What happens next?

For a process to exist there must always be an answer to the question, what happens next? So, Yes wins by a comfortable margin in the proposed referendum ─ what happens next? More specifically, what happens next in the series of linked actions which form the process leading to the restoration of Scotland’s independence? If there is no clear answer to the question of what happens next, there is no process. If there is no process, there is no end result. There is no independence.

We know that nothing necessarily happens next after this Yes vote. We know this because both the First Minister and the Lord Advocate have been at some pains to stress that there is no direct legal consequence of a Yes vote. There is nothing that must happen as a consequence of a Yes vote. If nothing must happen that what must tend to happen is nothing. If nothing must happen then there can be no clear answer the question, what happens next.

Nothing happens unless someone or something makes it happen. Both the First Minister and the Lord Advocate have informed us that the democratically expressed will of Scotland’s people is not sufficient to make something happen. In this, they are in full agreement with the British government. They too insist that the democratically expressed will of Scotland’s people is not sufficient to make something happen. Even if we vote overwhelmingly in favour of having a referendum, this does not necessarily mean that a referendum will happen.

We, the people of Scotland, have voted decisively for a new independence referendum several times. The British government says that doesn’t count for anything because the people of Scotland are not sovereign, the British parliament is. The Scottish Government also says it doesn’t count for anything unless (a) the British Prime Minister agrees or (b) a British court overrules the British government.

So much for the people of Scotland being sovereign!

What happens next? Apart from the principle of popular sovereignty being critically compromised, it’s hard to see what can be the effect of a referendum which the highest political and legal authorities have deemed to be without effect. What does the First Minister expect will be the effect of the referendum that she has said will have no effect? What does she expect will happen as a consequence of a Yes win by a comfortable margin? As far as it’s possible to tell, she hopes that the British government will respect the outcome of the referendum and do something that takes the process on to some further stage. It is not at all clear why the British government would choose to respect the outcome of a referendum that even the First Minister say needn’t be respected. Nor is it clear what the British government might do to progress the restoration of Scotland’s independence. Given all we know, it would be surpassingly strange if they did anything of the sort.

Besides, the British government is a third party. A process cannot be critically dependent on action being taken by a third party. Particularly when that third party has made it abundantly clear that there are absolutely no circumstances in which they will take this action ─ whatever it might be. To qualify as a process all parts must be controlled by those charged with implementing the process. The only action that can be relied upon is action which is totally in the hands of the First Minister and the Scottish Government.

Nicola Sturgeon could answer the question of what happens next after a clear Yes vote. Has she done so? Weeelll… sort of! What she says, as I understand it, is that if there is a Yes vote and the British government chooses not to respect it and do whatever it is that they might do as part of the process of restoring Scotland’s independence but for the fact that they have categorically ruled out doing ─ or ‘allowing’ ─ anything at all that might be part of a process leading to the restoration of Scotland’s independence, then the First Minister will respond by respecting the British government’s choice not to respect the democratically expressed will of Scotland’s people and moving on to the next stage in what we are assured is a very clever political strategy.

So much for the sovereignty of Scotland’s people.

What happens next after a Yes vote in the referendum in which a Yes vote only counts if the British Prime Minister has some kind of ‘episode’ ─ a possibility which cannot be ruled out completely ─ is that we do it all again. But instead of having a referendum in which only No votes have any effect and do so regardless of whether they are in the majority, we have a “de facto” referendum ─ an election pretending to be a referendum. Or, to be more precise, an election in which some of the parties contesting the election pretend that it is a referendum while everybody else ─ the other parties and all but an infinitesimal part of the media and the vast majority of the voters ─ all proceed on the basis that the election is, in fact, an election and not a referendum.

Nonetheless, as far as Nicola Sturgeon and her party and maybe one or two other parties in Scotland are concerned, the election is a “de facto” referendum. Suppose the Yes vote wins by a comfortable margin in this election-cum-referendum. What happens next?

It’s not at all clear why we might expect an election that the SNP says is a referendum to carry any more weight than a referendum that the SNP says is a referendum but which carries no weight at all. If there was a Yes vote in this “de facto” referendum then what happens next would be for the Scottish Government to decide. So long as we are operating withing the bounds of British law, there can be no direct legal consequence flowing from a “de facto” referendum any more than there can from a referendum that is actually a referendum. For there to be any consequence at all that consequence could only be some action taken by the Scottish Government acting through the Scottish Parliament.

It seems we’re back where we started having achieved nothing other than compromising the sovereignty of Scotland’s people and demonstrating that the British ruling elites have no regard for democracy. Which we already knew. Oh! And one more thing! We would now have had not one but two referendums in addition to the one in 2014. Because while both the proposed referendum that is a referendum and the proposed “de facto” referendum that is actually an election may have no effect if there is a Yes vote, we can be sure they will be recognised as real referendums after the fact by the British government. They will count for nothing other than being counted as ‘indyref2’ and ‘indyref3’ by the British state.

