It ought to be unnecessary in a country with a long and well established democratic tradition that the basic principles of democracy and parliamentary mandates should have to be explained and reiterated. Sadly however that is where we are in Scotland in 2022 where in their panicked desperation the opponents of Scottish independence, who are very much Anglo-British nationalists despite their strident protestations that they are against ‘nationalism’ are resorting to all sorts of implausible contortions in order to reconcile their mutually contradictory assertions.
In order to escape the charge that they are denying the democratic will of the people of Scotland, and caught between their claim that its up to the Scottish people to decide whether Scotland remains in the UK or not while insisting that they will not ‘allow’ another referendum, the anti-democratic British nationalists must find some formula for denying that the Scottish Parliament was indeed given a mandate by the people of Scotland for a second independence referendum.
As anyone who was paying even passing attention is aware, the issue of a second independence referendum dominated the Scottish Parliament election of 2021. The SNP and the other pro-independence parties made it clear that a vote for them would result in a Scottish Parliament which would bring about another vote on independence. For their part the anti-independence parties made it clear that if elected to Holyrood they would vote against any bill or proposal for another vote on independence.
As we all know,of the pro-independence parties, the SNP won 64 seats and the Scottish Greens won 8, thus ending up with 72 pro-independence and pro-referendum seats between them in Holyrood and giving them a comfortable majority over the anti-independence parties who between them won just 57 seats . (Conservatives 31, Labour 22, and Lib Dems 4) 72 is a much bigger number than 57, it is in fact by some margin the largest pro-independence majority that there has ever been in the Scottish Parliament, so you might think it was unarguable that the electorate had given Holyrood an unequivocal mandate for another independence referendum.
You would of course be wrong. Before the new MSPs had even got their bums on their seats the anti-independence parties, their supporters in the media, and the moon howling red white and blue contingent on social media were falling over themselves to brit-splain the outcome of the election to us and tell us why this resounding mandate for another independence referendum was in fact no such thing.
Right away we had assorted Tories telling us that because the SNP had not won an absolute majority in its own right there was no mandate for another independence referendum. The 64 SNP MSPs were outnumbered by the 65 MSPs from all the other parties, apparently the 8 Green MSPs are so much chopped meat and the fact that they too support another referendum seemingly doesn’t count, so if you voted Green and got a Green MSP elected it seemingly doesn’t matter. There was a concerted effort amongst opponents of independence to vote tactically in order to deprive the new Parliament of a pro-independence majority because the opponents of independence were well aware of what a majority pro-independence Scottish Parliament would mean. They failed, but having failed tried to shift the goal posts so that Green MSPs didn’t count, only SNP MSPs mattered where a mandate for another referendum was concerned. They would have done exactly the same had any of the other pro-independence party succeeded in winning seats.
However the new Presiding Officer Alison Johnson, was chosen from amongst the ranks of Green MSPs. The Presiding Officer renounces affiliation with their party and does not generally cast a vote except to break a tie. Even then, the convention is that when the presiding officer does use their tie-breaking vote, they do so in favour of advancing debate, but on final ballots, they vote to retain the status quo. This means effectively the SNP does have a majority in its own right as all the other MSPs combined cannot outvote it.
More to the point, the SNP cannot be outvoted on any vote concerned with advancing another independence referendum, since this is also Green policy. The majority status of the SNP led Scottish Government was later cemented when the SNP agreed a deal with the Greens.
Even though they are faced with a pro-independence Scottish Government whose majority is unassailable, this has not stopped the British nationalists and their enablers from trying to come up with arguments which they hope might persuade the public that the mandate held by Holyrood isn’t “really” a mandate, and therefore they are not authoritarian democracy deniers by appealing to forces beyond Holyrood such as the UK Supreme Court or Downing Street in order to block the second independence referendum and undermine Scottish democracy.
Thus we hear a lot of selective appeals to opinion polling from the parties which seek to traduce the outcome of the 2021 Holyrood election because they cannot, in Trumpian fashion, accept that they lost. We do not have government by opinion poll in this or any other country. But if we did then the anti-independence parties would have to respect all polling, not just the polls that suited them. If that were the case the Tories and Labour would have to concede that most people think Brexit was a disaster that needs to be undone, yet both of them are committed to a hard Brexit and keeping the UK out of the Single Market and Customs Union. We don’t hear much from them about opinion polls on that topic, funny that.
The other desperately pathetic attempt to deny democracy is commonplace on social media, especially amongst the staunch brigade. These types love to point out that the pro-independence parties combined received 48.98% of the share of the votes in the constituency vote, which of course is not an absolute majority. Usually they just fixate on the SNP vote share alone, which was 47.70% in the constituency vote and 40.34% in the regional list vote.
They are less keen to highlight that between them the SNP, Greens, Alba, and other minor pro-independence parties obtained 50.18% of votes in the regional list vote.
While percentage vote share might be of interest to political anoraks, this was a parliamentary election, not a referendum. The fact that the SNP got ‘only’ 47.70% vote share in the constituency vote in no way undermines or invalidates its mandate for another independence referendum. No British Government has achieved over 50% of the popular vote since 1935 when the National Government headed by Stanley Baldwin won 51.8% of the votes cast. Even Thatcher’s landslide in 1979 was won with a mere 43.9% of the popular vote. Tony Blair won his landslide in 1997 with 43.2% of votes cast. The current Conservative government won its 80 seat Commons majority on just 43.6% of the vote. If you want to argue that the Scottish Government doesn’t have a mandate for a second independence referendum because it failed to win a majority of votes cast, then you are conceding that no British government for almost 90 years has had a mandate to implement its manifesto.
Yet this is where we are now, forced to defend the fundamentals of democracy. All by itself this should make you realise the very real danger that democracy in Scotland faces from British nationalists who deny that they are a threat to Scottish democracy as vehemently as they deny that they are nationalists. It’s only going to get worse. Both Sunak and Truss are fully invested in these attempts to deny Scottish democracy and won’t only refuse to acknowledge the democratic choice Scotland made at the last Scottish Parliament election, they will take a wrecking ball to the devolution settlement.
No matter which of the two candidates for Prime Minister who are currently trying to appeal to the basest instincts of the Conservative party ends up as the winner, democracy in Scotland will end up the loser.
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