Rish! Sunak brought his exclamation mark of ambition on a visit to Scotland last week to patronise the locals, but it couldn’t disguise the fact that he is as clueless in his assertions about Scottish politics as the Pope. Last week Pope Frances claimed that ‘the English’ had resolved the Scottish independence question, and in so doing he unwittingly became the best friend of staunch Rangers’ fans like Murdo Fraser, who is as ignorant about the Scottish independence issue as Pope Frances is, only with far less of an excuse.
The Pope seemed to be referring to the referendum of 2014 and clearly has not kept abreast of developments since. He was being asked about the situation in Catalonia, where the Spanish state still insists that an independence referendum would be unconstitutional and refuses to countenance it. According to the current Spanish constitution, there cannot be an independence referendum in Catalonia even if the government in Madrid were to agree to one. The Spanish constitution is quite clear that even the central government in Madrid does not have the legal power to authorise an independence referendum in Catalonia, the Basque Country, or any other part of the Spanish state which might like to have one. The constitution only permits a Spanish-wide referendum on Catalan independence. The Spanish state is expressly not a voluntary union of the ‘historic nationalities’ recognised by the Spanish constitution.
This is very different from the constitutional position in the UK, which Westminster politicians, increasingly less plausibly, still claim is a voluntary union of nations. The only reason Scotland is currently being prevented from holding an independence referendum is because the government in Westminster and both the Conservative and Labour parties refuse to accept that the current Scottish Parliament was elected on a mandate to deliver one, and refuse to say what the democratic path to another independence referendum might be, now that we know it is not what the Labour and Conservative parties had previously told us it was – electing a Scottish Parliament where a majority of MSPs were in favour of holding one.
When pressed on the question of what the democratic route to another independence referendum might be, Sunak repeatedly refused to answer, and was reduced to a gibbering wreck by STV’s Colin Mackay. There was a notable lack of the same persistence on the part of BBC Scotland.
Labour politicians such as Keir Starmer are equally as reticent as Sunak to specify what that democratic route to an independence referendum might be, and the BBC is, I was going to say ‘surprisingly’ reluctant to press them on a question that goes to the very heart of the supposed nature of the United Kingdom as a voluntary union, but we all know it’s not surprising at all. BBC Scotland’s flagship evening news programme devoted more time to the football than it did to last week’s important Holyrood debate on Westminster’s refusal to respect the mandate for another referendum given to the Scottish Parliament by the electorate of this country. The United Kingdom is founded upon the lie that it is a voluntary union, and the BBC is determined to collude in that lie.
When politicians repeatedly dodge a question, there is only ever one reason for it. It’s because the answer is politically damaging. Neither Starmer or Sunak want to answer the question – ‘What is the democratic route to another referendum for the people of Scotland?’ – because the real answer is ‘ There isn’t one.’ No British Prime Minister is going to permit a Scottish independence referendum as long as there is a realistic chance that the electorate in Scotland might vote yes.
Sunak and Starmer are united in their determination to keep the power to bring about a referendum for themselves, and that blows out of the water their politically convenient affectation that the United Kingdom is a voluntary union. They both know that should an independence referendum be held in Scotland any time soon, there is every likelihood that Yes would win and the occupant of Number 10 would go down in history as the Prime Minister who ‘lost’ Scotland. Make no mistake, despite their protestations of love and respect for Scotland, they very much regard Scotland as a possession.
Of course as all of us who are not either residents of the Vatican or members of the Conservative party know, the Scottish independence question is very far from being resolved, and it’s certainly not up to ‘the English’ to resolve it, and one way or another, that is what is going to happen.
Over the weekend the resolutions to be debated at the SNP’s special conference were revealed by the party’s National Executive Committee. SNP policy convener Toni Giugliano tweeted: “The NEC resolution kickstarts a process of engagement with the SNP grassroots. I hope branches engage fully – as the final decision rests with conference.”
The option of treating the next UK General Election as a de facto referendum remains on the table. Many feel that it will be very difficult for the SNP, even if its votes are combined with those of the Greens and other pro-independence parties, to obtain an absolute majority at a UK General Election in a hostile media environment where the focus will very much be on UK wide issues and the question of independence is portrayed as a ‘distraction’. The BBC would of course all but ignore the Scottish dimension except in the ‘news where you are’ and would still pay more attention to the fitba.
Another of the options to be debated by members at the conference is to use the next UK General Election to obtain an unequivocal mandate for a referendum, such a mandate would be deemed to have been won if the pro-independence parties win the election by the normal rules of UK General Elections, that is by the number of seats won, not by winning a majority of votes cast.
If this mandate was ignored by Westminster then the next Holyrood election would be contested as a de facto independence referendum. This would give the independence movement the advantage that 16 and 17 year olds and European citizens would be able to vote and the voter suppression tactics introduced by the Conservatives for UK elections would not apply. It would also ensure that the issue of independence would not be drowned out by a British media which is determined to sideline and downplay it. Crucially this would be a referendum made in Scotland. However on the downside we would have to wait until 2026 and we would have to know what action would be taken if Westminster tried to ignore the mandate yet again.
The SNP special conference is due to be held in March. The final decision will be made by party members. It’s no exaggeration to say that the future of Scotland will be in their hands.
We have had a very good friend visiting for the past week, hence I wasn’t posting much. He’s gone home to Belgium now so posts will be more frequent this week. Incidentally he tells me that people in Belgium are well aware that Scotland rejected Brexit and if an independent Scotland was to seek to rejoin the EU, it would be welcomed with open arms.
My Gaelic maps of Scotland are still available, a perfect gift for any Gaelic learner or just for anyone who likes maps. The maps cost £15 each plus £7 P&P within the UK. You can order by sending a PayPal payment of £22 to firstname.lastname@example.org (Please remember to include the postal address where you want the map sent to).
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