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.Views: 8016
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