Why Tories’ Madrid-style stance on indyref2 will backfire on unionists – Kenny MacAskill

Scotland’s right to choose its own future is already established so, by ruling out a second independence referendum, the Conservatives are pitting themselves against democracy itself, writes Kenny MacAskill.

Unlike some SNP colleagues, I have stayed away from Catalonian affairs. Naturally sympathetic to independence movements, I was unsure about this, having friends in both camps and even thought the referendum was precipitate and misjudged. However, the intransigence of the Spanish government, compounded by the brutality of the Guardia Civil has led me to the conclusion that Catalonian independence is now inevitable.

It’s moved on from demands for sovereignty to a fundamental issue of democracy. Spanish administrations of both left and right have behaved shamefully and, whilst pandering to the heirs of the Falange in Spain, they’ve been alienating neutral opinion, including my own, in Catalonia and everywhere else for that matter.

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Scottish Secretary rules out indyref2 even if SNP win 2021 Holyrood majority
Is Alister Jack Scotland's new 'Dr No'? (Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images)

Yet, Scotland’s Secretary of State, Alister Jack, seems to be copying the Spanish template. His refusal to consider a second independence referendum is a democratic outrage. I’m not one for spouting indyref2 at every possible occasion and have expressed views that have been unpopular amongst some on my own side over timing.

Right to decide

But what I’m absolutely convinced of is that it’s the Scottish people’s democratic right to choose their own future. Leaving aside arguments over existing mandates, if there’s a Holyrood majority next year for independence, then it cannot and should not be denied. That apparently was Mr Jack’s position until he rolled back further and seems to be denying change, not just next year but any year, until him and his ilk deign to allow it.

Now it’s not as if this issue sneaked up on him or his colleagues. Before the election, it seemed to be about timing not principle. Whilst opposing it and seeking to rally the faithful to the unionist flag, he conceded that a mandate could be obtained next year – a perfectly reasonable position even if it ignores arguments over an existing mandate.

Indeed, he and his kind went full pelt for it, believing their position to be a vote winner as it had been for their ‘Blessed Ruth’ back in 2017. Instead they were routed, losing more than half of their seats and what’s worse, seeing victories for nationalists like me. That’s democracy though and they chose the date and set the themes.

Arguments over “once in a lifetime” votes are political hyperbole with no more legitimacy than Johnson’s pledge to “die in a ditch” if he hadn’t delivered Brexit by last year. Both the Edinburgh Agreement and the Smith Commission were clear on the democratic right of the Scottish people to decide, if and when they want to. Indeed, that was the position of Margaret Thatcher, but this new lot have come in and democracy’s gone out the window.

An issue of democracy

Now I don’t, for a moment, believe that the majority who supported me, or my colleagues, did so overwhelmingly because of our position on a second referendum. Some certainly did but not all.

Speaking for myself, it was more our opposition to Boris and Brexit, than support for independence, let alone indyref2. The Scottish people were seeking a better way than Boris’s Brexit and a different society from the one to be unleashed by his supposedly “transformative agenda”. All these issues and more were tied up in Scotland’s right to choose.

But Mr Jack isn’t arguing for a different way on any of these issues or giving the Scots the right to choose. Instead it’s his way or the highway or rather whatever diktat comes from Downing Street. It’s not just Scottish voters but even Scottish Tories who are now irrelevant. Ruth Davidson has walked and David Mundell finds himself in the political sinbin for departing from the new orthodoxy. Ireland can have a border poll, but Scotland can’t.

Mr Jack’s not just sounding like an infamous Highland landlord nicknamed ‘Dr No’ who ignored the wishes of the local community, but is even beginning to emulate Henry Dundas who ruled Scotland as some potentate centuries ago.

Dundas too was a Tory and his opposition was to the franchise when fewer than 4,000 people had the vote and half of them were fictitious. But still the Tories ruled the roost and Dundas oversaw it, acting on behalf of an oligarchy of rich landowners. It’s beginning to look as if history’s repeating itself and all that’s missing is a title for the political appointee, as Dundas was Viscount Melville, though I’m sure that’ll come.

The Tories have no legitimacy for their intransigence, any more than the Spanish. A referendum there’ll be, it’s a just when and how.

What the Secretary of States has ensured though is that it’s not just a vote for Scottish sovereignty or even about protection of EU membership or the welfare state we cherish. Instead it’s now about democracy itself and the Scottish people’s right to choose.

Kenny MacAskill is the SNP MP for East Lothian