Well, that’s a relief.
The 2021 Holyrood election results are already in. Before a manifesto’s published or a single vote counted, we already know there will be no mandate for a second independence referendum. No matter how Scots vote, the result will be the same. No change.
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack was interviewed by a tenacious Gordon Brewer on Politics Scotland yesterday, ahead of Boris Johnson’s expected rejection of Nicola Sturgeon’s Section 30 request this week. His comments would be astonishing if double standards and democratic U-turns by top Tories were not so common and predictable.
Eight short weeks ago, the MP for Dumfries and Galloway said an SNP victory in 2021 would constitute a mandate for indyref2. Now the Scottish Secretary insists he was just quoting former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson and believes an SNP-only victory next year will mean nothing. Presumably a victory by the combined forces of the pro-independence SNP and Greens will mean hyper-nothing.
So, too, will any defeat for the Scottish Tories while campaigning for the Union. But if combined support for Union-supporting parties in 2021 tops 50 per cent of votes cast, that will produce a compelling mandate for the status quo.
What arrant hypocrisy. What nonsense. Unlike his predecessor, Jack doesn’t even bother with smoke and mirrors. His view – presumably Johnson’s view – is that the “winners” of the last general election can now make it up as they go along. So henceforth independence-supporting voters can never “win” a Holyrood mandate and Union-supporting voters can never lose.
In the eyes of Jack, democracy is a charade, the Scottish Parliament a talking shop and the future a foregone conclusion, settled in September 2014. Forever. Thus, in 2021, it won’t matter if Scottish Conservatives are voted out of every seat and the SNP bags the lot. No election outcome will prompt any change in Westminster’s attitude towards a second independence vote, nor will any result by the SNP constitute a mandate for anything.
At least this breathtaking arrogance provides proof positive for anyone tempted by devo-max or federalism, that power devolved really is power retained by a bunch of millionaires and Old Etonians.
So what does Jack offer Scots in place of the crazy notion that an election victory creates a mandate for action? A bit of old-fashioned wisdom. Sometimes it’s best to just wait and see.
Wait and see how Johnson does, how the newly liberated, turbocharged “independent” UK does outside nasty, restrictive old Europe and how much better life in the Union becomes with direct Westminster bungs to Scottish communities.
Yes, wait and see how the Tories transform Britain after Brexit. Grumpy Scots will be wowed. You don’t have to be a born-again Yesser to spot the weaknesses in this wobbly and patronising proposition.
First, Johnson’s handling of Brexit is likely to be disastrous, not reassuringly impressive. The British economy has already taken a hit, with another likely after 31 January. Then follows a helter-skelter year culminating in a trade deal that will inevitably be worse than the one we already have – or a hard Brexit. The idea that Scotland will suddenly flourish in the midst of this economic storm is farcical – even if the full extent of damage isn’t visible for years.
Second, the desire for independence isn’t just a reaction to Brexit, and thus won’t disappear even if life outside the EU miraculously proves to be a great success. For some, the cruelty of UK benefits has been the last straw; for others, it’s the archaic nature of British institutions, the built-in elitism and inequality, the anti-migrant stance and the stunning ease with which devolved structures can be ignored and undermined when it suits Westminster politicians.
None of this is likely to change as we “wait and see” how life with Johnson pans out.
Diminishing of democracy
Finally, voters know that Tories talk a good game about democracy but are the first not to “die in ditches” when the going gets rough. A “flexible” thinker like Jack, who thinks nothing of contradicting himself in public over the mandate for indyref2 – is quite capable of contradicting himself all over again, should the need arise. And it will arise if Jack’s shameful attempt to diminish the democratic process backfires and voters turn out in droves for next May’s “meaningless” Holyrood elections.
The Tories, though, are not the only unionist party advocating “wait and see” as some kind of alternative to indyref2. UK Labour wants Scots to wait and see if its new leader creates the chance of victory at the next general election. Scottish Labour wants voters to hang on until they sort out federalism at an away day and persuade UK colleagues to endorse that policy, even though Gordon Brown failed with his Vow six years ago.
Basically, the diagnosis from Jack et al seems to be that Scots are going through a wee phase that we’ll grow out of when more sweeties are doled out or nicer people arrive. Is that really all the unionist parties have to offer?
As the weekend’s AUOB demo demonstrated, the idea of a very different Scotland is alive and kicking in the minds of many people. Not even predicted near-hurricane force winds daunted the bulk of marchers from attending or dampened spirits.
The case for the Union, meanwhile, is being championed by politicians who would deny voters any democratic way to express their desire for change. Conservatives may think that lording it over the independence-supporting 50 per cent is an expression of strength. There’s a different way of looking at it – whatever obstacles are placed in their way, independence supporters are not getting fed-up, bought off, deflected or disheartened.
So, while Britain transitions out of the EU this year, many Scots will be making their own unofficial transitions out of the UK, starting with widespread rejection of its stuck and arrogant mindset.
Absolute inflexibility - democratic rigor mortis - signals the end of any organism.
Jack may yet discover that a broken political union is no exception.