Referendum 2018

referendum_2018_petitionDebate rumbles on about the timing of Scotland’s new independence referendum. Recently, the most public aspect of this debate has been an exchange between Pete Wishart and James Kelly. This began, as I recall, with a column written by veteran SNP MP which was slated by the SCOT goes POP blogger in an article for iScot Magazine. Wishart than demanded a right of reply and the latest episode in this spat appears as a letter in the April issue of iScot. (You can download an image of the letter here.)

I say “latest episode” although, as James Kelly subsequently pointed out, the letter addresses none of the criticisms of the original column and does nothing whatever to clarify Pete Wishart’s notion of an “optimum time” for holding a new independence referendum. We are told nothing new. The letter merely rehashes the pieties and platitudes and does nothing to aid our understanding of exactly how Mr Wishart hopes to know, presumably some months in advance, what will be the “optimum time” for another vote on Scotland’s constitutional question.

I was as frustrated by this lack of explanation as was James Kelly. Particularly as I had, myself, written a lengthy critique of Pete Wishart’s original column to which he did not see fit to respond. I had hoped to find in his latest writing on the subject answers to such questions as what criteria are to be used in assessing the “optimum time” and how, having delayed the vote, he proposed to deal with the British government’s moves to make a new referendum impossible and/or unwinnable. I’m none the wiser on any of these points.

In truth, this ongoing debate seems perplexing and pointless to me. To my mind, the issue of when the referendum should be held was settled more than three years ago. Realising that the constitutional issue could not possibly be considered settled by a No vote won on an entirely false prospectus and having given the matter serious thought in the days and weeks after the 2014 vote, I concluded that the earliest possible date for a new referendum was September 2018. The Leave vote in the EU referendum and the constitutional implications for Scotland of Brexit meant that this changed from being the earliest date to the latest.

Nothing Pete Wishart has said dissuades me from the conviction that the new referendum must be held no later than Thursday 20 September 2018. He has had ample opportunity to make the case that it is possible to define an “optimum time” and accurately predict when that time will arrive several months in advance. He has failed to do so. He cannot say what factors identify the right time and differentiate it from the wrong time. He cannot tell us what portents we must look for in order to know that the time is approaching. He has nothing to say about the actions the British state is all but certain to take whilst he is dabbling in the entrails of a goat looking for a sign.

Recognising the threat to Scotland’s democratic institutions and distinctive political culture posed by rampant ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism, and in the absence of any rational arguments for delay, I cannot see insistence that a new referendum be deferred indefinitely as anything other than the utmost folly.

I am far from alone in being unconvinced by Pete Wishart’s hyper-cautious approach. Veteran commentator Ruth Wishart (no relation) is one of many who have taken him to task for his vacillation. As she says,

This Autumn will be the fourth anniversary of the 2014 Referendum.  We risk losing all the passion, all the hope, all the ambition which that generated if our best rallying cry is NOT YET.

I hadn’t intended to comment further, having pretty much said all I felt need to be said in that earlier article – and having had no response. But then I opened my inbox this morning to find three new blog articles on the subject of what Ruth Wishart calls The Great Indyref Timing Debate. None could be described as sympathetic to Pete Wishart’s point of view.

The redoubtable Barrhead Boy could hardly make his position clearer,

I have made my position quite clear all along, I favour autumn this year for the simple reason that our biggest asset is our grassroots and they are better deployed through a summer campaign rather than in the depths of winter.

We also cannot wait till Autumn 2019 because by that time the power grab will be in full swing and for all we know Westminster may have neutered Holyrood so much our right to call and hold a referendum could well be gone.

It may be worth noting in passing that Pete Wishart has addressed neither of these points. He is too vague about the timing to even specify a season of the year. And there is no indication that he is even aware of the threat to the Scottish Parliament necessarily implied by talk of “UK-wide common frameworks” and the creation of a shadow Scottish government at the Scotland Office ready to take powers stripped from Holyrood.

Another two articles are interesting both for the differences between them and the agreement. In Campaigning ‘for’ Scotland we find talk of an “official non-party affiliated Yes Movement” umbrella group – the Scottish Independence Convention is specifically mentioned – as well as encouragement to mount a new ‘positive’ campaign.

What we can do though is start once again campaigning ‘for’ Scotland. Start to provide a vision of what Scotland can be. Start to put forward projections of the impact renewable energy, the proposed national investment bank, continued and enhanced investment in the social contract, the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from our country, the introduction of a Scottish defence and coastal service, capital investment proposals, and loads more, can have as an independent country.

