The Union is not an option!

Imagine I had the power to decree that your vote only counts if I agree with it. Imagine I had the power to stipulate all that your democratic choices are always conditional on my approval. Imagine I told you this stipulation would be enshrined in the constitution. Would you,

  1. Laugh in my face
  2. Spit in my face
  3. Punch me in the face

While the last of these would surely be considered excessive, and the second socially unacceptable, none of these adverse reactions would be deemed irrational. Generally speaking, it would be considered quite natural that you should forcefully reject such an anti-democratic proposal.

And yet this is precisely the situation that British Nationalists insist we accept. As a voter in Scotland, you are expected to meekly accept that your vote only counts on those occasions when it coincides with the vote of your counterpart in England. We are told we must accept, without demur, a constitutional arrangement whereby one voter in England can effectively cancel every vote cast by a citizen of Scotland.

Let’s say there are 4,000,000 voters in Scotland. Suppose all of them vote in a binary poll for ‘White’. In England, the corresponding 4,000,000 voters also vote ‘White’. So far, so good. But the 4,000,001st voter in England votes ‘Black’. Instantly, the votes of every single one of Scotland’s citizens are totally discounted. They are rendered meaningless.

Some will respond that this is just the way democracy works. The majority wins. But it is not democracy when the voters in one country can be outvoted by the voters in another.

The 2016 EU referendum was a particularly egregious example of this happening in the real world rather than in the realm of the hypothetical. It was far from the first instance. As far as UK Governments are concerned, Scotland only rarely gets what it votes for. But, because it was as binary as our hypothetical illustration, the EU referendum brought this grotesque constitutional anomaly into stark relief.

This anomaly is very much enshrined in the British constitution. It is often pointed out that the UK doesn’t have a written constitution. It would be more correct to say that the UK lacks a formal, coherent constitution. The constitution, such as it is, will be found scattered throughout a huge body of statutes, treaties, conventions and precedents. The Acts of Union are an important – I would contend crucial – component of that dispersed, vague, ambiguous and highly ‘elastic’ constitution.

It is the Union which gives effect to the situation described at the start of this article. It is the Union which creates the circumstances in which Scottish votes only count to the extent that they concur with at least the same number of English votes.

Unionists and British Nationalists will argue that this is no more than democracy in action. The majority wins. The minority is left to suck it up. In the British political system, it’s winner-take-all. If you’re not first past the post, you’re nowhere. But this argument absolutely requires that those making it are able and willing to completely deny Scotland’s status as a nation, as well as the observable reality of Scotland’s distinctive political culture. The grotesque constitutional anomaly embedded in the Union can only be rationalised by regarding Scotland as but a ‘region’ of a ‘One Nation’ British state. Or ‘Greater England’, as it is often called.

By accepting the Union one accepts that Scotland is no more distinct from England than any one of that nation’s counties. One is also accepting that there are (at least) two classes of voter; and that the lesser of these is the Scottish voter. The Union truly is a constitutional device by which the people of Scotland are denied the full and effective exercise of their sovereignty. The Union is a denial of that sovereignty in favour of the sovereignty of a divinely-ordained monarch whose powers are administered by an executive which, to the limited extent that it can be described as having been elected, is the choice of England’s electorate only. Said executive operating under the auspices of a parliament which is massively dominated by England’s elected representatives.

Needless to say, I do not accept any of this. I do not accept the denial of popular sovereignty. I do not accept the sovereignty of ‘the crown in parliament’. I do not accept the democratic legitimacy of a parliament which is neither elected by nor accountable to the people of Scotland. I utterly reject the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

One would expect that, while she would doubtless wish to express the foregoing in her own way, the leader of the Scottish National Party would be in pretty much full accord with these sentiments. But I’m not so sure.

Nicola Sturgeon describes a so-called ‘people’s vote’ as “the only option, within the UK, that would allow Scotland’s democratic wish to remain in Europe to be respected.” She might well have added, “So long as England’s voters agree!”

