WHERE WE’RE AT NOW – 13th November 2011
The First Term 2007-2011
A political party called the Scottish National Party, with a clearly stated commitment to the independence of Scotland from the United Kingdom, and to calling a referendum in the second half of the Parliament should they be elected - with probably two questions being asked of the voters in that referendum - offered themselves to the electorate in a campaign that ran in April and early May of 2011.
They had already governed Scotland for four years from 2007 as a minority government – the first-ever SNP government of Scotland – in the devolved Parliament. During that period, without an overall majority, they had conducted the affairs of the nation of Scotland against a coordinated opposition comprised of the three unionist parties – the Tories, Labour and the LibDems – with only the intermittent support of the two Green MSPs and one independent, Margo MacDonald.
During their term of office, the combined opposition parties blocked major initiatives designed to tackle serious problems facing the nation, including, notoriously, minimum pricing for alcohol. The SNP government decided not to bring forward its bill for a referendum on Scotland’s independence because of the clear, stated intent of the opposition parties to block it.
Other major events during the SNP’s first term included the release of Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie Bomber, on compassionate grounds, which resulted in a storm of criticism from the Holyrood Opposition, the UK Government and the American Government, and the setting up of the Calman Commission by the opposition parties with the connivance of the UK government to deliberately frustrate the elected SNP government’s plans to secure amendments and extensions to the devolution settlement under the Scotland Act.
In 2008, a major financial crash occurred, affecting the whole of the UK and indeed the global financial markets, and two banks with Scottish roots, but now global banks with a reach far beyond Scotland the UK and Europe, almost went belly up. The UK had little choice but to bail them out, and had Scotland been independent at the moment of their near collapse, UK Minus would have done the exactly same, because its own survival depended on it.
In 2010, Scotland decisively rejected the Tories at a general election, yet a Tory/LibDem Coalition, with the Tories as the dominant partner, now claims to be “one of Scotland’s two Governments”.
On the 5th of May, the Scottish electorate gave an overwhelming mandate to the SNP for a second term, confounding the experts and indeed the structure of Scottish devolution, which was expressly designed to prevent such an outcome.
The electorate did so in the full knowledge that –
they were voting for a party committed to achieving Scotland’s independence, a party whose raison d’etre is the independence of Scotland from the UK
they were voting for a party committed to an independence referendum with probably a second question in the second half of the Parliamentary term.
they were voting for a party that had released Megrahi
they were voting for a party committed to minimum pricing for alcohol
they were voting for a party that had refused to participate in the Calman Commission, and which rejected key fiscal recommendations of the Calman Commission
Not only did the electorate give the SNP a massive majority, they effectively reduced the Scottish Tories and LibDems to insignificant rump parties, and gave the Labour Party the worst results for half a century or more.
REACTION AND THE SECOND TERM 2011-2016
The UK London-based parties reacted with incredulity, despair, then denial. Their Scottish puppet parties reacted with all three reactions plus policy catatonia.
Everything the three UK parties have done since has continued that denial reaction – the Tories and the LibDems have not yet broken through to an objective consideration of the reality: Labour are beginning to show a few glimmerings of understanding, but rather than producing a coherent strategy, this has resulted in near-panic.
The metropolitan media has failed almost totally to understand the new reality, and has periodic bouts of amnesia, when they block it out altogether. Only the Guardian newspaper has shown any real understanding, one that of late has approached a fatalistic acceptance of Scotland’s ultimate independence.
The Scottish media reaction has been a strange mixture of real, penetrating insights, especially by a small group of print and television journalists, commentators, television presenters and interviewers, coupled with a contrasting, lemming-like regurgitation of factoids fed to them by the UK spin machine, leading them into a repetitive reiteration of simplistic questions that have already been clearly answered.
INTERPRETATION OF THE May 5th MANDATE
The first reaction of the Scottish Unionist opposition parties was to challenge the arithmetical validity of the SNP’s mandate, based on a farcical conclusion drawn from the poll turnout considered against the SNP majority. This line is so idiotic as to almost not warrant any response except derision, with the observation that if such arithmetic had been applied to UK elections, virtually no government ever had a mandate.
The opposition swiftly moved away from this nonsense (a few eejits are still peddling it) to interpreting the mandate. They reached the following set of conclusions, some reluctantly, and to each one I have offered my assessment and interpretation -
1. Not every vote for the SNP was a vote for independence.
This is undoubtedly true, and I base this on my certain knowledge that people I know well have told me that they voted on this basis, and it accords with common sense that it must be true of a number of voters. (The polls on independence appear to confirm this conclusion.)
2. The electorate voted for the SNP because they believed they offered the most competent team to govern in the difficult times ahead.
Leaving aside wholly irrational votes, this must be true of the vast majority. What goes with this conclusion, as night follows day, is that they judged that competence on the SNP’s record during four years of minority government, including minimum pricing for alcohol, the Megrahi release, and the SNP’s refusal to participate in, and serious reservations about Calman. Individual voters may or may not have supported each major position, but if opposed, they clearly felt that they were less important than the overall record.
3. The electorate voted for the SNP because they offered a positive vision for Scotland’s future compared to the negative arguments advanced by the opposition parties.
This is almost certainly true: what is equally true is that a positive long-term vision alone would not have been enough to secure a vote without a belief in immediate competence to govern effectively in a challenging present and immediate future.
4. Part of the electorate who were totally opposed to independence nonetheless voted SNP because of a belief in their competence and/or their positive vision for Scotland.
