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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16 thoughts on “Telling it like it isn’t”
Correct, WE ARE ALREADY A COUNTRY (this cannot be over stated), we are trying leaving a corrupt, unequal, biased political union. Alyn Smith talking ‘utter pish’ is unfortunately his default position. Fortunately his band of acolytes continues to dwindle apart from the hardcore of the truly delusional.
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Alyn Smith is fairly typical of the “leaders” of the SNP. His arguments oscillate between heavily provisioned foggy vagueness and insincere flabby platitudes.
“Independence in Europe”? That’s a question for later i.e. after Scotland is out of the British Union. It is a matter of party policy, not one for the constitutional debate. How can it be since what happens regarding our relationship with continental Europe is not something the people of Scotland – never mind the self-regarding single figure of Alyn Smith – alone control? Doh!
The only thing that any future popular plebiscite on this issue that should be the same as in 2014 is the two possible mutually exclusive answers of “Yes” and “No”. That way voters are not confused – or tricked – into placing their mark in the wrong box.
The question “Do you wish Scotland to Exit/Dissolve the Union?” or some such puts both the onus on the British to justify the anomalous current state of constitutional affairs as well as having the answers mean the same thing as they did in 2014.
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My own preference for the question is that it should invite a Yes/No response to a specific proposal. Not necessarily a detailed proposal. In fact, the less detail the better. The more detail that is added – and the more policies and positions that are tacked on – the more difficult it becomes to give a Yes/No response.
Here’s how it works. The Scottish Government proposes that the Scottish Parliament assert its primacy in Scotland on the basis of the unique and exclusive democratic legitimacy it derives from being the only Parliament elected by Scotland’s people.
Assuming the Scottish Parliament does as proposed and declares itself the only Parliament which may rightfully deliberate and legislate in the name of Scotland’s people, the Scottish Government then proposes the dissolution of the Union subject only to the agreement of the people of Scotland – such agreement to be sought in a referendum authorised by the Scottish Parliament.
The ballot paper for this referendum might read something like,
The Scottish Parliament has voted in favour of dissolving the Union and restoring Scotland’s independence. Do you agree? YES / NO
Of course, British Nationalists will screech and bawl at every turn. But if we’re not prepared to face the British state’s tantrums, do we actually deserve to be independent?
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Agreed, Peter. 100%.
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“My own preference for the question is that it should invite a Yes/No response to a specific proposal. Not necessarily a detailed proposal. In fact, the less detail the better.”…. Do you honestly think the public are stupid. Look at the mess the Scot Gov are making of the Pension issue right now. Keep going with that one.
Peter, none of this was in the SNP manifesto, nor the Greens, which means the present Government has no mandate to declare its Primacy. no mandate to dissolve the Union and go for a UDI. That means it would have to wait until another Holyrood election with all those in its / their manifestoes, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to wait until 2026, nor do I think the people of Scotland would want some sort of concocted vote of no confidence to try to bring about an early election. I also doubt very much if they’d achieve any majority on that basis.
This specifically: “restoring Scotland’s independence” is nebulous, and though suitable for campaigners to talk about, most definitely does not give certaintly or accuracy in a question, as it rests in arguable history, which is the last place you’d want to go “officially”.
The Scot Gov is, however, mandated to seek a Section 30 and in its absence bring forward legislation for Indy Ref 2 and meet the UK Gov in court if that’s what the UK Gov want. After a referendum with YES to Independence, the ScotGov is automatically mandated to do whatever is neccessary to try to achieve the result of that referendum, even if the UK Gov doesn’t play ball
Alyn Smith, though, is indeed talking a load of rubbish. Clarity would demand that a referendum question gives a straight readily achievable choice, preferably one with a YES / NO answer. His idea of “a choice of two unions” is retarded nonsense – EU membership is not in the dispensation of the Scottish Government, it can only be achieved by agreement.
(usual apology if this comes out twice due my problem of Win XP and WordPress login)
I would dispute that the party of independence doesn’t have a mandate to pursue that end by all legitimate means. A vote for the SNP is a vote for independence no matter what anyone claims. Regardless of what any particular election manifesto might say, the party’s constitution must take precedence. It’s a formal constitution. The manifesto is little more than a sales brochure. (Although they would almost certainly fall foul of various laws and regulations were they selling anything other than a political party or candidate.)
But to whatever extent it may be argued that the SNP’s manifesto for the 2021 election was ‘weak’ on the constitutional issue the blame for that doesn’t just lie with Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues. There’s blame enough to spread thickly across the entire Yes movement. The need for an explicit Manifesto for Independence could hardly have been more plain to see. When I point out that I was one of sadly too few trying to impress on Yes activists the need for collective action to force the SNP to sign up to the Manifesto for Independence I make no claim to superior intellect or political acuity. It was blindingly obvious what was needed. And just as blindingly obvious what was required in order to bring that about. If I and the handful of others who elected not to turn a stubbornly, stupidly blind eye to the reality appear uncommonly clever it is only relative to some quite extraordinary collective idiocy on the part of almost the entire Yes movement.
We had our chance. We fucked it up massively.
I’m not going to bother with any argument based on the notion that the question asked on the ballot paper cannot be adequate or acceptable unless it somehow contains within itself an explanation of every point that might be raised regarding the mechanics of the process. That is a self-evident nonsense. What the question must capture is the essence of the issue. It must be such as to bring a needle-sharp focus on the nub of the matter. It must distil all the complexities into a single overarching principle.
The essence of the issue is simply state as ending the Union and restoring Scotland’s independence. It might even be argued that either of these points would suffice. But it cannot sensibly be argued that other stuff – such as the question of the monarchy or EU membership – should be tacked on. Neither can it sensibly be argued that the question must cover matters of procedure. It would be ridiculous to ask not merely do you want the Union ended/independence restored, but do you agree to this being done in this precise way.