This would, I suspect, find favour with Pete Wishart, who seems to believe that there is some novel formulation of the ‘positive’ case for independence which will induce an epiphany in former No voters. A message which, for all the ‘diversity’ of the Yes movement, we failed to find first time around. To me, however, this kind of thinking seems woefully outdated and inadequate. I long since came to the conclusion that it would be a tragic mistake to simply attempt a rerun of the first Yes campaign. Not that what we did then was wrong, necessarily. But it was right for its time and the circumstances that prevailed.

Things have changed. While we need to maintain the vision of Scotland’s potential to be a better, fairer, more prosperous nation, the coming referendum campaign needs something else. It needs a hard edge. It needs to be at least as much a campaign against the Union as ‘for’ Scotland.

The new referendum campaign must adopt a more hard-headed, pragmatic approach. And I don’t mean Pete Wishart’s brand of pragmatism. A term which he deploys to give his arguments a veneer of rationality and in an attempt to disarm his critics by suggesting they are something other than pragmatic. I’m talking about a campaign informed by an awareness of realpolitik and recognition of the fact that the British state is no friend to Scotland. That means we should forget about the diversion of an ‘umbrella group’ and concentrate all the power of the Yes movement where it will be most effective – behind Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government.

This is the argument made forcibly by Jason Michael on Random Public Journal.

Our task is to start afflicting the comfortable. Independence will not be won by making the case for independence. We’ve tried that already. Feelings, not well-reasoned and politely delivered arguments, win votes in the modern political context. Better Together won in 2014 not because it convinced anyone Scotland was incapable of statehood, but because it terrorised just enough of the electorate to persuade them to vote for the status quo. Feels trump reals in modern politics, and whether we like that fact or not we had better bloody get used to it. Independence will not be won in Scotland with what Pete Wishart recently described as a “persuasive new case to overcome deeply held convictions.” Independence will be won by the side that can inflict the most discomfort on the other. Scotland will not be free while Jack is alright.

That’s more like it!

While these articles may differ in what they see as the best way of conducting the new referendum campaign, and argue their case in different ways, they agree on one thing. Pete Wishart has got it wrong. Delay is not an option. It has to be #Referendum2018.

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18 thoughts on “Referendum 2018

  1. Peter I originally agreed with your date of September 20th but since the SNP put back their Spring conference by two months for the first time ever to June then taking into account the minimum of 16 weeks to hold the campaign even without a section 30 then the earliest it could possibly be would be October assuming that the SNP called for it without a section 30 at their June conference. That being said I don’t think either of us would have an issue with being three weeks out in our preferred date.


  2. I’m not a political heavyweight – jeez, I tweet under a picture of ma dug – but here’s my tuppenceworth

    I cannot see how we can wait until after “we see the effects of Brexit” – how many more effects of Brexit do people need to see ? It’s a disaster already – no-one in the Tory Government talks about how brilliant it’s going to be now. They talk about getting something “nearly as good”. There is nothing as good for the UK as being in the EU and they let racists vote us out. Period.

    Secondly, our Parliament’s fate is in their hands…..leave it too long and we’ll be looking longingly at the miniscule powers we used to have and remembering the good old days.

    I remember 2007 and thinking “FFS, we’re in……independence here we come”

    Then “FFS a government majority, independence here we come”

    Until now we’ve got “FFS, SNP third term, indy majority at Holyrood, 35 MPs, greatest number of council seats” but we’re still waiting for…..what ? The stars to align ? The tea leaves to form the SNP logo in the bottom of the cup ?

    We can’t wait for WM to make it impossible for us – we only need a 6% swing from 2014 and we’re practically there. Nicola said it was upto the people to decide so we’ve decided – I don’t know why Pete Wishart is saying leave it, now is not the time. Maybe it’s a cunning ploy to make us rise up and say “NO PETE, now IS the time” and get us up off our knees

    Whatever it is (or isn’t) we cannot wait “to see what happens” – I’m happy with 20 September 2018, I was at Troon when you were speaking Peter and you convinced me. But you know what, if it turns out to be October, I won’t hold it against you

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Hi Peter

    Never looked (before) to see how the Spanish/Catalonia problem(sic) started. Apparently this was passed by the Spanish Parliament in 2006 –

    ….and then in 2010, Rajoy abolished the statute

    So if you can follow me on this.

