Referenda Lessons

A great deal has been said and written about developments in Catalonia over recent months. A great deal less has been said and written about developments in the Kurdish regions in Norther Iraq, Syria as well as Turkey.

Personally, I have tried not to get engaged in discussing (and especially not advising) the people on what to do. Partly because I was furious about constant interference in our affairs in 2014 and even when the interventions were meant to be helpful, my gut reaction was to think “keep your neb out of Scotland’s decision”. Partly because the scenarios are both disturbingly familiar and seriously scary.

I feel a real sympathy for the Kurds. They did a lot of the heavy lifting in the battle to defeat daesh. It’s not hard to think that if the Peshmerga had not been involved then daesh would have had a better than fair crack at defeating the Iraqi and Syrian armies. From there the fate of the entire middle east would have been, to say the least, uncertain. They were entitled to expect some rewards from the international community and especially from the coalition countries led by the UK and US.

However their fate was to be the usual level of deceit and betrayal which is so depressingly familiar across the globe. Their one simple demand was a Kurdish homeland. Free, self-governing and hopefully able to live in peace with it’s neighbours. Supported by an overwhelming majority of the people but rejected by the “Leaders of the Free World”! As we have come to expect they had a quick look at the map, where oil was located and decided that they would as usual do nothing to help their former allies. The fact that it was the Peshmerga who stopped daesh taking control of the Kirkuk oil fields makes the hypocrisy even worse!

Just as the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, went from allies fighting to kick Russia out of their country to rag head terrorists when they thought that the same rules applied when Uncle Sam wanted to control their country. So with the Kurds! Bought and sold for oil! It is another of the disgraceful failures in journalism that not a word is being heard as the Kurds are sold out. No wonder President Barzani was so bitter in his resignation speech.

Barzani condemned the United States for failing to back the Kurds. “We tried to stop bloodshed but the Iraqi forces and Popular Mobilization Front (Shi‘ite militias) kept advancing, using U.S. weapons,” he said.

“Our people should now question, whether the U.S. was aware of Iraq’s attack and why they did not prevent it.”

Similarly in Catalonia the demand for self-government is rejected by a fascist regime in Madrid which is the direct descendent of Franco’s Falangists. It is ironic that history repeats itself as farce with the so called “Socialists” beating the drum for such a regime, the echoes of better together resound loud and clear. The EU, and the International Community along with the media in the UK has hidden behind the fact that the Madrid Government has declared the referendum of 1 Oct to be illegal. Without asking the question, how then does Catalonia hold a legal referendum? The deafening silence from the EU to the police brutality on Oct 1 was almost as obscene as their treatment of Greece and once more makes me question the morality of joining such an organization. Madrid has yet to learn that “Just say No” is not a viable long-term tactic.

While it is obvious that both sides have played their respective hands badly, the major part of the blame must lie with Mariano Rajoy and his neo-fascist stances. It is simply not possible to sustain a position which says that you cannot debate Independence. If the people decide that they wish to be free of Rajoy and Madrid there has to be a political debate. It is to say the least disappointing that even with Carles Puidgemont in Brussels, the EU continues to turn a deaf ear to the cry of Freedom from Catalonia. The EU may be the only people who can persuade Rajoy to talk about Catalan aspirations but at the moment they are yet again failing in their moral leadership responsibilities.

What these two desperate situations have done for me though is highlight the dangers in rushing into a referendum without having done the homework beforehand. Those who call for UDI etc to be declared should hesitate and contemplate what such steps can involve. The resolute refusal of the Government to listen to the siren voices and move away from the “Gold Standard” on referendums has been shown to be far sighted and correct.

The reason why neither Spain nor the EU would have blocked an Independent Scotland from joining in 2014 is that they were acting within the law and with agreement from the UK that if more than 50% voted for Independence then Scotland would have become Independent.  The Edinburgh Agreement was our ace card.

It is clear that the mandate of a majority in a General Election, where a commitment to an Independence Referendum is front and central to the campaign is absolutely essential! There are no viable shortcuts which would be acceptable to the people of Scotland nor to the International Community. A lesson we all need to remember for 2021.


  1. A referendum when there does not exist a legal status of Scottish citizenship for voting purposes is a losing game from the start, or at best a gamble. Remember what the Edinburgh University analysis of the voting patterns brought to light – that native-born Scots opted for independence by a perfectly adequate majority, whereas it was opposed by majorities of all three immigrant groups – from the EU, from elsewhere in the world, and especially by three quarters of those born south of the border. If my opinion had been asked I would have advised against holding that referendum at all, or alternatively putting it off for much longer in order to build up the case for it on the basis of expert presentation of the true framework in which independent Scotland would find itself. I am still 100% for independence, but having lengthy governmental experience of what it takes to run an independent state I can see that Scotland will not be ready for it for a while yet.

  2. Agree that we need to build the case James but not sure that we will have to wait as long as you might think.
    Government experience is, like most things, a two way street and people’s experience of the Westminster Government will help to sway the undecided.

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