When All Under One Banner (AUOB) organises an event such as the one tomorrow in Glasgow, they invite us to ‘March for independence’. They don’t urge us to ‘Plod for independence’. When we attend such events ─ as I hope thousands will tomorrow ─ we imagine ourselves striding determinedly towards the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status with heads held high and spirits higher still. We don’t see ourselves as trudging wearily, heads bowed, hearts heavy, hope expired towards some point that is always just below the horizon. But that is what Richard Walker would have us do.
Richard starts by advising us that we need no longer seek a “legal and democratic route to Scotland winning its independence” ─ because “there isn’t one”. Congratulations, Richard, on finally catching up with those of us who came to that conclusion some years ago. Would that Nicola Sturgeon’s thinking had got as far. In her address following publication of the UK Supreme Court’s (UKSC) judgement, she said,
I make clear again today, therefore, that I stand ready at any time to reach agreement with the Prime Minister on an adjustment to the devolution settlement that enables a lawful, democratic referendum to take place…Nicola Sturgeon’s address about Scotland’s future
This just makes no sense. She said this after having claimed that the judgement had provided “clarity”. In other words, the folly of referring the draft Referendum Bill to the UKSC was justified. But if the judgement offered clarity, what did it make clear other than what Richard Walker has at last accepted ─ that there is no “legal and democratic route to Scotland winning its independence”?
(I note in passing the fact that talk or “winning” independence betrays a hopelessly misguided mindset. But I’ll let that slide for the moment.)
Despite the judgement by the UKSC Sturgeon still hopes for a process which is critically dependent on the willing and honest cooperation of the British government which she had moments before accused of “democracy denial” and showing contempt for Scottish democracy. She said she expects “that the UK government will maintain its position of democracy denial”. Then she says she still hopes for a Section 30 order. Even setting aside all the other objections to the Section 30 process, how can anybody be so naïve as to suppose a government which shows such brazen contempt for democracy might be trusted to behave honourably in the conduct of a democratic process?
If Nicola Sturgeon is so averse to confrontation as to deny what is plainly stated by the UKSC judges then she cannot possibly lead Scotland’s cause effectively. If her failure to make any progress in eight years is not proof enough of her inadequacy as the head of Scotland’s independence movement then things such as the referral of the draft Referendum Bill surely does. I draw your attention to another portion of that address.
However, as I said back in June when I informed Parliament that the Lord Advocate had agreed to make this reference, it was always the case that in the absence of an agreement with the UK government, the question of the Scottish Parliament’s competence in relation to a referendum would end up in the Supreme Court – if not before legislation then certainly after any decision by Parliament to pass a Bill.
Note how she glibly talks of a referral before or after the passing of a Referendum Bill as if one was much the same as the other. Ever since the announcement of Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘plan’ at the end of June, the notion has been peddled hard that since referral to the UKSC was inevitable, it was better to get it out of the way. Nicola’s loyalist claque as even wont to claim that she had “wrong-footed the British government. She certainly surprised them. They probably couldn’t believe their luck. She’d let them off a very nasty hook. The equivalence between the two scenarios is false. The two situations ─ a pre-enactment and post-enactment referral ─ are massively different. And the differences are massively important. There’s little point in me going through the consequences and implications of the Scottish Government referring the Bill while it was still a draft. We can all see how that has worked out. All except our First Minister. What Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t appear to have done is think through the alternative scenario ─ first put the Bill through the Scottish Parliament and then let the British government challenge it in court.
I should make it clear that I should not be taken as endorsing the draft Referendum Bill when I write about it being put through the Scottish Parliament first. I would much prefer to have seen a proposal for a proper constitutional referendum. But what I’m really talking about here is not the Bill but the process of getting it into law.
So, the Scottish Government introduces a Referendum Bill to Holyrood. Let’s assume it passes, as it all but certainly would, given the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government majority. We must now ask that big question ─ what next? It is safe to assume that the British government would mount a legal challenge in the UKSC. The difference is that they would be seeking to strike down not merely a draft Bill, but an Act of the Scottish Parliament. The optics on this are already completely different. But it doesn’t end there. Instead of the Scottish Government compromising the sovereignty of Scotland’s people by accepting the UKSC as being superior to the people of Scotland, we would have had the British state insisting the Scottish people are not sovereign. Had the British government been forced to refer a Referendum Act to the UKSC they would have put themselves in the position of having to argue that Scotland is not a nation and that we have no right of self-determination. If the ‘plan’ involved provoking a reaction from Scotland’s people, then how much more effectively would popular ire be roused if the British political elite were to be seen to be denying not just Scotland’s democracy, but our nationhood?