Why would we want a second EU referendum? Scotland voted Remain. Decisively! Who in Scotland is clamouring for a chance to change their mind? A second EU membership referendum has only one purpose – to afford the people of England a chance to change their collective mind. Why does our vote only count if voters in England ‘ratify’ it?

Why aren’t Scotland’s voters worthy of respect in their own right?

I would be delighted if our First Minister were to explicitly acknowledge the subordinate status of Scotland and its people withing this benighted Union. But I am perplexed and concerned that, by actively supporting the idea of a new EU referendum, she appears to be accepting all the things that I, as a lifelong advocate of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status, categorically reject.

Seeking England’s endorsement of our democratic choice to remain in the EU should not be an option at all for those who wish Scotland to be a normal independent nation once again. If that is the only option “within the UK”, then remaining within the UK cannot be an option. It is time to #DissolveTheUnion.


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Why are we waiting?

Ian Blackford is undoubtedly correct when he says that “there is no such thing as a good Brexit“. It is certainly the case that there is no form of Brexit that negates the democratic will of Scotland’s people, who voted decisively to remain part of the EU. There is no form of Brexit which does anything other than demonstrate the British state’s contempt for Scotland – and for democracy.

So, what is unclear? What might be revealed by this ‘clarity’ we’re told we must wait for? What might we see when the “fog of Brexit clears” that is any different from the festival of incompetence we’ve watched spiralling into a catastrophic fiasco over the last 30 months?

What are we waiting for?

It is understandable that the SNP does not oppose a so-called ‘People’s Vote’? Opposing the people’s right to directly vote on fundamental constitutional issues is not a good look. Anybody who has watched British Nationalists “becoming increasingly strident, increasingly shrill, in their insistence that there must not be another Scottish independence referendum” knows just how ugly such anti-democratic rhetoric can be.

But is supporting calls for a ‘People’s Vote’ any better? Is it appropriate for the SNP to participate in a campaign to revisit the UK-wide Leave vote? What would be the purpose of a new EU referendum? If the purpose was to allow the people of Scotland an opportunity to reconsider an earlier choice in the light of significantly altered circumstances, then demanding a ‘Peoples Vote’ would be democratically warranted. But there is not the slightest indication that the people of Scotland want a chance to change their minds. Or that they would do so given the opportunity. In fact, the signs are that Scotland would vote Remain by an even bigger margin than the original 62%.

The only purpose of a ‘People’s Vote’ is to allow England to have a change of heart. By supporting a new referendum on EU membership the SNP is effectively saying that they are happy for Scotland’s fate to once again be placed in the hands of voters in England. The party might insist that Scotland’s vote in such a referendum be respected. But that isn’t going to happen. It isn’t going to happen because the Union absolutely requires that Scotland’s democratic will be subordinate to England’s. Just as it absolutely requires that Scotland’s interests must be subordinate to those of the British state. The very best that we could realistically expect is an assurance from the British political elite that Scotland’s vote would be ‘taken into consideration’. And we all know what such assurances are worth.

The SNP should have taken a neutral position on a ‘People’s Vote’ – neither supporting nor opposing. It’s England’s Brexit. It’s England’s problem. If they want a fresh vote on EU membership in the hope of resolving the problem, let them get on with it.

The position that the SNP has taken – actively demanding another vote – looks like nothing more than another delaying tactic. Another way of putting off effective action to resolve the real constitutional issue facing Scotland. Not Brexit, but the Union which denies the people of Scotland full and effective exercise of their sovereignty.

Unless and until we #DissolveTheUnion, the British state’s contempt for Scotland made so egregiously evident by Brexit will continue. Ian Blackford says,

It is the job of the Scottish Government to protect the interests of Scotland.

What are they waiting for?


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Women against democracy!

There is a powerful and disturbing irony in the fact that, women having fought so hard for so long and at such great cost to secure the right to vote, it is now women who are leading the clamour to have this right curtailed or denied.

