Ghosts of referendums past

It’s that day again! The 18th of September has rolled around again in the relentless way that anniversaries tend to do. It is now a firmly established tradition that, on and about this day each year, we are regaled with reminiscences of the 2014 independence referendum and prompted to revisit our own memories of that time. Countless articles will be written each trying to extract some meaning from the anniversary – or to impose some meaning on it.

Five years!

That’s approximately 200 million heartbeats for the average person. Or a single parliamentary term. If you’ve been married for five years then you will almost certainly not be giving each other symbolic gifts made of wood. The English language has five vowels and human beings have five senses. If astrology is your thing, the number five is lucky for Gemini and Virgo. But if you really were lucky astrology would never have become your thing. In numerology there are five core numbers. If you’re into numerology then you may be well-placed to count your blessings that you dodged the astrology bullet. The earthworm has five hearts. I have no idea how many times they beat, individually or in aggregate, in the space of five years.

It’s amazing what you find out when you’re looking for a novel hook on which to hang an article. Something to provide context. Something to lend significance. Something to help capture and express my personal feelings on this notable day.

David Bowie is always good for a bit of inspiration. Better him than Orwell or Arwood or Bradbury or any of the other dystopian writers to whom my mind tends to turn when I look around me at the world. And there just happens to be a Bowie song called Five Years! Obviously, that can’t be mere coincidence. Ask any astrologer or numerologist.

In his Ziggy Stardust persona, having just learned of Earth’s imminent demise, Bowie laments, “Five years, that’s all we’ve got!”. So much for escaping dystopian visions! But the phrase does resonate on this fifth anniversary of the 2014 independence referendum. Because that’s pretty much what I was saying in the aftermath of that event.

To be totally accurate, I wasn’t actually saying we had five years to rectify the tragic mistake that Scotland made on Thursday 18 September 2014. It’s just the way it turned out. My early ‘calculations’ had to be adjusted to take account of intervening events and developments so that it ended up being five years. Allow me a bit of latitude here, please. Taken as a whole, my message over the past five years has been, “Five years! That’s all we’ve got!”.

In September 2014 I argued that the earliest possible date for a new referendum was September 2018. By 2016, following the EU referendum, I was arguing that September 2018 should be assumed to be the latest date for a new constitutional plebiscite. The subsequent extensions to the Article 50 transition period pushed that date back a year to September 2019. So, five years. That’s all we had. And now we’ve had it.

Scotland’s independence movement has had five years in which to regroup after the setback of the 2014 referendum. Five years to reorganise. Five years in which to evaluate the previous campaign. Five years in which to formulate and hone a strategy for the next campaign. Five years of opportunity. What do we have to show for it?

Essentially, we have nothing to show for it. Things have happened. People looking for silver linings can point to those things and feel good about the situation. But little has changed. The things that have happened don’t all join up into something that qualifies as significant change. In terms of the independence campaign, we are now where we were, not five years ago, but nearer ten. The major issue then was the demand for a referendum versus the British state’s arrogant and obdurate denial of our right to have that referendum. What has changed? The First Minister continues to issue almost daily appeals for the powers to hold a ‘legal’ referendum. Other than the increasingly vicious contempt with which these entreaties are met, what has changed? In this regard, the last five years might as well not have happened.

Six and a half years ago we had a date for a referendum. Now, we don’t even have that!

The Yes movement has not been idle for those five years. I have watched it mature into a movement with massively more power and potential that was the case going into the 2014 campaign. But that power is wasted because the movement is rudderless. The potential is being squandered because it has no outlet other than marches and rallies and a proliferation of ancillary projects. In all of that five years, no meaningful progress has been made in forging the vital link between the Yes movement and the SNP. It would be easy to descend into the ‘blame game’ on this point. And to some extent we have no choice but to go there. Understanding why something has failed is a prerequisite of rectifying it. But, for present purposes, it is sufficient to note that we’ve had five years to do this and we have made no discernible progress.

In the course of that five years the SNP has gone from being effectively absent from the independence campaign to being so utterly preoccupied with Brexit as to make that period of absence look like meaningful engagement. While much of the left in Scottish politics has, with some justification, been criticised for being ‘in’ the independence campaign but not ‘of’ it, the SNP is ineluctably ‘of’ it but not ‘in’ it. It is the party of independence – of that there can be no doubt. But it seems not to have been an active participant ‘in’ the independence campaign since 2014. When I think back over the past five years, my overall impression is of the SNP being on the fringes, I hear what Nicola Sturgeon and other SNP politicians say. But I can’t help feeling that their words are reaching me having had to penetrate a bubble. And I can’t figure out whether it is they who are inside the bubble, or me.

