What referendum? It’s all very well saying that large numbers of people think a referendum would be won, but what referendum? There is no referendum. All those people believe a referendum would result in a vote for independence if it were held today, but there is no referendum today. Or tomorrow. Or next week. There is no referendum in sight at all. So, what’s the point?
Suppose 90% of people intended to vote Yes in that referendum that isn’t rather than 53%? So what? That level of public support for the restoration of Scotland’s independence makes for great headlines. But nothing more. Without a process by which that public support can be translated into a democratic vote, it means nothing. And there is no such process in place or in prospect or, as far as anyone can tell, in planning.
People, it seems, are moving from No to Yes at a “staggering rate”. What happens when they arrive? What might be the first question they ask on arrival? Where do I vote? When do I vote? You got me here; now what? How would Keith Brown answer those questions? How would he explain the fact that there is nowhere for these new arrivals to put the vote that they lugged all the way over from No? How might the new arrivals react to being told they’ll have to hang onto that Yes vote for an unspecified time before they’ll be able to use it?
Of that admittedly small number of people moving in the other direction, what proportion might be going back to No at least in part because they feel let down? There was all that eagerness and urgency to get them over to Yes. But on arriving, nobody seemed much interested. They asked where and when they could make use of their shiny new Yes vote and their enquiries were met with shrugs, blank stares and platitudes. What sort of impression does it leave when people are disappointed in this way?
The closest thing to information Keith Brown might impart to these eager new arrivals on the Yes side is that it depends. Whether and when there is a referendum depends. What form the referendum takes depends. On what does it depend, would surely be the question asked in response. “Not what! Whom!”, Keith might say – sensing that this is not the moment to offer some wisharty-washerty bromide about the “optimal time”. Reckoning the the time is right for some honesty he’d very likely reply that it all depends on Boris Johnson. Yes, that Boris Johnson. Whether or not a referendum happens; when it might happen; what form it will take if and when it happens, all depends on that Boris Johnson.
The same Boris Johnson whose open contempt for Scotland and its people was cited as being among the main reasons for making the journey from No to Yes. The same Boris Johnson whose bungling ineptitude was highlighted in order to prompt the decision to move from No to Yes. The same Boris Johnson whose catalogue of lies was read out in an effort to persuade people that Scotland had to get away from imposed Tory governments and their imposed policies. Now, these people arrive at Yes only to find that Boris Johnson is in charge.
That Boris Johnson is making the decisions. That Boris Johnson has the final say on whether there will be a referendum. That Boris Johnson will decide when the referendum happens, if it happens. That Boris Johnson will set the conditions for that referendum being allowed. That Boris Johnson will have a major say on vital matters such as the franchise and the question on the ballot. Having moved from No to Yes in the hope of escaping the malign influence of the British state as represented by that Boris Johnson, our travellers discover that all they’d hoped for is still under his control.
Of course, this won’t be a huge surprise to those among our travellers who are moderately well informed. Credit where it’s due, the SNP has made no secret of the fact that control over the process by which public opinion connects to a democratic vote is to be put in the hands of the British Prime Minister. More precisely, it is to be put in the hands of that Boris Johnson. The Boris Johnson we’re told – and have no reason to doubt – is mockingly contemptuous of Scottish public opinion and sneeringly scornful of Scotland’s democracy. That Boris Johnson. Nonetheless, the reality of the situation will come as something of a shock. A mild shock in some cases. A dousing of hope in icy waters for others. It is not difficult to imagine the latter category being driven by frustration to pick up their vote and walk away.
Even those who stay will be affected. And the longer they are required to wait the greater the negative effect will be. The situation is offensive to anyone with any regard for democratic principles. But here we have the SNP insisting that this offensive situation represents the “gold standard” of democracy. This situation in which Scotland’s future is placed in the hands of a British political elite intent on subsuming Scotland in a new ‘Great Britain’ modelled on sentimental delusions of a past glory that can be dusted off and pasted over all the nations of these islands. This is, by the SNP’s account, the acme of democracy. This situation in which the sovereignty of Scotland’s people is compromised as a trade-off to secure the vague possibility of a referendum if only the public opinion for which Boris Johnson is known to have not the slightest regard obliges him to permit the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination that derives from the popular sovereignty that he does not recognise.
Those newly arrived at Yes having made the journey from No will inevitably ask about the referendum that they’ve been promised. And they’re not going to like the answer any more than those who have been part of the fight to restore Scotland’s independence all their lives.