Out of time

I probably shouldn’t dwell on it, but I can’t help pondering how different things might have been if we’d had a new independence referendum on Thursday 20 September 2018. Looking back may be futile. But looking to the future has rarely been more disturbing and depressing. So indulge me! Allow me this brief reverie. Who knows? It may even prove illuminating.

Suppose we’d had that referendum in 2018. Suppose we’d won. Four months on we’d be well into the process of getting Scotland out of the Union – instead of being in the position of desperately struggling to keep Scotland in the EU – in keeping with the wishes of 62% of the Scottish voters who expressed a preference in the 2016 EU referendum.

If the Brexit process hadn’t ground to a total halt as everybody tried to figure out the implications of the decision to normalise Scotland’s constitutional status then at least we wouldn’t be part of the mess. By now, we might well have agreement from the EU that Scotland would effectively be treated as the continuing state after 29 March 2019.

There is no reason to suppose that the British government’s handling of the Brexit process would have been any less catastrophically inept. Scotland’s elected representatives – along with those of the other ‘peripheral’ parts of the UK – had been denied any meaningful role in the process. So taking them out of the equation with a Yes vote couldn’t really make much difference. Of course, the (r)UK position would be considerably weaker given that they could not claim to speak for Scotland. And given that they would no longer have any claim on Scotland’s resources. But it’s hard to imagine how this could make things any worse than May and her fractious rabble managed even while the UK was relatively intact.

Obviously, there would still be ‘issues’. Many of these would impinge on Scotland. But, as a de facto independent nation, we would have effective input. We would have a say in how these issues were resolved. Scotland’s interests would be represented in a way they never could be as a mere adjunct of England. Which is not to say that we would get everything we wanted from either the EU or the rump UK. But whatever compromises were made would be our compromises. They wouldn’t be compromises made on our behalf without consultation or consideration.

We might well suppose that the departure from the EU of those who actually voted for this – England and Wales – would be made easier in our imagined scenario. It is at least probable that a Yes vote in Scotland’s referendum would prompt a reunification vote in Ireland. Thus resolving cleanly, democratically, peacefully and in a most rational manner, the Irish border/ Good Friday Agreement problem which has been the greatest obstacle to a Withdrawal Agreement not wholly reliant on Santa Claus pulling some ‘alternative arrangements’ out of his sack. (You’ll understand that I didn’t really want to write ‘sack’.)

Had Scotland voted Yes on Thursday 20 September 2018, the increasingly ludicrous Brexit farce played out in Westminster and in the media over the last few months would have been largely avoided. Although this may be to underestimate the capacity of the British political elite to render farcical pretty much anything it is associated with. But this is my reverie. So I get to give them the benefit of whatever doubt I can scrape up. I elect to suppose that, as January 2019 passes, the Brexit thing would be going swimmingly. Even if some way from Olympic-standard synchronised swimming.

Then there’s the parallel negotiations between Scotland and rUK and between Scotland and the EU. The latter would be at an advanced stage by now. With Scotland taking on the UK’s membership of the EU there really wouldn’t be that much to negotiate. Think of it as Scotland inheriting the UK’s EU member’s uniform and having it adjusted to fit. Given that whatever negotiations were required would be conducted in a spirit of trust and constructive good will, there would surely be no impediment to reaching agreement amicably and rapidly. Instead of regarding 29 March with dread, we would be looking forward to Scotland taking its place as an independent nation in the European Union.

As such, Scotland would require a written constitution. An interim constitution to take effect on Independence Day is little more than a formality. It need only establish the basics – which are uncontroversial. We know they are uncontroversial because, if they were at all controversial they wouldn’t belong in an interim constitution. Work on a full draft constitution is ongoing and we can anticipate this this would have accelerated following the Yes vote last September.

It’s more difficult to say what would be happening on the rUK front. British Nationalists have vowed all manner of retribution should Scotland’s people presume to assert their sovereignty. But I seriously doubt that there will be UK Border Agency machine gun towers along the border and RAF bombs raining down on Glasgow Airport. It’s possible that aliens might take advantage of the situation to launch the invasion of Scotland they’ve been planning since Grmthul descended from Blntrmed with the Cclt of Dryf. We’ll take our chances with a bit of intergalactic conflict. We’ll have more immediate, and proximate, ‘foes’ to deal with. Although some of them do have the appearance of alien creatures struggling to maintain human form. Aye! That’s you, Michael Gove!