Ruth “Queen of the BritNats” Davidson long since established herself as the leading anti-democracy campaigner in Scotland with her shrill, demagogic demands that the Scottish people be denied the right to choose the constitutional status of their nation and the form of government which best suits their needs.

Now, Davidson’s boss – Theresa May – is proving equally strident in her insistence that people across the UK should not have the opportunity to make an informed choice about leaving the EU. Or, at least, a marginally better informed choice than they were presented with in 2016.

The anti-democratic nature of British Nationalism was strikingly revealed last week when disgraced MSP and total bollard, Annie Wells, responded on behalf of the British Conservative & Unionist Party in Scotland (BCUPS) to the launch of the Scottish Government’s public consultation on prisoner voting. In a Tweet seething with self-righteous rage, Wells boasted that “we [BCUPS] are the only party that oppose prisoners having the right to vote”.

I don’t know if this boast is true. What I do know is that Wells doesn’t much care about such niceties as truth and accuracy. But the remark is illuminating anyway. Note how Wells acknowledges that voting is a right. And how ready she is to deny that right with all the vehemence she has left over from supporting her boss’s anti-democratic campaign against a new independence referendum.

Set aside, for a moment, the fact that this relates to persons incarcerated for criminal acts. A right is a right – as Wells’s boss’s boss might put it. While talking of voting as a right, Wells treats it as a privilege. Something that is in the gift of established power; to be gracious granted or spitefully withheld according to the whim of those who wield that power.

In a true democracy, the right to vote is absolute and inalienable. It is a necessary and ineluctable function of citizenship or qualifying residency. Any working definition of democracy must start from the assumption that everybody has the right to vote. The right to vote is not granted and does not need to be claimed or won. It is as much part of the individual born into a truly democratic society as their skin.

From the default assumption that all persons own the right to vote, an argument must be made, under rules set out in the constitution, for withholding this right from defined groups or specified individuals. It is trivial to argue that the right to vote must be rendered functionally inoperative in the case of infants. Nonetheless, the argument must be made. Qualifying as a true democracy demands that the right to vote is in no circumstances withheld lightly.

It is less and less easy to argue that the right to vote should be withheld from individuals as they get older. Strong counter-arguments can be made in the case of persons aged twelve. There are no rational and persuasive arguments for withholding the right to vote from persons aged sixteen.

Once an individual has reached the constitutionally established age at which their right to vote ceases to be withheld, any argument for withholding that right must apply to the specific individual. Any blanket withholding of voting rights across a group is a breach of individual human rights and definitively undemocratic.

Annie Wells expresses pride in being part of a campaign to impose just such a blanket ban. Her attitude, and the attitude generally evinced by British Nationalists, is that voting is a privilege. More ominously, she espouses the principle of denying this ‘privilege’ to groups delineated, not by any human universal such as age, but by criteria determined by the state or its agencies. Groups such as that labelled ‘prisoners’.

Labels are cheap. I’m sure Annie Wells has an abundant supply of them. You might even find that you are already wearing one or more of them. Just such a discovery was made in the wake of the 2014 referendum by a group which the British establishment labelled ‘Scottish MPs’.

Annie Wells. Ruth Davidson. Theresa May. They shame the memory of such as Flora Drummond, Emily Wilding Davison and Emmeline Pankhurst.


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How Scotland invited Brexit

peoples_vote_logoOf course a Remain vote in Scotland won’t be respected! In the unlikely event that Scotland for a People’s Vote get their way and a second EU referendum is called, Scotland’s democratic choice will be treated with the same contempt as previously. Why would anyone imagine that it might be otherwise? The abiding purpose of the Union is to serve as a constitution device by which the sovereignty of Scotland’s people can be denied. Is it really credible that the political elite of the British state would have the power to totally discount inconvenient democratic votes and not use that power?

How often must it be pointed out that Brexit is not the problem? Brexit is a symptom. The Union is the problem. It is the Union which makes it possible to impose Brexit on Scotland against the democratic will of Scotland’s people. Just as it is the Union which empowers the British state to impose on Scotland austerity and the bedroom tax and the rape clause and Trident and Iraq and Universal Credit and a whole catalogue of other abominations which are politically alien, economically damaging and socially corrosive.

