By Alec Ross
Yesterday, following on from last weeks extraordinary General Election, Holyrood voted in favour of requesting a section 30 order. Which is good news, obviously. But I’m thinking – the bill was not about Scotland becoming independent but about having the powers to ask if it should (or shouldn’t) be, should we wish to ask the question at any time. That seems entirely reasonable, particularly given the last three years, the SNP majority in both houses, the fact that independence is now an established mainstream concept and the existence of an explicit manifesto to ask for exactly this in the event of a material change of circumstances – like being pulled out the EU against its wishes, and having previously been told that voting No was essential to ensure EU membership.
Particularly when last week pro-independence parties won over eighty-percent of the seats and 45% of the popular vote. In unionist logic, that isn’t a mandate to even ask a question but their 43% vote share and 56% seat share is a gold plated mandate not to ask the question but deliver what the hard Brexit they consider the answer.
In such circumstances, the mandate for eternal UK membership conferred by the 2014 membership is now dead – something that even some unionists are now admitting (although intriguingly more so in England rather than Scotland). It’s fascinating how some Scots retain such devotion to a union whose English members would happily jettison North Britain in the blink of an eye if it meant the promised lands of Brexit and Empire 2.0.
Yesterday’s vote means that nearly half of the people sitting in Holyrood don’t even believe in the most fundamental thing about Scottish Democracy – the sovereignty of the people of Scotland. So yesterday we witnessed Scottish MSPs, in the Scottish legislative chamber, gleefully saying that their fellow Scots cannot have a say to decide the nature and breadth of the powers of the parliament that those same fellow Scots pay for them to work in.
I often watch those opposition MSPs criticising the Scottish Government for (in their eyes) underachieving in areas that are either reserved or underfunded. It’s like taking the wings of an insect and then mocking it for being unable to fly. We end up with a situation where Scotland has two parliaments – one which broadly represents its interests, and one which exists to work against us. The second of these imposes policies that we want nothing to do with, while the first spends much of its time, talent and energies mitigating against the effects of this debilitating democratic deficit.
The sovereignty of Scotland’s parliament and its right to decide should be the baseline. And yet nearly half of the representatives of Scotland’s parliament demonstrably don’t believe that. Which begs the question. What are you for? And why are you here?
I cannot for the life of me fathom the mindset of any person living in Scotland, regardless of political belief, countenancing allowing themselves to be denied a choice for their future at the end of the Brexit process. It’s like we’re feart, like “och, I might be out some night and have to disagree with my pals”, or “I cannae be arsed spending five minutes walking to my local village hall to put a cross in a box that will stop me being dragged into years of further austerity”. I don’t get that. As an electorate, we need to seriously up our game. We can’t afford the self-indulgence of scunnery.
And yet every time I switch on my radio, the gleeful narrative is “aye, you might have won by miles in Scotland but so what? You’ve no say in London, no power. What are you gonnae do? Eh? Eh? And the people talking like this are Scottish politicians. Scottish people denying other Scottish people their democracy.
Which is exactly the point. That’s it, right there.
With an epic lack of self-awareness, they make the case for pursuing self-determination better than I could ever dream of.
But to last week’s vote.
The Conservatives – and to varying degrees the second and fourth largest UK parties ran their campaigns in Scotland on a “no to Indyref2” ticket. Every one of them got chased. The Tories in Scotland lost half their seats (and they only had thirteen to begin with). If you run a campaign on a “no to indyref2” ticket and fail abysmally, then one can only conclude that Scotland has spoken. And has said: “bring it on”.
And I get that there was some tactical voting going on, and that not all of the 45% voting for the SNP last week are absolutely up for independence. But I also know that come the 2020 independence referendum – and come it will, for a’ that – sixteen and seventeen year olds – like my eldest laddie – will vote for an independence in a heartbeat, and good for them. Because it is their future now, not mine. And so will those European Scots who were told they’d be booted out if they voted for self-determination. They are Jock Tamson’s bairns. We all are.
There are several fascinating things about last weeks vote.
Firstly, there’s clarity of a sort. Johnson has a majority. Brexit will happen. Appalling though that is, we know where we are, and we know our options. Luckily, Scotland has several.
And, secondly, Thursday was the moment when both Scotland and England effectively ended the union and decided to go their separate ways. And it almost felt quite amicable. In an age of fake news, it felt refreshing to reveal our hands.
The first obvious thing is that England wants Brexit and Scotland doesn’t.
Not all of the forty-five percent of the SNP vote on Thursday wanted independence, but they absolutely don’t want Brexit. Which means those folk who might not yet be fully convinced about independence knew their vote could end the UK but effectively voted for it anyway, because they believe EU membership is more important than continuing membership of a union that is nothing of the sort.
Likewise, tens of thousands of people in England voted for the Conservatives knowing full well that while meaning the end of the UK, at least they would get Brexit.
So last Thursday’s so much wasn’t so much an election as two referendums.
The vote in England was, in effect, the much vaunted people’s vote – the second vote on Brexit. You’d have to say that leaving the EU, come what may, it the settled will of the people of that country. We fear for them, but we wish them well. They’ll need it in when they’re being led by a right-wing administration emboldened by a big majority and free from the moderating influence of European progressives. But it’s up to them, and in any case we have our own agenda to pursue.
As for Scotland, Thursday was effectively a vote on self-determination and the day it decided it wanted to be an independent country. The 2020 referendum – and the ever-increasing number of mandates plus increasing political pressure means there will be a vote in 2020 – will simply affirm what was decided last week. You can’t hold back a river in spate forever.
So, at the end of a roller coaster year, how am I feeling? Actually, pretty good . I’ve never been more optimistic that we’re about to reclaim our place in the world as a normal, median sized, newly independent country.
This festive season, tak tent o’ sma’ things. Tak tent o’ each ither. Get some rest and tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet. Embrace everyone and everything. Because it’s later than you think.
Merry Christmas everyone. I’ll meet you further on up the road.