While it is gratifying that (some) commentators on the pro-independence side of Scotland’s constitutional divide are showing signs of recognising the urgency of our nation’s predicament, it would be heartening if even one was prepared to ask questions about what kind of referendum we can expect will be offered in 2023.
That there will be any kind of referendum remains in doubt. The legacy of eight years of inertia and procrastination and broken promises is that Nicola Surgeon cannot be trusted to make the restoration of Scotland’s independence an overriding priority. However, with every assurance and not-quite-a-promise it becomes more difficult for the First Minister to wriggle out of the not-quite-a-commitment to holding a referendum in 2023. It is surely time to turn our attention to what form this referendum might take.
What Scotland needs is a referendum which serves as a formal exercise of our right of self-determination that will be universally recognised as a definitive answer to the constitutional question and a clear decision on what action should ensue from the result. This implies that the referendum must meet certain criteria. But I don’t recall ever having encountered any discussion of what these criteria might be. I certainly know of nowhere that the criteria are spelt out in a document published by the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government or anyone else.
In the 2014 referendum, it was perhaps naively assumed that a Yes vote would automatically lead to independence. We are all a bit older now and many (most?) of us might reasonably claim to be a bit wiser. We are certainly more experienced – in the sense of having experienced more and more intensely what the Union means for Scotland. We should know by now that the British state would have found a way to deny the implications of a Yes vote. We should realise that the British political elite will simply change the rules in order to prevent an outcome they regard as contrary to their interests and/or to impose an outcome that better suits their purposes. We should know that the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government cannot be relied upon to respond to such behaviour with anything more than Blackford-style bluster. All of which points to the absolute necessity of a process which produces an unambiguous decision and not just a result. An undeniable decision backed by all the weight and force of the sovereign people of Scotland.
There will doubtless be protests that it’s not about process, it’s about ‘vision’. But that is nonsense [not my first choice of terminology]. A ‘vision’ without a process by which it can be realised is a fantasy. Look at Alba Party’s ‘supermajority’ nonsense [not my first…] in the 2021 election campaign for an example. There is absolutely no point in having a destination in mind absent a route to take us there. There is even less point in promising a destination that can’t be reached by any real-world route.
What are the criteria for a referendum which serves the intended purpose? Obviously, I have my own ideas on the matter. But my point here is to deplore the lack of any discussion of those criteria. There appears to be a general assumption that as long as we get a referendum all will be well. Not so! On the contrary, we should be seriously concerned that Nicola Sturgeon is not thinking in terms of the kind of referendum we need.
Let’s assume that Nicola Sturgeon’s not-quite-a-promise of a referendum in 2023 can be taken at face value. (I note here that had her commitment to a referendum been as unshakeable as her commitment to the Section 30 process there would be no doubt at all about it.) Let’s assume that there will be a referendum before the end of next year. Let’s assume also that Sturgeon is to be taken at her word when she says – or hints – that she intends there to be a referendum regardless of the response from the British Prime Minister to her ‘demand’ for a Section 30 order. Let’s gloss over, for the moment, the idiocy of saying a Section 30 order isn’t required immediately after having accepted that it is required – and compromising the sovereignty of Scotland’s people in the process. Let’s just consider what options the First Minister has with regard to the form of #Referendum2023.
As I see it, she has two basic options. There may be scope for variations within either of these options. But the fundamentals remain. She can do the bold, decisive thing and assert the competence of the Scottish Parliament in constitutional matters in order that it can authorise the kind of referendum we need and be prepared to face any challenge by the British state. Or she can offer a referendum such as will not invite any such challenge but will therefore be inadequate for the purpose of Scotland’s cause.
I invite readers to reflect on which option is most likely to be favoured by the Nicola Sturgeon they know from eight years as de facto leader of an independence campaign which has not progressed one millimetre in all that time.
If you find these articles interesting please consider a small donation to help support this site and my other activities on behalf of Scotland’s independence movement.