Use it or lose it

There are two major problems with delaying a new independence referendum until after the next Scottish general election. Firstly, there is the matter of mandate. Or rather mandates – plural. Because, not only does the Scottish Government already have a mandate for a new referendum, it also has a mandate to keep Scotland in the EU.

Such mandates can be seen as the electorate granting the government consent to do something. They can also be regarded as an instruction. It is perfectly legitimate to say that voters have ordered the SNP administration to plan for a fresh independence referendum and to do everything possible to maintain Scotland’s relationship with the EU.

Tommy Sheppard is suggesting that the Scottish Government should set aside both these mandates. He is proposing that our government simply ignore the instructions of the electorate. How can that be justified?

Some might argue that we have a representative democracy. That we elect politicians, not to dutifully follow a set of instructions, but to use their judgement. And this is true… up to a point. But, barring some dramatic change in circumstances, it is difficult to see how our elected representatives could justify going against a firm commitment or acting totally contrary to an explicit instruction from the electorate.

How might it be possible for an administration to maintain any credibility whilst undermining the very mandate which is the source of its authority? Self-serving expediency may be the way of British politics. But don’t we aspire to better in Scotland.

Which brings us to the second big problem with Tommy Sheppard’s suggestion that the referendum be put off until after the Holyrood election in 2021. Obviously, this involves accepting that Scotland will be wrenched out of the EU contrary to the wishes of the Scottish people, with all that this implies for denial of democracy and the additional difficulties of restoring – rather than simply retaining – our relationship with the EU. But Tommy Sheppard seems to imagine that British nationalists will be idle as all of this is happening.

It would be foolish to suppose that the anti-independence effort is purely reactive. That it only responds to some drive to take the independence project forward. The British state is on the defensive. It is only sensible to anticipate that the British establishment will be proactively seeking ways to block the independence campaign. It is reasonable to expect that they will try to prevent another independence referendum from ever taking place.

The Brexit process offers an ideal opportunity to do this. It affords British nationalists a chance to constitutionally redefine the UK in whatever way they wish. If we wait until after 2021 then we could well find that an independence referendum is prohibited by law. Or, at the very least, that there are serious legal impediments which make holding a referendum all but impossible.

By 2021, we could find that Scotland has been effectively locked into a new political union without negotiation or even consultation. We could find that any constitutional referendums have been made subject to a qualified majority. Or that they require a vote by the whole of the UK. Or both!

If Tommy Sheppard, or anyone else, doubts that British nationalists would resort to recklessly closing off Scotland’s democratic route to independence, then I would urge them to look at the history of the British state.

Realpolitik dictates that we cannot afford to put off a new referendum much beyond September 2018. And if there is one thing we desperately need in the Yes movement right now it is some hard-headed appreciation of realpolitik.

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41 thoughts on “Use it or lose it

  1. William Ross


    I agree with you that there is a ( narrow) mandate for Indyref 2 based on the 2016 SNP Holyrood manifesto. That was why I voted SNP in 2017. But you are misinterpreting the EU referendum result. Sixty -two percent of the Scottish people did not vote for Scotland to remain in the EU as a separate country. They voted for the UK to remain. That was the only question asked.

    The Scottish people do not want an early Indyref before Brexit is over. This would represent uncontrollable constitutional chaos. Any such referendum was be lost.

    More practically, it isn’t happening.


    1. PJ

      I think your judgment is wrong. A simple yes or no vote in a referendum is never as simple as you say. You have no basis to assume that because people vote on a question that it stops there. We are rightfully dubious when dictators receive near 100% endorsements from their ‘electorate’ and when a Conservative party holds a desperate referendum to fend off UKIP and to placate its own right wing there is nothing anyone can do about it even though only 36% of UK voters supported them.
      62% of Scots did vote for the UK to remain and the context of Scottish politics going into that 2016 referendum now requires that a second referendum on Scottish independence take place before 2021. If context wasn’t everything there would be no argument/disagreement on this matter. Only a pedantic mind would insist otherwise.
      As for uncontrollable constitutional chaos we have that right now. A vote for independence would allow Scotland to leave behind a parliament and a governing ethos that is clearly out of date and failing everyone except for the usual vested interests (visible every so often in their newly acquired ermine superhero outfits).
      Consider yourself refuted.

    2. Peter A Bell Post author

      If you are oblivious to the fact that constitutional chaos is already upon us then you really aren’t paying attention. The purpose of a new independence referendum is to resolve that chaos. It is the solution, not the problem.

      The people of Scotland voted 62% Remain. No amount of logical and semantic contortion will alter that fact.