There is absolutely nothing nebulous about the ide of restoring Scotland’s independence. Unless you are inclined to pretend that this can only mean going back to a condition that existed only in the past. Certainly, Scotland was an independent nation in the past. It was independent then as independence was then understood. But the concept of national independence has changed over the centuries. It is far from clear quite why we would want to stipulate that uniquely in relation to Scotland we were referring to some ancient idea of independence made necessarily “nebulous” by the mists of time and the vagaries of historical interpretation.
Your final paragraph thankfully makes perfect sense. What you refer to is the third criterion for a referendum which can produce a decision as well as a result. The three criteria are that the options offered must be distinct, defined and deliverable. Distinct as in being more than just two versions of the same thing. Defined as in being clearly described and that description be fixed. Deliverable as in… deliverable. But more importantly, something that can be achieved or implemented by the ‘side’ offering that option entirely by means of its own authority and powers. In the matter under discussion, dissolving the Union and restoring Scotland’s independence is something that the Scottish Parliament can do. Crucially, it is something the Scottish Parliament can do without reference to anyone other than the people of Scotland.
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Reblogged this on Ramblings of a now 60+ Female.
“… Those of us who decline to fly off with him realise that he’s spouting utter pish… ”
Indeed! Excessive micturition appears to be the SNP default these days.
It is indeed the Union that is at issue and we cannot prosper or even limp along with anything like confidence while we are tied to this abomination. The fact that Alyn Smith gives us a choice is laughable. Who says we have to be in the EU again, either? Nobody. It is not written on tablets of stone, and though, personally, I did not wish to leave the EU, I now do not believe it is either possible or even wise to seek to rejoin as an independent Scotland. An associated form of loose co-operation would be of greater benefit to us now. This was always obvious before the EU referendum – that a vote to leave would be, for Scotland, a massive impediment to our future prospects unless we left the UK Union. I am getting more and more angered by the total lack of nous in the SNP elected representatives of both parliaments. They seem to be lacking a spine and any guile and intelligent foresight whatsoever.
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Apart from anything else, it is surely up to an independent Scotland to decide whether or not we wish to reapply for membership to the EU. All that Alyn Smith’s idea does is to muddy the waters -no surprise there!
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There would be several million people mystified by what you were on about. I would be. Is it the union of crowns? Is it the TGWU? Would a referendum on joining the EU be worded as ‘do you want to join the union’?
Referendum ballot papers would have to come with a synopsis of the early 18th centuary history to which the ballot questions pertain to (and an explaination that it’s relevance has been subsequently superceeded twice, the last time in the 1920’s). It would be hillarious, but unfortunately completely unlikely that there would be any votes on historical irrelevances.
Very amusing article 🙂
How does it feel to be less politically astute than several million people?
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Sorry for replying to your balloononic, but very amusing comment 🙂 FYI it feels fine. Thanks for asking. I hope your family aren’t hiding in the cupboards if you have one.
The question you propose in your article is based on early 18th century history. I guess you have a thing about it. Scotland leaving the UK would be based on a state that Scotland, and everywhere else in Britain and Northern Ireland is party to, that was formed by the anglo-Irish treaty in 1921. Perhaps the last century is a bit recent…
I don’t think there has been a fundamental constitutional change to the name of the state since 1921.
Do you think that passports for independent Scots would bear the logo ‘United Kingdom of Gt Britain etc’ because we would still be ruled by the same monarchy, or would it be ‘The Kingdom of Scotland’ (franchise)?
You may be a poet and don’t know it, Lord Byron but you really need to read what your own UK Government had to say back in February 2013 in its first and therefore most important White paper as far as it was concerned:
Click to access Scotland_analysis_Devolution_and_the_implications_of_Scottish_Independan…__1_.pdf
See this: “Independent legal opinion by two of the world’s leading experts in international
law and the law of state formation concludes that, in the event of independence,
the UK would continue and Scotland would form a new, separate state. ”
but in Annex A those legal experts did indeed consider the 3 accepted options, briefly:
“3. The three possible outcomes for the status of Scotland and the rUK in international law following Scottish independence are as follows, from most to least probable.
Most likely, the rUK would be considered the continuator of the UK for all international purposes and Scotland a new state …
Some states have dissolved entirely into new states, leaving no continuator …
Reversion to a previous independent state such as the pre-1707 Scottish state may not be excluded. ”
As you can see, 3.3 resembles Dissolujtion so I’m afraid since this “may not be excluded”, your unconditional dismissal of history is totally without foundation.
Then there is this Annex A itself – the REMIT of Crawford and Boyle “independent legal opinion that was for a specific purpose, to show how one of the 3 options was the most likely::
“10. We are asked to advise on two questions:
the status of Scotland and the rUK in international law after Scottish independence, in particular ‘(a) the strength of the position that the rUK would be treated as a continuation of the United Kingdom as a matter of international law and an independent Scotland would be a successor state’; and ”
So you see, even the UK Gov’s own White Paper accepts that there are 3 ways for Scotland to become Independent, tnhough of course it would like everyone to think there is only one – that it is the Contunuing UK. Those three ways are, to use the general parlance:
Incidentally, some legal constitutional opinion was taht the UK was exceedingly foolish to publish its legal advice. Regardless of legal considerations, it does make it very clear that it is vital for the rUK Government that it is the Constuniong UK Government for obvious reasons (continuation of treaties, memberships, status etc.)
This clearly gives Scotland the whip hand in post-YES and pre-Independence negotiations.
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I would imagine that a Scottish passport would be similar to a Canadian passport with a lion and a unicorn and a British flag on the cover, and a message from the queen to whom it may concern inside.