    4 years after they “take back control” (2016) the Tories will do what to the Scottish Parliament?…..

    To quote Marx “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.
    We have all saw the tragedy(ies) in Catalonia and following their track record, the Tory government are very capable of managing a farce where required.

    Totally agree with you about 2018. Sorry if I’m rambling!


    1. You’ve got it. Why would the British political elite award themselves ‘authority’ to unilaterally rewrite the devolution settlement if they didn’t intend to do just that?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. 2014 saw the English parliament give us a 1000 reasons why Independence was wrong For Scotland then the very next day after winning they made England stronger and crowed about it
    I’ve no doubt in the next referendum they’ll give us another 1000 reasons why Scotland should remain subservient, but if they win they won’t have to give us any more reasons because they’ll own Scotland forever and they’ll do to Scotland what they did to every other country of their Empire before their Empire finally extricated themselves from this English one sided Union

    Scotland must leave now before we have absolutely nothing left like the countries who left before us but who now celebrate their Independence every year and who are not on the phone asking to come back, no longer should Scotland be the practise field for English wars, the nuclear dumping ground for their bombs, the safe harbour (for them) for their nuclear WMD submarines, their experimental austerity programs, their media, those are just a few of the many reasons

    There are 5.4 million reasons more to leave this Union and every Scot today and every Scot in the future is that reason


  5. I agree that Pete Wishart has got it wrong. How can you go back to the electorate in 2021 and ask for a mandate when you didn’t use the last one? The Unionists would have a field day and independence supporters would, quite rightly, question whether the SNP genuinely remained the political wing of the movement.

    On the date of the next referendum, I kind of split the difference between you and James Kelly. I’d love to see another referendum this Autumn, can’t come soon enough for me. However, I think that the referendum needs a ‘casus belli’, some sort of trigger to justify it (not to you or I, we know that Westminster’s faithlessness and Brexit are cause enough, but for the waverers and the 2014 No voters that might switch to Yes). That trigger might be the continuity bills at the start of May, which would leave time enough for a vote in September 2018 – I, too, favour a short, sharp campaign while Westminster is well distracted with Brexit.

    However, I think there’s every possibility that the Tories will fudge, climb down or compromise on that issue (e.g. agreeing that all powers should revert to Holyrood, knowing full well they’ll take them back later). That would remove the immediate clear and present trigger till Autumn when the shape of Brexit is known, the SNP government can say that it clearly doesn’t suit Scotland and announce a referendum for Spring 2019. So, the referendum gets announced and becomes real when you believe it should happen this Autumn, but the actual vote is March 2019.


    1. How do you propose to deal with the measures put in place by the British government prior to March 2019 to make a new referendum impossible and/or unwinnable?


    2. I long favoured autumn 2018 , with a fall back position in spring 2019 for IndyRef2.

      However – negotiations over the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement will be finished by Sept/Oct 2018 and
      the draft will start circulating for ratification.
      There seems to be no appetite on the EU side for re-negotiation should the UK parliament reject it. So a Westminster refusal could well precipitate Hard Brexit in March 2019.

      Scotland will be included in whatever alternative pans out (Withdrawal agreement or hard brexit) as part of the UK – unless it get out earlier.

      I’m starting to think August 2018 is Scotland’s best opportunity to safeguard its place within the EU, political institutions,history, culture etc!


  6. certain individuals are more interested in protecting their Westminster Jobs rather than achieving what the party stands for INDEPENDENCE, I have constantly been saying I cant see the point in sending anyone to Westminster to represent Scotland. When ever the SNP is elected as the government of Scotland then the constitutional question should arise every time and the new Deputy Leader wants to be someone who sits in Holyrood or a Councillor in Scotland. And Nicola want to get a move on because I am beginning to loss faith in her and wishing Alex had never stepped down.


  7. I’m in favour of late 2018 and it should be a hard edged campaign against the Brit Gov. But forgive me Peter I’ve forgotten my Brexit. Why is March 2019 so important as the point before which Brit Gov will try to introduce measures to “make a new referendum impossible and/or unwinnable”?


    1. 29 March 2019 is the date when the UK will cease to be a member of the EU. But, for our purposes, October 2018 is more significant as this is when the ‘deal’ between the UK and EU on the terms of the divorce are finalised. The reason this is significant is that, as a consequence of leaving the EU, the UK becomes a different entity. Just as it was altered by joining the EU – we all became EU citizens, for example – so quitting the EU will involve the UK being constitutionally redefined.

