Some 40 years ago, a generation by my definition, I was a moderately enthusiastic follower of Lev Davidovich Bronstein, better known as Trotsky, and adhered to the theory of permanent revolution. Times have changed and my views have altered but it seems to me that in Scotland we are facing the permanent prospect of an independence referendum.
The vagaries of our first-past-the-post system for Westminster elections, combined with the sudden influx of tens of thousands of shiny-eyed zealots to the SNP, resulted in the virtual death of Labour parliamentary representation in Scotland in 2015 and the election of a swathe of nationalist MPs. It’s worth pointing out that the SNP amassed around 1.4m votes in the general election and got 56 seats while UKIP totted up 3.8m and gained one seat. Go figure as the Yanks say. While on the subject of numbers the Nat leadership now proclaims the independence referendum 55/45 result as a narrow defeat despite the fact that in any election such numbers would have been regarded as a landslide.
Come the Brexit result, Ms Sturgeon drags her high horse onto the stage, saddles up and proclaims that another independence referendum is highly likely. So it seems that the SNP definition of a generation is flexible. It can be 20 to 30 years when Eck is under pressure in a pre-referendum debate, or being questioned in a television studio back in 2014, but it now appears to be three to four years. Indeed he’s just predicted on Newsnight that one will take place in 2018. The justification for calling another plebiscite in Scotland? The extreme right-wing Tory government in Westminster not only wrenching us out of our historic association with Europe but also rejecting the 'reasonable compromise' put forward by our ever-helpful first minister.
This all plays into the perennial nationalist argument that Scotland has been ignored, talked down to and our interests betrayed. In reality the demands put forward by our first minister were incapable of being met by the Westminster government without conceding that Scotland separating from the Union is inevitable. The extreme sophistry on the part of the SNP leadership, however, lies in the fact that Scotland remaining in the single market, while the rest of the UK left, is not and never was in the gift of Theresa May but only could be granted by the EU itself and that is never going to happen. Ms Sturgeon’s only interest in Brexit lies in the extent to which she can use it to bring forward another Scottish referendum or, failing that, to further bolster the betrayal narrative in the minds of her supporters and the wider electorate north of the border.
Jim Sillars went on the record a few days ago in his opposition to another referendum any time soon. In his view it would be a bad mistake for the first minister to call one – and why? The economic uncertainty surrounding the negotiations for the UK to leave the EU and the many unanswered questions, like use of sterling, remaining from the last referendum. But really Ms Sturgeon should know that herself. She has after all repeatedly warned of the economic consequences, job losses and loss of trade for Scotland after Brexit. A union of some 40 years standing.
How will she explain to the Scottish electorate, during a future referendum campaign, just how Scotland will benefit from the SNP breaking up a union of some 300 years standing? If her answers are anything like the white paper on independence in 2014, she really has a big problem. Alex Bell, a former Salmond senior advisor, has since condemned the content of the white paper and suggested his former boss might like to apologise for foisting it on the Scottish people.
Another referendum in Scotland would be even more divisive than the one which took place a few short years ago. The Westminster government is unlikely to repeat the mistakes David Cameron made in agreeing to the last one e.g. allowing the Nats to choose the time frame, set the question and generally control the political agenda. The SNP will know on the other hand that many Scots will regard it as game over if the result is against separation once again. The SNP leadership has stated that older voters and those of English extraction largely contributed to the 2014 defeat.
Now an SNP councillor in East Lothian has suggested that it is time the party looked at excluding English voters from the electoral roll for the next referendum and allowing only Scots to vote. That is gerrymandering carried to an extreme position. Have these people no wider knowledge of politics in these Isles? Do they not recall what happened in Northern Ireland as a result of decades of widespread gerrymandering the electoral roll over there? Is that what they really want? A Scotland in which the binary question – are ye fur or agin us – is repeated time after time?
The conduct of our first minister and her immediate predecessor since 2014 has left much to be desired. As populists they are much in favour of using a referendum as a political tool. It means they only have to get lucky once and indeed by just one vote. To that end any means is justified and any statement they make is open to any interpretation they wish to put on it. Both were practitioners of the use of 'alternative facts' before Trump and his minions claimed credit for the current use of the phrase. To that extent they are strangers to the truth. Why would we take them at their word again?
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