I believe him. When Mike Russell says the mandate will be honoured, I believe him. When he says a Bill will be introduced to facilitate a new referendum, I believe him. When he says we are “on a trajectory” to that referendum, I believe him. But I am not at all comforted by such assurances. In fact, Mike Russell’s confidence worries me greatly.
For some time now I have been less concerned about whether there will be a referendum than about what form that referendum will take. Knowing, as we do, that Nicola Sturgeon remains committed to the Section 30 process and convinced that there is a route to independence that avoids confrontation with the British state, it follows that she will be planning a referendum that does not provoke confrontation. A pretendy referendum. Some kind of ‘consultational’ affair that is not binding and settles nothing.
The delay in introducing the Referendum Bill only serves to increase my suspicion that the SNP has come up with a whole new way of disappointing the Yes movement. Sturgeon has painted herself into a corned by committing so heavily to the Section 30 process. She is now bound to request a Section 30 order. Two things can then happen. Boris Johnson could grant consent, thus putting himself in the position of being able to sabotage the entire process. Or, more likely, he’ll say no. How then does Nicola Sturgeon honour that mandate? How does she deliver a proper constitutional referendum having just allowed that a proper constitutional referendum can only take place with a Section 30 order?
She doesn’t! Instead, she delivers something that is superficially similar enough to a proper constitutional referendum for her to be able to claim that the mandate has been honoured and promises have been kept, but so meaningless and ineffectual as to provoke no challenge from the British state.
The only way an effective constitutional referendum can be delivered is if the Section 30 process is repudiated. It would be politically ‘problematic’ having just confirmed the need for one by asking for it, to then say it’s not needed after all. Sturgeon’s only option will be to offer a form of referendum which not even the British government could claim required a Section 30 order. Indeed, it would be to their advantage to cooperate with the process as it could then be maintained that a second referendum having been held, the constitutional issue must now be set aside for the foreseeable future.
I believe what Mike Russell says. I am disturbed by what he didn’t say. He did not say that the Section 30 process would be repudiated. He did not say that the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government intends to assert the primacy of the Scottish Parliament. He did not say the SNP leadership has belatedly acknowledged that there is no route to the restoration of Scotland’s independence that does not involve confrontation with the British state.
The question is whether our First Minister is prepared to deal with this confrontation. Mike Russell has said nothing to persuade me that she is.
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