Scottish independence: Dear Santa, please give the SNP a referendum, it's the only way they'll shut up about it and start governing the country properly – Alastair Stewart

One sympathises with Yes supporters when the fourth opinion poll in a row shows record support for independence.
Will Santa Claus bring something special for the SNP this year? (Picture: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Brooks Brothers)Will Santa Claus bring something special for the SNP this year? (Picture: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Brooks Brothers)
Will Santa Claus bring something special for the SNP this year? (Picture: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Brooks Brothers)

The crowds go wild, but the SNP does nothing. There is a lot of repetitive shouting and screaming about Westminster's failings, but the Scottish Government does not even try to make a triumphant shot. It must be intolerable to see your own political party stand frozen. Please, Santa, give the SNP their referendum. Or, more aptly, give the Scottish Parliament a formal mechanism to request one if the ruling party has been elected to hold a vote.

This is not some principled advocation of Scotland's right to choose its constitutional future. As it happens, while I do believe the SNP has a mandate to hold a referendum, I also think independence would be the worst kind of constitutional vandalism.

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But people keep voting in a party that says they want to hold a vote. How much more of the same noise can we all take, without moving forward? Just make the incessant broken record stop. How often can you blame Westminster for collapsing standards in health, education and other devolved matters?

Why can the Scottish Government not multitask on improving the country while putting forth detailed, costed analyses for independence that protect standards and drive their vision forward? Well, that's a good question. You might also ask why they would spend eight years flirting and demanding a second vote without producing a truly substantive or concrete plan for achieving independence or implementing it. No, that would be silly to expect these things.

Westminster granting the Scottish Government new powers to hold a referendum whenever they please would be a mercy, a kindness to the Scottish electorate. Everything is Westminster's fault. We live in a country where it's considered good if the ambulance only takes three hours, not nine, to arrive. We should appreciate that strikes lasted for three days, not five, and be thankful that waiting times are only 55 weeks.

The SNP and Yes supporters know fine well the next five years will be the worst possible moment for a constitutional crisis. That they claim it to be the ideal moment and pin every economic and social solution on this one decision is magnificently false. The only thing worse than a cost-of-living, energy and financial crisis is a government that sincerely believes the solution is to create more instability and uncertainty.

The SNP’s plans for de facto referendum at the next general election is nothing but a waste of time that will distract from real policy options for years. But the Scottish Government dares to advocate for it, anyway, even if, thanks to Brexit, they have evidence of what happens when you hang empty promises and false tomorrows on a binary choice.

Government of the polls, by the polls, for the polls is no way to conduct modern politics. They are helpful markers, but not wayfinders. The whole point of a professional political class is they have the time to consider, weigh and implement massive policy asks. Elections grant consent to that representative decision-making because no one can predict every domestic or global situation to ram into a manifesto.

In Yes, Prime Minister, Sir Humphrey Appleby, played by Nigel Hawthorne, brilliantly skewers our problem with examples of leading questions and suggestive interrogation. Questionnaires can be designed to encourage the answers you want. As Humphrey elicits both support for and against reintroducing National Service, people's opinions are revealed not as objective facts but views bound by mood and context.

Representative democracy, not a direct democracy, is our system. For any government, for any political party, to brazenly go against the interests of their electorate and harm it for the sake of some grand ideational vision is despicable. That is the fault line of trust in politics today. And while it did not start with Brexit, that was the introduction to an awful epoch of deep suspicion.

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In truth, the fault of our present situation is ours alone. Scots are a timid bunch these days, and whatever one's preference for our future as a country, no one in their right mind should look at our domestic woes and accept them.

The issues we all face require bold, aggressive thinking, a plethora of ideas, a resourcefulness to grasp the scope and scale of what we need to endure. This is neither the time nor the place for throwing out the constitutional baby and bathwater. Our total inability to hold the Scottish Government to account, either at the ballot box or as we stumble from crisis to crisis with more of the same, is deafeningly tragic. Is the best we can expect from our leaders a half-thought-out, pre-determined Supreme Court case to tell us what the Scotland Act says clear as day?

Gordon Brown's constitutional blueprint for a reformed UK, announced last week, was an enlightening intervention. The former prime minister's Commission on the UK's Future is a behemoth report but, for the first time in a long time, something sidelined independence in favour of constitutional reform.

And the report is filled to the brim with innovation and creative thinking that does not require the country to obsess over tearing itself apart to improve things. Not everything is agreeable, and not every idea will come to fruition, but it has a considered energy that should genuinely excite anyone wanting to break out of our contemporary malaise.

Christmas beckons, and so does a New Year. If anyone makes resolutions, it might be time to inject them into the Scottish Government. Complaining about the buck-passing to Westminster is wasted energy. But the empty pursuit of a second vote is time and focus better spent on resolving Scotland's catalogue of catastrophic problems, which are in danger of becoming institutional and generational.

Please, Santa, give the SNP a vote. Maybe then, if they get it, they will run the competencies they have and not covet what they do not.



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