No independence referendum unless SNP tops 50% of Scottish votes, says George Galloway
The former Labour and Respect MP says Scotland must get off the "neverendum hamster wheel" and draw a line under the constitutional splits which have gripped the country’s politics for the past decade.
Mr Galloway is heading up the Alliance for Unity, which will stand candidates across Scotland on the regional list in next May’s election on a platform opposing plans for another independence referendum and "separatism" from the rest of the UK.
The 66-year-old, who now lives in the Borders, will stand on the South of Scotland list. He has told The Scotsman the public is "falling out of love" with Nicola Sturgeon.
Mr Galloway accuses the SNP of using the Scottish Parliament as “dagger at the heart” of the country to stoke “difference and distinction” with England, while he said the Labour party in Scotland, which he represented as an MP in Glasgow for decades, has now become a near "irrelevance”.
The lack of serious opposition has paved the way for the rising support for independence, according to Mr Galloway, who is now pledging to take the fight to the Nationalists next May.
"I think the SNP have to be removed," he said.
"Scotland has to be got off this hamster wheel, this neverendum.
"Normal politics will not be possible in Scotland as long as we are locked into literally perpetual motion over the issue of separatism."
The veteran campaigner is a controversial figure and should add a showbiz element to the election in spring if Covid allows a return to full campaigning.
He was widely criticised for a meeting with Saddam Hussein in 1994 when he famously told the tyrant: "I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability."
But he won a new generation of supporters over his opposition to the subsequent 2003 Iraq invasion and an infamous appearance before the US Senate committee two years later where he pilloried the US-led invasion.
He was returned as an MP for the newly formed Respect party between 2005 and 2015, with a two-year interlude.
But as a left-wing internationalist he laments the dominant role the constitution plays in the Scottish politics.
Nicola Sturgeon has unveiled plans to publish legislation setting out the “terms and timing” for a second referendum on independence.
But Mr Galloway says this should not be granted by the UK Government, which has control over the constitution, unless pro-independence parties gain over 50 per cent of the popular vote in next year's Holyrood election.
He said: "They have never got that, ever, at any election Scottish or Westminster. And I don't believe they will get that this time either.
"You cannot claim, as they are, that a minority vote gives you the right to proceed to plunge the country again into referendum chaos. I reject that."
Ms Sturgeon and independence supporters say a majority of seats would be enough to justify a second referendum.
Mr Galloway said he believed the SNP's 13-year term in office has seen the organs of Government hijacked to foster division.
"Everything is seen not as a problem or a challenge in itself, but an opportunity to score points, to put points on the Nationalist board," he said.
"And therefore every measure that's taken is not taken on it's own merits, but taken to produce a difference, a distinction between Scotland and England. They talk about the UK, but really they mean England. They are literally infatuated with England."
Mr Galloway describes himself as an "early pioneer" of devolution, having spoken for it in the Labour conference in Aberdeen in 1974, while his friends like Brian Wilson and Tam Dalyell opposed it.
But he fears “design flaws” have been exposed in recent years.
"If the devolved assembly is captured in perpetuity by a party whose interests are not in making devolution work, but in using the Parliament as a dagger at the heart of the country as a whole, then problems are ineluctable and so they have proven to be," he said.
The Alliance for Unity is proposing a Canada-style Clarity Act, which was introduced to bring some stability after the referendums in Quebec.
"It clarifies that we are a country and will not endless attempts to break us up," he explained.
And despite consistent opinion polls recently showing that a clear majority of Scots support independence, Mr Galloway is unconvinced, insisting that many are "imperfect" panel-based surveys.
"If you ask people ‘should Scotland be independent’, you get one result - if you ask people ‘should Scotland leave the United Kingdom’, you get an entirely different one," he quipped.
The rise of the SNP is largely down to the failure of other parties to put forward any serious alternative - "the flatness of the surrounding landscape" as Mr Galloway puts it. And the demise of his former party, Labour, clearly stirs mixed emotions.
"It's extremely saddening to me that Labour has become so peripheral to Scottish political life,” he said.
"In my own political lifetime it’s gone from almost hegemony to almost irrelevance."
Alliance for Unity has already demanded that every Scot registered in the UK must have a vote.
"We can't have a situation where the captain of the Scotland football team - [Andy] Robertson – is not allowed to vote on whether he becomes stateless or has to leave Liverpool and go back to Queens Park.
"But the Lithuanian team captain who happens to live in Edinburgh does have a vote. That's nonsense.”
The need for a withdrawal agreement and a confirmatory People's Vote on this – a second referendum – are also among the Alliance demands.
"The SNP demanded every single one of those things in relation to the Brexit referendum," Mr Galloway said.
"So they're hoist, I'm afraid, on a number of their own petards."
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