None of these things would be possible if the people of Scotland were able to fully and effectively exercise the sovereignty which is theirs by right. They only happen because the Union makes it possible. This affront to modern democracy is the ineluctable outcome of the political union bequeathed to us by the predecessors of today’s British ruling elite. In a democracy, politicians only have such power as the people allow them. That archaic and anachronistic political union, devised for purposes which had absolutely nothing to do with the welfare of Scotland and its people, has provided British politicians with an extraordinary power. A power which is the very antithesis of democracy. A power which is, in essence, anti-democratic.

Over the decades, that power has been used, abused, honed and adapted. It has evolved as society and politics has evolved. But always in such a way as to maintain the power to deny the sovereignty of Scotland’s people.

This power was affirmed, and augmented, in 2014 when the people of Scotland were harried, cajoled, intimidated, induced and deceived into voting No in the first Scottish independence referendum. In doing so, they not only registered their acceptance of the grotesquely asymmetric and self-evidently dysfunctional Union, the actually went further by effectively granting the British state licence to do as it pleased in, to and with Scotland.

That is why Brexit is happening. Because we, the people allowed it.. As a nation, we invited it. It doesn’t matter whether you voted Leave or Remain in 2016. Because in 2014 Scotland voted to render your vote meaningless.

Of course a Remain vote in Scotland won’t be respected! As far as the British state is concerned, we squandered our right to be respected when we voted No.

Which still leaves the question of what the Scottish Government’s position should be on a so-called #PeoplesVote. The choices are, to oppose it, to support it or to remain passively indifferent to it. The First Minister has gone for the second option. One must suppose she did so after much consideration and consultation with her advisers. In a development which will shock precisely nobody, not everyone agrees that this is the right choice.

Pete Wishart MP is one senior SNP figure who has expressed misgivings.

I have big concerns about supporting a second Brexit vote and I am particularly anxious about supporting such a vote without any guarantees that our choice in Scotland will be respected next time round.

Well! He’s had his answer on that one! He got it from John Edward, speaking on behalf of Scotland for a People’s Vote. Responding to questions about what would happen if Scotland again voted Remain and the UK voted Leave he said,

If that happens, that happens and a decision would be taken after that.

Glossing over the unpleasantly dismissive tone, this would seem to rule out any kind of assurance that Scotland’s democratic will would be respected. And it raises the question which is fundamental to all of this. Who decides? When John Edward says that a decision on whether to respect Scotland’s vote would be taken after the event, who does he envisage making that decision? Who else but Westminster! Who else but the British political elite which, citing the Union and the 2014 referendum result, asserts a veto over Scotland’s democratic will.

What the Union means, given the overweening power of the British executive, is that the British Prime Minister can overrule the whole of Scotland. Your vote only counts if Theresa May permits it. Is that democracy? Is it the democracy you want? Is it the democracy to which you are entitled?

John Edward goes on to say,

This is a … discussion today on a People’s Vote on Europe, on nothing else. It’s not a party political movement. It’s not anything to do with the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom. This is solely about a People’s Vote.

With all due respect to the former head of the European Parliament Office in Scotland, this is the most appalling drivel. It is ludicrous to suggest that the constitutional question of the UK’s membership of the EU can be isolated from the constitutional issue of whether Scotland remains part of the UK. The two are inextricably linked. Each has huge implications for the other. It defies all sense to imagine that a “People’s Vote” can possibly be abstracted from the matter of the “constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom”. John Edward himself acknowledges the inseparability of the two issues when he assumes that Westminster will decide after the vote whether Scotland’s choice is to be respected. Westminster is only able to assert this veto over Scotland’s democratic will because of the “constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom”. The British political elite can only trample all over Scotland’s democracy because the Union affords them the authority and the justification for doing so. The Union is the problem!