    3. Rob Troup

      Hi William

      I think you are absolutely right in your assessment of the EU result – any other interpretation of that result would be misleading. It is quite right to say that the question of Scotland remaining in the EU ” as an Independent Country”, simply hasn’t been asked.

      But we are where we are, That is, Scotland has now found itself on a trajectory to leave the EU against its will and the question does now need to be asked as to whether the Scots would choose a Political union with the rUK outside the EU, a political Union with the EU outside of the UK , or a political Union with EFTA , outside both the EU and UK , but within the EU Single Market.

      In short, in order to resolve the constitutional chaos we now have , to the satisfaction of the Scottish people, the question of Scottish Independence has to be asked again at some future stage.

      As you say, there is a mandate, however narrow, but a mandate nevertheless to just ask that question. We have had 4 elections in Scotland since the last referendum and each time the Unionist parties have ran on a ticket to halt any constitutional question even being asked- and each time they have been soundly beaten. The most recent being all 4 Unionist parties in Scotland combined , returning less seats than just the SNP alone.

      It should be noted that we ARE being taken out of the EU against our will, the largest trading block in the world, on a much narrower UK mandate.

      This just leaves the question of timing for the Scottish Referendum. I do have to agree with some aspects of the article , in that the British State will not be sitting back in terms of its Constitutional efforts to deny the Scots simply that choice over their future or at the very least to make that choice as hard as possible. However, for all Scottish Citizens to have a choice in that future, it must be before the UK leaves the 2019.

      (This date is not set in stone and needs to be constantly assessed as “transition periods” are being put forward of up to 4 years before we leave, but the Scottish Government have never advocated a referendum before we know the terms of Brexit- which won’t be for at least 2 years ).

      Basic democracy would indicate that Scotland should have that referendum within the lifetime of this current Scottish Parliament, elected on the mandate to run a second referendum should the exact circumstances occur that we have seen enacted.

      And in a democracy, the actual question SHOULD always be asked- particularly if that Government is in office on the back of a promise to ask that question of Scotland’s Constitutional future should specific circumstances occur- which they have.

      The Scottish Government are in no hurry to hold the referendum and nor should they be. They are not demanding the the constitutional question be asked out of spite or in self interest and I believe history would condemn them if they did not put forward a choice on Scotland’s future in light of the very real economic hazards now associated with Brexit.

      In fact , I believe History will condemn those who are trying to stand in the way of this choice for the sake of their own agendas and to resolve some of the huge problems now faced as a result of a Westminster party putting their own internal disputes ahead of the Nations economic security.

      So we have every right, even a necessity , to revisit the Constitutional Question as clearly mandated for at Holyrood. The Question left is only one of timing. That timing should be ideally made to include every citizen of Scotland who have made their homes here and contribute to the economy. Which means a decision is needed before we leave the EU.

      1. Peter A Bell Post author

        The question of Scotland remaining in the EU ” as an Independent Country” hasn’t been asked for the face-slappingly obvious reason that Scotland is not yet an independent country. What we have, however, is the best answer to that question that we can possibly have this side of independence. It is utterly ridiculous to try and contend, as some do, that Scotland’s democratic voice doesn’t count for anything because we aren’t independent. If we accept that inane proposition then we must resign ourselves to the fact that we will never restore our rightful constitutional status. Because how can we vote for independence if our democratic will is automatically invalidated by not being independent?

        The question of Scotland’s relationship with the EU has been addressed to the fullest extent that it can be at this stage. The Scottish Government has been given the best mandate possible to keep Scotland in the EU. Not a perfect mandate. But sufficient that it cannot reasonably be ignored.

    4. grizebard

      This latest wheeze to discount the EU referendum result in Scotland is the worst kind of empty sophistry. How any claimed supporter of Scottish independence can plead so cravenly for an all-UK result defies all logic and credibility. In fact it is utterly shameful. This is democracy turned on its head.

      Independence doesn’t come à la carte, as this pernicious proposition implies. You either believe the people of Scotland have a right to an independent choice about nothing or about everything. And that choice defines you.

  2. Tommy Sheridan

    100% agree with you Peter. Delay plays into the hands of the unionist machine which will continue to use all its vast powers to sow division, disillusionment and doubt about the viability of an independent Scotland. If the democratically secured mandates of 2015, 2016 and 2017 are to be cast aside of what authority or significance do further mandates carry? The Scottish Parliament discussed and debated the issue of a 2nd Referendum. The vote was clear. If that Parliament is to retain authority and respect it must use that mandate and campaign smartly, courageously and energetically for the YES vote required. I am personally against membership of the European Union which I consider to be undemocratic and tied to big business but Scotland clearly voted for remain. We have democratic mandates and materially changed conditions to justify #IndyRef2. To delay much beyond September 2018 would be a tactical blunder and will demotivate the core of the Independence Movement and YES Family.