      We have to assume that the British political elite will use this as an opportunity to unilaterally redefine Scotland’s status within the UK. Why wouldn’t they? Locking Scotland into the Union is a major imperative for the British state. It simply isn’t credible that they would pass up the chance to introduce measures which would neutralise the threat from Scotland’s independence movement. At the very least, we can expect further moves to emasculate the Scottish Parliament.


      1. I think I disagree on the significance of October 2018. That is the date that the form of the deal becomes crystallised – i.e. the lawyers have drafted the contract. It doesn’t become a deal until 2019, when the EU and Westminster have ratified it.

        In October 2018 it becomes completely clear that the deal is mince and the only alternative is an instant hard Brexit in March 2019. At that point, the SNP have a very clear event to use their mandate and call a referendum. Of course, that causes difficulties in getting the Brexit deal ratified (e.g. how can the EU agree to a deal that incudes fishing rights when the UK may no longer own those rights?). However, I believe that applies equally to a referendum called now(ish) for Sept-18. I agree that the UK government will try everything to derail and disrupt a referendum, I just don’t see them doing anything differently over this Summer compared to next Winter.


  8. I must say, I agree with Peter Bell and James Kelly. In reality we have all waited so long for these opportunities, I simply cannot believe the question even arises.

    It is very easy, when in politics, to become almost consumed with polling and voter ‘data’ telling you how to act, and in many ways that is where Labour went wrong, listening to ‘focus groups’. I do wonder if that is now where Pete Wishart finds himself. He seems to have forgotten, that when Alex Salmond called the first indy ref, the polls were heavily against us, yet we almost won.

    Overall, I want to see the SNP living up to their promises, and start making the arguments for independence. Day in, day out. I want to see a hell of a lot more of the SNP MP’s and MSP’s at indy marches, as their is NO GOOD REASON for not doing so.

    The very worst thing the SNP could do, is take the pro indy vote for granted – something along the lines of ‘well, even if we don’t call a referendum, they’ll vote for us anyway’. Don’t bet on it.

    I also agree with the idea of announcing the referendum then holding it in the autumn of this year, simply because as has been pointed out, our strength lies with our people, and it is much easier to campaign in the summer.

    Day after day, I meet people quizzing me about why NS hasn’t called a referendum, to stop brexit happening to Scotland. Nobody I know thinks, ‘well let’s see how much damage brexit actually does before holding the referendum’.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What specific measures do you think they’ll introduce? What measures could they only introduce after Autumn 2018 that they couldn’t rush through immediately if they wanted?

    If they try to put anything in place before Autumn 2018 that would prevent another referendum that, in itself, would become the excuse to trigger one (depending on timing, that could be in time for Autumn 2018 anyway and I’d be happy to concede I was wrong). If they try to put anything in place after the referendum is announced, I believe that would become too obvious to voters and would only win more support for a Yes vote. Of course, if they simply decide to behave like Spain with Catalonia, then we’ve obviously got a bigger struggle on our hands than just a vote to gain independence but they could do that at any time, in my view.

    I don’t want to be too sanguine about the process and prospects for a second referendum, there is nobody more mendacious than Westminster, particularly when threatened. However, I don’t believe there’s too much difference between a referendum in September 2018 and one announced then for the following Spring in terms of what the UK will do to defeat it at either time.


  10. I also agree with you Peter and James Kelly , at the moment ALL has gone quiet on the power grab , all the usual suspects are trying to focus on Skripal and Russia bad , Brexshit , power grab , indy , are all merely ignored with the usual squirrels thrown in , the bastards are up to something and it obviously ain’t gonna be good for Scotland .

    Meanwhile we have Pete prevaricating and sowing doubt ,, as Robert Louis says above I want to see Nicola and the rest attending indy marches openly and with pride and being more vociferous and challenging towards wastemonster and the damage they are heaping on Scotland

    I know the SNP don’t get the national coverage from the msm ( unless it’s bad news ) but when FMQ”s is live and national I want to see Nicola and the SG RIP into tRuthless and the rest , highlight at every turn their lies and hypocrisy , highlight the power grab , highlight shipbuilding , highlight the fact that the tolie MP’S in wastemonster are asking questions of the SG about reserved matters , highlight their gross stupidity and misinformation
    I would also like to see Nicola refer to reserved and devolved matters and highlight to Mc Intosh publicly that he should be educating MSP’s and their parties as to what the SG has control over

    Liked by 1 person

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