It’s a significant week for the independence movement, although you wouldn’t know that judging by our overwhelmingly anti-independence media. In Scotland the job of most of the media is not to inform, but to keep us uninformed. Because if we were properly informed that 45% support that remains for the UK would probably be dropping even more rapidly than it is.
So with the predictable exception of The National there was no mention in Scotland’s media that over the weekend Business for Scotland hosted an online conference seeking to kick start the grassroots campaign. In this time of lockdowns and restrictions on social gatherings, it’s more important than ever that we have a visible and coordinated campaign – a grassroots campaign which is owned and controlled by local activists on the ground. This conference was a vital and important step towards restarting the campaign. Compare and contrast with what happened when Neil Oliver’s new best friends These Islands held a conference that wasn’t even in Scotland.
Meanwhile the Scottish Parliament is poised to reject the Conservative government’s UK internal market bill. The bill represents the most serious direct assault on the devolution settlement that we have ever seen. The Tories have no mandate at all for it in Scotland. “Hey Scotland we’re going to screw over the devolution settlement” did not figure anywhere in the manifesto of the Scottish Conservatives during the last Westminster General Election. And even if it had done the Tories lost over half their seats in that ballot, and were resoundingly rejected by the electorate in Scotland.
Undaunted, what they’re now doing runs directly counter to the promises that they and the other Better Together parties made in 2014 that the powers of Holyrood would never be altered without the express consent of the Scottish Parliament. They’re doing so without the permission or consent of Holyrood, and without having sought a mandate from the people of Scotland and are ramming through unilateral changes which will fundamentally undermine the devolution settlement that Scotland voted for – explicitly or implicitly – in not one but two referendums and are using their MPs elected from outwith Scotland in order to do so. This is a Tory bill which will break international law as well as trashing the devolution settlement. Even the Tories’ own senior legal representative in Scotland, the Advocate General Lord Keen resigned rather than have to defend this bill. How’s that respect agenda working out for everyone?
Today the Scottish Government published its memorandum on the UK Government bill, and recommends that the Scottish Parliament rejects it when it comes before Holyrood in October. This means that barring something entirely unforeseen, Holyrood will certainly vote against the UK government bill. The SNP and the Greens will vote it down, and they may yet be joined by some Labour and Lib Dem MSPs – or those MSPs may choose to abstain. Only the Tories can be counted on to vote against the recommendation of the Scottish Government, and Tory votes alone are not anywhere near enough.
Because it directly affects the powers of Holyrood, the UK Government’s internal market bill needs to be passed by the Scottish Parliament too. If we had a British Government which respected the promise and constitutional convention that Westminster does not legislate in devolved areas without Holyrood’s consent, the bill would fail if it were not passed by Holyrood. But these are not normal times, and we have a British Government which is prepared to break both international law and domestic law and to trash the conventions of the British Parliament.
Make no mistake, this is a defining moment for this so-called Union that the Tories and their allies keep telling Scotland that it’s a much loved and respected partner in. The British Government will directly overrule the will of the Scottish Parliament and will unilaterally and without Scotland’s consent impose changes to the devolution settlement on Scotland. What this means is that devolution will have failed Scotland when put to its first real test, and will be seen to have failed.
Those of us who are a bit longer in the tooth remember the long and bitter years of Thatcher and Major’s rule, and how devolution was seen as a bulwark which would act to protect Scotland from the malignities of Tory governments that Scotland didn’t vote for. Devolution was seen as means by which Scotland could reject damaging Conservative policies and follow an agenda of its own while remaining a part of the UK. We now see that devolution cannot protect Scotland when Westminster is occupied by a Westminster Government for whom principles means nothing more than the name of a high street clothing shop which closed down along with any pretence that the Conservatives cared about the wishes of the majority of Scottish opinion. Devolution can only work when the British Government respects it. This British Government respects nothing but the pursuit of wealth by a tiny minority and the careers of its senior members.
The Conservatives and their Better Together allies can no longer tell Scotland that this country is an equal partner in a family of nations. That claim is about as believable as Donald Trump’s assertions that he’s paid his fair share of taxes. It now ought to be obvious to everyone in Scotland that when what Scotland wants runs counter to what a British Government elected on English votes wants, Scotland will get what England votes for. Although it’s more accurate to say that Scotland will get what a minority of voters in England vote for due to the ridiculously unfair first past the post voting system that Westminster shows no sign of wanting to change. Scotland is getting what England’s Brexit minority wants. Devolution can’t protect us from it. It has failed to do what it was intended to do.
The dawning of a new future was represented by the Believe in Scotland conference. Despite lockdown, despite coronavirus, we are starting to grasp towards ways that the independence movement can successfully and safely campaign. Faced as we are with an overwhelmingly negative media environment, it is vital that we spread the message ourselves. Too many independence supporters sit passively on social media, bewailing Scotland’s lot. The cure for that is to do something. You can start by registering your support for Believe in Scotland. Find out more on their website here https://www.believeinscotland.org/
There will be a referendum on Scottish independence, no matter what Johnson or Gove might say. It’s up to us. It’s up to us to believe in Scotland, to believe in ourselves. We’re the people who will make it happen. You only become powerless when you consent to it, and we do not consent.
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