Speaking of which, the British state will not be idle while all this is going on. I was speaking with my good friend Mike Fenwick yesterday and he said something that put a vivid image in my mind. He spoke of British Prime Minister Truss (or Sunak, it makes no difference) appearing on the steps of 10 Downing Street to proclaim that ‘the nation’ had had enough of this independence nonsense and they were going to put a stop to it. Mike left it to my imagination to fill in the bit about what they would actually do. I had no difficulty conjuring a few credible scenarios.

At some point, the British political elite is going to act to secure the Union in perpetuity. There are a number of ways they might do this. It must be so given that the Union gives them the power to do pretty much anything they want with Scotland. They could, for example, unilaterally alter the constitutional status of the UK to create a single British state indivisible and indissoluble. This would leave Scotland in a position which would at last allow valid comparisons with Catalonia.

Then what happens?

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19 thoughts on “What happens next?

  1. The clear answer to the question at the moment is “not much” because it seems that no preparations have been made by the SG. Fail to prepare = Prepare to Fail, and there are those who believe that this is precisely the objective of the current SG. However we should surely reframe the question, “What SHOULD happen after a massive YES majority” in any democratic event on the subject of independence. What should happen is that the institutions and infrastructure of the new independent Scottish State should immediately declare independence and begin negotiations with England which they have spent the last 24 months assiduously preparing, gaming and rehearsing. Oh – but where are these state institutions and infrastructure ? Unless the SG has been cunningly setting them up ready for the task and keeping them (very) well hidden then they don’t exist. Do we think it likely that the SG will begin setting them up in the next, say, month ? Rhetorical question sorry, so we know that is not about to happen. What’s to be done ? We need to do this ourselves, nobody else is going to do it – we need to start right now to set up a core “government in waiting” of around 100 people, which includes a strong negotiating team (sorry JS – your application will not be considered) which knows what it is doing.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. It is as clear as mud what happens after a YES vote, however defined and at whichever democratic event.

    What is crystal clear – to me at least – is that the Scottish Government, as represented in the main by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, will not do anything unilaterally.

    If they were to do anything decisive they would have done so subsequent to at least one of the EIGHT consecutive elections that they have won overwhelmingly in the EIGHT years since the 2014 Independence Referendum and Nicola Sturgeon became leader of the SNP and First Minister of Scotland.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. The Tory party chosen, bound-to-be disgraced, successor to the Tory party chosen, disgraced, worst Prime Minister in the disgraceful history of this disgraceful, forced, false Union can stand outside 10 Downing Street and declare a flat earth for all I care. Their Spanish-style further enforcement of the ‘Union,’ like everything else politicians do, will only mean something if the people put up with it.

    This would be another construed distraction from their latest utter shambles of an administration and no solution to the myriad catastrophes they have wrought upon these islands.

    Sooner or later the peoples of England-as-Britain and Scotland as Scotland have to rise up against all of these corrupt, inept and self serving politicians; the blue Tories, the red Tories and this Vichy mob in the SNP.

    The revolution has to be coming.

    This cannot go on.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Scotland has an escape from this madness, but as Perma Chödrön explains, we must be fearless, that does not mean denying that fear exists, change is always frightening, but we must recognise that there is no status quo any more, change will happen whether we like it or not, and the choice for Scotland is to be a victim of the change that is imposed on us by Truss and her allies, or an agent of change. Put like that it is not a difficult choice.

    Wee Ginger Dug today



  5. (disappeared into WordPress so reposted)

    A very good article in the National by Cherry, which Peter has commented on in similar vein to this blog article.


    Firstly, Peter is not wrong, and “what happens next” is clearly a valid question. In the case of the EU Referendum, that too was not self-executing, and there were 2 years before the Article 50 was triggered to take us out of the EU, plus an election or two (can’t be bothered checking).

    There were also a couple of court cases – one of which established that even the invocation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty wasn’t final, and the UK could change its mnd and stay in the EU< and there was nothing the EU could legally do about it. And of course the one that established royal prerogative could not be used, it had to be the UK Parliament – an important decision in the light of this reference by the LA in an indirect fashion.

    However, to detail: “Both the First Minister and the Lord Advocate have informed us that the democratically expressed will of Scotland’s people is not sufficient to make something happen.

    No they haven’t, they just ahven’t made the argument FOR that, as the reference under S34 follows from the LA’s power to ask for clarification from the court over any devolved issue. Devolved issues fall from the Scotland Act, and the Scotland Act has nothing in itself to do with the sovereignty of the Scottish people rather than the sovereignty of Parliament (a peculilarly Dicey and English notion).

    Hence the intervention by the SNP, as the SNP are NOT restrained by the Scotland Act and can hence complement the Lord Advocate’s reference and arguments, with their own that do not direcly relate to the Scotland Act, but to matter of history and general surrounds – like self-detmination, article 1 of the UN, and perhaps human rights though that might fit better in some second intervention which, disappointingly for me, hasn’t materialised yet from the likes of the Greens or even Alba.

