The choice in a new independence referendum should be much bigger than in 2014, as Sir John Curtice puts it. But we are not being offered a choice. The referendum as proposed asks only for a preference on the basis that the expressed preference doesn’t actually change anything.
In 2014, we went into the referendum campaign with the genuine belief that a Yes vote would be both a choice and a decision. We now have reason to doubt very much that a Yes vote would in fact have been decisive – in the sense that it would have been implemented. Everything we learned during and since that campaign indicates that British ‘respect’ for the outcome would have been in the form of lip-service only. And a sneering lip at that. Everything we have learned during and since the 2014 referendum indicates that the Scottish Government was never minded to press the issue. We can’t know that for certain, of course. But my very strong suspicion is that there was always going to be the need for another referendum.
The referendum we need is the referendum that we supposed the 2014 referendum to be. The referendum that is being proposed is not that referendum. It is bigger than the 2014 referendum only in that there is a great deal more at stake. It is bigger in the sense that we stand to lose everything if the vote is No, but we gain nothing if the vote is Yes. In the 2014 referendum we at least had cause to assume a Yes vote would win us the star prize. In the October 2023 referendum – if it happens – we have been explicitly told that the prize has been removed from the offer. A Yes vote is, in effect, to be merely a vote for Nicola Sturgeon to plead for a Section 30 order yet again. Scotland’s cause will be back to where it is now but having had the second referendum we demanded.
Had I not been as well-acquainted as I am with the Yes movement, I would have been shocked that Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement of a possible 2023 referendum failed to provoke riots. Or at least angry demonstrations. That is how much of an insult her ‘plan’ is to Scotland’s cause. But knowing the Yes movement as I do – and particularly the Sturgeon/SNP loyalist faction – I was not at all surprised to find the majority jumping up and down with excitement as they celebrated being insulted.
The referendum we need has to serve as a formal exercise of our right of self-determination. The referendum we are being offered is not that nor anything even vaguely like it. Whatever happens with the mock referendum or the de facto mock referendum, we will be left where we are now having potentially exhausted ourselves, our resources and our time for less than nothing. We will still be in need of that bigger referendum. But it will no longer be the second one. It will be the third. Which has implications that it would be patronising to explain.
There is still time to force the SNP/Scottish Government to change tack and deliver the referendum I suspect most of us thought we were voting for when we gave them mandate after mandate. The best time to do this would have been at the Scottish Parliament elections in 2021. The opportunity existed then for a mass campaign in favour of a #ManifestoForIndependence which would have committed all the parties adopting it to holding a proper constitutional referendum. One that produces a decision as well as a result. That opportunity was squandered, as so many opportunities before it. But there remains scope for a mass campaign to force a rethink of the SNP’s failed ‘strategy’. A strategy which has failed and will continue to fail because it has been designed to be ineffective.
The Yes movement has to make a choice. Do we settle for Nicola Sturgeon’s mock referendum? Or do we demand that the Scottish Government facilitate a democratic event which will be recognised globally as a formal exercise of our right of self-determination. Do we accept the mockery that is being offered in which a Yes vote means nothing? Or do we insist on a referendum in which a Yes vote means the restoration of Scotland’s independence?
We will know the answer to that tomorrow. How we answer that question is vastly more important than what the UK Supreme Court judges say.
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