Scottish independence: 'One-party state' Scotland needs to find a resolution to its perennial problem – Alastair Stewart

Say "one-party state", and the connotations are loaded and dire. A series of less than delightful totalitarian regimes like China and North Korea followed by images of synchronised cult-clapping spring to mind.

And in Scotland, that phrase is regularly thrown around knocking the SNP. What Opposition parties really mean to convey is their total dismay at another seismic election in the SNP's favour after 15 years in government.

A total of 453 local SNP councillors were returned at last week's local elections, a gain of 23 from 2017 after an increase of 1.8 per cent in the share of the vote.

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The moral mandate for the Scottish Government to demand a second independence referendum is quite clear. The SNP won unequivocal victories in the Scottish, UK, local council and EU elections of 2021, 2019, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2011, and 2009. Last week was a tick-box exercise. The 2014 independence referendum was their only setback.

None of this changes the prevailing and palpable rage in Scottish politics. Now, you are mad to bring up anything remotely political in a pub or public space. The economic consequences of Covid, the cost-of-living crisis, and the stress on the NHS have eradicated any pretence that politics is a theoretical game. The constitution is everything. All other policy concerns stem from this. One way or another, things cannot continue as is.

We are locked into a Groundhog Day argument, something that local election campaigning only confirmed.

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If you want these issues resolved, say the SNP and Greens, give us an independence referendum. They add that we may have had 15 years in government, but we have been hog-tied with little power and few policy levers to make the change we need away from Westminster corruption.

The phrase 'one-party state', which usually brings to mind North Korean totalitarianism, has been used to criticise the SNP (Picture: Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images)

The unionist parties say the pandemic has demonstrated the financial power of the UK as a state. Whatever your grievance with the current political paradigm and devolution settlement, it is madness to dream about the fiscal and social realities that would face an independent Scotland. Unionists add that there have never been, nor are there likely to be, essential research and policy proposals into what "freedom" would look like.

As a last resort, the unionists just settle on "better the Devil you know" and come what may.

Devolved competencies like health, justice, transport, social care, education and local council funding never actually move along in the public debate. Monitor enough debates, speeches, press releases, and social media, and it is always someone else's fault. The solution of independence is always the same, or indy could only make everything worse. That is the argument.

Like on a long-haul flight with no end in sight, this droning bickering has left us tired and irritable. Independence supporters want their referendum (which is perpetually kicked down the road by their own leadership), and unionist supporters are defiant a final judgment was made in 2014. A repeat is a waste of time and treasure.

Nicola Sturgeon's commitment to hold a second independence referendum by late 2023 has to be the line in the sand. If her opponents cannot oust her, we can but hope her party will do so if she fails to break a deadlock of her own making.

The problem for both camps is public ire towards politics has reached dangerously toxic levels. Everyone has a grievance now. Discussing politics is almost taboo. It sits alongside religion as something to most definitely not bring up, even among friends.

Our public debate across the UK has been reduced to arguing over which government ministers and senior MPs were at lockdown parties. Some have descended to disgusting depths about Labour frontbencher Angela Rayner.

We are struggling to find a Scottish government minister to take responsibility for the ferries fiasco. The 2022 census in Scotland had to be extended as a quarter of the households did not engage.

Cancel culture, "woke" politics, transphobia, sectarianism, racism – all seem to be at record highs in the public sphere, particularly online. Politics has transformed from a noble spirit into mud-slinging and now cognitive dissonance. Online gaslighting is an art form.

No one is asking what an independence referendum campaign would mean for public life. It is not the release valve we think it might be from existing challenges. If we go into another referendum with the current bile, mistrust and utter contempt that is wrecking friendships and dividing families, what kind of Scotland will come out the other side?

In 2011, Harvard historian Maya Jasanoff published an excellent book called Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World. It's a poignant picture of what happened to the 60,000 Royalists, their doomed defence of the British Crown and their departure from the fledgling United States. They did not just disappear.

It's utter lunacy to think that if a new vote is held in 2023, then vitriolic tensions will evaporate into an air of goodwill for all countrymen. Bitter fighting will continue, as it did after 2014. The public needs a good independence curtain call that they can accept if not applaud. What will happen to the troops when the battle is over?

If it is a "No" vote, a UK written constitution will go some way to settling the competencies of each government, including local councils, at least for a time. Radical thinking on the merits of a Constitutional Court should be weighed seriously alongside a British form of federalism. Establishing a publicly accepted, understandable and non-partisan procedure beyond the present emotional turmoil is the future.

The binary mindset of the UK versus Scottish independence is fruitless and ultimately self-perpetuating. Successive and overwhelming numbers of elections in the SNP’s favour cannot be ignored. The local election results are almost meaningless without a resolution to this perennial problem.

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