government won’t be one headed by Theresa May, so Theresa May’s refusal to engage with Scotland is as irrelevant as she is.
The crucial point is the determination that Scotland must have a referendum on its future within the lifetime of this Scottish Parliament. It is Scotland’s only escape route from the chaos and insanity of Brexit. And if it doesn’t then independence becomes the only question facing Scotland in the next Scottish Parliamentary elections. Those will then be elections fought against opponents who have proven themselves to be British centralists and not supporters of any sort of UK union at all, they will have proven themselves to be opponents of Scotland having a say in its own future. That’s not a good look if you’re trying to persuade Scotland that it will be a respected partner in a family of nations. If there is no agreement on a Section 30 order, the next Scottish elections become an effective plebiscite on independence. An effective plebiscite in a nation that has been told that it’s merely a region of a diminished and chaotic Britain.
An important announcement was the setting up of a Citizens Assembly so that there can be wide consultation and discussion about the kind of country that we want to be. With Westminster’s chaos and crisis this is exactly what we need, a reborn and reinvigorated Scottish Constitutional Convention searching for collaboration, consensus, and . Scotland is seeking a calm and measured assessment of its future, and seeks to present detailed and well thought out plans on how to get there. This is exactly the opposite of Brexit, an ill-defined and nebulous proposition which has been hijacked by the populist right for its own ends.
Nicola concluded, “What I hope we might all agree on after these past three years is that serious change is needed. To those who believe independence is not the right change, I say bring forward your own proposals.” And to be fair, Murdo Fraser has indeed brought forward his own proposals. He wants a Tory version of the federalism fairy. Unfortunately no one listens to Murdo, not least his own party.
The acting leader of the Tories, Jackson Carlot, predictably replied that a referendum would be divisive. If that’s all he’s got to say then he’s as well saying nothing at all. Scotland is not disposed to take lectures in divisiveness from the party that has given us Brexit. Brexit is divisive. Ending freedom of movement is divisive. Another EU referendum is divisive. Another UK general election is divisive. European elections are divisive.
So we’re on the way. The conditions for a ensuring that there is successful vote on Scottish independence have never been more favourable. We have something to work towards. But we have a great deal to do. There is pressure to build. Coalitions to form. Consensus to seek. Alliances to make. Persuasion to produce. Campaigning to plan. A future to create. We have work to do. We’re going to be busy.
At this crucial time in Scotland’s history, it’s more important than ever that we support Scotland’s only pro-independence newspaper. And now, if you subscribe to the paper, you can get your very own stuffed toy Wee Ginger Dug. It’s worth the subscription for that alone! Find out more here – https://www.thenational.scot/subscribe/
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