I do not believe this to be true – it offends against common sense, and all I can offer in support of my view is that I have never met anyone who expressed such a view. The idea that a voter who was diametrically opposed to – let’s give it their pejorative term – separation – would vote for the party who is totally and unequivocally committed to it doesn’t stand up for a moment.
5. Part of the electorate voted SNP in the belief that they would immediately call an independence referendum with one YES/NO question. This part of the electorate might have been supporters of independence or opposed to it. If opposed, they wanted a quick referendum and a simple choice to settle the question once and for all, or at least for a generation.
I believe that some supporters of independence voted in this belief. In so doing, they were either ignoring their party’s clear manifesto statements, supported at various times by statements from the First Minister and other ministers, or were – and still are – living in hope that, once in power, this is how the Party would act.
I cannot, however, believe that anyone hostile to independence, or separation as they would call it, could be so stupid as to vote for a party committed to it.
6. The Scottish voter won’t understand the significance of, and the distinction between two questions on a referendum ballot paper.
I have the highest respect for the intelligence and sophistication of the Scottish voter, but I do think a two question ballot paper – if there is one – would have to be very carefully structured, and considerable voter education done in the lead-up period. I’ve had my say at length on this in blogs passim, so I won’t go over the ground again.
7. Scottish voters don’t know what independence means.
In summary: I believe we have a clear and decisive mandate to hold a referendum in the second half of this Parliamentary term, and to ask two questions if the Scottish electorate appear to want a third option to independence or status quo.
I believe we have a clear mandate to block the Calman recommendations until our criticisms are answered and our required changes implemented.
I believe that those Scottish voters who voted SNP but did not vote for independence on May 5th were fully aware of what the SNP stands for and its determination to achieve it, and they have an open mind – they will evaluate performance in office - and listen to the arguments.
WHERE WE’RE AT, WITH NO DOUBLETALK …
The glaring, undeniable Scottish Government priority right now is to meet the formidable challenge of the economic and banking crisis, not hold a referendum.
The UK Government and Scottish Unionist’s demands for an immediate referendum are cynically politically-based. If the FM said yes to their specious request, they would be thrown into even greater panic and driven to even greater incompetence than they are now displaying, and that’s saying something … Their thinly disguised political motive is to make mischief, not to force a referendum, although if they listen to some lunatic voices within the unionist camp, they might try to gerrymander their own referendum, which would be an act of utter political folly with consequences no one could predict.
If a referendum was held now, the chances are it would not deliver a YES vote to independence, although it might just …
If it did, or delivered a second option vote for devo max, no one, least of all the incompetent UK Coalition Government – which may fall prematurely – would be able to devote the time to the complex negotiations necessary to deliver either option. That leaves aside the question of legal challenges, which I cover below.
LEGAL CHALLENGES TO THE RIGHT OF THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT TO HOLD A REFERENDUM
The law is a process which now and again delivers justice and equity, but often doesn't. We can expect the kind of war of legal experts that has erupted recently to intensify until the debate proper starts,when Alex fires the starting gun. I think he may have to fire it a little sooner than he'd planned … (see above)
I could find a team of eminent lawyers tomorrow - if I could afford them - who would persuasively make a case that the Act of Union and the Treaty of Union were illegal from the start and we should all walk away from them now. I'm sure the UK would find a team who would argue equally persuasively that the Act of Union and the Treaty of Union are binding till hell freezes over, and only Divine intervention can change them.
The freedom of nations is not decided ultimately by such things, although they play a part in window-dressing a course of action actually pre-determined by other political forces.
If I could finance my own referendum as a massive sample opinion poll, say with 35% of the electorate taking part and say 51% of that number saying Yes to independence, I could and would demand immediate negotiations on our freedom and bollocks to the law. If my request was firmly rejected, then I might consider older forms of political action, all entirely peaceful, but rather more direct than briefing lawyers.
The thrust towards independence by any nation is not driven by law, nor is it determined by law – it is determined by the will of the people, however it manifests itself. The law is a necessary adjunct to the negotiations after independence becomes an inevitability.
I fervently hope that we can determine the will of the Scottish people by a referendum properly conducted by the Scottish Parliament, at a time that is right.
But the present crisis of capitalism, for that is what it is, represent a great wind of change blowing across the UK, Europe and our planet, and the Left are in disarray worldwide and have nothing to offer in this great crisis, one that they forecast for a century or more but are now totally ill-equipped politically to handle. There are great threats to democracy within the crisis, and the vicious interests that have the will to exploit it are already ‘slouching towards Bethlehem’ as Yeats presciently foresaw in the 1920s, long before Hitler and fascism.
There is an oasis of sanity in the North of Europe, however. I can do no better than quote the Sunday Herald lead article of today -
SCAREMOGERING ON EU BACKFIRES para 9
Scotland is one of the cradles of the Enlightenment and one of the world’s oldest democratic communities. An independent Scotland would inherit part of the UK budget deficit, but it would also inherit around £400 billion in North Sea oil, a quarter of Europe’s entire wind and wave energy resources, and five world class universities.
I would recommend reading the entire editorial – it is what I had always hoped for from the oldest continuously published newspaper in the world – The Glasgow Herald.
Global Spin - Time Magazine: An Independent Scotland? Q&A with Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond (Jay Newton-Small , November 4, 2011 ) Interview Time
Alex Salmond: “50 countries have become independent from London since the Second World War. In just about every case they were told the whole thing would be a complete misadventure, a disaster.
And I'll tell you something strange.
You know, when I was an MP in London where I was for the best part of a quarter of a century, I met all of these high commissioners [ambassadors from the Commonwealth] at various events and occasions, countries large and small, rich and poor and you know what? Not a single one of them ever said we're coming back under London rule, not one.”