If you believe in Scottish independence, then you must surely believe in the sovereignty of the Scottish people. This is the underlying principle of self-determination: that the decisions made about Scotland and the people of Scotland is best made by the people of Scotland. Whether it’s devolution, Home Rule or full-on independence, this is the principle which has driven us to the Scottish Covenant, the Claim of Right, the Devolution Referendum, the Scottish Parliament, and the Scottish Government.
So when the official results of the 2014 Independence Referendum showed 55% in favour of continuing within the UK, it was the duty of everyone who believes in Scottish sovereignty to acknowledge that result. It hurt, it stung, it broke our hearts, but we are democrats, and democracy means acknowledging the official results of a referendum. Yet even given the result, the fact that the referendum happened at all was a monumental victory for supporters of Scottish independence. For the first time in history, the constitutional status of the people of Scotland was affirmed by popular vote – it proved, once and for all, that the only people who could keep Scotland within the United Kingdom, or become independent from the United Kingdom, were the people of Scotland themselves.
The UK Government did everything they could to stop it. The UK parties blocked it every chance they had during the SNP minority administration, and they fought it every step of the way, even after the SNP’s historic majority in 2011. But the vote happened. Through the arrogance and complacency of the Prime Minister and the anathema of the media, they let the referendum happen – and nearly lost Scotland entirely in the process.
The winners of Better Together, quite reasonably, insisted that the SNP acknowledge & respect the result. And, despite having to deal with the reality of 80 years’ worth of campaigning just falling short in the most important moment of their political careers, they did. The SNP did not seek independence: their 2015 General Election manifesto was not fought on seeking a mandate for an independence referendum; their 2016 Scottish Election manifesto sought a qualified mandate for an independence referendum. The former First Minister didn’t announce UDI. He did not push for an immediate second referendum based on the falsehoods of the opposing campaign. He did not suggest that the massive surge in support for independence compared to only the previous year meant it was only a matter of time anyway. Respecting the result doesn’t mean giving up campaigning, or continuing to believe in something: it merely means you will not attempt to overturn the democratic decision made by the people.
Even avowed unionists know that just because the official results didn’t go your way, that doesn’t mean you have to shut up:
Since we’re shooting from the hip here, let’s make a few more things clear regarding mandates.
This line of thinking suggests that the sheer volume of numbers who participated in the Scottish Independence referendum means that the mandate of that vote is somehow more important than the mandate of a more recent vote. Yes, the official result of the Scottish independence referendum showed 2 million voting No. But 2 million out 3.6 million is still only 55% of the vote. In contrast, while “only” 1.6 million Scots voted Remain, that made up 62% of the vote. As soon as you start counting people who didn’t actually vote in a vote, you undermine the very nature of democracy.
Which is a bigger number: 55%, or 62%?
Which vote is more recent: the one on the 18th of September 2014, or the one on 23rd of June 2016?
And which referendum did the current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon comprehensively win in every single constituency she represented as First Minister?
You would think something as basic as this wouldn’t need explaining: it is vote share, not absolute numbers, which matter in a democratic vote. Plus, you aren’t comparing like for like: there are several reasons why the independence referendum had a higher turnout than the EU referendum. For one thing, 16 and 17 year olds, as well as EU nationals, were not part of the franchise – that’s already a fairly hefty chunk in terms of overall numbers. For another, the independence referendum was, by definition, a Scottish referendum, where Scots knew that their vote mattered; whereas in a UK-wide referendum, their vote would be subsumed into the UK-wide vote – and as we saw, even if everyone in Scotland who didn’t turn out to vote voted to Remain, it still wouldn’t have been enough to swing the final result.
Plus there’s the fact that democracy is not set in stone.
For all the insistence that the First Minister is somehow ignoring the democratic will of 2 million No voters (sorry, did we declare independence and I somehow missed it?) it’s amazing how brazenly MSPs from a certain party are doing exactly that to 62% of Scottish voters. Like it or not, Nicola Sturgeon is the First Minister of Scotland. The people of Scotland voted to Remain by 62%. She does not represent England or Wales, or the UK as a whole, but the people of Scotland alone. It is her duty to represent the majority will of Scotland – not the majority will of the UK. That is what she was elected for.
“But who will represent the poor 1 million Leave voters in Scotland?” Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the whole point of your perspective is that the UK vote is what matters – and didn’t Leave win the referendum? If you’re a Scottish Leave voter crying out for representation, then you have it on a UK level. You are being represented by Gove, Carswell, Hoey, and all the other victorious Leave campaigners in the UK Parliament, as well as the opportunistic UK Government Party MSPs who explicitly reject the 62% of Scots in favour of the 38% who are already on the winning side on a UK level. It’s hardly our fault that your representatives are making such a lousy mess of things.
There is one final, important thing: the 55% got what they wanted. They voted to stay in the UK. As a result, we stayed in the UK. There was no independence. Alex Salmond stepped down. Life carried on in Scotland as part of the United Kingdom, albeit changed forever. This time, the 62% are not getting what they wanted. They are being denied their democratic mandate by the very people who so eagerly accepted their mandate in 2014. And just like every year we got a UK Government we didn’t vote for, we’re told we just have to put up with it. And just like in 2014, we have to ask whether being in the UK is worth having that mandate overruled by our significantly larger southern neighbour.
If we had any government other than the SNP, that would be the end of it. Do you think Willie Rennie would’ve gone to Brussels to speak with presidents and commissioners on Scotland’s behalf? Could you imagine Kezia Dugdale putting together a task force to ascertain how to keep Scotland in the EU? Can you even dream Ruth Davidson daring to challenge the UK Government? No, they would’ve gone along with whatever the UK Government told them – if they told them anything. They wouldn’t have fought for the 62% any more than they would’ve clawed back all the overspend they sent back to the treasury: we’re just casualties of “democracy” in One Nation Britain.
It’s only a matter of time before parties which campaigned so vigorously for a Remain vote will now turn their backs on the EU – because the majority will of the United Kingdom is more important to them than the majority will of the people of Scotland. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but let’s just be clear as to what that means for the people they represent.