There Has Been A Material Change in Circumstances


I haven’t slept more than a few hours in the last three days.

An hour or two snatched in between flurries of activity.

It feels like life before 23rd of June 2016 was a dream.

A dream from which I’ve now awakened.

Hope this is coherent.


First of all, once again, thank you to the people of Inverclyde who voted to remain part of the European Union. The official result of the independence referendum was a statistical dead heat which was handed to No on the slimmest margin in all of Scotland: this was only after literally hundreds of voter forms delivered to the Electoral Commission from enthusiastic independence supporters in the Yes Inverclyde shop were rejected. This time around, there was no ambiguity:

24,688 – Remain
14,010 – Leave
24 rejected ballots

That made for a 64% Remain vote – a smidgen above the Scottish average of 62%, and the 8th largest Remain vote of all 32 Council Areas. Unfortunately, the UK broadcaster seemed to cross wires with that weird alternate universe again:




(Seriously, a whole quarter of an hour during a historic referendum where they announce the results backwards?)


(That’s better. Thanks, professor!)

I might do a post on the day (after I’ve done one on the General Election, and the Scottish Election…) but I will say this: all of the campaigners there made a decision not to celebrate the result, whatever it was. It just didn’t seem right, in the wake of Jo Cox, to cheer knowing that her children are motherless and her husband a widower. It was a sombre coda to John Mundell’s career as Chief Executive of Inverclyde Council – and, I think, reflective of the growing mood of the UK.


I always worried about how I would react to No voters turning to Yes. I feared I would be resentful: “why weren’t you there for us when we needed you? Why didn’t you listen to us? Why did it take this unmitigated disaster for you to get it?” I don’t take pleasure in being vindicated, knowing that no matter what happens, or indeed happened, history will still record Scotland as the only nation to ever reject its own independence.

Then it started, little by little, as people who reluctantly voted No said they might vote Yes “next time.” Others said they would be open to independence, it just wasn’t a good idea right now. And there are even a few proud No voters who were so aghast at the litany of broken promises that they became staunch Yes supporters following the 19th of September 2014. And I felt… joy. No “I told you so.” No “you should have listened to us.” No “too late now.” Because I realised that it so easily could have been me. I’ve been lucky, as I do not regret a single vote I’ve ever cast at the ballot – but I’ve made plenty of bad decisions. And I knew that the last thing anyone wants to hear from someone who shares their view is scorn.

Now that trickle is starting to cascade into a flood. Better Together activists, campaigners, solicitors, donors, historians, MSPs, candidates, former MPs, former First Ministers, and more either acknowledge that there has indeed been a material change in circumstances, or have outright pledged to vote & campaign for Yes. David Torrance says the SNP have been “completely vindicated” in their EU argument. Peter Mandelson said he wouldn’t blame the Scots if they sought a second referendum.

And yet, I still feel heartbroken for my friends in England & Wales, who don’t have the option Scotland has. I didn’t want independence this way.

Let’s say it all comes to pass: Scotland votes remain while England votes leave; a mandate for a second referendum is sought and passed; the result is a Yes vote, and Scotland’s membership of the EU continues as an independent nation while the rUK leaves. What’s the problem? The problem is that the people of Scotland chose to be independent not from a reborn sense of confidence and assurance, but because of a wrong done to them – being dragged from the EU against their wishes – and the fear and uncertainty such an action has done to them. The fear of leaving the EU may be enough to outweigh the fear of leaving the UK for those soft No voters. Isn’t that to be expected, given how enthusiastically and vigorously Better Together proclaimed that only remaining in the UK could guarantee Scots’ place in the EU?

Would I still take it? Of course I would. If this scenario causes the surge in support for independence needed to justify and win a second referendum, as polls have suggested, then we must make it work for us. But I could not help feeling cheated – cheated of a chance to rebuild an ancient nation not from anxiety over being isolated from our neighbours, but to shake off centuries of cringe and self-doubt to reassert our status as a polity, a country, a people. A referendum triggered by a Brexit would mean that our independence was made into a choice between two uncertain futures, where we would be forced to choose between two unions. How much better would it be for us to make the choice for ourselves, rather than be forced into it?

Nonetheless, I’ll take it. There has been a material change in circumstances. While the arguments haven’t changed – currency, borders, migration, trade, economy – the answers have changed. Why would we even entertain a currency union or sterlingisation with a depreciated pound? How will trade be affected without land continuity? Where will we put all the (welcomed) Brefugees given our housing situation? What will our new economy look like? And why on earth are we still even listening to Blair MacDougall?

We’re going to fight for it again. It will be different in some ways. In others…

The BBC is fighting for its very existence.

So is Scotland.

10 thoughts on “There Has Been A Material Change in Circumstances

  1. Jim Morris says:

    A choice between two uncertain futures… Drawing back from making this choice is choosing a future of certain misery. At least we are choosing for ourselves, not meekly accepting the tyranny and dictatorship of others.

  2. Dean says:

    I feel Scottish, British & European. This brexit madness has now forced me into the truly horrendous position where I need to choose.

    Do I feel more British or European? Either way my dream of a liberal, enlightened pro-EU Britain is dead. And I’ll be losing a sense of my identity regardless.

    So, do I now support indy? I honestly have no idea. And I was a firm ‘no’ before this. Everything has changed. And I’m very morose that it’s come to this.

    Plus I’ll add that I strongly agree with the sentiment of this piece regarding ‘indy but not like this’.

    • alharron says:

      Thanks for commenting, Dean. Following the No vote, I did hope that a liberal, enlightened pro-EU Britain could come. Perhaps the indyref itself could have prompted that change.

      I do want to say, while I didn’t share your dream of a liberal, enlightened pro-U Britain – I suspect one shared by many No voters – I deeply sympathise with what you’re feeling. I felt the world fell out from under my feet on the 19th of September 2014: how could people who voted No then and Remain now not feel an equal sense of devastation?

      • Dean says:

        Indeed. The idea that Edinburgh, the Athens of the north won’t be in the EU is sickening.

        Who knows, maybe Sturgeon can can find a middle way; keep Scotland in the EU despite us not being an independent member-state (I’ll keep on dreaming eh? haha)

        I’d add, the staggering lack of political leadership at UK level is alarming. Right now, there is a political vacuum that less savoury types like UKIP are filling. Only Sturgeon has shown coherent, planned leadership and planned reaction to a Brexit catastrophe.

  3. alharron says:

    Well, Greenland & Denmark are in a similar situation: Greenland is technically part of Denmark, but outside the EU, while Denmark is an EU member. The problem with that is the role of leaving part of the member state is reversed: here, the member state itself wants to leave, but parts of the the member state want to stay.

    Whatever happens, I’m heartened that even if the UK’s divided following this referendum, Scotland seems to be coming together to protect our place in the EU, regardless of their position on independence from the UK.

  4. […] determined activists. People who have suffered the agony of defeat and tasted the ecstasy of triumph; people who now have years walking the streets, tenements, crofts, roads, paths, hills, and islands […]

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