It’s been five years. I expected more. Like everybody else I know in the Yes movement, five years ago I was filled with hope and enthusiasm and determination and confidence and the absolute certainty that Scotland’s cause would prevail. Five years on, there are more and more days when those feelings come to me only as pale ghosts.

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21 thoughts on “Ghosts of referendums past

  1. We all go through the pain of wondering what have we achieved and why are we still trying, when it feels like those who should be leading us from the head of the battalions, are simply allowing us to carry the campaign.
    Well we have carried the campaign and we are once again, at the cusp. Now it’s time those who should be orchestrating the campaign, do just that. Starting with naming the date, joining us and together achieve that inevitable result. Our Time Is Now.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t know why there is a fixation amongst some supporters of independence (e.g. The National) with 18th September 2014. Apart from being YESteryear … WE LOST!

    As D.Dewar didn’t say “I DON’T like that!”.

    Let’s not start the party until we actually have something to celebrate.


  3. I think we all have a feeling of worry, despair and pessimism at the moment.

    We need something to lift our spirits.

    We need hope!


  4. Aye, Peter, it’s heavy going but as I’ve said here before “We’re no’ deid yet!”.


  5. Without wanting to sound unfair… the SNP govt has been a great govt for Scotland. But that’s no more than I would expect from any group of talented, hard working and ambitious (for their country) politicians. I’ve thanked my MP and MSP several times for what they have done. But made it clear the number one reason for voting Snp, of all my family, is to get independence. Until that happens they are not a success and we haven’t won anything.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Regards 5 years ago, I wrote his on the morning ,within an hour of the result…. I was raging!
    I am still angry when all see the wasted opportunities this country has had….


    The people voted. They partied in the street.
    They had won. They’d tell everyone, they’d meet.
    But did confess a fear, the other side did cheat.
    Making vows, they couldn’t ever meet.

    And they who voted first time ever,
    for a life of change,
    insisted absolutely NEVER,
    would they ever vote again!

    For they went out of their way,
    to vote one day,
    and were left in dismay,
    Fear had won the day.

    For most the peoples’ freedom was their dream.
    But they were scared
    Their masters’ made their voices heard.
    “Beware what we can do. Retribution you’ve never seen.”

    And thus all the talk
    of the great brave Scot
    who once courageously fought
    has now been brought to nought.

    And now the world will simply scoff.
    That YOU the Scots,
    were scared of the banks, afraid of the London tanks.
    And all the World will give you no thanks.

    But treat you with contempt
    For why should they who for freedom fought and died.
    let their principle be denied
    by they who merely had to raise a pen?

    And democracy we never had.
    The people are left mad.
    And now our rage will burst forth upon the stage.
    For freedom we will have. We will have justice in our age

    Copyright. © Gordon Keane. 2014. Glasgow, Scotland

    Alas, 5 years on, and we still wait for Independence!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think that the paralysis was set in 2014. When you don’t take on board what a vote is telling you, you are going nowhere fast. What the 2014 NO vote told us was that, although Scots-born Scots were ready by a greater margin to quit the UK than Leavers to quit the EU, there were many in Scotland who did not want us to have independence. By 2016 and the EU Remain vote, we still had not taken on board the one million and more who voted Leave. Around a third of those were previous YES voters, the other two-thirds being previous NO voters. If we extrapolate from both sets of votes, remembering that previous YES voters probably had very different reasons for voting Leave from previous NO voters, we can see that NO and Leave had much in common; indeed, the vote crossed over at several points. What we can say is that both votes taken as one can be shown to have been the preserve, more or less, of older voters, more conservative (small ‘c’ voters) and of both British and English Nationalists, in Scotland, rather similar to the UK Leave vote. In neither case can we know if people have changed their minds unless we have a referendum, but the UK government is dead set against a second referendum in either case, and there are enough people on each side of the border to ensure that we have neither.

    The SNP strategy appears to be to hope that England changes its mind and revokes Article 50, which would have the knock-on effect, of course, of stymying independence, too, thereby avoiding a second indyref, but, if that doesn’t work, they’ll just keep on asking for a S30 Order, which they must know they will not get. This is not 2012/13, with an indyref in the offing, something which no one had had experience of before; this is 2019/20 where all parties have had experience of a previous indyref which scared the bejesus out of the British Nationalists and Unionists. The goalposts will be moved every day if necessary to ensure that one is not held. Just as we have no guarantee that we would win, they have none either that would mean we lose next time, so chances they will not take. I think the SNP rather banked on a tidal wave of support for independence on the back of Brexit, and that has not happened. That was always going to be the penalty for waiting.

