On Tuesday the Scottish Parliament held its first debate of 2023, a year in which, if democracy in the UK was functioning properly, there should have been a Scottish independence referendum. But as we have all learned to our cost, democracy in this Greater Englandshire which likes to be known by the affectation United Kingdom, has ceased to function correctly. Not only do we have a Prime Minister who was elected by no one, not even his own party, and who represents a party which has not won an election in Scotland since the 1950s, but he is using the power given to him in secret and behind closed doors by Conservative MPs to deny the people of Scotland the referendum that they voted for in the Holyrood elections of 2021. Even Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory fulminator in chief, proclaimed during that election campaign: ” People have to be really clear that a vote for the SNP is a vote for an independence referendum.”
The SNP won that election, and together with the Scottish Greens who had an equally explicit manifesto commitment to another independence referendum, won an unassailable pro-independence and pro-referendum majority in Holyrood. However now Douglas Ross wants people to be really clear that they did not in fact vote for another independence referendum after all, because, reasons. Having lost the Holyrood election, Ross and his fellow traveller in Trumpesque democracy denial, Anas Sarwar, are contorting themselves in order to come up with excuses as to why their parties did not really lose the election that they lost. So they appeal to opinion polling, even though we do not have government by opinion polling in this or any other country. If we did, that polling would also result in a reversal of the Brexit that both Labour and the Conservatives are so wedded to.
But just as it’s only some results from the ballot box that need to be respected, it’s only some opinion polling that is used to provide a fig leaf for an anti-democratic coup against parliamentary democracy.
Or we get appeals to the percentage of votes cast, as though the Scottish Government election was a referendum and not an election. Yet of course vote share is no longer relevant when it comes to determining whether the Conservatives in Westminster have a mandate for the horrors that they are inflicting upon us all. Neither would it be relevant if Labour were to win the largest number of constituencies after the next General Election. Labour would rightly claim victory and a mandate to implement its manifesto commitments. It’s only in Scotland when the people vote for another independence referendum that special pleading miraculously applies.
It’s only because of this blatant denial of democracy that last October’s Supreme Court ruling was required. However the court made its ruling based on legislation introduced by those same conniving deceitful democracy denying parties, legislation designed to deprive Scotland of the right to self determination that they have always insisted Scotland has in this supposedly voluntary union that we now know is not voluntary at all. For generations British politicians have lied to the people of Scotland about the nature of this so-called union, and they continue to lie brazenly and shamelessly, even though we know that they are lying and they know that we know they are lying when they insist that this is still a voluntary union but refuse to say how the people of Scotland can exercise a choice to leave it without the permission of the Westminster parties. But this is not a voluntary union, this is Greater Englandshire. Labour and the Conservatives know that too, they are just too terrified to admit it to the people of Scotland.
All of this would be an insult to the intelligence in a well-run and competently governed UK, but we don’t live in a state which is globally renowned for the high quality of its government. We live in a UK which has become an object of pity and derision for Brexit, an epically delusional act of self harm founded in English nationalist exceptionalism and nostalgia. This is a state which replaced a posh populist serial liar with a woman who managed to burn down the economy in under a month at the cost of tens of billions to the public purse, then replaced her with a man who had been rejected by his own party just weeks before, and did so without bothering to give the public any say, yet which still insists that it is the epitome of democracy.
Naturally the Labour and Conservative parties attempted to block today’s Holyrood debate from happening. Both the Scottish Tory Sandesh Gulhane and Labour’s Neil Bibby attempted to prevent the debate from taking place. How very dare the majority parties in Holyrood attempt to debate how they are being prevented from fulfilling the mandate given to them by the people of Scotland by the parties which lost the Holyrood election.
Neil and Sandesh need to accept that there’s an awful lot of us who are delighted that Holyrood’s first debate of 2023 is about the independence issue. It’s a question which needs to be addressed and which needs to be resolved through a vote of the people of Scotland, the undemocratic obstructionism and stalling tactics of Labour and the Conservatives are only delaying the inevitable.
