A time to every purpose

Ruth Wishart mentions one “flaw” in the argument for a plebiscitary election as being “losing sight of other issues”. It’s unclear what she means by this as it could refer to the difficulty of losing sight of other issues so as to make it a single-issue vote or it could mean the problem of other issues being obscured by the constitutional question. As she says, there are many flaws in the argument for trying to make an election serve as a binary referendum. Not the least being that the next UK general election could be as late as January 2025 with the next Scottish Parliament elections more than a year later. The very last thing we need is further delay. One of these times Nicola Sturgeon is going to take the constitutional pot off the back burner only to find that it has boiled dry.

There is another problem with a plebiscitary election, however. A problem which is common to all the supposed ‘alternative’ routes to independence. The matter of what comes next.

It should be said that this is something which also affects the referendum route. In fact, I know of only one approach which doesn’t come up against the ‘what next?’ problem. I’ll get to that later. First I need to explain what the ‘what next?’ problem is.

When we were campaigning for a Yes vote in the 2014 referendum little thought was given to exactly what would ensue from victory. I know I gave a lot more thought to the implications of a No vote. I guess I supposed independence would just happen after we voted for it. I suspect most Yes campaigners were the same. I certainly don’t recall any detailed discussions of what would follow a Yes vote. We assumed there would be ‘negotiations’ and left it at that.

I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that almost eight years have passed since the first independence referendum. Plenty of time to think, for those who are so inclined. I continue to be amazed and angered by how many in the Yes movement showed no such inclination. Especially given that this seems to have included the entire leadership and senior management of the SNP. Not only has Nicola Sturgeon been disinclined to learn any lessons from the first referendum, but she and her army of apologists and loyalists have also actively discouraged any discussion of possible lessons.

One of the things that engaged the minds of more thoughtful Yes activists is the nature and form of the referendum itself. Unless your aversion to reflective thought is particularly strong it quickly becomes apparent that we didn’t do it correctly. For a start, the question was wrong. It made independence the contentious option when independence is actually the normal, default status for nations.

(It is important to point out at this juncture that none of this implies criticism of Alex Salmond. He had little in the way of either time of room to manoeuvre. He did remarkably well under the circumstances. Nicola Sturgeon has had vastly more time and a host of opportunities and has done precisely nothing. She also had the benefit of hindsight, had she cared to use it. Salmond was treading new ground with every step.)

One of the things I have done with the thinking time I’ve had is to consider what a ‘proper’ constitutional referendum looks like. Briefly, it must be binary with options which are distinct, defined and deliverable. A ‘proper’ constitutional referendum is a formal exercise of the right of self-determination and must produce a decision as well as a result. By which I mean it must be absolutely clear from the outset what either outcome entails in terms of specific actions.

It should be obvious that the 2014 referendum satisfied none of these criteria. But let’s leave that behind and consider where we are today.

(Disclaimer number two. I know I am not alone in having used the eight years of elective inaction and pusillanimous procrastination to reflect on ways to do things better. But I do not presume to speak for anyone else. If there’s a lot of first-person singular, that is the only reason.)

Supposing lessons had been learned from past experience we would be going into a new referendum with vastly more clarity about what our vote would mean. But what I want to address here is the last of those criteria – the action which ensues from a Yes vote and the problem this poses for a plebiscitary election or a referendum or any other process that I am aware of.

Another way of stating the issue is to say: ‘OK! You’ve got your Yes vote! What are you going to do with it?’. The problem is that whatever it is you want to do it will be the Scottish Parliament that has to do it. When you put a referendum or a plebiscitary election at the start of the process you then hit the point where the Scottish Parliament must act on the vote. But it cannot yet have the power to take the action that is required. And it can only acquire that power by taking it.

Whatever else you do, you always come to a point where in order to proceed on the basis of a Yes vote the Scottish Parliament must assert the power to do so.

That power cannot be acquired in any other way. It certainly cannot be ‘granted’ by the British government. That would be devolution. Power devolved is power retained. Real power is never given. Real power is always taken.

Whatever you do beforehand, only the Scottish Parliament can restore Scotland’s independence. Only the Scottish Parliament has the necessary democratic legitimacy derived from the mandate afforded by the sovereign people of Scotland. Independence is restored when the Scottish Parliament asserts its primacy. Whatever your ‘cunning plan’ for getting independence, it ends up having to be a Scottish form of UDI.

A ‘proper’ independence referendum comes after the Scottish Parliament asserts its power to pass a resolution proposing the dissolution of the Union. The referendum serves as a formal exercise of our right of self-determination when it is a vote to confirm (Yes) or reject (No) a detailed proposal to #DissolveTheUnion.

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3 thoughts on “A time to every purpose

  1. To focus our minds on the UDI route is sound tactics at the present time . We need sharp folk of the same calibre as Mick Lynch to press our case . Nae mair faffin aboot , stop frettin aboot fleggin cuddies .

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I agree and share the sense of frustration at the evident failure to use the past few years, even the last couple, as a good opportunity to form and begin to act upon a strategy both for making independence happen and to get Scotland better prepared to reduce our dependency upon rUK for imports/exports and other things relevant to growing and diversifying our economy and infrastructure, whatever the result of any referendum. I’m reading with interest the first of the published papers from ScotGov and SSRG has some interesting discussions going on, plus reading more about the economics of independence… I’m not an economist by background… to try to become better informed beyond the level of the superficial reactivity of many Yes and No activists. In the end we have to assert the right to control our own finances, laws and affairs and stand our ground (“Dal dy Dir!” is more or less the spirit, in Wales), I don’t get a clear feeling of this from ScotGov just now.. I hope this makes some sense, have to get back to a work task now. Thank you for your blogging and best wishes.

    Liked by 2 people

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