Call May’s Bluff

You could be forgiven for thinking the Scottish Budget negotiations have gone awry. The first attempt to gain parliamentary approval failed to gain a majority. A second attempt has now been held but when the media invite went out for assembled hacks and snappers, it was to be during a visit by the Finance Cabinet Secretary, Derek Mackay, to Howdenhall Police Station. Was this a last minute public appearance before Derek entered the station to ‘assist police with their enquiries’? The mind boggled.

A difficult week in a difficult time. A Scottish Budget that is at the mercy of smaller parties determined to secure concessions from the SNP administration. In the grand scheme of things, any budgetary changes will have little impact in the long term but will embrace a chippy wrapper by the end of the week with ‘major concessions wrought from tight-fisted SNP minister’.

The SNP will breathe a sigh of relief that they have an executive programme for another year. The next budget feels very far off and there is plenty to worry about before then. For example; predicting the outcome of triggering Article 50 on the financial markets. Early indications of Brexit negotiations not going well. Support for independence slowly creeping up into a consistent if low lead. Re-building the economic case for independence based on being in the Single Market but not necessarily a member of the EU. A Scottish pound or not a Scottish pound, that is the question.

How to square the circle of in/out of EU is clearly taxing the Scottish Cabinet’s collective minds. There is a perception in the former SNP heartlands of Tayside and the North East that the EU dictates so much. Better out. However, the simplified understanding of the EU is such that most of the SNP-supporting Leavers would not recognise what EFTA membership really means: freedom of movement; EU directives still being applied; access to the Single Market; but control over fisheries or anything else we don’t care to trade away. Could this be the best of all worlds in a less than perfect situation?

All of the above indicate some of the interdependencies of political options and action. This is what makes politics interesting, a most underwhelming statement. It also turns even the best of politicians into pseudo poker players, trying desperately not to reveal their hand too publicly. Bluffing and counter bluffing. Not sure if a pair of tens is enough to win the day. I don’t envy them.

Then what happens if Donald Trump takes a hand in the post-Brexit IndyRef2 game. Foul play we may want to cry but he could feel like repaying Maggie May for his ‘special relationship’. Tariffs on whisky exports for a start. Trump’s haphazard binary politics of ‘friend or foe’ could, of course, have a counter-effect. Any pro-UK assistance he applies, doubles the strength of feeling to stick two metaphorical fingers up at him in a way that Scots would never have done to Obama, or even Hillary. I’d personally move that we nationalise his assets and take back control of Turnberry and handover the Menie Estate to the Scottish Wildlife Trust or RSPB.

Seriously though, Theresa May has shown clear contempt for any compromise or concession in the Brexit plans. For all the soft words about consulting devolved administrations the reality is she can’t shape a customised exit for each Home Nation without upsetting her new-found love of Eurosceptics. The Scotland Act (2016) has been found to empty of any real meaning following the Supreme Court’s judgement that embedding the Sewel Convention into the constitution, is meaningless because Brexit is a reserved matter. Hmmm…..

All this raises the expectation that a second independence referendum must be called. At some point. Perhaps announced in October conference for a Spring decision? It’s clear the next referendum will not have a three year run up to voting. This will be short, sharp and decisive. All the more reason to be back on the doors talking to voters about the Council elections and slipping in a temperature-taking question or two about IndyRef2 voting intentions. This time we can truly expect a Summer of Independence campaign, building on the national listening exercise of autumn 2016 but taking it a stage further. This year we call May’s bluff.


  1. You know most nations have achieved independence without a referendum eg Estonia & can name more. We have enough evidence of WN mal doing to walk & that would save so much vitriol.
    The lack of correct information on what EU is is quite alarming .
    But we do not need a referendum

  2. All right, but what happens in the event of a Yes vote this time round? To the best of my knowledge, there is nobody in Scotland, and least of all in the SNP, who has the remotest inkling of how an independent European state of Scotland’s size is actually run within a global framework. European as a strategic decision making level is already old hat, and 80% of what the subregional EU does is simply passed down to it from the real decision making institutions higher up the global order.

    Don’t get me wrong here. I have fought for Scottish independence for most of my life, and I wrote the documentation for the international authorities that resulted in the restoration of the present Scottish Parliament and Government under threat of international sanctions against the UK. But the independence we all envisaged then bore little or no resemblance to the reality of what the same word means today in terms of a global (and NOT European) coordinated political and economic system.

    It is obvious that the SNP has never even started to catch up with how drastically the world in which Scotland will have to exist and protect its interests has changed over the past 25 years. Declaring independence is the easy part; realising it under contemporary political, diplomatic and economic conditions is a very different matter. For one thing, it will need trained personnel at all levels of national and local government – and we are talking here of thousands, not just a handful.

    By all means let us go back to square one, to the basic fundamentals of constitutional independence, but any attempt to realise it at the present stage of Scottish ignorance of what it implies is liable to result in a disastrous shambles. And there are ways of implementing it without resorting to the vagaries of a referendum, especially when there is no formal Scottish citizenship for voting purposes.

    Next year will be the 50th anniversary of my first involvement in the European integration movement, initially at academic level before I moved into government service at foreign minister level. For the past quarter of a century I have watched and participated in the development of a whole tier of global governance where most of the important strategic decision making is now concentrated.

    The current movement in a global context is towards the creation of a Eurasian economic community from Lisbon to Vladivostok. What is the SNP’s policy towards that? Does it even know what is going on beyond its collective nose?

    I am not trying to be destructive here, but it is necessary to be cruel in order to be kind. The SNP has been in existence for over 80 years now, but can anyone tell me of one single step towards independence it has achieved in that time?

    The restoration of the Scottish Government and Parliament, the return of the Stone of Destiny, etc., was the work of the Scotland-UN Committee in collaboration with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. It was possible only because of Scotland-UN’s command of international diplomacy.

    And the SNP, not once but several times, declined to participate in the actions that brought it about. Furthermore, the SNP has never once acknowledged the role of the Scotland-UN group in achieving a brilliant diplomatic coup and the first breakthrough in 300 years on the return of decision making power to Scotland. The degree of small-mindedness this indicates is not an encouraging sign.

    The EU referendum was a shambles, on both sides, but it eventually arrived at the correct result, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Scotland can thrive on that result once freed from the ideological shackles of Brussels.

    We are going to need a total revamp of the present UK and its replacement by some sort of confederal association of autonomous states within the archipelago of the so-called British Isles. Therein lies a far more feasible route to independence while safeguarding all those interests that would be endangered by the SNP’s present kindergarten-level approach to foreign relations.

    Before any further damage is done I would suggest listening to the SNP’s elder statesmen like Gordon Wilson and Jim Sillars, who have a breadth of experience and outlook that seems to be conspicuously missing elsewhere.

    And it would also not be a bad thing to refer to the website of the Scottish Democratic Alliance (SDA) think tank for up-to-the-minute information and interpretation of Scotland’s wider environment. We are all in the same boat here, so can we certain that we are all rowing in the same direction, even if some of us are apparently unable to see the reefs.

  3. I must comment on the idea of listening to the elder statesmen suggestion. I have not heard anything from the two mentioned that relates to the modern era. I am from that era and I can see that the modern SNP statesman and women display far more strategy awareness.

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