In reality, or as close to it as we might get in a purely hypothetical exercise, the British establishment is likely to opt for a rather more pragmatic approach than is to be found in the spittle-flecked rhetoric of British Nationalist fanatics. There’s every chance the British political elite will claim independence was being gifted to Scotland by an endlessly beneficent British state which had, of course, always respected the democratic right of Scotland’s people to choose their nation’s status and the form of government that best suits their needs. In much the same way as the 2014 referendum was graciously presented to Scotland by a kindly British Prime Minister, and Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

There is no rational reason why dissolving the Union should not be a fairly straightforward matter. It’s not like there isn’t a lot of precedent to draw on. It’s basically a question of attitude. The Brexit mess may give cause to doubt that British politicians are capable of the spirit of trust and constructive good will I mentioned earlier. But we can help them find that spirit by presenting them with as conclusive a Yes vote as we can muster. Assuming an effective registration drive, 60% of an 85% turnout would suffice. That’s 51% of the electorate. 65%, or just over 55% of the electorate would be better. 70% (59.5%) would silence all but the most fanatical British Nationalists and force the British political elite to behave like grown-ups. Or, perhaps, delegate that task to professional civil servants.

Had we voted Yes in a referendum on Thursday 20 September 2018, we could now be be in a place indistinguishable from that where we find ourselves at the start of February 2019. We could be assured of our EU membership, with all the positives that this implies for our economy and society. Our EU citizenship would be secure. Our freedom of movement would be secure. Our access to the single market would be secure. More importantly, these things would be secured on terms freely negotiated by the people elected or appointed to represent Scotland. Politicians and civil servants whose imperatives are informed by the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

And what if we’d voted No in September 2014? Well, we’d surely be pretty much where we are now. We really had nothing to lose.

Of course, British Nationalists would be bawling about how this had killed the independence movement ‘stone dead’. Rhetoric which would, if history is any guide, be parroted by many in the Yes movement. But these protestations would be no more valid after two referendums than at any other time. However often the people of Scotland inexplicably vote to remain shackled to the British state, they cannot vote away the right of self-determination that is vested wholly in the people to be exercised entirely at their discretion. In terms of the cause of independence, a No vote in a referendum is merely a setback. It does nothing more than delay the inevitable. And the authority to determine the duration of that delay lies entirely with the Scottish people.

Had we voted No in September 2018 we’d be facing precisely the same threat to Scotland’s democracy that confronts us now. We’d be getting dragged out of the EU. Just as we are now. We’d be listening to warnings about shortages of food and medicine. Just as we are now. We’d be looking at the prospect of economic chaos and civil disturbance and martial law. Just as we are now. We’d be seeing powers stripped from the Scottish Parliament and anticipating further assaults on our democratic institutions. Just as we are now. We’d be f***ed! Just as we are now.

But at least we’d have tried to avoid all this. At least we’d have made the effort. At least we’d have shown some resolve to save Scotland from the depredations that come with the Union.

Now, it may be too late. Awakening from my reverie, I must face the reality that we are, if not already too late, then fast approaching a point when that will be the case. It is unlikely that anything other than the most bold and assertive action by the First Minister can possibly prevent us being dragged out of the EU – with all that this implies. None of it good.

Nicola Sturgeon seems no more disposed to take such action than she did in September 2018. Despite everything that has happened since that regrettable outcome in 2014, and despite the real and imminent threat to Scotland’s democracy and identity, the SNP administration’s attitude to taking the cause of independence forward appears unchanged. Their strategy is still a mystery. Their intentions unclear.

Right now, we have even less to lose by bold, decisive action than we did last September. Right now, the threat is greater than it has ever been. Right now, the need for urgency should be absolutely compelling. But I see little sign that any of this has touched our political leaders.

We are almost out of time. And I don’t know if I can face the prospect of sitting here in four months time contemplating what might have been.

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14 thoughts on “Out of time

  1. Peter I share your despondency!

    Losing the faith happens over a period of time. I lost the will to carry on after 2014. But the SNP victory in 2015 gave me hope that 2014 had been a mistake, and the electorate realised this.

    Then, since 2015 there has been no real progress on a second referendum. Sure there has been a lot of lip service and platitudes, but no action, none! Nicola stood up in Holyrood 2 weeks ago today and said:” I will announce my plans for indy ref 2 in the next few weeks”.

    So here we are 2 weeks later, still waiting. We accuse May of playing for time, which she is. But equally our first minister is also playing this game. Except it seems to be May pulling the strings.

    I have said this before. Right now Nicola is afraid of her own shadow. Hence the amateur dramatics every time the media criticise any SNP member accused of being vile or fundamentalists. Nicola is terrified of the inevitable media hysteria if she announces indy ref 2. Whether yes were at 70% or 30% in the polls the media would still have apoplexy at the thought of indy ref 2. It’s what they do.

    Then we have the Salmond trial by media hysteria (a distraction). Yet another reason to fear the press and press the hold button. It’s deliberate, (the timing). We have to stand up and say to hell with the media. We have to say to hell with the Tories, and to hell with the no voters who bang their Orange drums at the thought of Scotland acting for itself.

