For some unfathomable reason, the former UKIP leader and arch-brexiteer Nigel Farage has been in my thoughts these last few weeks. Or, more specifically, his rather shambolic performances in several when he realised that the result that he’d campaigned for but perhaps not expected – a narrow vote in an an advisory referendum to leave to EU – had actually been delivered. There was no sense in his response, or that of the UK Government, that there was any desire to bring people together. Indeed, there was no sense of any sort of a plan whatsoever – which is probably why the damaging effects of an unnecessarily hard Brexit are now really starting to bite.
My hunch has long been that when Scotland’s independence is delivered in the next couple of years, Nicola Sturgeon will know precisely what to say, and I suspect that one of her primary concerns will be to reach out to the significant minority who voted to stay within the UK, and reassure them that they will not be left behind, that we are a broad church; that, if she continues as First Minister in the post-referendum era (something that isn’t certain – there will be new parties, new politicians, a written constitution and perhaps the dissolution of parties on both sides having lost their raison d’etre), she will be Scotland’s leader first, party leader second – something that she’s always been admirably clear on.
That mindset – that ability to read the room – has been very much in evidence this last month as Scotland’s independence endgame begins.
She knows that despite – or because – of the pandemic, the increasingly disruptive impact of Brexit and the ongoing cost of living crisis, people are a little shy of change. Which made her pitch of comparing a number of countries without Scotland’s plentiful resourcing outperforming and not just economically – a Scotland with the United Kingdom a very savvy piece of political oratory. And presenting it without the razzmatazz that was the hallmark of her predecessor and instead announcing it as just another piece of government business – which it is, after all – seemed to immediately disarm her opponents. You don’t need to be a supporter of either the First Minister or independence to acknowledge an unarguable logic delivered soberly and clearly, whilst acknowledging the reality that it could be legally problematic. This was a really, really clever piece of strategy.
In that context, what she followed the launch with last week shouldn’t have surprised anyone. But it did. And how.
Ok, I’ll be honest here. I never saw that one coming. Like, not in a million years. I mean, using a little known Scotland Act clause to refer the question straight to the Supreme Court and at a stroke shortening the process, removing any debate about legality (regardless of ruling) and guaranteeing three separate and different routes to a fresh vote: Section 30, lawful referendum or plebiscite election. So it turns out there was a plan B after all. And a plan C. It was brilliant.
And the consequences, already, are significant. Some critics, perceiving a lack of urgency and impatient for a fresh vote, said that the new announcement was just show, and that her heart wasn’t really in it. Wednesday’s announcement proved that, on the contrary, when she promised a new vote two years ago, not only did she mean it but she’d spent from then to now running down the options, concentrating on the detail and acting in a way that completely wrongfooted a Prime Minister further distracted by fresh scandals.
Seriously, she is playing them off the park.
For Yes supporters, Wednesday was the equivalent of anticipating a drab stalemate but instead watching your best player score a worldie from halfway. Incredible. Just brilliant. Game on. And the message couldn’t be clearer – we’re in it to win it, even if it means a defacto referendum in a general election in 2024 – or sooner, if Johnson goes – and it would be well nigh impossible for unionist parties to boycott a UK wide vote. But the real genius lies in the taking the legality of a referendum out the political bearpit and into the cold logic of law. And all those folk talking about Catalonia and wildcat referendums have suddenly gone awfy quiet.
The upcoming vote feels more prescient, and it will be interesting to see what if anything champions of the Status Quo offer as a side hustle.
It certainly can’t be that we’re better outside the EU, because everything knows that’s not true. And it can’t be that trade with our biggest neighbours will be problematic, because Ireland, daily, experiences a vastly different daily reality.
So while it would be wrong to say the events of the last few weeks have made independence inevitable – we must never stop making the case – the take home is that we now have three different clear routes to next October’s vote that will, finally, lead to to rejoining the world as a fully functioning, modern, democratic and self-determining country.
Let’s get this done people. And I’ll meet you further on up the road.