IS Pete Wishart right to oppose SNP support for the Peoples’ Vote on the grounds it will set a precedent for a second independence referendum and probably produce another split result with no greater clout for Scotland’s desire to Remain?
In yesterday’s National the party’s longest-serving MP said: “No-one from the People’s Vote campaign has attempted to answer the question, which is – what if Scotland votes to remain (which it will) and the UK as a whole votes to leave again (which it might)? They won’t answer because, for them, it is a UK vote and the outcome in Scotland is irrelevant …They simply do not acknowledge we as a nation have our own national view and national interest,” he said. “To say we will sign up to a referendum without any guarantee that our Scottish national voice will be at least acknowledged is little more than an open invitation to have [it] ignored and disrespected all over again. We are simply inviting all the indignities we are currently enduring to be replicated and refreshed.”
Well, Pete might be right about the danger of Scots giving People’s Vote campaigners a blank cheque – though Nicola Sturgeon says she’s asking for assurances – and it would have helped party cohesion if MPs and MSPs had been consulted before hearing about the change of policy on The Andrew Marr Show.
But the SNP conference backed the FM’s stance and I humbly suggest quitting the People’s Vote campaign now would be entirely counter-productive because there are bigger fish to fry – winning the hearts and minds of wavering Scots for the cause of independence.
Essentially, Nicola Sturgeon’s attempt to save the WHOLE UK from the mess of Brexit has impressed many No-voting Scots who care about Britain, view Westminster fondly but want to stay in the EU.
In stark contrast to the selfish, egotistical, chaotic and shameless behaviour by all sides at Westminster, the Scottish Government has tackled this impending nightmare without dogma, shouting, propaganda or weaponising the democratic meltdown south of the border.
The SNP have taken several significant stands – passing a Continuity Bill at Holyrood, walking out over the non-existent debate about Brexit’s impact on Scotland and now quietly working with MPs and MSPs from other parties to achieve an Al Capone-style halt to Brexit via relatively obscure legal judgements and detailed paperwork. Litigation suggesting the UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50 will go before the Court of Justice in Luxemburg on November 27 if, as expected, the UK Government’s bizarre appeal against “taking back control” is thrown out next week.
But there’s been no histrionics or grand-standing over Brexit. That’s frustrating, for sure. But it’s right.
Currently, Nicola Sturgeon looks like the most reasonable politician in Britain. That hard-won reputation for fairness must stay sky-high to put clear water between the grubby way Britain does politics and the mature way Scotland has approached key reserved issues of trade, immigration, and constitutional change. That calm maturity will maximise support for indyref2.
Besides, it’s not clear the People’s Vote will ever happen.
I wrote a column in this paper in June, expressing mild surprise that independence-opposing politicians in England were so desperate to get the endorsement of Nicola Sturgeon. The idea her support would suddenly transform the fortunes of the People’s Vote campaign seemed naïve – indeed since she joined their ranks, the SNP leader’s spent most of her time urging Jeremy Corbyn to do the same.
Without Labour joining, the People’s Vote will likely get nowhere and everybody knows it. But that’s powerful too. Remain voting Labour supporters in Scotland and potentially wavering Yessers will be aware that when push came to shove, on this vitally important issue, Corbyn was nowhere to be seen. Joining the campaign has given Nicola Sturgeon the moral authority to highlight that fact.
But does her support make the People’s Vote any more likely to happen? I hae ma doots. It’ll apparently take 10 months to organise – too long for the current Brexit timeframe. There’s disagreement about the nature of the question/s to be asked, the danger that another Leave majority cements Brexit into place and robs a reawakened Commons or a new government of the chance to turn things around.
The People’s Vote may also muddy the water about when and how Scotland is dragged out of Europe, slowing momentum towards another indyref while the agonies of Brexit are still upon us.
But despite all these downsides, it may still be better to have tried. For Scotland it is always better to be on the winning side, or failing that, the socially just side. That’s how we bolster and develop our own distinctive political culture, and that lofty mission is actually more important than opting in or out of a campaign that may never actually happen in a situation where no-one can guess the most likely end game.
Of course it rankles to know we will most likely be let down by erstwhile allies. Just as it rankles with some to applaud converts like Billy Connolly.
But if the urge to say, “I told you so” is stronger than the urge to win independence, something’s wrong. In the next few years we will all have to turn the other cheek as often as the man in the good book.
This is what winning is like. Never carping. Never making people wrong – until there is no alternative. Winning means building relationships – not forcing through deals. Consensual, pally, “cute” Ireland has the whole of Europe behind it because it did not stand aloof and apart as Britain has done, wary of losing power by gaining proximity and running the risk of having a Rule Britannia stance undermined by actually understanding the perspective of other nations. We must build relationships with British progressives – and with No voters here. That means consistent, progressive behavior – not stand-offs and ultimatums.
Lesley Riddoch, Columnist