Scottish Tory MSP Stephen Kerr has claimed that the 2014 independence referendum campaign was “gruesome” and that the next referendum is going to be even worse. There are indeed many things about the next independence referendum campaign which are going to be gruesome, not the least of which is the appalling prospect of having to deal with more of Stephen Kerr on our TV screens. However he is right in one sense, the 2014 independence referendum campaign was indeed gruesome for British nationalists like Stephen Kerr because despite their early confident predictions that they’d achieve a No vote in excess of 70%, by the time that the vote came around they very nearly lost, and next year’s independence referendum will be even more gruesome for British nationalists because they are going to lose. I suspect however that that is not what Kerr meant.
British nationalist Brexit supporting Tories like Kerr like to wring their hands about how “divisive” the referendum supposedly was and how it divided families, communities, and towns, because Scottish people are apparently so immature that they are incapable of having a democratic debate without getting out the pitchforks and torches dipped in tar. It is funny how Kerr and his Conservative colleagues did not have similar qualms about Brexit and decided to press ahead with the most extreme form of Brexit possible despite the narrowness of the leave victory in the 2016 EU referendum. They were none too concerned about healing divisions then.
Likewise the Anglo-British nationalist parties were not too bothered about reconciling the 45% of Scotland’s voters who voted Yes in 2014 to the No victory, something that they could have done by ensuring that all the promises and commitments made to Scotland by the Better Together parties during the referendum campaign in an effort to secure a victory for the No side were properly fulfilled both in spirit and to the letter. Instead the Better Together parties competed with one another to reduce to a minimum the extra powers promised to Holyrood and then the Conservatives went even further down the path of duplicitous mendacity by using the Brexit that Scotland didn’t vote for in order to unilaterally undermine the devolution settlement and to make changes to devolution without even pretending to seek a democratic mandate from the people of Scotland in order to do so.
Had the Conservatives and their Better Together allies kept all the promises that they made, people like me would still be arguing for Scottish independence, however the steam would well and truly have gone out of the independence movement and we would not currently be looking at a second independence referendum in 2023. Stephen Kerr and his British nationalist fellow travellers have only got themselves to blame for that.
Of course the “divisiveness” that the likes of Kerr is really upset about is that the referendum campaign of 2013 to 2014 overturned the apparently cosy unionist consensus in Scotland, it normalised the idea of independence amongst the wider Scottish public and in Scottish political discourse and meant that Anglo-British nationalist supremacists like Stephen Kerr could no longer mouth off in the golf club bar about how incapable and hopeless they think Scotland is without their assumptions being challenged.
You can bet your last penny however that following a Yes victory in the next independence referendum Kerr and the Scottish Tories will be loudly screaming about the need for the winning Yes side to make huge compromises in order to placate and reassure the losing No side.
It is also very noticeable that the Conservatives and their allies never acknowledge that the only violence which resulted from the independence campaign in 2014 came from British nationalist extremists who went on a rampage after the result was announced, attacking and assaulting peaceful independence supporters on the streets of Glasgow. To its eternal shame BBC Scotland reported this ugly outbreak of British nationalist violence as “clashes between supporters and opponents of independence” as though there were a moral equivalence between British nationalist thugs and the peaceful victims of their unprovoked attacks. This time it is vital that Police Scotland make it clear that the violent entitlement of sectarian British nationalists will not be tolerated.
The next independence referendum however will be uglier because although the anti-independence campaign was characterised by its negativity, threats and scaremongering, the Better Together campaign was able to proffer some carrots in the shape of Gordon Brown’s now infamous Vow. That is not a trick that they will be able to pull off in the next referendum. Scotland has learned the hard way that promises made to Scotland by anti-independence parties in order to secure a No vote in an independence referendum are not worth the breath it takes to utter them, and that goes double for anything that issues from the mouth of serial liar and treaty and law breaker Boris Johnson. We all know that it’s only the threat of another referendum which prevents Johnson from abolishing any meaningful powers that Holyrood has, and that the second a No vote is secured the Conservatives will strip the Scottish Parliament of anything that runs counter to Westminster’s wishes and will reduce it to a toothless talking shop.
Equally Better Together 2.0 cannot deploy the tactic it used in the 2014 campaign, framing the debate as one between a parochial and backward looking Scottish nationalism and an internationalist outward looking non-nationalist unionism. Brexit has exposed the true and ugly nature of British nationalism in all its xenophobia, reactionary nostalgia and flag waving hypocrisy. It is Scottish independence which now promises true internationalism and deeper and more meaningful ties to our European neighbours.
All that the anti-independence parties have left now are threats, scare stories and intimidation tactics. The next independence referendum campaign will indeed be gruesome for Stephen Kerr because in that campaign all the consequences of Conservative lies, deceit and British nationalist hypocrisy will come home to roost. They have nothing to offer Scotland except continuing decline, more lies, and a Westminster that can never be held to account. That is why they are going to lose.
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