    We have never understood England and what it will do to preserve its place in the world. After so many years of hard-won experience, you’d think we’d have learned that England never does anything that it does not want to do or which does not benefit it, and losing Scotland does not benefit England. The hoi polloi in England don’t get that, but the ruling elite does, and always has got it. It is why there was a Union. It is why we have endured invasion and incursion from the south since before the Normans, but, particularly, after them. It is why we either fight for our independence or let it go for good and join the One Nation State. Does the SNP understand that? I believe it does. Will it ‘fight’ with every weapon at its disposal? I’m not at all sure anymore.


  8. Lorna you might be onto something.

    Do the SNP not actually want a referendum. As you say , why are they so obsessed with stopping the one thing that guarantees independence.

    Possibly because they don’t want to be seen as opportunists. But really because they aren’t ready for independence. As for the section 30 . It’s a convenient way to sidestep confrontation.

    Sturgeon wants another 5 years in Holyrood. Maybe that’s the endgame. It’s a very dangerous game if it were true. The SNP will pay a heavy price if the mandate isn’t used.


    1. BJ, I just don’t know what is going on with the SNP hierarchy. Sometimes, I feel that they have settled for being a good Scottish government and independence is simply not an option they wish to entertain any longer, but that is unravelling around them, too, with this hospital crisis, even though it may not be their fault; the buck stops with them. The longer we wait, the more the British Nationalists tell us that leaving England will be far more difficult than anyone anticipated because, they say, look at Brexit. They neglect to add that the constant factor is England and its government which appear not to wish to compromise at all in order to reach a compromise that everyone can live with. There really, really, really does not have to be a second bitter and divisive indyref. We are the co-signatories to a Treaty that can be resiled on a number of different grounds, but the SNP is utterly resistant to any legal challenge in the international courts. Why? Something is wrong here. Are we really on our uppers? Is that the reason? Do we fear England’s putative future spite?

      The mandate specifically cited the removal of Scotland from the EU against its will as one of the main reasons for independence, yet, here we are nearly four years down the line, and nothing has happened. We wait…and we wait…and we wait…and, if there is another pointless extension, we will wait again. Yes, if Brexit is overturned, thanks to Scotland’s help, we will still be in the EU (for how long?) and the mandate falls and we have no reason to seek independence except for its own sake, and God help us then. Not only will we have thrown away the main pressure point for another indyref or for leaving the UK at all, but we will have forced England into a position of ‘civil war’. If anyone has the idea that that might be a good thing for England, they need to think again, and if they are insane enough to believe it will be good for Scotland, I hope they will answer for the consequences. No, we need to go, not because of Brexit, but because Brexit is just one more situation of utter contempt and abuse towards us in 312 years of such situations. Westminster has not the slightest intention of meeting us half-way on anything anymore. It never did meet us half-way on anything, ever. That has always been in the imagination of the British Nationalists.


  9. I guess the obsession with legality on the part of Nicola. Can be partly explained by her legal background.

    However another element came to light recently. The EU spokesman said clearly. That Catalonia is not like Scotland. Because Scotland had a completely watertight legal referendum. Catalonias referendum was illegal because it was against the Spanish constitution.

    This makes me suspect that easy re-entry to the EU is dependent on Scotland not doing anything perceived to be illegal. Nicola has had many meetings with the EU about this.

    So she will not use another mechanism to get independence, for fear of the EU saying it’s dodgy.

    But this cannot go on forever. At some point she is going to have to break the rules. The section 30 is not going to be agreed.

    Should Scotland then be trapped forever. Or do we need to replace our leader.

    We live on very high wire days!!


    1. It wasn’t the Section 30 process that made the 2014 referendum ‘legal’. It was Scotland’s constitutional status. No referendum that derives from our right of self-determination can possibly be ‘illegal’. The international community isn’t in the slightest bit interested in ‘legality’ according to the laws of the entity from which ‘secession’ is being sought. Spend a moment thinking about it and you’ll wonder why you ever imagined the international community would take any heed of the laws of the entity opposing ‘secession’. Laws which, by the very nature of things, cannot be expected to be just. The international community is concerned only with the democratic validity of the process.

