John Swinney is not one of the people I usually associate with the SNP’s notoriously clumsy political communication. I have always considered him one of the party’s sharpest minds. Which makes it all the more perplexing that he should so thoughtlessly misrepresent the 2014 referendum by claiming that “Scotland voted to remain as part of the United Kingdom”. We most decidedly did not!
It is not possible for Scotland’s people to have voted to remain part of the UK because that question was never put to them. The question on the ballot paper five years ago was ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’. There was no mention of remaining part of the UK.
There will be those who insist that there is no difference between saying No to independence and saying Yes to the Union. Thus exhibiting a woeful shallowness of thinking such as I never supposed John Swinney might fall prey to.
For a start, the question actually asked makes independence the contentious issue which it should never have been. Independence is not contentious. Independence is normal. Independence is the default status of nations. To discover how fundamentally slanted the question is, just imagine it being put to the people of any other nation. They would consider it ridiculous and offensive. Not only, or even primarily, because their nation already is independent, but because it would never occur to them that this status is something which could or should be called into question.
Not only did the question on the 2014 ballot paper make independence the contentious issue, it ensured that the Yes campaign was built around a contested concept. There was then, and still is, no single agreed definition of independence. The term, as it applied to Scotland, meant many different things to different people. Myriad individuals and groups within the Yes movement all presented voters with their own conception of and vision for independence. The Yes campaign became a confusing fog of competing messages and was thereby rendered very much less effective than it might have been.
Because independence is a contested concept, it is inherently susceptible to being misrepresented and burdened with all manner of prejudicial associations. It was, in other words, highly vulnerable to precisely the kind of negative propaganda effort to which the anti-independence campaign predictably resorted.
When people voted No in 2014 they were not voting FOR anything. They were voting AGAINST an idea of independence as something abstruse and fearful They were voting AGAINST what they had been led to believe was a “leap in the dark”; a voyage into uncharted waters where lurked ravenous monsters. They were voting AGAINST a nightmarish vision painted by a malignant rabble of liars and deceivers in the British government, the British parties and Better Together / Project Fear; with the willing assistance of the British media.
They most assuredly were not voting to remain in the UK.
Contrary to the impression given by John Swinney, the people of Scotland have never given their consent to the Union. They have never been asked. I would suggest that it is long past time this democratic deficiency was rectified.
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