The only real surprise in Nicola Sturgeon’s Brexit Day announcement was that it took so long. Little had changed from 14 December when the country awoke to a Boris Johnson majority administration, but an SNP-dominated Scotland. Indyref2 was never going to be conceded by Johnson and there never was a “Plan B” as some Yes supporters hoped.
There were some surprises but more in omission than commission. But they can be addressed in months to come and, perhaps, simply reaffirm the First Minister’s instinctive caution. A legal challenge on a consultative agenda was deferred as it lacked certainty. As someone legally qualified, she’ll know, though, that it’s the way of the legal world. There’s doubt about the legality of such an undertaking. But local referenda have previously been held, such as by Strathclyde Regional Council over water fluoridisation. Moreover, former senior legal figures were of the view that an argument wasn’t only stateable but winnable.
That’s as good as it’s going to get from our learned friends. So, as Joanna Cherry MP and QC argued, why not test it in the courts? The worst that can happen is that you lose but at least you know that route’s not available – a procedural loss at worst, not a political defeat, and you change tactics accordingly. It’ll return and to the courts in due course.
Privatisation and cuts
The call for a Constitutional Convention has at last been made, though it’s a pity that the positive noises being made by some Labour and trade union voices weren’t in response to a unity call from the SNP. But we’ve got there now and pulling together, with as united a front as possible, is necessary for the independence cause.
But, why should the convention simply be limited to discussions on constitutional matters. For sure, plotting a course to allow the Scots a democratic say in their future’s essential. But so too is defending the Scottish people from the Tories supposed “transformative agenda”. That’s a euphemism for privatisation and further cuts to the social infrastructure we’ve built up over generations. That needs defended, not just because it’s our duty to protect the gains our forebearers made, but because that’s what’ll matter to people in our communities.
Of course, independence and another referendum’s the way out of it forever, but we’ve got to live with it for the here and now. People will expect action taken and that requires a united front. If that’s not done, then despair and despondency can kick in and debates on the constitutional settlement can appear esoteric.
So, where now? Warm words about commitment and building the case are all very well and good but it’s practical actions that matter. Laying down the electoral platform for 2021 is now the key. Winning that and winning it well is not only essential but highly possible.
Bold Boris angers EU, US and China
An advertising splurge by the UK Government extolling the benefits of the union will be received as positively as a bucket of cold sick by a people facing continued austerity despite electoral pledges that it was over. The benefits lost with the passing of EU membership will be hurting more, for most, than warm words about the supposed UK dividend received.
The UK is weakened and diminished and it’s only going to get worse. In the space of a week, the bold Boris has provoked not just a fight but a backlash from the EU, the world’s largest trading bloc. Meanwhile over Huawei, he’s managed to irritate the world’s two superpowers, China and the USA. The supposed trade deals that were to fall into our lap have failed to materialise and businesses continue to depart the UK.
The danger for the Tories is that the predictions of Brexit breaking the union become a self-fulfilling prophesy. The idea’s no longer inconceivable and has become accepted as inevitable amongst some. Indeed, opinion polling of Tory voters in England appears to confirm that not only do they see it as inevitable, but positively desirable. That’s why the deflation of independence supporters is misplaced. Instead, it’s game on but winning in 2021 is the key. That’s not about reaffirming a mandate but breaking the back of the union.
A century ago, the British were insisting on the indivisibility of Britain and Ireland. All that was soon to change. Decades later, India – the Empire’s “Jewel in the Crown” – likewise departed and even more recently, despite initial opposition, Hong Kong was ceded back to China.
A decade of victories next year by independence parties will convince the British that the sun has finally set on the union. For Johnson, as with Churchill and Thatcher, reality will dawn.
Kenny MacAskill is the SNP MP for East Lothian