Sometimes newspaper headlines are misleading. Sometimes they’re just flat out wrong. And sometimes they’re just pathetically desperate. A headline in the Herald today (Saturday) falls into that latter category. “Nicola Sturgeon confirms a Yes vote on independence could be reversed” it screams, as though she is the one who would be doing the reversing. The implication is that she might change her mind after a Yes vote and decide that this whole independence business was a bad idea because it was upsetting to that terribly nice Murdo Fraser.
A far more accurate headline would have been, “Nicola Sturgeon confirms Scotland would still be a democracy after a Yes vote.” Yes, who knew it, after a Yes vote which has as its aim ensuring that the people of Scotland are able to get governments that do what the people of Scotland want, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that after a Yes vote the people of Scotland will get a government that does what the people of Scotland want.
Naturally that also means that should, for some bizarre and unfathomable reason, the people of Scotland collectively decide that circumstances have changed and they don’t want independence after having voted for it, and they vote for a government with a mandate to hold a referendum on rejoining the UK, then that is what the people of Scotland will get. That’s how democracy works. This proposition should only come as a surprise to British nationalists in Scotland.
The point, the point which the Herald and the anti-independence parties are conveniently overlooking, is that the people of Scotland have right now got a government which was elected with a mandate to hold an independence referendum should circumstances change as circumstances have indeed changed. That’s not a hypothetical government with a hypothetical mandate either. It’s an actual government with an actual mandate whose existence the anti-independence parties are hell-bent on denying. Democracy doesn’t mean that people only have the right to change their minds as long as they change their minds in a direction that you approve of. Except if you’re Jeauw Swaynseun. But then there’s as much chance of the Lib Dems acknowledging their hypocrisy as there is of the Queen apologising for having interfered in a democratic vote.
The headline and accompanying article are clearly designed to do two things. First of all it seeks to play into the fears and suspicions of those in the Yes camp who are openly expressing their doubts that the SNP is at all serious about pursuing independence. Oh my god! They’ll be saying on Twitter, Nicola has no intention at all of pursuing independence. I’m ripping up my SNP membership card and will never vote for the party again. And by doing so they will be making a resolutely anti-independence newspaper very happy indeed. Job done. Although I very much doubt however that outside of a miniscule minority of the perma-outraged who inhabit Twitter that anyone would really think that. In any event, those in the independence camp who are fed up with a lack of action from the SNP would hardly believe a Herald headline that told them it was raining even if they were to look out of the window and see that it was tipping down.
The other, more serious, goal of the piece is to give further wind to the notion that opponents of independence would be justified in insisting that the next independence referendum should be a two-parter. Following a yes vote in the referendum they’d then insist on a confirmatory referendum on the independence deal negotiated between Holyrood and Westminster. This sounds on the surface to be all very fine and dandy and democratic, but what it means in the real world is that they are wanting Holyrood and the Scottish Government to agree in advance that Westminster has the right and the ability to negotiate in bad faith after Scotland has voted for independence in order to ensure that a Yes vote can never be implemented. It’s essentially a Perfidious Albion clause.
The Perfidious Albion clause would in practice give Westminster, which doesn’t exactly have a great reputation at the best of times when it comes to fairness and negotiating in good faith, carte blanche to insist on all sorts of ridiculous and unacceptable conditions during independence negotiations. This is because as a result of the Perfidious Albion clause the purpose of independence negotiations for Westminster would no longer be to negotiate with Holyrood with the aim of getting a workable deal on independence that was acceptable to both parties, it would be to negotiate with the aim of setting conditions that they know that Holyrood could never agree to in a million years. For Westminster, the negotiations would become about ensuring that a deal could not be achieved rather than achieving one.
Then when the confirmatory vote comes along, opponents of independence would be able to say that Scotland was going to have to take a leap into the unknown without any independence deal. Opponents of independence would tell us that Westminster wouldn’t recognise an independent Scotland because there was no agreement on the terms of independence, there was no agreement. And then they would tell us that in turn this would mean that we’d not be able to join the EU or any other international body because Westminster wouldn’t recognise Scottish independence and wouldn’t agree to it.
Naturally the plan is a non-starter. No independence supporting party or organisation would accept a referendum predictated upon giving our opponents the right to negotiate in bad faith after a Yes result. They want us to trust them, but the entire reason for independence in the first place is because Westminster has repeatedly proven that it cannot be trusted in its dealings with Scotland. The anti-independence parties amply demonstrated that in the way in which they trashed all the commitments and promises that they made to the people of Scotland in order to win the referendum of 2014.
What the Perfidious Albion clause would boil down to is Westminster saying – yes you can have an independence referendum, but only if you give us the right to ensure that a Yes vote can never be implemented. It is the height of British nationalist arrogance that they should even imagine that this insulting and anti-democratic idea might fly.
But those British nationalists who advocate this plan are playing with fire. By airing the idea they are tacitly acknowledging that it’s the people of Scotland – and only the people of Scotland – who have the right to decide their future, and this undermines their opposition to allowing a referendum in the first place.
Their desperate plans and machinations are further confirmation that they know that when there is another vote on Scottish independence, a vote that they will not be able to stall forever, that they’re going to lose. Because they already know that they’re going to lose, they’re going to play dirty. That in itself further erodes the UK, because it’s only going to make even more people in Scotland realise that the only way in which Scotland’s democracy can be defended is with independence. The Perfidious Albion proposal is one more frayed thread in the ever-loosening ties that bind the UK.
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