MANY are feeling this is Groundhog Day with a prospectus for an independent Scotland launched and a second referendum on the agenda. It’s only four years since we were there before, but this is not going away anytime soon. The only surprise is why it’s taken so long for the First Minister to realise that Brexit is more of a challenge than an opportunity and some clarity on it is required before Scotland can decide again.
Opprobrium and bile will be flung at her by ardent Unionists accusing her of pursuing a “neverendum”. And, of course, she was foolhardy two years ago in her precipitous call to arms and subsequent demobilisation causing consternation within the ranks and a hardening of opposition without. That was at a time of constitutional fatigue, resulting in the loss of many SNP MPs last election.
But there’s huge hypocrisy amongst those critics complaining about independence still being pursued when many are either fighting to retain EU membership or seeking to create a post-Brexit relationship that’s about the perks of membership but without joining. We have the irony of the House of Lords being lauded for its defence of the democratic rights of the losers in a referendum, yet the margins of victory between that and the independence vote of 52/48 and 55/45 aren’t too different.
It would appear it’s fine to continue a constitutional battle about the UK’s relationship with others, just not about the relationships within the UK itself. What utter nonsense that Lord Bufton Tufton is heroic and defending democratic values, yet Nicola Sturgeon a harridan pursuing her own narrow agenda.
The issue hasn’t gone away and in Alex Salmond’s words, “the dream shall never die”. It’s a hope and aspiration that many have had since 1707 and the union. Before that even in times of crisis we had the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, espousing that the eternal flame would be kept alight. On occasions though it has been reduced to a cultural movement and a small political fringe; but it has and always will be with us.
That doesn’t mean that the issue couldn’t be all but politically defeated and reduced to a fringe. After all it was that way before the rise of the modern SNP and it’s happened elsewhere, most recently in Quebec. A referendum there in 1980 saw sovereignty defeated by a margin of 60/40. But it returned again even stronger in 1995, losing by the hair’s breadth margin of 50.5/49.5 amidst allegations of federal skulduggery, including flying in civil servants to vote.
But, despite the closeness of the result the sovereignty agenda has diminished hugely and Parti Quebecois marginalised and Bloc Quebecois all but obliterated. It doesn’t mean that the eternal flame has been extinguished or the cultural movement dead, just that it has moved to the political fringe. So why hasn’t it here in Scotland, where the margin of defeat was greater than across the Atlantic? The narrowness of the victory margin here remains a factor, especially as the referendum had only been allowed in the expectation of a crushing defeat for independence and killing it off once and for all. Besides showing the naivety of that thinking, the campaign raised rather than diminished hopes and the mobilisation of so many activists during it has sustained political activity. Added to that are other issues that have impacted from the Brexit vote, to the shambles that is the current Tory Government.
In many ways the reasons for the continuing political strength of the independence movement lie as much in the actions and failures of the Unionist camp and UK Government, as in the actions of the Scottish Government. The closeness of the result in Quebec in 1995 saw the Canadian Government act with magnanimity and embark on a charm offensive.
Yet in Scotland there was none. Instead of magnanimity there was the “purring” of the establishment and the enforcement of English votes for English laws, reducing Scots to a secondary status in a unitary chamber.
The Smith Commission was half-hearted as well as half-baked and most certainly not what was promised with “the most powerful devolved parliament anywhere”. That was compounded by a host of other promises or pledges that have proved illusionary or downright fraudulent, from guaranteed EU membership, through the strength of sterling to the prestige of Britain in the world. As the supposed “vow” has unravelled Scots now find themselves facing Brexit, with a plummeting pound, in a country that’s proving tawdry in its actions and tainted by its unsavoury friends.
So the exposure of lies and the course of events has undermined the case for the Union causing rancour and bitterness. But, that’s compounded by the Unionist camp still failing to provide any positive case for it. Some – and arguably more than enough to have swung the result – voted No in expectation of something considerably better. Yet the championing of federalism that is made as often as the weather changes across our land remains ill thought-out, unspecified and frankly unwanted by the powers that be. For all the promises and pledges it remains as illusory as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Even at the beginning of the week a defence of the Union was made by Unionist grandees both past and present, from Ruth Davidson to Lord Darling of the Better Together campaign. But again, it was the same warnings of doom and gloom, if not utter disaster if Scotland struck out on its own. Whilst not exactly “too wee, too poor too stupid” it wasn’t exactly designed to illicit pride in Scotland and its shared contribution to a positive UK future.
Whereas in 1995 the Canadians sought to enhance the Province of Quebec, the British have shown arrogance and contempt towards Scotland. The reason another referendum beckons is as much down to the duplicity of the No campaign then and the actions of the British Government and Unionists ever since.
Time has moved on since 2014 and the case for independence has still to be made. It has risks but so does remaining in the UK, where the political and economic situation looks grim indeed. Independence is politically alive not because it’s the dream of a few but because the many believe there has to be a better way.