If you are clutching at straws, at least make sure they are real straws. The straw some independence activists had been clutching at was the notion of persuading Nicola Sturgeon to commit political hara-kiri by resigning and ultimately forcing an extraordinary general election as her colleagues in the pro-independence parties blocked the election of a new First Minister. This would have worked. By which I mean it could, in principle, be done. It all accords with the Scotland Act and parliamentary procedures. It is certainly possible to force an extraordinary election in this way.
The mistake many made was imagining that because it was possible it must be a good idea. Because it was feasible as a way of forcing an election, they supposed it would be effective as a cunning plan for having an independence referendum. They envisaged the election being a de facto referendum which would… what? What would this election in referendum’s clothing (or vice versa?) achieve for Scotland’s cause? Not independence, that’s for sure. I sincerely hope no more than a handful of deluded numpties imagined this de facto referendum could substitute for a formal exercise of our right of self-determination. It wouldn’t even serve as referendum never mind a proper constitutional referendum. It would be something less than the glorified opinion poll that was Sturgeon’s favoured idea.
Referendums are binary. Elections are not. Not ever. There is no way to make an election binary. Which is why we have both elections and referendums. I hesitate to say that referendums are always binary. All I’ll say is that if they are not binary, they won’t really work as a referendum is supposed to work. But that is another discussion. The exercise of our right of self-determination has to be a proper binary referendum. It has to be a democratic event which produces a choice and a decision. A choice between the two options offered, and a decision as to the next step(s) in the process by which that choice is implemented.
This de facto referendum would not function as a means of settling the constitutional issue. I suspect there are people out there (waaay out there!) who thought it might. The less said about them, the better. It wouldn’t work with a Scottish Parliament election. It would be even less effective with a Westminster election. The referendum proposed by Nicola Sturgeon for 2023 which she invited the UK Supreme Court to block wouldn’t have served as a proper constitutional referendum. Neither would a Section 30 referendum. In fact, there is not now and never has been any plan or proposal that would constitute a sufficient test of the will of the people in the matter of Scotland’s constitutional status. As far as Scotland’s cause is concerned, we’ve all just been farting around for the last decade or so.
The extraordinary Scottish Parliament election as a de facto referendum straw was just one of many straws being clutched at by those who aspire to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. As we shall see, it wasn’t even a real straw. Which hardly matters as the whole cunning plan has been knocked back by the SNP/Scottish Government. No surprise there!
We can speculate. What else is there to do. It’s not as if there’s a campaign going on. We can speculate about how things would have turned out if the whole dissolve the parliament and force an election then pretend it’s a referendum thing had happened.
First off, we would all have been obliged to vote for the SNP. We would have no choice. The shallow-minded SNP-haters will be jumping up and down at this. Unfortunately, they can’t jump up and down and think at the same time. So, they’ll never get it. Independence supporters would have had to vote SNP because that is the only vote that would count as a Yes in the de facto referendum bit of the election. You could vote Yes by voting for other parties. but those votes wouldn’t count. Actually, that’s not true. They would count. But as deductions from the Yes total, not additions to it. If you’re not too preoccupied with jumping up and down, think about it.
When the election is over, only one party will be the party of government. There might be another arrangement with the SGP, but that is unlikely. Because the referendum bit would have to work rather like a supermandate. What would constitute a Yes vote would be a working majority for the party of government with over 50% of the vote on both ballots. Achieving a Yes vote in the pseudo-referendum would require the same voting strategy as would be required to create a supermandate. But without the mandate.
The party of government would be the SNP. There’s no point in even discussing any other possibility. To have a chance of getting any other party in as the party of government would demand impossibly complex tactical voting on a scale that’s as good as impossible to achieve. And the risk would be great. Because it wouldn’t just be a case of getting this other party into government but getting them in with a supermandate. The chances of achieving that are far too remote for any sane independence supporting elector to take the chance. Especially as every vote for another party would be a vote deducted from 50% that would need to go to the winning party. To do anything other than vote SNP would put the whole de facto referendum project at risk.
The outcome would be another SNP government with Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister enjoying a much stronger position that she held before. She would have the biggest mandate to pursue independence ever. And she would be even more able to use that mandate as she sees fit. The outcome of a de facto referendum disguised as a Holyrood election could only be to replicate the situation we have now, but with Nicola Sturgeon having even more control. And with Nicola Sturgeon still committed to the Section 30 process.
Unless that SNP/Scottish Government was elected on a #ManifestoForIndependence! Absent a manifesto commitment such as I urged the Yes movement to force on the SNP for the 2021 election, it would just be more of the same.
The Yes movement declined to get behind the #ManifestoForIndependence last time. I see no reason to suppose it would be different if there was another Holyrood election next Spring.
All in all, it’s probably better that the de facto Holyrood referendum/election isn’t happening. Let’s see if we can find some real straws to clutch at.
The featured image is Clutching at Straws by Dave Crow, and that is all I know. I’d love to be able to give the artist a better acknowledgement but I have been unable to find any information beyond what might be gleaned from the link accompanying the image. You can see why I couldn’t resist using it.
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