In fact, so problematic would a British government referral to UKSC be that it is entirely possible they would opt not to do it. Especially if the referendum being proposed was guaranteed to have no effect. Why not just let it happen? There would always be the chance of a No win, which would a tremendous blow to Scotland’s cause. And even if Yes did win the British could simply ignore a result which the Scottish Government itself has declared meaningless.
The word ‘unsustainable’ is being used again in relation to the British state’s democracy-denying position. The trouble with saying their position is unsustainable is that they’ve already sustained it for eight years and there is absolutely nothing to prevent them continuing to do so. So, the UKSC has said that Scotland is locked into the Union while the British state holds the only key? Why would that trouble the British when that is precisely the situation they have been striving to engineer. They will be thoroughly pleased that, courtesy of Nicola Sturgeon, they have a Supreme Court ruling which confirms the very thing they want ─ a subordinate Scotland.
The consequences of the SNP leadership’s total lack of strategic thinking don’t end there. If the Scottish Government tries to introduce any kind of Referendum Bill now it would be immediately rejected as breaching the UKSC ruling. Whereas it was perfectly possible to introduce a Referendum Bill before, now it is impossible. Who has rendered it impossible? Not the UKSC! Nicola Sturgeon! The judges ruled in the only way they could given the nature of the Union. But they could only rule if asked to do so. Which Nicola Sturgeon obliged the British state by doing. What previously was questionable but doable is now definitely unlawful and impossible. The opportunity to pass a Referendum Bill has been squandered by our own First Minister. And still her loyalist claque hails her as a political genius. Madness!
here comes that question again ─ what next? Not much, apparently. Sturgeon herself is so bereft of ideas she’s punting the idea of making the next UK general election a plebiscite on independence. Or on having a referendum on independence. Or on having Nicola Sturgeon say she’s still hoping the British state will stop sustaining the position that is supposed to be unsustainable. For someone who places a high value on clarity, the FM is peculiarly unforthcoming about her plans. Let’s be frank! The notion of a plebiscitary election is a joke. As Richard Walker says, it is just too easy for the British government, the British political parties and the British media to scupper such an exercise.
Making a UK general election a de facto referendum is all but impossible when you are less than 10% of the British state and the other 90% is ignoring you and treating it as a normal general election. Then you have the problem of winning this de facto referendum. A difficult enough feat even if Nicola Sturgeon hadn’t raised the bar by insisting the independence parties must get over 50% of the votes as well as a majority of seats. And even if we overcome these problems and win, what have we won? What happens next after winning this de facto referendum? There is no reason whatever to believe that the British state would pay the slightest attention. They’d simply declare the result meaningless as people weren’t voting solely on independence but on the full range of issue that are to be considered in a general election. The vote in this de facto referendum now can’t even be a vote in favour of a Referendum Bill because, thanks to Nicola Sturgeon, no such Bill can be brought to Holyrood.
Obviously picking up on the First Minister’s vacuity, Richard Walker has nothing better to suggest than that we ‘endeavour to persevere‘. His advice is to keep plodding on with the gentle persuasion campaign strategy that has left Scotland’s cause in the doldrums for eight wearying years, with the polls flatlines since 2014. That’s it! Just keep trudging that treadmill! Trudging and plodding. Getting nowhere. That’s all that Nicola Sturgeon has left to us. To march to the FM’s tune is to march on the spot.
There are signs of a significant backlash against the Sturgeon doctrine of no confrontation even if it means no progress. Alongside the anger being expressed at the UKSC judgement and the British state’s not at all unsustainable position there is growing dissatisfaction with the way Sturgeon is handling the constitutional issue. Or should I say mishandling it? I suspect that dissatisfaction will grow to irritation and then anger as the independence can is kicked further and further down the road with us expected to go plodding after it like automatons. This shift in the public mood will surely be picked up by any of our SMP MSPs or MPs who retain the capacity to think for themselves. The concern that the backlash from Sturgeon’s UKSC blunder might hit their election chances might even prompt one or two to speak out. Once the full implications of the blunder are realised, there may even be further defections to Alba ─ although that is unlikely. There will, I suppose, be a widening realisation that #ScottishUDI is the only way. Will politicians and columnists now start to challenge Nicola Sturgeon on her ‘strategy’? That too I think may happen. Will it all happen fast enough? Probably not!
I shall be attending the AUOB event in Glasgow tomorrow. As much as my poor legs will allow, I shall march. I will not be a plodder. I will not trudge the treadmill of Sturgeon’s failed ‘strategy’. My anger shall power those aching legs. Not anger at the UKSC judges who did no more that state what we have always know about the Union. Not anger at the British political elite who are merely behaving in the only way the British political elite knows how to behave. My anger is reserved for those whose choices and decisions have left Scotland under the heel of the Union for far too long. Fuelled by that anger I shall stride purposefully towards the goal of restoring Scotland’s independence and damn all those who say I must be content to be a plodder.
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