TO answer questions regarding the routes to IndyRef2, we need to grasp the fact that winning Scottish independence is not reduceable to a neat constitutional process. Rather, we are dealing with a political and social revolution. Not a revolution with guns – though there will be more than a few barricades before we’re done. But the shattering of the three century-old United Kingdom will involve major political and economic convulsions well outside the confines of a TV studio debate.
The reason is simple: Scottish independence is only a subset (if an important one) of a general crisis of the British state, its economy and political parties. If Brexit shows nothing else, it is that the British state is falling apart under its own contradictions. British capitalism has ceased to be competitive except for the gigantic tax dodge that is the City of London. Britain’s two main Unionist parties are deeply split internally and incapable of resolving the Brexit imbroglio. Public confidence in parliamentary democracy is at a low ebb. Brexit, as well as threatening economic chaos, has reduced the political system to stasis and reenergised the Irish demand for unification.
There never was a more immediate need for Scotland to exit this dysfunctional economic and political setup by calling a second independence referendum as soon as possible. Partly because it is the only way to safeguard the material and social interests of ordinary Scottish working people. Partly because – with the British ruling elite distracted by its own problems – now is the optimal time to strike for Scottish freedom. And partly because any resolution of the general British crisis will mean a stabilization of the regime on a more reactionary basis, which will most likely postpone a bid for Scottish independence for a generation or longer.
Given the gravity of the situation, we must recognize that winning an independence majority can no longer be premised on a strategy of molecular acquisition. The 45 per cent who supported indy in 2014 are rock solid. They have already left the UK in their heads and hearts. But in the present critical moment, you will not get over the 50 per cent barrier using uber cautious appeals to individual self-interest – folk are too frightened and uncertain. Nor will presenting independence as a “minimum change” option (pace the so-called Growth Commission) allay these fears.
Instead, the independence message must be collective. It must be radical, popular, transformative and mobilize the mass of working class voters and young people – especially the half million who did not vote in the 2014 referendum. The broad appeal should be to class interest and the future of the younger generation. It will be crucial to stress nationalization of raw materials and bank, in the public interest, and the introduction of a wealth tax on the rich.
It is certain – in the current Brexit crisis – that the Tory government in London will refuse to agree a fresh referendum and veto a new Section 30 Order. This refusal must be met by a phased escalation of public civil disobedience and Westminster parliamentary obstruction by SNP MPs. Civil disobedience should be peaceful but inventive; e.g. blocking the London subway in the rush hour. The SNP government at Holyrood should rally public support by challenging Treasury control over the Scottish budget; e.g. by breaking Treasury spending rules to subvert the welfare cap.
This strategy of tension will only have an impact when the Brexit crisis is at its height. If it succeeds, an agreed IndyRef2 will open the path to independence. If London remains intransigent, the FM should attempt to engineer an extraordinary Holyrood election, on a mandate to seek immediate independence negotiations. If an independence majority is elected but negotiations refused, the SNP should withdraw its MPs from Westminster, and declare a sovereign assembly on the lines of Dáil Éireann in 1919 (with a confirming plebiscite to follow immediately).
Should it prove impossible to engineer an extraordinary Holyrood election, the FM should fall back – as a last resort – on a consultative independence referendum, even if Westminster refuses to recognize its legality. The Tories will seek to boycott such a poll. Maximum pressure should therefore be put on Labour to recognize the right of the Scottish people to vote on their own future. The ultimate legitimacy of such a consultative referendum would depend on a turnout of more than 50 per cent of the electorate. But if that cannot be achieved then certainly it would suggest the Scottish people are unwilling to proceed with nation-building, even in a systemic crisis.
The consultative referendum should seek a mandate for the Scottish government to negotiate independence with Westminster. If such negotiations are again refused, then the Scottish government should renew the campaign of civil disobedience and Holyrood resistance to London interference in budgetary matters. Ultimately, the route to independence is a test of popular will. But so are all political revolutions. It is a test the Scottish people are up for.