This question, posted on Quora, isn’t really sensible. There can be no doubt that Scotland must have a new independence referendum before the UK exits the EU. Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t have a choice in the matter. Circumstances dictate the absolute necessity of a referendum no later than September 2018. The only issue exercising the First Minister’s political judgement is the timing of the announcement.
It is important to understand that Brexit is not the principal causal factor in this. There was always going to be another referendum. While accepting the result of the 2014 vote, we also have to recognise that it did not settle the matter. The No vote was won on an entirely false prospectus and by methods which were dubious in the extreme.
Restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status remains the determined aspiration of something close to half of Scotland’s population. Much as British Nationalists might wish it, the Yes movement isn’t going anywhere. Democracy is a process, not an event. There was always going to be another independence referendum because the democratic process demands it.
Having said this, it cannot be denied that Brexit is a major aspect of the context within which that democratic process is taking Scotland inevitably and inexorably towards a new referendum and dissolution of the Union. The fact that Scotland is being dragged out of the EU despite a decisive Remain vote (62%) stands as a glaring illustration of the fact that Scotland’s interests cannot ever be adequately represented within the UK. Brexit exemplifies the fatal flaws in the current constitutional settlement in a particularly forceful manner.
There must be a new independence referendum because the alternative is to accept that the democratic will of Scotland’s people counts for nothing. This conflicts with the First Minister’s solemn duty to the nation. That conflict can only be resolved by a plebiscite which affords the people an opportunity to assert their primacy and reject a political union in which the principles of democracy are always subordinate to the whims of a British political elite.
Just as Nicola Sturgeon has no choice but to honour the democratic will of Scotland’s people, so she is duty-bound to defend Scotland’s interests in all things and at all times. The office of First Minister requires her to stand against any threat to Scotland’s economic, democratic and social well-being. The role demands that Nicola Sturgeon do all in her power to protect Scotland’s economy, democratic institutions and essential public services. All of these are menaced by the imperatives of the British state.
Driven by those imperatives, the British government will seek to exploit the circumstances of Brexit in order to ‘deal with’ what is perceived by the British political elite – with perfect justification – as a challenge to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. Leaving the European Union necessitates the constitutional redefining of the UK. The British government will seize this opportunity to unilaterally redefine Scotland’s status within the UK – effectively locking Scotland into a political union without reference to Scotland’s people or our elected representatives.
As part of this effort to neutralise the wave of democratic dissent risen in Scotland, the British government will systematically strip Holyrood of its powers, transferring control from the democratically elected Scottish Parliament to an unelected and unaccountable shadow administration at the Scotland Office.
The so-called ‘Brexit power grab’ is the thin end of a very nasty wedge. Anybody who imagines that it will stop at powers relating to animal welfare and food standards is dangerously naive. There is every reason to expect that the ‘UK-wide common frameworks’ being touted will rapidly extend and expand until even Scotland’s precious public health service is in the hands of those who regard it as an asset to be stripped.
We know that these things will happen because British politicians such as David Mundell have made no secret of their intentions. We know that these things will happen because they are already happening.
We can be sure, also, that while emasculating the Scottish Parliament the British government will also introduce measures for the purpose of making an independence referendum ‘unlawful’ and/or unwinnable. If the democratic route to independence is likely to be used, it must be closed off. If the people of Scotland might presume to exercise their democratic right of self-determination, that right must be denied.
Nicola Sturgeon must be aware of the threat. As First Minister, she cannot ignore that threat. She must also know that the threat is not from Brexit, but from the political union which allows a British political elite to dispose of Scotland as may be expedient and with total contempt for the democratic will of Scotland’s people. The obvious and only solution is to dissolve that political union. A measure which must be ratified by Scotland’s electorate in a referendum.
Finally, we cannot disregard the matter of electoral politics. As well as be First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon is Leader of the Scottish National Party. A party which is unequivocally and unconditionally committed by its constitution to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. A party which has also become Scotland’s main party of government. She has a responsibility to the SNP’s 120,000+ members and all the voters who have given the party a mandate to govern Scotland. This mandate, and her duty as party leader, oblige Nicola Sturgeon to call a new referendum.
To squander that mandate and disrespect the principal aims and objectives of the SNP would be unthinkable. Almost certainly, it would also be electorally disastrous. Sturgeon must have at least half an eye on the Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2021. She is certainly cognisant of the precarity of the pro-independence majority at Holyrood and, therefore, of the SNP administration.
As an astute political operator, Nicola Sturgeon will have realised that one of the aims of the British establishment is to get the Scottish Parliament back under the control of the British parties, as was always intended. Only a relatively tiny decline in the SNP vote in 2021 would allow the British parties to take power – even if they had to form a ‘Grand Coalition’ in order to do so.
Failure to hold a new independence referendum would be catastrophic, not only for the electoral fortunes of the SNP, but for the status and authority of the Scottish Parliament.
Taking all of the foregoing into account, it is clear that Nicola Sturgeon must act. This leaves only the question of the form which this action takes and the timing of a public declaration.
There is no question that there will be a new independence referendum. Currently, there is a heated debate within the SNP and the Yes movement concerning the matter of when this referendum should be held. There is no debate about whether it should happen. On one side of this debate there are those who are concerned about the consequences of failing to secure a Yes vote in the referendum. They want to postpone the referendum indefinitely. Or, to be as fair to them as is possible, they want to defer the referendum until some some ‘optimum time’ which remains undefined, probably undefinable and certainly impossible to predict as would be required.
On the other side of the debate are those who recognise the threats described above. They are aware of the serious and imminent jeopardy facing Scotland. and they know that the consequences of the Yes side losing in the referendum are functionally identical to the consequences of not holding the referendum at all. In either scenario, the same fate awaits us. The only difference is that not holding the referendum makes that fate a certainty.
The imposition of a repugnant, anti-democratic ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist agenda can only be avoided by dissolving the Union. Nicola Sturgeon must begin this process with a view to having the dissolution affirmed by the people of Scotland in a referendum to be held no later than September 2018.
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