Controversial though this may sound, the Tories actually want to have another independence referendum. The Tories in question tend to be those in Westminster rather than Holyrood but then when has London ever taken cognisance of a Scottish Tory leader when it comes to the UK’s interests?
That’s perhaps rather unfair in current context but nonetheless, there is planning taking place within Whitehall for the next referendum and it’s time we woke up to that reality.
A senior Scottish Tory strategist was very candid within a closed meeting for professional PR people. In this meeting, he set out three scenarios: 1. Say No (the status quo); 2. Say Yes and repeat 2011-14 process; and 3. Say Yes but make it a condition that the independence settlement is negotiated first so people know what they are voting for.
Let’s take the first option, keep saying No. Reminiscent of the Rev Ian Paisley, this has a chunk of support from Scottish Tories and haughty Brits like Lord Snooty aka the Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg. Westminster is sovereign and the Scots need to know their place. Well we’ve heard it all before and it’s wearing thin, even with the bulk of their supporters. Plus, Tories in England, especially the new North of England intake, are still of the view that Scotland is subsidised and we should cut them loose to take back control of ‘our money’. So, just saying No isn’t a long term strategy.
Allowing a re-run of 2014 is fraught with danger for Unionists. Having won a Brexit referendum on 52%, the case for the settled will to be decided decisively is wearing thin. Better Together is unlikely to make a comeback tour, suggesting that the Nats could win easily. This also plays into the Tories south of the border who frankly like the idea of getting rid of whinging Jocks at the first opportunity.
That brings us to the third and more recently developed option: allow a referendum on UK government terms. There have been rumours that any second referendum would have conditions about who can vote, a minimum turnout, substantial majority, etc., etc. However, the latest wheeze is to suggest that the referendum is based on a negotiated settlement so voters know what they are buying. This is coming from the so-called clever people in the Cabinet Office.
The idea is that pre-referendum, the UK Government plays hardball with the Scottish Government. No BBC. No shared currency. Border posts. Price increases. Project Fear Mark 2 but with bells on. Much of these scares are actually appealing to many Scots but you can see the Tory thinking: frighten the middle ground which has given the Yes side a fillip in recent months a horror future.
Without a renewed case for independence, it could very well work. As each month in Brexit Britain passes, support for re-joining the EU is dropping in England and Wales. Post-EU is not the dreadful state which Remainers threatened, although it is still early days yet. In any case, it’s the perfect retort to Unionists: taking back control from Brussels to London was good for you, now taking back control to Edinburgh will not have the problems you suggest. Not exactly apples and oranges but then it’s all about perception and persuasion. Just how far will Scots chuck the rational choice theory and vote more with the heart than the head?
Final note: the Tory strategist was clear, there will be a referendum in 2023. That is a wake up call to the Nationalist movement. Time to get our arguments in order. Time to re-engage Yes and the maybees-Aye, maybees-Naw brigade. Time also to put differences aside or at least find a way to campaign without fighting each other over issues unrelated to independence!