Not for the first time, Alyn Smith gets it horribly wrong. It is, he portentously informs us, “a choice of two unions – Brexit Britain or Independence in Europe”. There are two very obvious problems with this. Firstly, that choice depends not only on the fact of a referendum but on the form that it takes. As things stand, we have only very tenuous and highly caveated not-quite-promises that we will have an opportunity to make any kind of choice. We are told by the likes of Alyn Smith and his colleagues that there will be a referendum. That ‘assurance’ is, however, burdened with so many conditions and leaves unanswered so many questions that it qualifies as ‘assurance’ only to those who never scrutinise anything the SNP tells them.
We do not know with anything resembling certainty that there will be a referendum. There is, if anything, even less certainty about what kind of referendum it will be. And what we do know about the SNP’s ‘thinking’ on the matter of the form of the referendum gives more cause for deep concern than excuse for complacency.
There isn’t a choice until we have the opportunity to make it. And if we are to have confidence that the choice will be honoured then it is vital that the process by which the choice is made should allow for a decision as well as a result. A referendum done badly is probably worse than no referendum at all. And there is absolutely no reason to believe that the SNP’s ‘thinking’ on the form of the referendum will allow the constitutional issue to be settled decisively.
Secondly, the choice cannot be as Alyn Smith describes. If as has been intimated, the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government proposes to ask the same question as was on the ballot paper in 2014 then the choice will not be “Brexit Britain or Independence in Europe”. The choice will be between whatever kind of Britain the British ruling elite wishes to impose on us now and at any time in the future, and one or other of a confusing array of independence ‘visions’.
If the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government is allowed to put the same question on any future ballot paper, the referendum will once again produce a result without a decision. For there to be a decision, each of the options on the ballot must entail some clearly specified action. Would Alyn Smith allow that those who voted No in 2014 were making a decision in favour of “Brexit Britain”? Of course he wouldn’t! There was no identifiable action associated with a No vote. It was never stated that a No vote would lead to a referendum on EU membership. That referendum happened in the Britain that was chosen for us after the No vote. That No vote gave the British ruling elite licence to do with Scotland whatever was expedient.
And supposing the result had been Yes it was hardly any clearer what would ensue from that. How would it be determined which of the multitude of ‘visions’ for an independent Scotland the people had voted for? Ask the same question and the same choices are being offered. A No vote will not be a vote for “Brexit Britain” as is. It will be a vote to let the British state create whatever kind of “Britain” best serves British interests regardless of the cost to Scotland. And a Yes vote will not be a vote for “Independence in Europe” because that is not what is on the ballot. It will be a vote for independence, with the details to be sorted out later.
Yet again, Alyn Smith’s rhetoric flies off leaving reality far behind. Those of us who decline to fly off with him realise that he’s spouting utter pish. We recognise that if a new referendum is to be as decisive as it needs to be – and if the Yes campaign is to be as effective as it needs to be – running a repeat of 2014 is not a viable option. It needs to be a new referendum. It needs to be a referendum entirely made and managed in Scotland with no involvement and minimum interference by the British state. It needs to be a referendum designed to produce a decision as well as a result. It needs to be a referendum which is decisive.
To achieve this, the options must be spelled out at the outset and these must remain unchanged for the duration of the campaign. In the 2014 referendum the implications of a Yes vote were unacceptably opaque while the implications of a No vote changed constantly throughout the campaign. It started as a vote for the status quo, ended with the infamous Vow and actually resulted in neither.
It needs to be a vote on the Union and not a vote on independence. Those campaigning for the Union must be required to state clearly exactly what a No vote means. Those campaigning to end the Union must be required to state the actions which will follow from a vote to that effect. The Union must be the issue in contention. The Union is the constitutional anomaly. Independence is the default status. That is the reality from which we proceed.
It is long past time Alyn Smith and his colleagues acquainted themselves with this reality.
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