As we hurtle towards the Brexit deadline of March 2019, albeit with the prospect of a transition period of at least 18 months, it’s worth pondering just where our movement stands and where do we go from here.
We are rightly committed to the “Gold Standard” of referenda, which basically means we need to repeat the conditions which applied in 2014. This poses a major problem. The 2014 referendum was faced with the prospect of its legality being called into question and challenged in court. This was overcome by what was known as the Section 30 Agreement between the Scottish and London Governments. It meant that London gave its consent to the referendum going ahead and put it on a sound legal basis.
Now, we can reasonably assume that David Cameron only went along because he was convinced that the most likely outcome was a resounding win for the unionist camp which could even have been of a scale which would have killed the issue. Given that the YES vote was barely reaching 30% that looked a not unreasonable position. Cameron of course suffered from the fact that his main source of information was from the NO supporting parties and from commentators suffering from metropolitan blindness.
Given that Theresa May has a wee bit more information i.e. the YES vote is still at a base 45%, her agreement is highly unlikely! (OK her survival as PM is also highly unlikely.) It was assumed that the YES vote would merely give up and go away after defeat but we now know that to be far from the case. The YES campaign is not only still there but is beginning to gather itself into a fighting force again. And this time from that far higher base.
Indeed, what might be the most surprising factor is that the unionist position has not found succour in the “well we voted and that’s it over” position which does seem to be a major reason why the demand for a second Brexit ref has struggled to gain momentum. Fortunately, Scotland doe not seem to have the same level of fatalism as our Southern cousins.
But, the fact remains that one of the key reasons why Cameron gave way was that the SNP had won a majority on a specific manifesto commitment to holding a referendum. This was absolutely crucial!
In 2016 we were unable to repeat that feat. There are a myriad of reasons and a multitude of theories why but none of them change the fact.
Yes, we are the largest party, yes, we have a majority if the Greens remain consistent and yes, we had a commitment to hold a second referendum if Scotland was being dragged out of the EU against its will. All good, but not the same as the copper-bottomed mandate from the people in 2012.
So, how do we persuade Theresa May, her Tory backwoodsmen and the Neanderthals of the DUP to gamble again. Damn good question.
While Parliament passed a motion in 2016 to hold a second referendum, the Tories will certainly point to the 2017 General Election and say that with 21 seats lost and gains by every unionist party, the will of the people was not to hold a second referendum.
If we are to hold a second “Gold Standard” referendum, we need the agreement of the Westminster Government. There is just no alternative unless we want to fight it through the courts and that’s a massive gamble. Westminster is utterly consumed by Brexit and the enormous amount of legislation which it will entail. This will certainly mean that we have little, if any, chance of gaining consent.
Additionally, the clock is seriously against us. Although the date of Brexit is set for 29 March next year the simple fact is that deal must be agreed by probably October/ November at the latest to allow time for all 27 countries to meet their own Parliamentary timetable, perhaps even with some holding their own referendum. The deal then has to go to the European Parliament for it’s ratification. Yes, it does seem that everybody gets a say apart from the people who voted to “take back control”.
Even allowing for a transition period, and that’s not the framework the EU has published, we will struggle to meet the deadline of “before Brexit takes effect.”
I readily acknowledge that Nicola has played her hand pretty well so far, and that she is extremely tactically aware. I don’t dispute that the troops are getting restive for the battle. I still struggle to see how we meet the self-imposed “Gold Standard” test before either March 29 2019 or the end of 2020.
Do we acknowledge that we need to repeat the specific manifesto commitment and success of 2012? Do we abandon the “Gold Standard? Do we say “ignore the 2017 General Election results” we have Parliamentary Consent from 2016?
There is a fine balancing act here for the Leadership.
I had looked forward to being enlightened at the Conference. Just a pity that the Agenda Committee did not!