WHEN will the “time be right” for Number 10 to grant Scots a second independence referendum?
Do the maths.
Take the last year a majority of Scots got the British Government they voted for. Multiply by six – the number of Tory MPs left in Scotland. Add 19 (Boris’s birthday) and subtract the number of times you’ve already voted for indyref2 – et voila!
The date for Scotland’s second crack at the whip. Though if you raise an eyebrow, the wait could easily double.
Yip, it’s the Tories’ indyref2 gameshow – will it be 40 years, 25 years, with two referendums or none – or one next year?
Certainly not the Tories.
There’s no point tracking the twists and turns of their recent contradictory pronouncements. By the time this is published, another grandee is bound to have devised a new formula that lets democracy get kicked a bit further down the road. Optimists suggest the contradictory formulations adopted by Messrs Jack, Major and Johnson are a sign that the Tories are panicked and getting their constitutional knickers in a twist. But the present flurry of different referendum dates could also be a diversionary tactic, using up Yes energy and diverting us from the serial shambles that passes for governance at Westminster.
So let’s just ignore it, let the Tories bait someone else this week and press on regardless.
I know it’s massively irritating to hear some (inevitably) elderly patrician politician pontificate about the length of “a generation” in the context of indyref2 timing. Especially when it’s the likes of John Major and uber toff Alister Jack. But never heed them.
Never mind that “once in a generation” was obviously a rhetorical flourish – a bit like Boris declaring he would “die in a ditch” – not a Moses-like tablet of stone. Never mind that no government commits its successor – though that’s also true. Never mind that Alex Salmond’s famous sentence allowed for a revisit in radically changed times. Never mind that the UK Government has broken its word time beyond count and is about to break international law over the Internal Market Bill. Never mind that David Mundell promised another indyref “if the people of Scotland ultimately determine they want to have one”, as Scottish Secretary in 2016. Never mind that the Smith Commission in 2014 said “nothing in this report prevents Scotland becoming an independent country in the future should the people of Scotland so choose”. Never mind the hypocrisy of treating “once in a generation” as the literal gospel but dismissing every other part of the Scottish Government’s White Paper as tosh. And never mind Alister Jack’s latest wind-up, suggesting the SNP should “frankly accept” another vote is unlikely within 25 years in response to Dr Philippa Whitford’s comparison of Scotland to a wife trapped in an unhappy marriage.
No, never mind any of these valid criticisms of the Tories’ once-in-a-generation stance.
Because there is one stronger card to play.
It’s not political leaders, parties, White Papers or one-off speeches that count – it’s the people who decide when they’re ready to move. It’s not Nicola Sturgeon being snubbed by this arcane debate about the length of a political generation, it’s the Scottish electorate. And it’s not just the Conservative party whose (dwindling) reputation is being irreparably damaged by their lofty, high-handedness – it’s the whole Union project.
Let’s be clear. Even if Alex or Nicola had insisted there would never be another indyref ever, ever, ever – it would matter not a jot, because no democratic leader can shut down the aspirations of an entire people.
The democratically elected First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster is absolutely opposed to a border poll over reunification, yet a mechanism to hold one exists in legislation – extended to the PEOPLE of Northern Ireland over the head of its leader.
Strangely enough, when the potent threat of violence exists, the Irish Republic is on the case and there’s backing from the European Union (and now Joe Biden) it’s amazing how easily the British Government can distinguish between a leader’s personal views about constitutional change and the voters’ entitlement to choose differently.
In the case of Scotland, though, the emphasis is always on the past words of past leaders in past situations – not the present rights of the current electorate. That’s not an accident. The Tories madden in a bid to confuse.
So let’s ignore their diversionary and divisive tactics – and stay focused.
With a big vote for pro-indy parties in May, with polls that remain above 50% and with a continuation of the slow political and emotional shift towards independence, the political climate facing Boris after the May election results will turn as frosty as it has done in the States for Donald Trump.
BEFORE then, we have another hurdle to cross – the final insult to democracy of a No-Deal Brexit. The word is that Boris Johnson might announce an end to trade talks this weekend, declaring all sorts of incendiary rubbish about EU obstructionism, the merits of a “clean break” and the improbable imminence of a deal instead with Biden’s America. And weary as we are, preoccupied with Covid as we are, and as diverted by all this rubbish about the length of a generation before indyref2 – Scots must respond. That can’t be mass protests on the streets – agreed. But we have the wit and online skills to register refusal, dissent and objection to what is happening and, in so doing, to reassert Scotland’s national resolve to create a different kind of country. It could happen soon, and we must be ready.
As soon as a No-Deal or a Rubbish Deal is announced, we need to find the energy to focus, remind ourselves this democratic affront really matters and remember that 2021 will find the morale and credibility of the British Government at its weakest – moving seamlessly from the shambles of Covid (vaccines permitting) to the shambles of Brexit. So who cares if Alister Jack thinks a generation lasts a millennium for indyref2 purposes – we need to keep building the case for a better future, when all the levers are in our own hands.