British nationalism’s dirty little secret

meaningful sense

If the losers of a Holyrood election can appeal to a PM that Scotland didn’t vote for to ensure that they can still get their way even though they put their proposition to the voters of Scotland in an election only for it to be rejected by the electorate, then Scotland is not a democracy in any meaningful sense. It is not democracy when the losers of an election still get to impose their will and overrule the parties who won. Everyone in Scotland knows that the issue of a second independence referendum was by far and away the dominant and defining issue in last year’s Holyrood election. The pro-independence parties were standing on a platform of asking the voters for a Holyrood mandate to hold another independence referendum, for their part the anti-independence parties were asking the voters for a Holyrood mandate to prevent a second independence referendum. The voters listened to the arguments, Anas Sarwar and Douglas Ross told us at great length why they were opposed to another referendum, equally Nicola Sturgeon and the leaders of the pro-independence parties explained why they believed that there needed to be one.

The voters listened, they weighed up the arguments and decided to elect a Scottish Parliament with its largest ever pro-independence majority. By the rules of the election, rules which had been devised and implemented by the anti-independence Labour and Lib Dem parties, the pro-independence parties not only won an election in which they had clearly and unequivocally asked for a mandate for another independence referendum within the five year term of the newly elected Parliament, they won that election handsomely.

Yet here we are over a year on from that election and Ross and Sarwar are still trotting out the same slogans and arguments from that election campaign last year which they lost. It’s as though the election never happened. It is perfectly legitimate for them to continue to oppose Scottish independence, but it is not legitimate for them to appeal to extra-parliamentary authorities in order to ensure that they still get to implement the propositions which they put to the people of Scotland in an election which they lost. Disagreement is at the heart of democracy, but what is also at the heart of democracy is accepting the outcome of a democratic vote. The British nationalists are refusing to do so.

Of course the immediate retort of the apologists for British nationalism is that those of us who seek another independence referendum are not respecting the result of the first one. This is a spurious argument for two reasons, firstly what the British nationalists are trying to do now is to over rule the outcome of a Scottish election whose results were not to their pleasing by appealing to an external authority which has no democratic mandate in Scotland. Supporters of independence are demanding that the people of Scotland be allowed to revisit the question of independence after the people of Scotland themselves explicitly voted for a Scottish Parliament which offers them that choice. It’s not Nicola Sturgeon or the SNP which is demanding another referendum, it’s the people of Scotland.

Secondly it is spurious because what the British nationalist parties are doing is appealing to that external authority in order to ensure that they cannot be held to account for the promises and commitments that they made during the 2014 campaign in order to secure that No vote which they so desperately craved. Meanwhile they are insisting that the side which lost that campaign be held to what was not even a promise, but was rather campaign rhetoric aimed at boosting voter turn out and participation. If the Yes side must be held to account for the “once in a generation” line, what mechanism does Scotland possess for ensuring that the Better Together parties are held to account for their litany of broken promises?

The short answer is that the British nationalist parties are determined to ensure that Scotland has no such mechanism. The dirty little secret of Anglo-British nationalism in Scotland is that Westminster was only ever prepared to concede that the United Kingdom is a voluntary union founded upon the consent of its constituent nations as long as the Westminster parties believed that there was no realistic prospect of Scotland putting that to the test and opting for independence.

Even now British nationalist politicians are still claiming that this is a voluntary union founded upon consent but whether Labour or Conservative, they all refuse to set out the democratic steps through which Scotland can exercise this right. When pressed on this question they all refuse to answer, some going so far as to smugly assert that it’s not for them to come up with the answer, it’s for those who seek another referendum. But when those of us who want that referendum point to the mandate for another referendum that the people of Scotland gave to Holyrood in 2021, and say that this is the only possible democratic means through which the people of Scotland can express their desire to revisit the question of independence those same British nationalist politicians triumphantly proclaim, “No, that’s not it. Try again.”

We all know what’s really going on here, even though it is the very last thing that Labour or the Conservatives would admit to. The two big Westminster parties will never agree to facilitate another independence referendum as long as they fear that there is a chance that Scotland would go for it.

The question of whether a democratic route to another referendum really exists if no one knows what it is and the parties responsible for blocking the referendum refuse to explain it sounds like some sort of Kafkaesque nightmare, but that is the current reality of the state of democracy in Scotland.

The reality is that Scotland is going to have to take its destiny into its own hands and either see the UK Supreme Court rule that Holyrood can go ahead with the referendum without that infamous Section 30 order that the British nationalists are wielding as the key to the prison cell door, or we turn the next UK General Election into a de facto referendum in which Labour and the Conservatives will both stand exposed as democracy denying liars and the true undemocratic nature of the UK can no longer be hidden.

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