  3. William Ross


    Can you remember the referendum question you answered in 2016? Maybe it was different from mine?

    In GE 2017 vehemently anti-Indyref 2 unionists beat us by nearly two to one in votes. Votes win referenda, not seats. How can we now win a pre-Brexit referendum?


    1. Ian Clark

      I’m not sure who your ‘us’ is that was beaten, but in the 2017 General Election I and many (most?) others were not voting in a proxy independence referendum. In fact there’s was quite a stooshie recently about independence supporters voting Labour. But they remain indy supporters.

      Regarding how supporters of independence can win, ‘we’ do it by argument, hard work and enthusiasm. We will, of course, be considerably aided in the process by the electorate’s ever increasing awareness of how a Tory ‘negotiated’ Brexit is going to negatively affect their lives. Most people don’t need to lose their job before becoming aware of the financial implications. They will start looking for another job before they become unemployed.

  4. Ianmc

    Eh, the falw is in the assumption that the SNP will be in the position to deliver an indy vote after the next Scottish election.

    1. Neil

      Indeed that seems to me the biggest problem with the plan. I voted for me and my kids to be in EU. I’m happy to get a choice between UK and EU/EEA. I voted SNP in 2016 partly because I wanted insurance if England voted out of EU

  5. William Ross


    “A simple yes or no vote in a referendum is never as simple as you say”.. Wow, then what hope for Indyref 2.?Are we going to win it by more than 52 to 48%? You are heading in a very dangerous direction.

    We do not have uncontrollable constitutional chaos right now. We are negotiating to leave the EU as Article 50 requires. We knew it would not be easy. Our UK economy is doing rather well with record inward investment. We are a major net contributor to the EU and we have no currency issue. We defend the EU not vice versa.

    Not sure where the chaos is?


    1. grizebard

      We are negotiating to leave the EU as Article 50 requires.

      I wasn’t aware that Scotland was involved in the negotiations at all. Deliberately excluded by the Tory UKGov.

      Your Freudian slip of “we” reveals precisely where your real loyalties lie. And not with Scotland, you faker.

    2. C Billette

      “No currency issue”????? The pound has been dropping at the rate of 0.5 Eurocents per 24 hours recently. I see that as an issue.

  6. Ealasaid

    Totally agree with you Peter, but I think I saw that Alex Salmond also mentioned 3 or 4 years before another IndyRef as well. What is going on?

    People want IndyRef before Brexit is enacted. We were promised a vote once the Brexit terms were known 2018 -2019.

    Why are they demanding another mandate? How many do they need? They did not bother about that for the advisory Brexit vote!

    1. Iain MacLaren

      I respectfully suggest that what is going on is that the people who decide on the most advantageous timing for another independence referendum are disregarding Peter’s long-standing warning about calculator-usage when answering, or indeed posing, a constitutional question.

    2. Peter A Bell Post author

      “They” are not demanding another mandate. One of the SNP’s supposedly ‘gagged’ MPs has suggested seeking what he considers would be a stronger mandate. He made it very clear that he was offering a personal opinion.

  7. William Ross

    Ian Clark

    “Us” is the SNP/Greens.

    Now if there were 62% of Scots who wanted Scotland to remain in the EU as an independent country in 2016, they had a very clear choice to achieve their overriding goal in 2017: vote SNP in record numbers to bring on the Indy ref 2. If you wanted to stop Indyref 2 how would you do that? Answer vote Labour, Conservative or Lib Dem.

    The people do not want an early Indyref 2, and we are leaving the EU as part of the UK.


    1. Davie Oga

      They didn’t have a clear choice at the 2017 election William. They had the choice of no to indyref or a strong voice at Westminster with the possibility of a progressive alliance with a pro trident, pro brexit Labour party and an English Green MP who voted down every amendment proposed by Scottish MP’s during the last Scotland Act debate.
      There was no campaign to remain in the EU nor was there a campaign for independence in its own right. Very uninspiring.

  8. Bob

    Are they flying a kite to see what the reaction of the wider Indy movement will be? How can we tell them that this is not only a betrayal of their voters but a surefire way of ensuring that they lose the 2021 election?

    Maybe that’s what they would like so someone else has to deal with the upcoming shambles but if we wanted that kind of spinelessness we would vote Labour.