Pete Wishart’s concerns are valid. Self-evidently so. Because, while Scotland for a People’s Vote has no power to offer the guarantee that he is looking for, John Edward’s remarks on the subject are sufficiently redolent of the British state’s attitude that we may, for present purposes, treat his as the voice of the British political elite. There will be no guarantee that “our choice in Scotland will be respected next time round”. To be honest, I suspect Pete knew the answer before he asked the question.

But are those concerns, valid as they may be, reason enough to object to the First Minister’s decision to support a #PeoplesVote? I don’t think so. As I have stated repeatedly in the context of British Nationalist efforts to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination and prevent a new independence referendum, democracy is a process, not an event. It is never a good look to be demanding that people should not have a vote. As has been amply demonstrated by Ruth Davidson’s shrill and borderline despotic ‘No to indyref2!’ campaign.

By mounting a ‘No to #PeoplesVote!’ campaign, Nicola Sturgeon would invite discomfiting comparisons with anti-democratic British Nationalists. Best to avoid that.

Opposing a #PeoplesVote was not a viable option for the First Minister. It would risk her looking too much like the Tories. And, attracted as I am to the idea of remaining detached and indifferent, taking no position would risk looking as vacillating and indecisive as British Labour. On balance, supporting a second EU referendum was probably best.

There are other arguments, of course. Pete Wishart also raises the worry that, should a #PeoplesVote set a precedent, this precedent would be used against the independence cause. He envisages a problematic situation following a Yes vote in the next independence referendum.

… unreconciled Unionists would be working non-stop from the day after the referendum to ensure that a successful outcome would be overturned. Every apparatus of state would be deployed and they would ensure that the worst possible “deal” would be offered to the Scottish people in the hope that their Union could be rescued.

There are several things wrong with this scenario. Not least, the notion that Scotland would inevitably be the weaker party in negotiations with the British state. I find no good reason to suppose that this would be the case. On the contrary, I reckon Scotland would be in an extremely strong position.

But the ‘confirmatory referendum’ problem is very easily resolved. In fact, it won’t even be a problem. Because there must be a second referendum in any case. There will have to be a referendum to approve Scotland’s new written constitution. Those “unreconciled Unionists” would be demanding a referendum that was already going to happen. Not that this can be expected to stop them. Looking ridiculous has never been a deterrent before.

Pete Wishart also exhibits the very mindset that we must rid ourselves of if the Yes campaign is to succeed. In the above quote he approaches the issue from the perspective of ‘us’ trying to sell or defend the idea of independence. We need to turn that on its head, We must force ‘them’ to sell and defend their Union. Given what has already been observed about the nature of that Union and its deleterious implications for Scotland, that would be a daunting task.

We may not have valued our sovereignty well enough in 2014. But once we take back the capacity to fully and effectively exercise that sovereignty, I dare any power to try and wrest it from us.


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The People’s Vote

peoples_vote_logoI have previously made it clear that I am extremely sceptical of the whole #PeoplesVote thing. Crucial questions remain, to the best of my knowledge, entirely unanswered. In this putative referendum, what would the options be? How might these options be made clear, concise and unambiguous? Who would be entitled to vote in the proposed referendum?

What would happen to the Brexit process while the #PeoplesVote was being conducted? Would the result be binding on the British government? What might be the EU’s reaction to each of the possible outcomes? the Would Scotland’s vote be treated with any less contempt than previously?

Would a #PeoplesVote referendum be capable of producing, not just a result, but a decision? Could this decision possibly be decisive enough to draw a line under the whole EU membership issue for a generation – even if only a ‘political generation’?

Despite this lack of clarity about whether a new EU referendum is useful, or even possible, huge numbers of people took to the streets to demand a #PeoplesVote. Those people cannot simply be ignored. Unless you’re the British political elite. In which case, contemptuously disregarding the wishes of the people is pretty much the mission statement. A new EU referendum isn’t happening unless Westminster allows it. And there is vanishingly little cause to suppose that the necessary level of support for the idea exists among MPs.

