I, like other independence supporters, am of the opinion that a referendum on Scottish Independence needs to be held before the UK leaves the European Union. Others don’t necessarily agree – as is their right – such as Tommy Sheppard MP, who advised waiting until after the next Scottish Parliament elections to secure an “unconditional” mandate in his widely acclaimed Thomas Muir lecture. Two things should be noted: firstly, that he was giving his personal opinion; secondly, and most importantly, that he acknowledged that “This is what it looks like now – it might be different next week” from his perspective. Given what’s happened in the past year, his stance could change significantly, as Robin McAlpine’s did post-EU Referendum.
Here’s why I don’t favour post-2021.
Mr Sheppard explained his position:
The timing of how we move forward for another independence vote is now on hold until we can see with some clarity what a post-Brexit UK looks like and know of Scotland’s role within it.
Like I said, things can change but for now it seems to me that it is unlikely that we would be able to trigger another referendum before March 2019, and perhaps not even then. By then we will be two years away from the next Scottish Parliament election and, clearly, we would then have the option to seek a renewed mandate at that ballot.
Given the choice between getting a new, clear and unconditional mandate in 2021 or trying to resuscitate a heavily nuanced mandate linked intrinsically to Brexit, I know I would opt for the former.
I know also that this scares some in the Yes movement, who fear that pro-independence parties may lose a majority in the 2021 parliament and the chance of a further referendum may disappear.
To them I say: have confidence in your conviction. There is no reason why we cannot take support for independence to far greater levels than hitherto in the next four years.
Besides, there is no shortcut for this. If there are not the numbers to elect an independence-supporting Scottish Government, then there ain’t the numbers to win a referendum in any event.
In 2016, 480 (73.5%) MPs stated their support for remaining in the European Union, 159 (24.46%) for Leave. That’s a majority greater than any party in the history of the UK, albeit not quite as monolithic as MP’s opposition to independence in the previous parliament (literally only 10 MPs openly supported Scottish Independence). Even if you go by vote percentage, the total number of votes for registered Remain supporting parties* (48.7%) vastly outweighed the percentage for Leave supporting parties** (13.2%). Only if you consider a vote for the UK Government Party as a vote for Leave does that change (adding them brings Leave up to 50%) – and even then, over half of those constituencies were voting for an MP that was explicitly for Remain (186 to 135 Leave & 5 undeclared). That’s even before we get to the opinion polls, which showed much greater support for Remain than Leave in an election campaign which was dominated by holding a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. Linking support to a party or government directly to support to one side or another in a referendum is, evidently, not necessarily correlative.
But this is a moot point. Despite losing the 2011 majority, the Scottish Parliament has a stronger mandate for an independence referendum within this term than they did in 2011.
- 46.5% of Scots voted for a party with an explicit manifesto commitment to holding an independence referendum in the exact circumstances we now find ourselves – more than voted for the party in 2011 (45.4%), with an unequivocal manifesto commitment to a referendum, & notably more than the party which won the 2015 election on a manifesto commitment to hold the EU referendum
- Scots in 59 of 73 constituency seats voted a candidate of that party to Parliament – more than double & almost thrice their previous record (21), unprecedented in modern Scottish Parliament history, & a greater majority of constituency MPs than any UK Parliament in history
- 48.3% of Scots voted for parties which included manifesto commitments for an independence referendum on the regional list – almost identical to the previous election
- Future Snap General Elections notwithstanding, the SNP could go into a future independence referendum with 35 of 59 MPs on 36.9% of the Scottish vote (an outright majority of Scottish MPs, and still a larger percentage of the electorate than the UK Government won in 2015 for the EU Referendum) and the second largest number of SNP MPs in history; they went into the last referendum with only 6 of 59 on 19.9%.
Forget the Three-Piece British Party Suite’s crowing about the 2017 election where they still couldn’t take more than half of seats in Scotland combined. The Scottish Parliament has the mandate, and the fact the opposition partieshave been doing everything in their power to undermine or even deny it speaks volumes. Time was, they tried to stop the referendum in secret, while pretending to support it in the interests of democracy – now, they cannot hide their resolute denial. We cannot guarantee we will get that mandate again – and the EU Referendum shows the folly in comparing party political results to constitutional ones.
So, realistically, I think those who seek independence need a plan which works backwards from 2021.
That anti-independence commentators like Chris Deerin and politicians like David Mundell, Ruth Davidson, and the Prime Minister herself suggest the SNP should do exactly that is reason enough to reconsider.
Still, there’s a more democratic reason: the people of Scotland voted in 2016, and they voted for a party which offered the option of an independence referendum in the event the UK leaves the European Union against the wishes of the people of Scotland. To postpone a referendum to get yet another lock – what would this be, a quadrupal lock? – is wasting time, because our opponents will never respect our mandate. They didn’t respect the 2014 result when they nixed SNP suggestions for the Smith Commission; they didn’t respect the 2014 result when they voted down every SNP amendment to the Scotland Bill; they didn’t respect the 2014 result when they decided that the voice of Scotland counted for nothing compared to the voice of England. Why on earth would you presume they would respect a new mandate? Why would you validate their disrespect by even suggesting that waiting until 2021 would be for the best?
But there’s a much more urgent reason, and it’s the reason I supported Remain in the first place: if we hold a referendum after the UK leaves the EU, then I genuinely believe you are betraying every EU citizen living in Scotland, and throw everyone living in Scotland at the mercy of an unfettered, emboldened UK establishment which will stop at nothing to ensure it retains ultimate control over all these isles – and I mean all of them.
