The pretendy referendum

The referendum being proposed by the Scottish Government is not a real independence referendum. It is not a proper constitutional referendum. It is not the exercise of our right of self-determination. The formal exercise of our right of self-determination cannot be merely “consultative”. The formal exercise of our right of self-determination must be self-executing. By stating that the referendum is to be “consultative and non-self-executing” Nicola Sturgeon has defined it in such a way that it cannot be the formal exercise of our right of self-determination. It cannot be a real independence referendum. It is a pretendy referendum.

Because it is a pretendy referendum, the referendum being proposed by Nicola Sturgeon can have no constitutional effect. A Yes vote in the pretendy referendum achieves nothing. It does nothing. It has no effect beyond that which might be expected of an opinion poll. If the result is Yes, we will be told that this result may be interesting, but no more than that. We will be told that it cannot be a true test of the will of Scotland’s people because it has been defined as a pretendy referendum. It will be maintained that people might have voted differently if they had thought it would mean something. It will be maintained that it is merely a ‘protest vote’ against the Tory British government. The Yes vote will be dismissed by the Tory British government as just a reaction to them ‘having to take the hard decisions’. They will point to the fact that Nicola Sturgeon has defined the referendum in such a way that it can have no constitutional effect and tell us we are getting exactly what we voted for – nothing!

But this does not mean the referendum doesn’t matter. It most certainly doesn’t mean we can afford to lose. It does not mean we can afford to hand a victory to the forces of anti-democratic British Nationalism. We must never yield any ground to anti-democratic British Nationalism. It is vital to get a Yes vote in the pretendy referendum because while a Yes vote has no practical effect a No vote most certainly does. That is the situation Nicola Sturgeon has put us in. If we win, we win nothing. If we lose, we lose everything.

This makes things very difficult for non-SNP Yes campaigners. We have been put in the awkward position of being obliged to campaign for a Yes vote while ‘managing’ expectations so that the crushing disappointment which will inevitably follow doesn’t inflict serious and possibly irreparable damage on Scotland’s cause. We have to walk a very fine line between the enthusiasm that must be conveyed in order to encourage people to vote Yes and the realism which must be maintained if people are not to be badly shocked when they find their vote has achieved nothing.

Why has Nicola Sturgeon put us in this position? Partly, I think, it’s because she is genuinely unaware of how much discontent exists in the Yes movement. Sturgeon has always given the impression that she thinks of the Yes movement as a resource that she can tap into when she needs it and just ignore the rest of the time. She seems to think the energy of the Yes movement is something that can be switched on and off like a light. I really don’t think she appreciates the likely reaction to a Yes vote that has no effect. She is convinced she can manage the adverse reaction. She assumes the anger can be turned against the British government. Sho does not expect any of it to blow back on her. I reckon she has got that wrong.

Of course, Sturgeon herself would never admit that she’s just playing the voters and using her loyal followers. Was she given to offering explanations at all, she would probably say she made it a pretendy referendum because that was the only way she stood a chance of getting it by the UK Supreme Court (UKSC). She’ll have delivered the promised referendum and it’s not her fault the big bad Tories treated the pretendy referendum as if it was the pretendy referendum the First Minister said it was.

The British state and all its apparatus will make a frightful fuss about the whole thing, of course. They have to maintain the line of being implacably opposed to Scotland’s democracy while making out that it’s the evil Sturgeon and her vile party who are anti-democratic for wanting to let the people decide. That may be their idea of democracy but by Jove it just ain’t British! The more politically astute among the Brits will, however, have worked out that a pretendy referendum suits them fine. It’s all win for them! A Yes vote has no constitutional effect; does not jeopardise the ‘precious’ Union; provides an opportunity to demonstrate Scotland’s subordinate status, and lets them insist with all apparent reasonableness, that the whole constitutional issue be shelved indefinitely now that those uppity Jocks have had their second wee poke of sweeties. It’s like all their royal jubilees have come at once!

The pretendy referendum is a win for the British whichever way it goes. A Yes vote gives them a win. A No vote gives them an even bigger win. So we have to stop them from getting that No vote. That’s the best outcome we can hope for from this vaguely ridiculous exercise. Or should I say the least bad outcome?

Nicola Sturgeon is being lauded by her fans for standing up to the British bully. But if you’re doing that you have to make sure you hurt the bully more than yourself. You won’t do that by punching your own face. It seems oor Nicola hasn’t quite got the hang of it yet.

