Not just a referendum…

Ballot box

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.

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9 thoughts on “Not just a referendum…

    1. I would like to think SNP+SGP/Scottish Government is not that stupid. But…

      Of course, if Sturgeon hands Boris the power that goes with the Section 30 process then we won’t get to decide what goes on the ballot.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I believe, even if we were to vote YES, Westminster would still try to muddy the waters, and the way they would do that is by claiming the prior constitutional right to decide whether or not independence should go ahead or whether the referendum was purely advisory and that’s all, or whether or not it should be in the form envisaged by most independence Scots. Given that the first would be a huge risk and gamble which might go against them, the second is more likely. They will try to sweep all our constitutional tools aside and claim that ‘this’ is what the Scots decided, much as they have done with Brexit – which, let’s face it, has been an even bigger disaster than many predicted. By interfering in the manner in which independence is achieved, they can guarantee that it will favour them, as Brexit has favoured the elites.

    In the same way, they have bound Ireland hand and foot right up to the present day, although they are beginning to overreach themselves and may yet deliver NI into Eire’s hands without too much trouble. With NI as part of Ireland proper, there will be no stopping that country just off the UK. Similarly, there will almost certainly be a spoiler of some kind introduced into Scotland to ensure that we, too, are bound hand and foot for the foreseeable future. That is why the other constitutional tools (Treaty, Claim of Right,, etc.) should all be utilized, along with a plebiscitary election in 2024. Will the SNP leadership agree to those? No. They will deliver us into England as the UK’s hands through sheer ignorance and lack of nous, but also through an unwillingness to cede power from themselves and those who surround them to the populace. Anyone who doesn’t believe that is possible has not studied the Vichy regime in WW II France.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I think you are right in spelling out the possible reactions from a WM government to a yes vote but would argue that both are dangerous for WM. The first for the reasons you give but the second is equally dangerous as it would show the International Community that the people of Scotland had voted for the right of self-determination which is a right enshrined in international law.
      So, any interference in the progress towards that would be condemned. Given the widespread disapproval of WM in its negotiations over Brexit, particularly concerning the status of Northern Ireland, I suspect there would not be a great deal of sympathy towards it and Scotland would get a great deal of support.
      Unfortunately I think the chances of a referendum next year are remote and, if it were to happen, the chance of a yes vote would be at vanishing point.


      1. I see nothing to suggest that the British political elite regard the international community with much respect. They will do what they want regardless. This is why the first step in the process by which independence will be restored must be to remove the British from the equation by asserting the primacy of the Scottish Parliament.

        I am far less concerned about whether there will be a referendum in 2023 – all indications now are that there will be – than I am about what form the referendum will take. I fear that it will be either an unwinnable Section 30 referendum or a pretendy wee referendum that isn’t worth winning.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I agree that a referendum on Westminster’s terms would be a disaster, though that might be Sturgeon’s plan. Whichever way it went, she could walk away to pastures new, saying she had tried her best, leaving Scotland to suffer the consequences.
          I just hope we can find an alternative in time.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. So we’re allegedly going into an indyref next year without proper preparation and without answers to questions that needed answering in 2014, though the White Paper of 2014 explained much.

    What’s the well know saying? Ah yes “Fail to prepare, then prepare to fail” or “Victory loves preparation” but enough of that. Could it be the idea is to hold a poorly prepared indyref in the hope of failure, going by the SNP’s recent machination we cannot rule that route out.

    I’m sorry to say I have absolutely no confidence that we would win an ill prepared indyref next year, Sturgeon is still popular that we know, its her commitment to the cause that I have grave concerns about.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The forthcoming SNP conference in Aberdeen in October should be limited to resolutions on the route to independence.This is one way Sturgeon might demonstrate her commitment to the reason for the SNP to exist.

    Resolutions on other matters should not be permitted this time around as they can only be acted upon within the devolution settlement which in turn reduces the time devoted to the pursuit independence. The original plan was to demonstrate competence in government and win over voters to the independence cause. Instead, since 2014, time has wasted on a whole series of things within devolution. This is not working out too well. Time’s up!


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