Well you didn’t need to be Nostradamus to see that one coming. A month on from Nicola Sturgeon’s letter to him, Boris Johnson has finally been arsed to reply to the First Minister’s demand for a Section 30 order for another independence referendum and for the necessary powers to be transferred to Holyrood permanently. As everyone, their granny, and their granny’s cat knew he was going to, he said no. Scotland had its democracy in 2014.
Johnson cited what he described as Nicola Sturgeon’s and Alex Salmond’s “personal promise” in 2014 that the referendum that year was a once in a generation vote. He lied. It wasn’t a personal promise, it was an observation and they made it clear that it was their personal opinion and not a binding commitment. Neither Alex Salmond nor Nicola Sturgeon ever said that they swore a solemn vow to the people of Scotland that there would be no more referendums for a generation. In December last year, Boris Johnson himself described that month’s election as a “critical once in a generation election”. Does that mean that there are to be no more elections in the UK? The way this British Government’s contempt for democracy is going, I wouldn’t put it past them.
But even if it was a promise, Johnson has some nerve in citing the “personal promises” of other politicians. This is a man who is a serial liar, a cheat, a charlatan. A man who has deceived everyone he’s ever met and who lies at every opportunity. This is a man who gave a promise that he’d die in a ditch if the UK didn’t leave the EU last year. Last anyone saw he was not dead in a ditch, although to be fair what was left of his reputation for honesty died in a ditch many years ago. And here he is, demanding that Nicola Sturgeon be held to a standard that he himself refuses to come within a thousand light years of. There’s the moral high ground, and then there’s Boris Johnson chuntering away in the bowels of the earth.
It’s Boris Johnson’s party which has contravened a direct promise made to the people of Scotland. It’s Boris Johnson’s party which has traduced the result of the 2014 referendum. The reality that the Conservatives refuse to acknowledge is that if they had fulfilled all the promises and commitments that they made in 2014 in order to win the referendum we wouldn’t be here now with the SNP receiving their fourth mandate for another referendum. The Tories promised that Scotland would be an equal partner in a family of nations, that Scotland should lead the UK not leave it. That was a lie. They promised that the only way to remain within the EU was to vote against independence. That was a lie. They promised that the powers of the Scottish Parliament would never be altered against the will of Holyrood. That was a lie. And in the Smith Commission they promised that there was nothing in the post referendum agreement which prevented the people of Scotland from revisiting the question of independence in the future. That was a lie.
In his letter, Johnson said that his government would ” continue to uphold the democratic decision of the Scottish people” in 2014. But they’re not going to uphold any of the democratic decisions that the Scottish people have made since 2016. They’re not going to uphold any of the three electoral mandates or the Holyrood mandate that the people of Scotland have given the Scottish Government for another referendum. They’re not going to uphold the democratic decision of the people of Scotland to remain a part of the EU. For this British Government, Scottish democracy was a one off event in 2014 where the people of Scotland surrendered all and any right to ever have any sort of say over the future of Scotland forever.
There was no case for Scotland remaining in the UK made in Johnson’s short letter. There was only his refusal to acknowledge Scotland’s vote in the General Election and a party political yah boo sucks point about Scottish public services – although of course he didn’t note that these are performing better than those his own administration manages in England. There was nothing in the letter which reassured or persuaded the people of Scotland that we’re better off in Johnson’s UK. This was the curt letter of a man who has nothing but contempt for Scotland and disdain for those he believes to be beneath him. This was the letter of a man who has no intention of persuading, cajoling, or pleading with Scotland, a man who has no intention of making any accommodations for Scotland. This was the letter of a man who believes that Scotland should be contained. Shut up Scotland, get back in your box. Your betters have spoken.
Johnson’s cavalier dismissal of any manifestation of Scottish democracy that he doesn’t agree with will only play into the hands of the independence movement in the longer term. All that he has done is to confirm the fears of wavering voters in Scotland that the British Government is indeed not prepared to make any compromises with Scotland in order to recognise the strong remain vote in this country. Scotland will get the hard Brexit that Boris Johnson decides, and it will have no influence in determining the shape of Brexit or ability to ameliorate its effects. Johnson has confirmed that the UK is not a partnership of nations, because the democratic will of Scotland will always be overriden by a mandate derived from the vote in England. He has confirmed that there is no place in this supposedly most successful union ever for a distinctively Scottish viewpoint. That’s the question that those who oppose independence need to answer now, if there is no place within the UK for Scotland’s distinctive politics, then what is the point of the UK for Scotland?
This is more than a matter of democratic principle. It’s a matter of democracy itself. Anyone in the rest of the UK, and opponents of independence within Scotland, have a moral obligation to speak out against Boris Johnson’s casual dismissal of the result of the General Election in Scotland. In December 2019 the people of Scotland gave the SNP a clear and unarguable mandate for another referendum under the same rules that give Johnson a mandate for Brexit. If the legitimacy of Johnson’s British government is to be accepted, so much the legitimacy of the mandate for another referendum in Scotland. You don’t get to apply a different set of electoral rules in Scotland from the rest of the UK. The Labour party and the Lib Dems – we’re looking at you.
There’s to be another vote in Holyrood on an independence referendum later this month. That will be mandate number five. At that time the Scottish Government will also set out its detailed response and say what next steps it’s going to take. For weeks and months now, independence supporters in Scotland have speculated about how Nicola Sturgeon would respond to a refusal from Boris Johnson to agree to another independence referendum. As she noted in her immediate reaction to the decision today, she saw this coming. So we’re about to find out how she’s going to respond. What we can be certain of however, is that she’s not going to respond to Johnson’s arrogance by simply saying “Oh that’s OK then” and locking Scotland back into the British nationalist shortbread tin.
Boris Johnson will regret his letter. This country will not be held hostage to the vanity and ego of an Etonian who fears the voice of Scotland. His position is unsustainable and ultimately self-defeating. One way or another the people of Scotland will have their say. Because of Johnson’s arrogance, the eventual independence of Scotland became yet more certain today. We have a choice between a flourishing Scottish democracy with independence, or a British Government which locks Scottish democracy away never to be used again. Johnson’s nawbaggery will not stand. It’s time for the gloves to come off.
James Kelly of Scot Goes Pop has started a crowdfunder to raise the money to commission a poll on Scottish independence. As he points out it’s very odd that there has been no full scale poll of Scottish opinion on independence since the General Election, despite indications that the victory of Boris Johnson in the rest of the UK and SNP landslide in Scotland has produced a surge in support for independence. The crowdfunder page is here, please consider supporting it.
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