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21 thoughts on “The pretendy referendum

  1. Hi Peter,
    Might be wrong but Referenda are commonly advisory. She does not even need to mention it is consultative, it is common place.
    Why did she then ? Does she want to be 100% sure it will have no effect at all if the Yes side wins?
    Primarily, what is the point in the first place to have a referendum under that Franchise unless she wants to give us a start far behind the starting line.
    Finally, we all know the uk contempt for International rules Does she really think the uk will think twice before denying the result, a non biding result, a result with ni legal basis.
    Waste of time, of money but above all a waste of a all generetion of yes voters.
    I bet the Scottish diaspora will get bigger if as predicted the Uk survives the vote.
    I so wish i am wrong…

    Take care


    Liked by 2 people

    1. I get that thing about referendums in the UK ‘always’ being advisory rather a lot. They may always have been ‘advisory’. But that doesn’t mean they must always be advisory. If the proposed referendum was a genuine exercise of our right of self-determination that it would be the opposite of what Nicola Sturgeon has made it. A proper constitutional referendum has to be binding and self-executing because for it to be otherwise would necessarily imply a political authority greater than the people.

      Sturgeon has stressed the ineffectual nature of the proposed referendum mainly for the reason I gave – to stand a chance of getting the nod from the UKSC. It’s also intended for that part of the audience who might not be pro-independence but who might take the view that since it’s going to have no effect the British government should just let the Sweaties have their damned referendum. What matters to Sturgeon is that she delivers a referendum. She knows her loyal followers won’t care what kind of referendum it is. She takes them for granted to such an extent that she reckons she can afford to tell them it’s a pretend referendum and they’ll sheer for her anyway.

      There is also an element of wishful thinking in there. Sturgeon hopes that the referendum won’t be totally ineffectual. She hopes that a Yes vote will bring ‘political and moral pressure’ to bear on Boris Johnson. Just as she hoped ‘political and moral pressure’ would force him to grant a Section 30 order. After everything that’s happened, she still clings to the belief that confrontation can be avoided. The harsh reality, of course, is that there is no ‘political and moral pressure’ which can affect the Johnson regime. This is a government which has come under enormous international pressure on account of its cavalier attitude to international law and solemn treaties and binding agreements – the Good Friday Agreement, European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 and the devolution settlements being the most glaring examples.

      I said months ago that her only options other than going straight to confrontation on her own terms were to either postpone the referendum again or make it a pretend referendum. Postponing would have been politically very hard to sell even to her most devoted followers. (Well, maybe not her most devoted followers. It long since became clear that they’ll take any amount of shit and call it pixie-paste. That left only the fake referendum option. That’s what we’ve got. And now we can’t afford to lose. We can barely afford to win!

      Liked by 5 people

  2. A very succinct summary of Scotland’s quandary with regards a referendum under either of the scenarios that Nicola Sturgeon has depicted.

    If it is the vote at a UKGE i.e. a ‘plebiscitary election’, with the dual hurdle of a 50% threshold of seats and votes to be overcome, the chances of a ‘victory’ are vanishingly slim.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. The plebiscitary election isn’t much better than the pretendy referendum. As you say, it would be very difficult to win. And pretty much impossible to win conclusively enough to have the result respected. It’s just too easy for the British to say an election cannot possibly decided a binary question. Elections are not binary. The constitutional question is a standalone issue. It must be decided by a referendum.

      That referendum must meet all the criteria for a referendum on a binary issue. There must be no more than two options. ‘Cos it’s binary! Duh! Those options must be distinct, defined and deliverable. The referendum must produce a decision and not merely a result. It must be clear from the outset what ensues from a vote either way. There must be no room for prolonged arguments about what the result means.

      That last one is a big stumbling block for Sturgeon. Nothing is set to ensue from a Yes vote. She hasn’t explained what comes next. Possibly because she hasn’t a clue. More likely because she knows that the only thing which can ensue would be the very confrontation she’s so desperate to avoid.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. My guess Peter is the delivery of this pretendy ref will be her exit music . If that proves to be the case , it may not be entirely without value ; her departure would feel like load had been lifted from the shoulders of the Independence Movement .

        The caveat being , of course , who replaces her . If it’s one of the palm-lickers from the inner court we may be no better off


          1. Yes , all too likely the onerous task of finding evermore recondite excuses to do fuck-all will fall to Prince Anguish The Oleaginous and Carry-On Up The Mandate will continue playing

            Liked by 3 people

  3. I’m under the impression all referenda in the UK are consultative.

    “Legally speaking, referendums in the UK are only consultative and not binding, as Parliament remains sovereign. Accordingly, Parliament could, in theory, ignore a referendum result or even legislate for the opposite outcome. Equally, the UK Parliament could overturn legislation approved by referendum at any point in the future, as one Parliament cannot bind another. However, in practice this is highly unlikely.”

    The problem I think is the we the people of Scotland are sovereign through the Claim of Right, however our parliament is not.

    The UKSC will drag its heels on a decision and after a set time will shoot down any pretendy indyref, this will lead Sturgeon to proclaiming that the 2024 GE will be a plebiscitary one, and that too will face a legal challenge, this will suit Sturgeon down to a tee, for she will have tried and failed in the eyes of the indy masses to liberate Scotland from the union, she can move to pastures new with her head held high, Westminster will also be pleased that they yet again put Scotland’s exit from the union in the bin, and the indy masses can hit the Prozac for years to come.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We must never acknowledge or allow that the British parliament is sovereign. We have to proceed as if the people of Scotland are sovereign because if we don’t then we aren’t. This is why I say a constitutional referendum need not be merely advisory. Basically, it’s fuck all to do with Westminster. So the asserted sovereignty of the British parliament is no more relevant to Scotland’s exercise of our right of self-determination than Iceland’s Althing was to the EU referendum.

