There are three problems with this cunning plan to make the 2021 Holyrood election a referendum on independence. The first is list MSPs. The British parties are quite happy to have this device to ensure there’s almost always a place for their senior figures. But we can be sure that their attitude to would change dramatically if list MSPs provided the pro-independence majority. All of a sudden the British parties would find reasons to question the legitimacy of list members, no doubt pleading that the election also being a referendum created ‘special circumstances’. Records would be trawled for any disparaging comments about list MSPs made by independence supporters. The best of these would then be endlessly regurgitated by the British media in the same tedious manner as the ‘once in a generation’ nonsense.
Then there’s the oft-repeated but never explained notion of “the SNP surrendering some control”. It’s not at all clear what is meant by this. But we have to wonder how the democratically elected government might legitimately cede ‘control’ to anyone. The SNP administration has a mandate from the people of Scotland to govern in accordance with policies formulated and approved by the party membership and presented to the electorate. It can’t just do whatever it wants. It can’t just adopt the policy programme of a party with a lesser mandate. It can’t hand governmental powers to organisations with no mandate at all.
And why would they this, anyway? With that mandate comes ultimate responsibility. It is unreasonable to expect any party to take responsibility for things that are outwith its control. When it comes to the crunch and a Yes vote is in, it is the Scottish Government that will have to act on that vote. It is the SNP administration that will be required to initiate and conduct negotiations with the British government. They can only negotiate from a position that they ‘own’. They cannot possibly be expected to go into talks demanding things that they don’t want; things that the party as a whole has not agreed..
When the time comes, there will be one person facing the British Prime Minister across the negotiating table. And it won’t be Patrick Harvie or Robin McAlpine or Elaine C Smith. It will be Scotland’s First Minister. It will be Nicola Sturgeon. Ideally, she should go into those talks with the full weight of the whole Yes movement behind her. But she absolutely must have total confidence and belief in her position. she must be in full control of the negotiating process.
However, none of this really matters. Because if we wait until 2021 there is unlikely to be any such negotiation. There is unlikely to be a referendum. There may not even be an election. While it is true that “there is no Clause 2 of a written constitution which makes a consultative referendum illegal in Scotland”, it would be foolish in the extreme to assume that this will always be the case. Given the British state’s rather obvious determination to preserve it’s structures of power, privilege and patronage, it is plain daft to suppose they will not seize on any chance to lock Scotland into the Union. And Brexit offers just such an opportunity.
Leaving the EU opens up the possibility – perhaps the need – to constitutionally redefine the UK. Which, we must assume, opens up the all but certain prospect of Scotland’s constitutional status within the UK also being redefined. And why would be believe such redefining would be anything other than unilateral? Surely the behaviour of the British government over the participation of devolved administration in the Brexit negotiations makes it perfectly clear that there would be no more than token consultation, at best.
Long before the Holyrood election in 2021, the British government will legislate to make a consultative referendum illegal in Scotland. Or, at the very least, they will create insurmountable obstacles and impossible conditions. If the Scottish Government makes enough of a fuss about this, the Scottish Parliament will be suspended and direct rule will be imposed.
Realpolitik dictates that the new referendum must be held no later than September 2018. The Yes movement should be preparing for this. We don’t have time to fart about.
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