by Pete Wishart
Who would have thought that five and a half years after losing a referendum on independence support is now edging over 50% and becoming a sustained majority? The resilience of the movement and the belief that this is unfinished business has endured and we are now at the point where we can almost touch out and reach our ambitions and move towards the reality of Scotland becoming an independent nation.
The Tories and unionists know they can’t beat us. The scent of decay in the union case is almost overwhelming and they know that they are approaching the endgame. Large numbers of No voters from 2014 have joined our ranks angry at Scotland being taken out of the European Union against its will. More have joined frustrated at the performance of the UK under the leadership of Boris Johnson and his arrogance in presuming to deny us a choice on our future. A majority in Scotland now back independence and that majority is only going to get bigger. We are at a tipping point and approaching the optimum time for the question to be put about our future as an independent nation. The last hope the UK has is that the movement beats itself through frustration, division and impatience. After coming this far and having this in our grasp, we simply can not allow that to happen.
So how do we design a route map to independence that unites everyone in our movement? How do we bring together those that believe that our approach has to be gradual and constitutional with those more eager to be more assertive in dealing with the UK? How can we arrange a way where those still to be won over or tentative in their support can be united with those determined just to get it done? Well, we do it all in stages, going through a series of steps increasingly intensifying our approach.
The first thing we have to do is quite simple, and has underpinned our strategy since the SNP was established – build the support for independence and get to a sustained majority.
It doesn’t matter if it’s called Plan A or Plan Z , without a majority every putative plan falls. The building of support, the persuading of those who have to be convinced, must always be the first stage in the mission of winning our independence. The bigger that support, the bigger our claim and right. We have now reached that point, and that was always going to be the most difficult stage to achieve.
The next stage is to secure a referendum that would get us to independence. In 2014 we held a referendum that would have been immediately legally recognised. We stick to this approach because we know it works and is a process that the Scottish people clearly understand and accept. if we are successful in such a vote it would automatically transition Scotland to independence. It is right that we set out to secure this as the means to secure our independence this time round too.
Only, as we know, the UK seem less than obliged to participate in this and have set themselves up as a block. It seems they have two main reasons why they believe that they can do this. The first is they still believe that they represent majority opinion in Scotland on independence and believe their assertion that there is no support for another referendum. That is why we need to properly secure and own majority opinion on the issue. It must become the conventional view that independence is the will of the Scottish people. Secondly, they know that it remains in their interests to say No to reinforce their base and secure their Parliamentary representation. Lastly, they do it because they can, and in exercising a veto they variously hope that something turns up or we beat ourselves through impatience.
Then there are the various mandates. The simple fact is that these mandates have never been respected or recognised by the UK. They see them as half hearted, conditional and simply a part of various manifestos where the SNP have emerged as the largest party. Only the 2011 ‘mandate’ backed with an SNP majority has been taken seriously by the UK. If we were to unilaterally ‘use the mandate’ we would have to accept that (at this stage) it would mean there would be no participation from the UK, no ‘No’ opposition and any victory on that basis would be legally questionable and next to meaningless in the court of international recognition.
This is why the next Holyrood election is so important. We must have a clear and unambiguous commitment to hold a referendum and have it understood that a vote for the SNP is a vote for a referendum on independence. If the SNP can secure an overall majority as we did in 2011 that would replicate the conditions when the last referendum was triggered. If we also get another majority then the whole democratic case of withholding a referendum is taken away. That is why talk of ‘list’ parties and ‘gaming’ the system are so singularly unhelpful.
Winning a majority and securing an irrefutable mandate should be the end of the matter and we should then move quickly to a referendum in agreement with, and participation of the UK. That would be stage 2 concluded and an end to the process.
But if the UK continue to block us then this is when we should be prepared to move beyond the Section 30 process. This is when we move into stage 3 and into the territory of ‘all options’ as suggested by the First Minister.
What we have to demonstrate is that we have tried absolutely everything possible to secure the UK as a participant in resolving the question of our democratic right to consider our nation’s future. We have to conclusively convince the EU and the international community that no stone has been left unturned in trying to engage them as a partner in resolving this democratically and constitutionally.
If the UK refuses to participate in an agreed referendum in the face of majority support and a clear democratic mandate we must presume that they have decided to exempt themselves from their obligations and responsibilities as a partner in the union. We would then have the grounds to seek to secure our independence without their participation. This should involve a referendum designed in Scotland where a last invitation is offered to the UK to participate to put the case to remain in the union. A request to the EU to sanction this referendum should be made and every attempt to involve them in the designing of that referendum should be pursued.
We should also concurrently start ‘the equivalent’ of an accession process as a substate to rejoin the EU. Where there is no provision in the EU rules to allow for this we should express our intention to rejoin and seek their approval and participation in designing a process to achieve that outcome. We would say to the EU that the UK is refusing our democratic right as a nation to be part of the EU and we should do all we can to keep Scotland aligned with EU regulations.
Beyond that, we should be looking at withdrawing from the apparatus of the UK state and starting to informally acquire the responsibilities currently exercised by the UK. This could start by withdrawing from the inter governmental infrastructure determining the management of the four nations of the UK. This could be escalated up to and including the participation in institutions of the UK Parliament.
All of this has to be done with the full consent and approval of the Scottish people. That all through this process we demonstrate to them that we have deployed reason and constraint, that we have stopped at nothing to engage the UK. This is where we need to show the patience but determination that has historically characterised our independence movement.
It is all about these ‘ducks in a row’ and ensuring that they are in perfect aquatic alignment. 1. Secure majority support and a cast iron democratic mandate secured on the back of a majority in the Scottish Parliament. 2. Secure a referendum with the participation of the United Kingdom with a process that is beyond legal dispute. Then, If necessary 3. After exhausting all possible means to engage the UK, a process be designed with the EU and International community to allow an internationally recognised referendum to take place, whilst simultaneously withdrawing from the institutions of the UK. 4. Win that referendum and become an independent nation.
This is the practical and inclusive way forward in securing our independence. Incrementally, consensually and taking the whole movement together, united.