    Thanks to Cherry for the article, it’s holiday time for some, and going back to school for others, so there’s been a dearth of articles encompassing the SNP inervention apart from the Unionist press who want to present it as a lack of confidence by the SNP in the LA and the FM. THAT really couldn’t be any further from the truth.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Peter, from a reply in the National from you:

    The court can only answer the question is has been asked. It can only deal with the matter before it.

    These are actually two different things. The court has been asked a question, I think it’s number 21 in the LA’s intervention.

    But the “matters before it” include the arguments from both sides and any interventions, which it considers, weighs, compares and answers unless it ignores them as it reaches its determination without them, as happens with some arguments in virtually every case. The UKSC does have form for ignoring difficult arguments, not surprisingly perhaps as they can, of course, be quoted in future cases.


  7. I wrote to my Westminster SNP MP two years ago to enquire as to when the SNP will actually do something about restoring independence to Scotland. The stock reply from one of his underlings was, ‘when Scotland’s people vote for it in a referendum.’

    Since then, of course, two more years of Tory carnage has happened to Scotland whilst our elected representatives in both Westminster and Holyrood do little more than bump their gums, collect their salaries and nurture their retirement nest eggs.

    We wonder, ‘what happens next’ as the prospect of Scotland’s people voting for a independence begins to look inevitable, if they ever finally get the chance.

    I think the question many of us are really asking is, ‘who has the cojones to go for broke with Scottish UDI?’

    As yesindyref2 says, the Scottish Parliament is constrained by the Scotland Act, but the SNP is not. If we are going to regain our independence, like it or lump it and barring a miracle; the SNP will be the vehicle by which we have to achieve it.

    So the real question may be, ‘which elected SNP representatives figuratively possess the aforementioned male organs of sexual reproduction to resign a comfortable, lucrative but powerless seat in an assembly honouring the union – in order to undertake the risky task of restoring said constitutional situation in service to the people of your country?’

    The only way you will find out the answer to that question is to ask it. Any representatives lacking the anatomical appendages is not serving the people, but merely themselves.

    This is also a way of telling them that this is the question we want answered.


    1. Postcolonial theory tells us “that inside the nationalist parties, the will to break colonialism is linked with another quite different will: that of coming to a friendly agreement with it” (Frantz Fanon). Which is more or less what we see, i.e. never any serious attempt to break free. The SNP are just going through the motions as a colonial administration, taking the people up another blind alley, wasting time, delaying and possibly preventing independence.


  8. It takes an age for that to sink in. Most independence supporters are counting the days until they get a chance to vote and, in my experience, react with petulance and even aggression if you try to point out that they are being mugged again.

    The evidence would suggest to me that the theory holds true in the case of the SNP. What happens next? Are we absolutely fucked?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Are we absolutely fucked?”

      Independence appears to become progressively more unlikely when the indigenous ethnic native group (and their culture/language) falls below 50% of the voting population. Examples include Wales and New Caledonia. Conversely, Irish reunification is considered more likely now because the Irish community in NI has been expanding whilst the British/unionist community is static/falling.

      Significant ‘settler occupation’ and/or ‘plantation’, both established themes common to colonial history, alters the national identity of a population, as does ‘linguicide’ (i.e. death of a language through not teaching it). Linked to this is the long delayed census results.

      Perhaps two of the most important lessons from postcolonial theory are that: a) peoples in self-determination conflict are almost always linguistically divided, in our case Scots speakers and Anglophones with language/culture determining our national identity to a large extent, and; b) independence movements depend on the solidarity of the oppressed ethnic group.

      In these circumstances Peter’s #Scottish UDI would seem an astute call, whereas the SNP’s indyref2, given ongoing population change, is probably already a lost cause, and certainly high risk as another ‘No’ vote would be much like ‘Quebec II’ – the latter also a conflict between two languages and cultures, and identities.


  9. Oh yuk!

    Somehow, I can’t see Miss Trust rogering us, even with her most impressive Thatcherite strap-on dildo!

    Muhammad Ali had a good joke about what Abraham Lincoln said when he woke up from a three-day drunk. Abe said, ‘I freed the what?’

    Miss Trust is more likely to have a drunk Lincoln moment than finally subduing the sweaty socks. Dinna fash, we still have time.


  10. Would those be the same forces that have surrendered an empire in less than a century? It’s not them I fear but the Scottish electorate who voted for all this in 2014.

    And be carefull who you’re calling dumb and complacent. I’ve been following your blog on and off for three years (mostly off) and you get about as much right as Hugh Keevins.


    1. “I’ve been following your blog on and off for three years (mostly off)…”

      Then you haven’t seen more than a tiny fraction of what I’ve written over the years. Not nearly enough to come to any sensible conclusion about the accuracy or otherwise of my speculation. Not that it would matter. Speculation is about exploring, not discovering.


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