All To Play For

Scotland men’s football team may have taken the admirable decision to boycott the World Cup Finals, as it continues to occupy a moral high ground it has made its own since 1998, but that is not to say that the country has nothing to play for this week. Far from it.

Earlier this year, fulfilling a manifesto promise that delivered a majority pro-independence coalition in the 2019 Holyrood election, Nicola Sturgeon announced that she was referring the question of whether it was within the competency of Scotland’s Parliament to hold a fresh plebiscite on its right to choose a different future through independence to the Supreme Court.

I’ve previously argued that the manner in which the First Minister handled this was quite astute. By presenting the referral of the question to the Supreme Court as just another piece of government business – which it is – seemed to disarm her opponents. By delivering on a manifesto pledge without fanfare whilst acknowledging the potential legal obstacles she adroitly – if temporarily – took the question of Scotland’s right to choose out of the tiresome whatabootery that dominates our political discourse and placed it the forensic actualite of the law. Whatever one’s view of Scotland’s constitutional arrangements, it was a savvy piece of political manoeuvring that opened up three routes to a fresh vote – section 30, lawful referendum or plebiscite election.

This Wednesday, at 9.45am, the Supreme Court will announce its decision. The announcement is coming earlier than expected, which may or may not be significant. It’s possible that, like the 2019 decision over the proroguement they’ve reached an early, unanimous – and perhaps surprising – conclusion.

The arguments around the case are fascinating, but as far as I can tell there are broadly three possible answers to the question of Scotland’s right to choose: aye, naw, or “mebbes aye, mebbes naw” – although there may be more to it than that, and I’ve been considering the possible consequences of each scenario.

Firstly, let’s imagine it’s No.

In this scenario, Scotland is effectively being told that there is no legal means available to allow it to ask itself what sort of constitutional arrangements it wants to suit its needs. All we’ve have left would be political pressure, and an obvious question: what kind of voluntary union is one that you can never leave?

Then let’s imagine it’s Yes.

In that case, we can prepare for a fresh vote on October 19th 2023. Simple. Only it might not be.

The UK Government has repeatedly failed to respect the rule of law, with all its talk about lefty lawyers and enemies of the people. We live in a very different world from the one we occupied the last time we asked the question. The one-nation, muscular unionism of 2022 is a different beast entirely from its more collegiate 2014 predecessor, and it would be dangerously naïve to expect respect for democratic mandates from a political class that spends most of its time brazenly frustrating them.

Then there’s the “mebbes aye, mebbes naw” outcome, which essentially sees the Supreme Court send the missive back to Edinburgh without a definitive answer. “Come back when you’ve got an actual Bill”, essentially. This buys time for a UK Government short of the stuff, which is why they want it. Either the Scottish Government (or a backbench MSP) would need to bring a Bill forward, or the Lord Advocate would need to change her position and state that she now believes that the power to choose falls within the gift of Holyrood. In any case, we’d be no further forward, and in that sense it would be the least satisfying of the three judgments.

But, whatever the decision, it’s crucial that we don’t let the moment pass.

Whatever happens, Wednesday represents a highly significant milestone along Scotland’s constitutional journey. The evening of the vote will see rallies across Scotland’s towns and cities. It’s important that we show the world we’re still here. Never underestimate the power of symbolism. We’re still here. This matters.

In the end, it’s about us. We need to remember the words of Canon Kenyon Wright when he was asked what to say if the state said no. “We are the people”, he said. “And we say Yes”.

Take care good people. It’s later than you think. And I’ll meet you further on up the road.

2 replies »

  1. I’ll be sitting down to support both England and Wales today when they play their opening games.
    I can’t understand the petty attitude of my fellow Scots who back any opponent of England, unless of course they bear them ill feelings.

    • Friendly rivalry is as old as time and doesn’t mean you bear the other side any ill will. However English sports teams sometimes don’t do themselves any favours by displaying arrogance and an expectation of winning. Many independence supporters are English people living here and there’s a group English for Independence who take part in Indy marches. Most of us have no ill feeling at all for English people, just certain members of parliament…

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