When the debate finally got underway it was characterised by Tories treating it as though it were something else entirely, living in a parallel universe is very much on brand for the Conservatives. Many of them insisted on treating this as debate about what they wanted it to be about, and wittered on about the NHS, ignoring of course thirteen years of Tory austerity and pretending it’s all Humza Yousaf’s fault. Sharon Dowey, who makes Annie Wells seem like an intellectual giant, was typical, going on about the NHS while complaining that she couldn’t go on about the NHS and ignoring interventions directly related to the real topic of the debate such as a question about whether she agreed with Ruth Davidson when the latter said that if the pro-independence parties had a majority in Holyrood then they should be able to hold a referendum.
Eventually the motion was carried, by 74 votes to 50 the Parliament decided: “That the Parliament acknowledges the decision of the UK Supreme Court in the reference by the Lord Advocate of devolution issues under paragraph 34 of schedule 6 to the Scotland Act 1998; reaffirms its belief that people in Scotland have the sovereign right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs; believes that the United Kingdom should be a voluntary association of nations and that it should be open to any of its parts to choose by democratic means to withdraw from the union, and calls on the UK Government to respect the right of people in Scotland to choose their constitutional future.”
This was not a vote about the merits of independence, that is a decision for another day, a decision to be made by the people of Scotland, not Holyrood, and certainly not Westminster. This was a vote about democracy, and the democratic right of the people of this country to determine this country’s future themselves. By opposing it, Labour and the Tories reveal themselves as being opposed to the Scottish right to self-determination, a right that they themselves have always claimed to uphold. As such they have revealed themselves as parties which stand for the subordination of Scotland to the dictates of a Westminster Parliament in thrall to English nationalism.
Democracy ceases to be democracy when parties which lose elections refuse to respect the will of the people. There is only one way of determining what that will is, it is through the ballot box, and in parliamentary democracies such as we are supposed to be living in, a government wins a mandate by achieving a majority of elected representatives in the chamber, whether that’s through a single party or a formal or informal coalition of parties agreeing to work toward a common goal. The parties which failed to win a parliamentary majority do not get to rewrite the rules retroactively so that they can still get their way anyway. That renders elections meaningless. However that is exactly what Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are trying to do now. They are unwittingly proving the case for independence, Scotland cannot be a functioning democracy as long as it remains a part of the UK.
Tuesday’s debate in Holyrood will not alter the determination of the parties of English nationalism to block a referendum. They will never agree to a referendum that they are likely to lose. The purpose of the debate is not to get them to change minds that are already made up, it is to keep the issue front and foremost in the public eye in Scotland where the media is not concerned with holding Westminster power to account, and which is doing its best to make the whole uncomfortable issue go away.
The British media is not at all interested in how democracy in Scotland is being traduced, it is scarcely interested in how democracy in the UK is being traduced. The Holyrood debate was not mentioned at all on the BBC’s UK-wide news, the fate of this so-called union does not register outwith Scotland, and that too is another reason for independence. Apparently the only story worthy of note this week is the latest chapter in the on-going dysfunction that is the royal soap opera. The Windsors are the perfect figureheads for Tory Brexit Britain, just like the ruling party, they trade on nostalgia and privilege, they lie, cheat and backstab, they all hate one another, and they cost the public millions, all of which is done with a media that refuses to hold them to account.
Even the BBC’s Scottish news had little interest in the debate, a lamentable state of affairs that was all too predictable. The debate was mentioned in a brief piece far down the running order sandwiched between items on decarbonisation and a story about MSPs’ pay. Most of the time in the piece was given over to Glenn Campbell giving us his take on the issue. Then it was on to a piece about the health issues faced by firefighters, and then we were back to Reporting Scotland’s comfort zone, the fitba, which was given considerably more airtime than the independence issue. Even a plug for Prince Harry’s book got as much time.
This is what we are up against. Scotland is saddled with a media which does its utmost to distract and deflect from the issue that constitutes the fault line in the tectonic plates of Scottish politics. This is why it must remain the primary task of independence supporters to keep doing all we can to highlight the reasons for independence. But the parties of English nationalism are only delaying the inevitable. Scotland’s day will come.
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