      This is why I have to take a break from this every so often. I’ll be writing something like the above and it will strike me how many times I have said precisely the same thing, to absolutely no avail. It’s not even as if the points are disputed. It’s just as if they were never made. That gets a mite frustrating after a while.

      I don’t think I want to be doing this any more.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The problem, Mr Bell, is that treaties are international binding documents that are fixed by law, which is why the EU is under no obligation to reach any agreement at all with the UK except insofar as the treaties allow compromise. The Treaty of Union is a similar treaty, and we are bound by it to the extent that it underpins the UK state – The United Kingdom of Great Britain. Even democracy is ruled by law to the extent that anti democratic measures may be challenged in the courts under constitutional law, as we are witnessing right now. The international community would be quite happy, I am sure, to endorse and recognize Scotland’s independence if that were to be achieved via resiling the Treaty, declaring de facto independence and then, holding a ratifying independence referendum. The actual crux of the matter is not legality or democracy, but whether those living within our borders would accept the decision. That is what I keep saying, over and over again: three-quarters of those rUK citizens who now live in Scotland did not accept our right to our independence even by democratic means, and, as we can see from Cameron’s memoirs, the English establishment and the English monarch did not accept it either.

        Ally those facts to the 47+% of Scots British Nationalists and Unionists, and you can see where we are going. Therein lies the truth of our situation, and the fact that the SNP does Sweet Fanny Adams to push independence because they understand that and repeat ad nauseam that we need to persuade the unpersuadable – just as they understand that NI was hived off the Irish Free State to keep the Scottish and English settlers in the North if Ireland, part of the Irish island, quiescent. That cannot be done in Scotland because those who have settled here but who are totally opposed to Scottish independence live in every city, town and village. No part of Scotland can be hived off to serve as their Scottish homeland, so the whole of Scotland will be sacrificed, the One Nation State and the Scottish Region of that One Nation State being the truly diabolical British/English Nationalist solution. We should thank Cameron for his honesty because he has shown us how far the British State is willing to go to prevent our leaving the UK.

        The reasons for the UK (ruling elite) not wanting us to go are historical, to a great extent, but also because England will soon need water and energy and other things that we have in abundance. If we could just get our baby heads round the reality of colonialism, to join up the synapses just enough to get a clear picture of why they do not want us to go, we might – just might – find a way through without alienating chunks of our population on both sides of the independence divide. The SNP knows this full well, and it answers, to some extent, your next article, Relying on Alchemy, and why they are now so reluctant to force a showdown. They will have to do so anyway, of course, if we are to have independence via a second indyref, which also explains a great deal. If they were honest with both their own membership and the wider Scottish public, we might begin to achieve a breakthrough on independence, taking rUK voters with us, but they are scared of the consequences, which, indeed, are unpredictable.

        I know it is hard for punters to face these political truths, and even harder for the politicians to square the circles they themselves have created, but pretending that those who are telling them the truth are trying to stir the pot or are trying to create division is so counterproductive, it is pointless. The Treaty will become our final option unless there is a huge upsurge in people turning to independence. Things may change, but there is no sign on the horizon. People, when they are miserable and can’t face the truth have a bad habit of shooting the messenger. Stuart Campbell is one such messenger. Maybe, just maybe, he is carrying the message that will see a breakthrough. Maybe. Maybe you are, Mr Bell. I hope someone is, and I hope they don’t shoot the messenger.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Listening to some of the proceedings of the Supreme Court, the thing that strikes me the most is that those arguing for the Court of Session judgement accept the English doctrine of the Supremacy of Parliament, which, as Lord Cooper of Culros pointed out in 1953, has no counterpart in Scots Law. In an interview, even Joanna Cherry, adhered to the doctrine. That’s incompatible with the Supremacy of the People of Scotland in Scotland. It seems to me to have abandoned Scotland’s cause.

    I thought from the moment I read of the case before the Court of Session that it was a mistake. The prorogation of the English parliament of the UK seemed like to gift of a chairos to the Scottish Parliament to resile the Treaty of Union and revoke the Act of Union. The SNP, however, seem to have become hypnotised by saving Great Britain ( i.e. England) from self-chosen disaster.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, indeed. Even many of those who are fighting our corner have accepted the English constitutional law because because it passes as British constitutional law. It is quite shameful at times. The SNP hierarchy has fallen into that trap. Resiling the Treaty is, and will be, our last and final hope to resolve matters peacefully.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. For some reason known only to themselves, the SNP hierarchy is very reluctant to even mention the Treaty and the partnership it underpins. One must assume that they do not actually want to use that method, although it is the most sensible, legitimate one.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Peter

    In my previous post. I wasn’t agreeing with the perceived legality of a referendum. I am indeed familiar with how democracy works.

