Once in a Generation? Why There Needs to be a second Scottish Independence Referendum

Yes, it was supposed to be once-in-a-generation - and, in a very real sense, it still is - but unfortunately, unforeseen circumstances have made a second referendum not only possible, but democratically necessitated.

Since the results of the EU referendum, there’s been a lot of renewed talk on the issue of Scottish Independence - and just lately, the Scottish National Party (SNP) have unveiled their plans [1] for a second referendum. Predictably, and just like everything else done by anyone ever, this has prompted a lot of anger from a lot of people. For many people who do not vote SNP and do not support Scottish Independence, the fundamental issue is this:

Wasn’t the 2014 independence referendum promised as a “once-in-a-generation” event?

Yes.

Has a generation passed since the referendum?

No.

So why is it we’re talking about another referendum already?

Well, there’s the thing - a lot of people just don’t seem to understand what happened in 2014. Yes, it was supposed to be once-in-a-generation - and, in a very real sense, it still is - but unfortunately, unforeseen circumstances have made a second referendum not only possible, but democratically necessitated.

Confused? Let me explain.

In 2014, the people of Scotland were offered a choice - but it was not the very simple choice you may have been led to believe. On paper, they were asked to decide whether they wanted to remain as part of the United Kingdom, or become a separate, independent sovereign state in their own right. On paper, they voted 55.3% to 44.7% in favour of remaining part of the UK [2]. On paper, the issue is decided.

Only, not really. Because as Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP, has quite rightly argued, the UK Scotland voted to remain a part of no longer exists [3], if the government is going ahead with its plans for Brexit.

Much like the EU referendum, the independence referendum campaign was fraught with lies and false promises from the very start, but let’s focus on two of the major cases.

Firstly, the leaders of the (then) three biggest political parties in Westminster came together to promise Scotland a huge host of new powers in the immediate aftermath of a “no” result in the referendum. To the surprise of presumably everybody, these promises were broken almost immediately [4], and though some new powers have been granted to Scotland, these are not on the promised scale.

Secondly, and of particular importance in the wake of a Tory Brexit, Scotland was told that the only way to guarantee their place in the European Union was to vote against independence, and remain a constituent country of the UK. Now, however, it is precisely because of the vote to remain a part of the UK that Scotland is facing the prospect of being dragged from the EU against the wishes of its population [4].

So what did Scotland vote for in 2014?

Put simply, we voted to remain joined with the United Kingdom, as a member state of the European Union, with vast new allowances to determine our own fates, and increase the sovereignty of Holyrood.

And is that what we’re getting?

No.

And let’s be clear. To anyone who thinks the population of Scotland don’t care all that much about the EU, only about the UK, let’s look at the facts. We mustn’t forget, Scottish trade, tourism, and job creation is dependent to a great extent on the EU [5] - but let’s just consider referendum results for now.

In 2014, Scotland voted by a 10.6-point margin in favour of remaining in the UK [2]. But in 2016, Scotland voted by a 24-point margin in favour of remaining in the EU [6]. If our democratic wishes, as expressed only through the recent referenda we have already had, must be respected, then surely it is clear we must be given every opportunity to remain in the EU, even if this means we must reconsider our relationship with the UK.

If you voted to leave the EU, and are against giving Scotland a second chance to vote for its independence, consider this brief thought experiment. Why did you vote leave? Maybe you wanted to “take back control” of the UK’s borders, by restricting immigration from the EU.

Maybe you were motivated by arguments of “sovereignty”, and wanted UK laws to be entirely determined by politicians elected in the UK. Maybe you believed the prominent but completely fictitious [7] claim by the Leave campaign that we give £350m to the EU every week, and would give this to the NHS instead were we to vote Leave. I don’t presume to speak for you, and there are many possible reasons why you may have cast your vote - these are just a few examples.

Now let’s imagine two years down the line. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has been triggered. The UK has been negotiating with the heads of EU member states, and we’ve reached a deal.

Now let’s imagine - just imagine - the deal we have reached is as follows. Free movement of people between the UK and the EU will be guaranteed. The UK will continue to be bound by EU legislation. We will continue to make the same monetary contributions we previously made.

However, this time, the EU will not give us as much funding back in return, and we will not elect Members of the European Parliament to help shape those laws by which we’ll still be governed. Technically speaking, we will now be classified as a EU affiliate, rather than an EU member state.

In short, none of the issues which motivated a Leave vote have been addressed, the situation has become clearly and distinctly worse, and yet, as promised, we have “left” the European Union. But would you, as a Leave voter, feel you’d got what you voted for?

Would you quiet down, accept the result, and say “well, we had our referendum, and we’ve got what we voted for”? Or would you be outraged, and demand the democratic opportunity to reject the horrendously bad hand you’ve been dealt?

Again, I can’t speak for you – like most people up here in Scotland, I voted Remain. But I have my suspicions you would opt for the latter choice - and if so, you really should be able to understand how many people in Scotland are feeling right now. And if you really care about the process of democracy, rather than just enjoying when this process happens to deliver the result you want, then please do not complain about Scots wanting to get what they actually voted for, or vote again, rather than being saddled with whatever the Tory government we didn’t elect chooses for us.

A final note - you may believe Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP simply want to seize upon any opportunity to push the independence issue again. And that, if Scotland votes no again, the SNP will just push for another referendum in another few years. And you could make the argument that, in a way, the EU referendum result has worked out well for many of those who support Scottish Independence. I wouldn’t agree with you, but it’s an argument you could make.

But does it matter? If the SNP, or anybody else, ever raises the prospect of independence, the matter must be considered on its own merit, each time. In the absence of a “material change in circumstances”, had the SNP launched a second independence campaign regardless, I would not be so eager to support them. But this time, at least, even if you hypothesise nationalism at all costs as an underlying motivation behind Sturgeon’s argument, the argument itself is a good one. The UK in which Scotland voted to remain no longer exists. It has to be up to Scotland to figure out Plan B.

References:

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-37634338

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/events/scotland-decides/results

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36632899

[4] http://www.snp.org/broken_promises_by_tories_and_no_campaign_since_indyref

[5] http://www.parliament.scot/S4_EuropeanandExternalRelationsCommittee/General%20Documents/SB_15-71_The_impact_of_EU_membership_in_Scotland.pdf

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/eu_referendum/results

[7] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-lave-campaign-broken-promises-mounting-live-updates-polls-7103076.html

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