      The essential point here is that we cannot claim the people of Scotland are sovereign AND proceed on the basis of England-as-Britain’s tradition of parliamentary sovereignty. The two are mutually exclusive and irreconcilable. which is why Nicola Sturgeon cannot honestly claim to adhere to the principle of popular sovereignty unless and until she repudiates the Section 30 process. Section 30 being an admirably succinct statement of the dominance of the British parliament. Remember what Section 30 says.

      “Her Majesty may by Order in Council make any modifications of Schedule 4 or 5 which She considers necessary or expedient.”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Peter.

        I agree, how we determine our future is absolutely f*ck all to do with Westminster, however the SNP government wants to play it that way, that we need to go through Westminster for international recognition.

        I’ve already posted in here, on ways to woo the international community that would help along greatly to international recognition.

        Such as allow the EU access to our fishing waters, we have an abundance of surplus renewable energy Europe is screaming out for energy, we have around four or five embassy type building already in Europe, a smart FM would be using these to network in Europe with independence in mind, such a putting out the feelers on what Europe’s response would be if we dissolved the union without Westminster’s participation.

        A smart FM would allay Washington’s fears over Trident and Nato by guaranteeing that both would remain in Scotland, a smart FM would also assure the EU that we will rejoin the EU.


        1. There has to be a limit to how far we go to “woo” the international community. There must be a point at which we say “Fuckemall!”. That point may be somewhat beyond where I personally would place it. But it has to exist.

          At the end of the day when all is said and done the ONLY thing that matters is the will of Scotland’s people. British propaganda would have us believe the restoration of independence is contingent on a host of things all being favourable – including economic forecasts (the very definition of unreliability) and the opinion of the international community which if it was a person would be the moodiest bastard ever.

          Here’s what UN Declaration 1415 (3) says,

          “Inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence.”

          I concur.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. “There has to be a limit to how far we go to “woo” the international community. There must be a point at which we say “Fuckemall!”.”

            True, but don’t you understand yet, that Scottish independence is a special case unlike any other countries that’s left the empire. According to the unionists we must attain the gold standard on everything first before we can leave the union.

            I’m all for allying the fears of the international community if it speeds up independence and cuts out Westminster, in the short term we would need to comply with our promises to the international community, but we’d be independent and that’s what matters.

            Independence will come at a cost, one way or the other.

            Liked by 3 people

  4. Just like that “pretendy” Devolution referendum …. no wait …. that “pretendy” Brexit referendum …. no wait ….


    1. I’ll just copy and paste the response I gave to someone on Fecaboko who came out with the same shallow-minded drivel.

      The EU referendum only had a constitutional effect because it was given constitutional effect by the British government. Nicola Sturgeon’s pretendy referendum is so called because nobody will give it constitutional effect. The British government certainly won’t. And neither will Nicola Sturgeon. Because to do so would provoke confrontation.

      That’s why it’s a pretendy referendum. It is being presented as an independence referendum when it can do precisely nothing to bring about the restoration of Scotland’s independence.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Those votes just so happened to suit the UK Govt, and so they got what they wanted.
      The Cameron Administration could have chosen not to to follow thru on the EU vote, and so could the MPs, but that would have destroyed the tory Party, and they weren’t gonna let that happen.
      So Brexit got the go ahead, regardless how destructive it was
      The same was true for the Devolution vote under Blair, as it suited Labour at the time.
      But as we saw in the 1978 vote, as it didn’t suit the UK Govt, a Labour one at that, they brushed the majority Yes vote aside completely.
      The Callaghan Administration could easily given us the proposed Scottish Assembly, but didn’t.
      So, that’s the answer to that question!

      As for this new vote being put about by the First Minister, she would do well to change her plan to something more substantial.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. One-third of all UK-wide referendums have been determinative. That is to say, not merely consultative or advisory but having direct legislative consequences.


      1. There have only been three UK-wide referendums, and I don’t think any of them were legally binding. I think you are confused by the referendum on joining the EC after Britain had already joined the EC, which couldn’t be determinative because there was nothing to determine. That was post-determinative. They were all consultations.

        I’m not sure that it is even possible to have a legally-binding referendum on subjects about which no laws have been made. I think the point of referendums is to / not to get politicians to negociate the drafting of laws.


  5. Before people get in a knot, note that the UN calls referendums ‘consultations’. The UN has supervised several independence ones. People should also look up the meaning of the word ‘plebiscite’ before using it inappropreatly (Sturgeon doesn’t mention ‘plebiscite elections’ – she talks about a referendum that isn’t a referendum).


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