    However Nicola seems to be working under the remit of a perceived legality in the section 30. Again I don’t agree with this. I simply make the point that this may be her thinking. The EU commissioner specifically cited the 2014 referendum as the Gold Standard. Again that is just his perception and not necessarily correct.

    However if Nicola wants easy entry back into the EU. It’s pretty clear that following the same procedures as 2014 will allow the EU to look favourably on re-entry.

    Again this is not my opinion. This is a suggestion of other peoples perception of legality.


    1. If I may interject: is it democratic, BJ, to sit back and allow another country to dictate our future to us? The 2014 NO vote should have rung the warning knell that racists, anti Scots, British and English Nationalists, on both sides of the border, combined, are determined that Scotland should not be allowed to leave the UK under any, and all, circumstances. Colonialism is where the ruling power calls the tune even when the tune they are calling is detrimental to the future, the political, social and economic well-being and the communal happiness of the country they believe they have power over, not just have power over, but have right on their side, too. That it may flout the UN Charter, and is, therefore, technically illegitimate, if not actually, illegal, matters not a jot to them because they believe they can do as they please in the name of their sense of their own future, their own political, social and economic well-being and their own communal happiness. That sums up both British and English Nationalism, although Scottish Nationalism, as presided over by the NP, is starting to stray into that territory, too, of late, by trying to prevent Brexit per se, rather than just a NO Deal Brexit.

      If we take India or Ireland (pre independence) as our template, we can see that the majority of those who had settled in these colonies, also believed that they had some divine right to dictate matters to the indigenous population who were striving for political, social and economic freedom from the chains of colonialism. It is not too hard to see that we are gradually being sucked into the same situation, and the SNP hierarchy has much to do with this.
      When Nicola Sturgeon said publicly to English people in England to come north if they disagreed with Brexit, did she think about the fact that they might be anti Brexit without being pro Scottish independence? Did she not think that the 2014 rUK NO vote (almost three-quarters of the total number in Scotland) signified an anti Scottish independence mindset or did she and the rest of the SNP leadership believe that they could persuade all these people to change their minds? How? Why would they? They must have had, and still have, a large presumption that not only were they right to oppose independence in the sense of its being predicated on the break-up of the UK and of becoming a different entity from England, but that they had the right to do so in the sense that they believed they had the right to do so, whether it was actually democratic or autocratic, whether it was colonial or otherwise. The parallels with Ireland, in particular, are becoming sharper and more worrying by the day. When I say these things, I am not being anti English, but I am trying to show the truth of our situation and, perhaps, why the SNP has stalled on independence, and why it is fearful of its own membership discovering why it has stalled on independence, putting aside economic matters, which might also have a strong bearing. If we can become independent, bringing the majority of our people, whatever their origins, with us, no one will be gladder than I, but we are not going to do it by pandering to them, and waiting, to our own detriment.


    2. As I have just Tweeted to some senior figures in the SNP, The sovereignty of Scotland’s people is NOT negotiable. The principle of popular sovereignty must NEVER be compromised. I have urged them to proceed on this basis. It is not easy to see how the Section 30 process might be compatible with the principle of popular sovereignty. It is difficult to see how the Section 30 process would not presume the negotiability of the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. If the First Minister thinks it is possible to follow the Section 30 process without compromising the principle of popular sovereignty, then she really should explain her thinking to those of us who are increasingly concerned that unacceptable concessions are being made.


  12. That is the point Peter. The SNP are not explaining anything to us.

    We are supposed to trust them. Yet they don’t seem to want to trust us with their reasoned explanation of the strategy.

    The section 30 should have been binned the minute TM said now is not the time. At that point Nicola should have moved to a point of the express will of Scottish parliament as a lever for a referendum.

    Instead she silently crawled away and then got involved in stopping Brexit. To me this was tactical. Nicola thought 2017 was so damaging to the SNP that she needed to distract people from Indy ref 2.

    The consequences of that inaction. Has now made her look weak and Scotland look meek.

    Salmond would have squared up to Theresa and put her back in her box.

    So Nicola is not up to the task of taking on the British state. She is effective in other departments . But we need a warrior to take on the Brits not a professional politicion.


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