    It’s time we picked up our armour and charged instead of waiting on our enemy retreating or capitulating.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Imagine there is a snap referendum in Scotland. It takes place in the days before the UK is due to leave the EU. There is a substantial majority in favour of Scottish independence. What happens then? Is it possible that something like this is the motivation for establishment prevarication? The Brits are basically so scared of losing Scotland they will kick the can down the road forever, and seemingly bring great suffering upon themselves just to preserve this precious Union/Empire. What would no del then mean? Would Scotland remain in the EU while England fell into WTO rules? would there be a hard border from Carlisle to Berwick? These are interesting times indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scotland is not an EU member state. It has no status to ‘remain’.

      Would the EU allow an independent Scotland to join the EU? Probably, but Scotland would have to go through an accession process, and the EU may not be in a hurry to create another hard border problem with the UK.

      Attempts by an independent Scotland to negotiate opt outs may also delay the process.


      1. Any “hard” border between Scotland and whatever England and Wales want to call themselves would be easy to maintain in comparison to the squiggly line that cuts through property in Ireland. And I suspect many Scots would not be that bothered by such a thing.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Duncan you might be right.

    The Tories have drawn Sturgeon into their web. They will keep her dangling , and she won’t pull back until she can see their intention. Every day that passes Scotland gets closer and closer to the point of no return.

    The Tories are kicking the can down the road ,because Nicola is inside the can, right where they want her. My take on the SNP strategy is to let Brexit happen, and then go for independence when the dye is cast. A foolish and dangerous strategy, which relies on chaos as a route to freedom.

    I think I know the average mind of the middle of the road Scot. They are against a lot of things, they get angry when they happen. But ultimately they are a weak people who quickly capitulate and accept bad things happening to them.

    The trick is to get them to make the choice before the disaster strikes. I know plenty of no voting Scots who were furious about the EU result. Now when I speak to them they have accepted there is nothing they can do, and independence would add to the perceived chaos.

    So scientifically chaos results in fear of further change and combat fatigue. It does not result in a positive energy being available to create change. It results in a negative energy which leads to apathy and failure.


  4. How anybody can be witness to the tortured, slow progress of Brexit and conclude that Scotland would be ‘well on the way’ out of the UK four months after a Yes vote – with that same Brexit process ongoing, is a mystery.

    Your conclusions are as much a fantasy as the scenario.

    The only difference might be that Salmond’s charges would have been more readily brushed under the carpet.


    1. It would be quite easy for Scotland to leave the Union, should/when it comes to it.
      The difference between London and EU, is that London has made all these impossible demands, which EU has made quite clear, cannot be met.
      The there is the Northern Irish problem… one caused directly by London in the first place.

      As for Alex Salmond… what’s he got to do with anything just now?
      He isn’t so much as city councillor today!
      The fact that the charges have been brought, under the Scottish Justice system, is proof enough, that with Independence, those same charges might well have been brought regardless. Being with UK has no bearing on that side of things whatsoever.

      And also… just what is,it, you fear about Independence for Scotland???


    2. The difference is that the Scottish Government is competent to implement something that has been considered and planned over many years and decades. Your British masters have proved that they are not competent to implement Brexit even if there had been so much as a moment’s thought put into what was involved.

      The stuff about Alex Salmond is just the voice of nasty, bitter, ignorant British Nationalism.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. On the contrary. The EU has maintained a consistent and perfectly reasonable position throughout the Brexit negotiations. The only consistent thing about the British government’s position has been the arrogant exceptionalism that bids them expect that the EU should abandon its fundamental principles and alter its essential nature simply to accommodate the idiocy of Brexit. The British political elite has fucked up big time. And British Nationalists are genuinely incensed that the world isn’t bending over backwards to help to help them out of the shit they’ve got themselves into.

        Brexit is England’s choice. The EU owes them nothing.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. If the competent EU cannot negotiate a quick Brexit with the UK, then why would an independent Scotland – however competent – fare any better?


      3. You keep asking stupid questions!!
        Scotland would not be so much leaving UK, as Dissolving it
        With Independence, there is no longer any UK. It ceases to exist.
        It would be an awful lot easier to do as well.
        We become Independent regardless of what London wants.
        Mind you, London wouldn’t like it, as London has too much to lose.

        But as pointed out above, regards UK, and EU, London has been making impossible demands. London has been demanding same treatment, but without the commitments.
        London has been demanding all kinds for Northern Ireland, etc, etc, and quite casually prepared to destroy the Peace Process there.

        Comparing UK and the tories’ position on EU (and Labour isn’t much better) and Scotland ending the Union of 1707, are totally different.scenarios.


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