Why ‘ruling out’ indyref2 is a mistake – Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson suspects most Scots will be horrified by the prospect of two referenda next year, as suggested by Nicola Sturgeon (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Brian Wilson suspects most Scots will be horrified by the prospect of two referenda next year, as suggested by Nicola Sturgeon (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
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When it comes to Scottish independence, it is the ‘sovereign right of the Scottish people’ to determine their future – and currently that means staying in the Union, writes Brian Wilson.

Jeremy Corbyn came to Scotland to talk about matters affecting people’s lives – funding our NHS, the environment, investment in future technologies, working people’s rights, that kind of thing.

As far as Scottish broadcasters were concerned, he might as well not have bothered. The headlines were about hypothetical dates for a hypothetical referendum which will not put bread on anyone’s table.

Mr Corbyn did not help his cause by mixing messages about when an equally hypothetical Labour government might countenance such an event. I have sympathy. Unless one’s life revolves around referenda, which tends not to be the case in Islington, the risks arising from vagueness about a chronological hypothesis might not be fully appreciated.

Anyway, the outcome of this general election is unlikely to have much bearing on the question. Ms Sturgeon’s promise to the faithful of a referendum in 2020 is as phony as the one to deliver in 2019 – all bluster with no basis. Then 2021 is the year for Holyrood elections. That takes us to 2022 and counting.

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If there is a Holyrood majority in favour of another referendum after 2021 then that request should be acceded to and the argument engaged. The best way to head that off is at the polls in 2021 – not by saying “no” in advance.

What should be avoided is the danger of feeding the false narrative that “Scotland” is being denied something it is demanding. At present, it is demanding neither a second referendum nor independence and there is not a shred of contrary polling evidence on either count.

The Claim of Right

Indeed, I suspect the great majority of us would have noted with horror that Ms Sturgeon wants two referenda next year. That really does reflect a mentality in which nothing matters in life except the thrill of unrelenting political process.

Thirty years ago, I signed the Claim of Right at the outset of the Scottish Constitutional Convention. It asserted “the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs”. It was boycotted by Tory and SNP MPs.

Not only did I sign it, I meant it. If at any point Scotland in its collective wisdom wants to become a separate state, that is its entitlement. However, that condition has never existed, was shown not to exist in 2014 and does not exist now.

To counter this impediment, the Nationalists rely on the false narrative of denial. Denying Scotland a referendum is to deny Scotland independence is to deny the will of the Scottish people.

It is, of course, complete rubbish – but unreasonably rejecting a clear expression of support for a second referendum (which may or may not emerge from the 2021 elections) would risk fostering that false narrative which currently has no more than bluster to sustain it.

By far the best outcome for Scotland would be for this whole argument to be parked and, unfashionable though it may be, for the election to be fought on, well... funding our NHS, the environment, investment in future technologies, working people’s rights and so on.

A very funny interview

While the current hubris is around Brexit, the arguments which would emerge in a referendum post-2021 have moved in favour of unity rather than division – the currency, the border, the deficit, trade, the inside-outside EU relationships and so on...

If anyone doubts this, I commend a replay of Andrew Neil interviewing an SNP front-bencher, David Linden, who seemed an amiable individual programmed to start every answer with: “We are very clear...” It was very funny.

He appeared dumbfounded by the novelty of a hard interview and by the end, the viewer’s inescapable conclusion was of a “very, very clear” inability to answer those basic questions on which the independence prospectus continues to founder.

Most Scots neither need nor want another referendum but no party should make “ruling out” a badge of honour. That plays into the hands of she who wants to present herself as a victim of process, while avoiding all forensic scrutiny.

With or without a referendum, it’s the power of the arguments that will win the day.