    Time is not on our side. We have a narrow window of opportunity to escape what is coming. The Indyref2 campaign should already be well underway. It seems that, like so many Scottish football teams over the years, lack of self-belief makes us incapable of taking the opportunities we have been presented with.

    1. james Coleman

      Maybe it’s more a case of the pragmatic SNP realising that gaining an Indyref2, and winning and negotiating Independence through the chaos of Brexit is just a step too far at this time. Particularly when there doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm in Scotland for the process except among diehard Independentistas. And particularly too when the SNP Government while a part of the UK is gaining all the kudos and respect of a successful government, with plenty of money to spend, improving the lot of Scots, international recognition et al. Independence at this time would be a very big step into the unknown.

      1. Dan Huil

        “…with plenty of money to spend…” Eh?

        Independence is the only step for Scotland as the so-called united kingdom falls apart.

  9. james Coleman

    It’s a very bad idea to delay IndyRef2 until after HR 2021. If SNP backs off from IndyRef2 in 2018/19 YES will lose more momentum just like it did during GE17 when SNP allowed the BritNatz to lead the agenda with its NO to an IndyRef2 campaign. The BritNatz will do the same for HR21 and there is a high probability YES could fail to gain a majority for another mandate for IndyRef2 after HR2021. Also, Scotland with all its resources would be much more crucial to the survival of the UK as a leading nation after Brexit and WM will put up many obstacles against IndRef2 in order to keep Scotland in the UK.

  10. Jada Whannel

    To wait until after the 2021 election before we have the referendum is madness. We cannot take it for granted that we would come out of that vote as the largest party, far less with a majority. Tommy Shepherd said that if we didn’t win that election, it would convey that there wasn’t enough support for Indy anyway. He is assuming that all Indy supporters also support the SNP. That is wrong. There are Indy supporters in all parties and none. Not everyone who voted Yes in 2014 votes in elections, a lot of people are disaffected by politics but will vote in and Indy referendum as they can see value in that vote. To hang all of our futures, and our children’s and grandchildren’s futures on the false assumption that we would win the next election is crazy. We, the grassroots need to be now building a strong positive case for Independence, not leaving it to the politicians. They have other battles to fight; it is up to us to convince at least another 6% of Scots that Independence is the only way forward for our country. With the Brexit fiasco making that job easier there is no excuse for us not putting forward a case for a more progressive, more prosperous and more enlightened future for all us.

  11. David Mooney

    If we do not have a referendum before the end of 2018. The opportunity for a democratic mandate for independence will be lost for generations. The British state WILL use every power at it’s disposal, to prevent our aspirations for self determination from being fulfilled.

    As Peter says Brexit gives them the opportunity.

    After Brexit – due to a manufactured constitutional crisis – Westminster will declare a national (UK) state of emergency and use that as an excuse to “temporarily” suspend the Scottish and Welsh assemblies. Imposing direct rule from London. The chances of getting any realistic devolved power for Scotland will be lost for several decades or more.

    For those still deluded that we will live in a democracy after Brexit. The reality is, YES they are that desperate and YES the British state will crush any dissent, using violence if necessary. They’ve done it many times before and they will do it again.

  12. Dan Huil

    I feel the more England annoys the EU the more the EU looks kindly on Scotland. I hope SG ministers are keeping in close contact with the EU.

  13. m biyd

    Peter, I said it elsewhere the British state will stoop to any level to preserve it’s position. Scotland was the first and now last pawn in the English Empire. Without us the game is a bogey. The SNP have to learn there is no fairness or equanimity with regards to English nationalism. We have to get down and dirty and reject their rules of the game and make our own.

  14. Steve

    The SNP could stand on a no referendum UDI ticket at WM 2022. But I doubt they ever would as individual politicians fear for their livelihoods. The referendum is a safety valve but its no more of a mandate than an election.

  15. Ghillie

    Tommy Shepherd’s words worked = )

    Folk are galvanised again, discussing what they want, when and why. WITH PASSION!

    Certainly focused my mind!

  16. Ayrshirelass

    No we must hold fast and deliver the mandate that has been given and hold a referendum before the next Holyrood election. We know that enormous sums of money and propaganda and are going to be dedicated to getting rid of the pro independence majority.

    I also suspect that we may have another so called ‘ snap ‘ general election before then as the two main parties are already on an election footing. Should the SNP try to hold a referendum I have no doubt there will be a general election called.In that case a simple victory for the SNP will be a mandate for independence.
    This is quite legitmate as the unionist parties have fought the last two elections in Scotland on independence and have lost twice. In my view the SNP should clearly use this evidence should a referendum be refused.