This poses yet another Brexit-related problem for Scotland. If a second EU referendum isn’t going to happen; or if it cannot be decisive; or if Scotland’s voice is to be ignored again, then the whole campaign is no more than a distraction from the increasingly urgent business of extricating Scotland from the Union.

Diversion and delay may well suit the British establishment. The British Tories are glad of any misdirection which takes attention away from their woeful handling of the whole Brexit fiasco. They might even suppose that the possibility of a new referendum lifts their bargaining power with the EU above zero. Pretty much the only advantage that the British side has is that both staying and going can be deployed as threats.

British Labour can’t make up their minds about how indecisive they are and so having even the vague possibility of a referendum that would take the burden of decision off their shoulders relieves them of the need to take a position on… what was the question, again?

Then there’s that fly in in the ointment of the British political system’s two-party purity, the Liberal Democrats. They are openly supportive of the #PeoplesVote thing. So you’d think they’d be keen to have MPs vote on it. But, given the likelihood that such a vote would go against them, maybe they’re not so eager after all. So long as nothing actually happens, they get to strike a pose as the people’s champions. They will want to enjoy the posturing as long as possible.

The issue has to be forced. And the only ones who might force it are the SNP group at Westminster. Hence, this Tweet from Angus MacNeil MP,

angus_macneilWe need to get this #PeoplesVote nonsense out of the way. We have to focus on defending Scotland’s democracy against the British Nationalist onslaught. Brexit is England’s choice and, therefore, England’s problem. The #PeoplesVote campaign is a desperate, flailing and all but certainly ineffectual attempt to deal with that problem.

The issue for Scotland is, not Brexit, but the Union which, by denying the Scottish people full and proper exercise of our sovereignty, allows the British state to impose Brexit on us – along with austerity, and Trident, and fracking and all the rest – in blatant, arrogant, imperious defiance of our democratic will. A #PeoplesVote does not address this issue in any way.

Let’s shrug off the distractions and get back to the serious business of bringing Scotland’s government home.


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Alpacas might fly

rennie_ram_llamaIt seems somebody called Willie Rennie is ‘challenging’ the SNP to support something called a ‘people’s vote’. Having done a bit of research, I can offer some clarification on the ‘somebody’. It seems that Willie Rennie is the Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for North East Fife and Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats – which is one of the British political parties squatting in Holyrood where a proper opposition should be. When he’s not ‘challenging’ the SNP to do something they’ve already done or never will do, Willie’s hobbies include ram wrestling and teaching alpacas to fly (see above).

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you much about the ‘People’s Vote’ – other than that, apparently, it must be capitalised. The term refers to a campaign, run by an organisation called Open Britain, which hopes to persuade the British government to hold a referendum on something called ‘the final Brexit deal’. To this end, they have a petition signed by lots of people. Presumably the people who are convinced they should have a vote on this ‘final Brexit deal’.

The real problem comes with trying to identify what it is that the capitalised ‘People’ would be doing with their capitalised ‘Vote’ supposing the capitalised ‘People’s Vote’ campaign were to succeed.

Referendums (I only call them ‘referenda’ when wearing a toga.) can be useful tools. Used well, they can enhance the democratic process. But, done badly, they are worse than useless. To be effective, a referendum must offer clear options – preferably no more than two. Ideally, the choice should be binary – yes or no – with the meaning of each being totally explicit. If the proposition can’t be put, without ambiguity, in twenty words or less, then it is probably too complicated for a referendum. If explanatory notes are required, then it is almost certainly too complicated for a referendum. If those explanatory notes run to more than a single side of A4, then trying to decide the matter by means of a referendum is just plain daft.

If a referendum is to be decisive it is essential that both options are spelled out in a manner which leaves no room for dispute. If one or more of the options is undefined then the referendum can produce a result, but never a decision. And, for the purposes of referendums, ‘poorly defined’ is defined as ‘undefined’.

Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum is illustrative. While it was perfectly clear that a Yes vote meant independence by way of a reasonably well described process, there was no indication whatever of what a No vote meant. Initially, it was said to be a vote for the status quo. As the referendum campaign progressed, however, all manner of stuff was hooked onto the No vote – up to and including ‘The Vow’.

In practice, a No vote meant whatever the British establishment wanted it to mean. This turned out to be pretty much the opposite of everything that had been promised. And something very, very far from the status quo that was originally offered. Thus, the referendum produced an indisputable result, but no decision. Because the No option was effectively undefined, a No vote in the referendum could not settle the issue. There was nothing to settle on.

A similar problem beset the EU referendum in 2016. While it was clear that a Remain vote meant ‘no change’, nobody had a clue what was implied by a Leave vote. Those running the Leave campaign least of all. Even leaving aside the added complication that Scotland (and Northern Ireland) voted Remain, the UK-wide vote produced a result, but not a decision. In the aftermath, every faction has sought to define the Leave vote to suit its own agenda. How often have you heard someone assert that they voted Leave, but they didn’t vote for one or more things from a seemingly endless list. By way of an example, the following is from the ‘People’s Vote’ website.

No one voted to be poorer, for our public services to suffer, or to pay a £40 billion divorce fee.

So, will another referendum sort out the problem? Can a ‘People’s Vote’ produce, not merely a result, but a decision? It seems extremely unlikely. For some, it may be a bit late to start – but let’s think about it.

The one thing we can say for certain about the ‘final Brexit deal’ that is supposed to be the subject of the ‘People’s Vote’ is that it will not be clear or concise or unambiguous or unequivocal. Given the impenetrable complexity of the issues, we may assume, with an exceptionally high degree of confidence, that it will be the very opposite of all these things. It won’t even be ‘final’. It can’t be. UK/EU relations will be in flux for years. Probably decades. Just as there has been endless wrangling about what Brexit means, so the precise meaning of the ‘final Brexit deal’ will be the subject of unending argument.

Even if it was possible for those voting in favour of the ‘final Brexit deal’ to know exactly what they were voting for, what they voted for would be likely to change even before their votes were counted. Even if the result favoured the ‘final Brexit deal’, there would be no decision. Because it would always be possible for people to claim that they hadn’t voted for some aspect or interpretation of an over-complicated and fluid proposition.

And it gets worse! Because those voting against the ‘final Brexit deal’ would hardly be any clearer about what their vote meant. Obviously, they’d have no more idea of what they were voting against than those who were voting for the ‘final Brexit deal’. But neither would they know what would happen if the ‘final Brexit deal’ was rejected. Would the status quo ante be restored? (Had to slip into my toga for that one.) Could Article 50 be revoked? Would the EU accept this? Or would they choose to poke the Europhobe rats’ nest with the jaggy stick of conditions for the prodigal’s return?

Much as everyone might like to erase the entire Brexit episode from their memories and from history, that’s not an option. Even if the UK were now to remain in the EU as a result of a ‘People’s Vote’, the relationship must inevitably be changed. And it’s just not possible for those participating in the ‘People’s Vote’ to know the nature of that change. Whatever way they voted, they wouldn’t know what they were voting for any more than they’d know what they were voting against.

A ‘People’s Vote’ cannot possibly resolve anything. It can only be the cause of further confusion and conflict. The ‘People’s Vote’ idea is as inane as everything else associated with Brexit. It says nothing flattering about Willie Rennie that he has embraced the inanity with such alacrity. If Nicola Sturgeon has even noticed his ‘challenge’, she will surely ignore it. For obvious reasons she cannot allow herself to be portrayed as opposing a ‘second referendum’. But there is no possibility that Rennie will bait her into supporting a ‘People’s Vote’. He has more chance of getting that alpaca airborne.


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Empty choices

saltire_eu

This ‘People’s Vote’ campaign is almost as nonsensical as Brexit. A referendum is the crudest of democratic instruments. It’s an axe, not a scalpel. It is only useful for binary choices where the two options are distinct, discrete and deliverable.

