Scotland may not have declared independence yet – but it’s just declared independence from the tyranny of “once in a generation”

For many years now, I’ve been arguing that there’s considerable beauty in finding out once and for all whether the Scottish Parliament can legislate for an independence referendum without a Section 30 order – because if it turns out it can’t, we can then stop worrying about referendums altogether and get on with achieving a mandate for independence via a scheduled election.  That carries three huge advantages – 

1) It acknowledges the principle that while there may be a legal barrier to Scotland becoming independent without the consent of the UK Parliament, there is no legal barrier to Scotland voting for independence without the consent of the UK Parliament.  Those are two completely distinct concepts that have been conflated and muddled for far too long – including, it has to be said, by very senior people in the SNP.  There is nothing to stop any political party putting independence in its manifesto for any election, and indeed it’s highly unlikely that there’s any legal impediment to holding an informal, ‘unauthorised’ referendum.  This is not Spain and voting is not a criminal offence – not yet, anyway.

2) It frees us from the tyranny of “once in a generation”, which again has been a tyranny caused by people both outside and inside the SNP.  If and when it’s established that the referendum option has been legally closed off and that scheduled elections are the route to independence, never again should we hear the argument that “we only get one more shot so we have to wait for the absolutely perfect moment“.  Scheduled elections by definition occur on a regular basis – every five years or sometimes less.  So the fear of failure will be taken away – we know another opportunity will present itself relatively quickly even if we fail to get our mandate in 2024.

3) It’s going to cause a considerable strategic dilemma for the Tories and other unionist parties.  Can they really fight the 2024 election on the familiar  “stop a referendum” pledge when the SNP are no longer asking for a referendum?  But if they fight it on a starker “stop independence” pledge, that’ll tacitly acknowledge that the election is a de facto referendum, and make it harder to later discredit or ignore any pro-indy mandate that may be achieved.  Do they therefore go into the election largely ignoring the independence issue, and thus deprive themselves of the tried and tested way of firing up their own base?  It’s a real problem for them.

Incidentally, it’s not totally impossible that an incoming Labour government in 2024 might refuse to accept an SNP victory as an outright independence mandate but would at that point finally accept that the issue has to be resolved, and offer a legal referendum as a compromise.  But before the election it’s absolutely vital that everyone in the SNP and the wider Yes movement holds the line that an independence mandate must simply be respected, full stop, without any suggestion that a compromise will be considered.  That’ll give us the maximum leverage after the mandate is achieved.