    They are trying to grind down the electoral momentum for the SNP. We must continue to make sure that people are registered fo vote and we must build up the funds necessary.
    The mistake the SNP make is assuming that because they play by the rules the British unionist parties will.
    They have not, are not, and will not so we have to be ready for that.

  17. Robert Graham

    Chip Chip Chip , on every independence supporting site recently there they are ,sowing the seeds of doubt and division , trying to derail what was a reasonable timetable for indy ref2 .

    The SNP laid it out ,they went through the process in our parliament , they have the authority to carry out the wishes of a majority of the voting public .

    Trying to tack on or present a case for why people voted this or that or what they did not vote for is an endless futile debate .

    The SNP are reacting to a timetable and events not of their choosing , they didn’t cause this bloody chaos , i myself voted OUT because of TTIP , however the majority of scots voted to stay and this must be respected . and i accept the majority view .

    Not following through with a proposal to defend this wish will make subsequent mandates meaningless , no one will believe future intentions as being worth the paper they are written on .

  18. Ade

    11-David Mooney – Spot on comment.

    There is no way that the UK state will let Scotland secede – & all dirty tricks will be brought to bear – manufactured political crises, media manipulation/propaganda, intelligence services etc. to prevent/allow the political/democratic process of independence being achieved. (The Met police ‘Special Branch’ was formed in 1883 to ‘deal’ with/thwart those in the field pushing for Irish independence).

  19. manandboy

    I would have thought that before making his speech, Tommy Shepherd would have run it by the SNP leadership. We really ought to clarify that situation.

  20. Christopher Bruce

    Diversion after diversion.

    We are effectively out of the EU.

    Leave it alone. That is a matter for another day.

    Independence before the gin trap of Brexit is sprung is paramount and urgent.

    Fail, and you have no choices, no say. One might say, no future!

    The msm lies will fall apart. No one can deny the way the pound is collapsing.

    A tory future for Scotland is guaranteed if we fail.

    Independence is about Scots, Scotland, not about the SNP or the Greens or the Labour for indy.

    Monetary policies, taxation policies and a clear sense of the country working together are required to identify that the way to go is opposite to the thatcher way down south.

    Scots together not Britons apart.

  21. Lochside

    If we allow ourselves to be fast-tracked out of Europe…which seems very possible..what security will the soggy fearties feel when faced with Independence as a last ditch option?
    The SNP threw the ba’ away at the last GE. A quarter of our support didn’t even feel strong enough to vote despite the ‘NO Surrender, vote for Colonel Blimp and her ugly tory bullshit clarion call, which needed stopped dead in its tracks.

    It wasn’t …because we had no firm leadership…and we continue to have none. Tommy Shepherd is flying a kite for a weak and indecisive leadership. The membership is slipping away as daily the Unionist propaganda machine is allowed to vomit its lies unopposed. Check out GERS again being produced without demur by the SG.

    We need strong unambiguous challenge constitutionally by our government based on the Act of Union being compromised by the UK government’s unconstitutional actions in removing Scotland against its will from the EU. For that challenge we need to vote ourselves back into that unequivocal sovereign state by a referendum….Unfortunately, we no longer can do so by having a majority fo seats either in Westminster or the Scots Parliament. But sooner rather than later, before they at Westminster ,legislate our parliament and electorate’s rights out of existence.

  22. sifi

    Personally I think the SNP/Greens are going to lose the next Scottish election because the unionists will use any means to make sure they do. The SNP have got a mandate. They need to use it – they are unlikely to get another chance imo and therefore have nothing to lose.

  23. Bob

    Got to agree with you Peter. It has to be 2018, anything later & we lose.
    As you say Unionists will clobber together to make sure Scotland stays in UK. All legit of course. Like non- Brits being refused a vote or setting a % mark or even UK as a whole getting a say.
    Worst of all imo would be the pessimistic attitude of a lot of scots….We’re out now, so what’s the point. Add those voices to the Unionist vote as well as the loss of EU national voting rights & we lose by an even bigger margin than in 2014.
    Even when UK comes out & a transitional period doesn’t change that imo. UK & that also means Scotland has effectively left EU.
    If on the other hand Scotland gets a vote before agreement is reached & that vote is for Independence then that opens up options for Scotland. To my mind no country within the European Union has been kicked out, whether that be a member or a sub -member. As such Scotland could still stay within EU until full membership is attained, which as we at present comply with EU regs & laws should in effect only be a formality, again imo.
    So a delay past 2018 is one that could in effect be a costly one, not only to Scotland as a country in it’s own right, but also to it’s Parliament, it’s Govt & the SNP.

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