Remember what Nicola Sturgeon said on the morning of 25th June 2015?
“You remain welcome here, Scotland is your home and your contribution is valued.” There’s no equivocating. There’s no compromising. Nothing about trying to get a better mandate, or about having to wait over two years after the nightmare critics said leaving the EU would be have already happened. We can’t afford to prevaricate with our fellow citizens on woolly ideas of preferable timing and fantasy mandates: you think the UK Government will happily let us conspire to destroy the British State, as they are intent on destroying the rights and advances the people of Britain fought for over the century?
This is the reality of what our European brothers and sisters are going through right now in our kindred nations, before the UK has even stepped out the door.
I don’t feel welcome here anymore…
It’s like staying at someone’s house and you definitely outstayed your welcome – that’s how I feel…
I enjoy the diversity of people and culture here – nothing and no one is the same, I have made many friends from all over the world. I love the UK…
Someone sprayed ‘GO HOME’ on a Polish shop near me. Racism has shot up, I started noticing at work … I had few passengers arguing between each other. My mum had an incident where she was on a bus with my two-year-old sister, where a guy said ‘f**k off, go back to your country you b****, if not I will stab you’. Maybe this guy was not mentally stable, and it was reported to the police, but in 20 years of living in the UK I never heard anyone be racist to me or my family. Since the referendum it has all come out..
It’s like the world is going backwards now and everyone wants to shut its doors.
Perhaps my friends, colleagues and I were too naive and didn’t think it would actually happen but once it did, it had a huge impact on us. For the first time we felt unwelcome here.
I miss living in London and I am extremely concerned for its future.
I am hopeful that once the dust settles and a reasonable deal is struck with the EU, freedom of movement will be preserved and us Europeans will still be able to freely work and live in the United Kingdom. I do hope to be able to move back in a few years.”
– Matteo Mencarelli
I was offered a job in my field in the Middle East, and the uncertainty of whether or not I would be able to build a life in the UK after Brexit was definitely part of the decision to accept. I am very worried for my friends who are still there, both EU citizens and UK citizens. The EU citizens are in a very insecure position at the moment, as most of them haven’t been there for five years, so might be told to leave after Brexit – the same situation I faced when I was there. For UK citizens, especially many very international oriented ones, Brexit will cost them opportunities to work and study abroad.
– Eva Scheffer
But sure, let’s build on our foundations, form a new campaign, work with what we have, while we try to mitigate the horrors visited on us by a government which a United Nations Task Force has condemned for its cruelty to its own citizens, cosies up to a United States being run by an administration which has repeatedly endorsed White Supremacist organisations and individuals, and can’t seem to do anything right. Meanwhile, people are leaving: those that are still here are destitute, starving, freezing, dying.
All the warm words from the First Minister will be meaningless if European citizens are forced to leave, either through financial, social, or legal pressure. Migration is a reserved issue, and the UK Government – and the official opposition – have both made their positions in regards to the EU and Freedom of Movement crystal clear. Likewise, mitigation of the worst excesses of the UK Government’s Austerity Cult won’t be much use to those who’ve died or taken their own lives. If we hold another referendum within this Parliament, sure, we might lose. But if we don’t, we lose anyway – and hundreds, thousands, will lose a lot more than a referendum.
But all this concern-trolling from supposedly helpful anti-independence folk is, in the end, just more noise. This is another iteration of “SNP leader to kick referendum/independence into the long grass,” eager to twist compromise and caution into fear & reluctance. Independence supporters are free to have their own ideas on when the best time for the next referendum should be – but it’s coming. Even Ruth Davidson’s party seem to be acknowledging it:
It ain’t about confidence, conviction, or shortcuts: it’s about the reality of what happens next. How much longer do we “wait and see” before it’s too late to stop the slide down to the cliff edge? At what point does caution become imprudent – and irreversible? Even the best-case scenario promises to ride roughshod all over Scotland’s democratic wishes: is voter fatigue – the vast majority of which is, of course, entirely down to the UK Parliament, not the Scottish Parliament – really a justifiable reason for delay when the stakes are so high?
We don’t have the luxury of wanting a referendum. I don’t want a referendum. But we have a mandate for this parliament: we have a responsibility to carry out manifesto commitments. Anything less is a betrayal of the EU citizens who blessed us by calling Scotland their home, a dismissal of our democratic decision in 2015, and actively playing into the hands of those who want to stop independence at all costs. This is not because I’m “impatient,” or because I’m some sort of masochist who actually enjoys bunions and papercuts and sore throats from campaigning and canvassing. This is because our futures depend upon it.
A lot of folk were galvanised by Mr Sheppard’s speech. Many said it revitalised them, rejuvenated them, made them want to get out campaigning again. Good. We’ll need that energy – whenever the next referendum comes. We have different dates in our dream, but the dream’s the same for all that.
Hey, the old ones speak of winter, the young ones praise the sun, and time just slips away
Oh, running into nowhere, turning like a wheel, and a year becomes a day
Whenever we dream, that’s when we fly, so here is a dream, for just you and I
We’ll find the sacred heart somewhere bleeding in the night
*Labour (30.4%), Liberal Democrats (7.9%), SNP (4.7%), Green (3.8%), Plaid Cymru (0.6%), Sinn Féin (0.6%), SDLP (0.3%), UUP (0.4%)
*UKIP (12.6%) DUP (0.6%)