The 2014 independence referendum was disastrous for Scotland, not only because of the failure to secure a Yes vote, but because the implications of a No vote were all but totally unspecified. Nobody knew what a No vote meant. It was defined only as ‘Not Yes’. The No campaign was never properly scrutinised. In fact, it was barely examined. The media failed to ask any meaningful questions of Better Together or the British parties or the UK Government. They declined to challenge any of the lies, smears, threats or empty promises.

Initially, a No vote was supposed to be a vote for the status quo. But this quickly changed when the dullards running Better Together realised that this was by far the least popular option. The meaning of a No vote then became fluid. Pretty much anybody on the anti-independence side could make any claim about what would follow from a No vote. This culminated in ‘The Vow’. Within the space of less than 18 months a No vote had gone from meaning ‘no change’ to promising massive constitutional reform.

It has since become clear that the No vote was sold on a totally false prospectus. How could it be otherwise? An option which can mean anything inevitably means nothing. A No vote was effectively a vote to let the British political elite decide what you’d just voted for. It gave the British state a licence to do as it pleased with Scotland. They’d been handed a ballot that was marked with a cross but otherwise blank. They were left to fill in the details in whatever way suited them. So they’ve decided that a No vote was a vote to roll back devolution and tack forward the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project.

Much the same thing happened with the EU referendum. The implications of a Leave vote were never properly explored. The Brexiteers were never seriously interrogated. Not only were their plans afforded no scrutiny, for the most part they weren’t even asked if they had any plans. Once again, the mainstream media failed shamefully in its duty to inform and explain.

A Leave vote in the EU referendum ended up being an unspecified choice in much the same way as a No vote in Scotland’s first independence referendum. What ensued is a farce inside a fiasco wrapped in a bourach as the British political elite squabbles over what should fill the empty vessel of Leave and fails abysmally to find anything that will actually fit.

Now, we have this campaign for a ‘People’s Vote’. Which sounds very worthy. But which actually means only that they want to use the UK electorate as a big fist to force something into that empty vessel regardless of whether it fits or not. The very fact that it proposes three options is evidence enough of the idiocy of this campaign. Idiocy which only grows more profound as one realises that none of the three options can be anything like as tightly defined as the blunt instrument of a referendum absolutely requires.

Quite apart from the rather obvious inanity of having two Leave options and one Remain option, nobody can possibly say with any certainty what any of these options would mean in practice. Because it won’t be the voters who ultimately decide the outcome. It will be the EU. At best, people can only be voting for what they imagine is the option which comes closest to what they hope for.

A vote for the UK Government’s Leave ‘deal’ – supposing one is ever agreed – isn’t a vote for an outcome. At best, it is a vote for a negotiating position which is liable to change depending on which faction of the British political elite has the upper hand at any given time. A negotiating position which, furthermore, has already been largely rejected by the EU or is subject to severe reservations.

A vote for Leave with no ‘deal’ is even more of a mystery bundle. Although the revolting stench coming off it strongly hints at the unpleasant nature of what lies beneath the layers of packaging.

Even a Remain vote cannot be defined. Supposing it is possible to revoke Article 50 and abandon the entire Brexit mess, would this restore the status quo ante? Or might the EU impose terms? Is there the political will among the British political elite to implement such a decision? And what if Remain ‘wins’ but without an absolute majority? Pick your permutation of problematic poll results. How about 35% Remain; 35% Leave with ‘deal’; 30% Leave without ‘deal’. What is the will of the electorate?

And even in the highly improbably event that the ‘People’s Vote’ did give a clear result, what if that result serves only to confirm and emphasise the democratic deficit inherent in the Union? What if, once again, it’s a Leave vote in England and Wales outweighing a decisive Remain vote in Scotland? Nothing is resolved. We’re back where we started.

Brexit can’t be fixed. That’s the bottom line. It simply cannot be sorted. There is no way to make it OK. The only way that Scotland can avoid being dragged down by Brexit is to cease being part of the UK. The Scottish Government must initiate the process of dissolving the Union as a matter of extreme urgency.



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