According to a report in the Sunday Times, the Scottish Government intends to hold a consultative referendum in order to avoid any potential legal issues if a Section 30 order is not forthcoming from the British Government. The report claims that the Scottish Government believes that a consultative vote is within the powers of the Scottish Government and has a better chance of bypassing possible legal challenges. Essentially what this boils down to is that a Yes vote in the referendum would not result in Holyrood making an immediate declaration of independence but rather would give Holyrood a popular mandate to open independence negotiations with Westminster. This is basically what would have happened anyway in 2014 had that year’s referendum produced a Yes vote.
It should be pointed out straight away that under what passes for a constitution in the UK, referendums are always consultative. The British nationalist fetish for the absolute sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament means that nothing can bind the hands of Parliament, no government can pass legislation that a subsequent government is unable to repeal, by pass, or overrule, and it is up to Westminster to legislate in order to put into effect any decisions made by the electorate in a referendum. The EU referendum was a consultative referendum, but the second that the result was declared, the political pressure to implement it became overwhelming, and was immediately taken advantage of by the right wing of the Conservative party.
The key issue here is to ensure that the referendum is lawful, if it is lawful, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and Labour as political parties could choose to boycott the referendum but they would not be lawfully able to order Conservative or Labour controlled local authorities not to participate in the referendum and to deny the vote to residents of those local authorities.
As I mentioned in my previous piece, right now we are in the same stage of proceedings as we were in 2012 before the Edinburgh Agreement when the British nationalist parties refused to accept that Holyrood does have a mandate for a referendum and are intent on arguing about process, about the legality of the referendum, rather than engaging in the substantive arguments of the merits of an independent Scotland versus their assertions that Scotland is better served by remaining under Westminster rule. This is not a debate that they want to have because they are painfully aware, even if they would never admit it in public, that they themselves have destroyed the strongest weapons that were in their persuasive arsenal in the 2014 campaign. No one in Scotland will now believe a Westminster promise that following a No vote there will be greater powers for Holyrood. Instead we know that Westminster will seize on a No vote and eviscerate the remaining powers of Holyrood in order to turn it into a toothless talking shop. The only thing that has prevented the Tories from doing this already is their fear of another independence referendum. One that fear is removed the Anglo-British nationalist gloves will be off and we will see an all out assault on the devolution settlement from the Tories.
Equally no one will believe any commitments to investment or promises that jobs will be secure. Those 26 frigates have sailed off into imaginary waters. Crucially they also know that we enter the second independence with the two sides neck and neck in the polls and that the No campaign no longer possesses the massive lead in opinion polling that it enjoyed at the start of the 2014 campaign and that opposition to independence and support for the British state can no longer be portrayed as opposition to “nationalism”. We can all see for ourselves the xenophobic Anglo-British nationalism of this Conservative government.
This is why the anti-independence parties are hoping to use any means that they can in order to frustrate the democratic will of the people of Scotland for a second independence referendum. They realise the weakness of their own position. It is because they know that their union flag jaikets are on a very shoogly peg that they are desperate enough to try and block the operation of democracy in Scotland by asserting its unlawfulness. However as Matt Qvortup, a professor of political science at Coventry University who has studied referendums around the world, pointed out, there was no doubt that the Scottish Government did have a democratic mandate for a fresh vote and he predicted that attempts by the Westminster parties or their British nationalist surrogates to use the courts in an attempt to thwart that mandate could significantly boost support for independence by as much as 5%.
The professor also pointed out that one of the persistent claims of the anti-independence parties is categorically untrue. We have heard a lot that an independent Scotland would immediately be saddled with a debt of £180 billion as its pro-rata share of debt from the UK. However Professor Qvortup noted that an independent Scotland would be under no legal obligation to pay any share of UK debt after independence and could use this fact as a negotiating tactic. Scotland could point out that legally it was perfectly free to walk away from the UK’s debt but negotiate to take on a share of it in return for a share of the UK’s assets. No assets, no debt.
Professor Qvortup also said that we should not rule out the possibility that Johnson might after all agree to a Section 30 order and another referendum. It has always struck me as odd that certain people are prepared to accept at face value Johnson’s claim that he will not agree to a Section 30 order when he lies about everything else. From Johnson’s point of view there are political advantages to facilitating another Scottish independence referendum. If he wins it he can pose as the great champion of the Union and can use the victory in order to destroy the power of the Scottish Parliament, removing an inconvenient and annoying source of political power and authority which is independent of him. If he loses, he removes a block of fifty anti-Conservative MPs from Westminster, which in Qvortup’s words would “fireproof” the Conservatives at Westminster for a very long time, adding : “So either he saves the Union or he goes down as a democrat and also guarantees his majority for a very long time. If somebody were to think that thought then it [a section 30 order] may not be quite so unlikely.”
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