Over a year has passed since the December 2019 election. The SNP triumphed in Scotland and the Tories were comprehensively defeated. Nevertheless, a huge English majority allowed Boris Johnson to sweep back into Downing Street and “Stop Brexit” became as redundant a slogan as the one on another campaign bus that had falsely promised £350m a week for the NHS.
But “Scotland has spoken” was the chant, “Scotland won’t accept it” the shout. There was much anger and outrage from elected representatives.
But the huffing and puffing came to naught. Johnson wasn’t listening and he certainly wasn’t for turning. Brexit was driven through, Scotland was taken out of the EU and its Parliament and democracy now stand threatened.
Back in the aftermath of 2019 it was also stated that a referendum was going to be held in autumn 2020. Even those espousing it didn’t believe their own rhetoric, but they repeated the mantra anyway, as if by rote. But it didn’t happen. Obviously coronavirus blew the world, not just Scotland, off course but a referendum was never going to take place that year and certainly not that way. There had been neither the preparation nor the organisation for it, and the policies and funds to sustain it were absent.
Irrespective of that, though, Boris Johnson had made it clear before his election that there would be no consent to holding one. That was the fundamental stumbling block – the other issues, important though they were, could be resolved. But in that irredentist attitude, he was simply following the line of his predecessor who had likewise ruled out agreeing to a Section 30 order.
Yet it was and remains a procedure that’s viewed by the SNP leadership as being a prerequisite for another referendum, despite that unequivocal refusal.
To be fair to Johnson, whilst he may have vacillated on many other issues, he’s been consistent on the rejection of a Section 30. Indeed he’s made his position even more hardline, with a recent widening of the defintion of a “generation” by a decade or more. In that he’s been supported by his party and backed by the leader of the opposition. The UK may be breaking down, but Britain is united against Scottish democracy.
Maybe Johnson will blink as some think but there’s no evidence to support that, and yet time is of the essence. The threat to Scotland’s real and severe. Poverty and austerity from the economic fallout from coronavirus, compounded by the Tories soaking the poor to protect the rich. Yet, the British state has never been weaker, nor the opportunites greater for Scottish independence.
There’s a window and it’ll shut as the destabilisation of Brexit reduces and fears of further uncertainty supplants it. Moreover, a British government – perhaps under new leadership and unencumbered by the current debacle – will turn its fire north. That’s why action’s needed now.
The coming National Assembly for the SNP is an opportunity for the membership to make clear that wishing and hoping simply isn’t an acceptable strategy, and certainly not when the situation’s so critical. There are options and they need to be considered and debated. Making the coming election a plebiscite has many attractions, especially if there was to be a delay due to the pandemic.
But there’s a real issue there, which’s that it requires the SNP leadership to do a volte face not just on the S30 order requirement but on a wider positioning of having the election be the mandate. Without a clear call by the Scottish Government that it’s such an event, then it just wont be. And despite its merits that’s unlikely to happen.
But an election there’s going to be, even if delayed, and using it as a platform for independence remains essential. The Tories cannot boycott that, and ensuring that it’s more than simply an election with a choice of party platforms is essential.
In the electoral system devised to thwart nationalism there lies an opportunity. The constituency vote’s seen as being for both a party and an individual, but the list vote’s different. The electorate see it as an alternative vote, and that should be made a vote for independence.
Parties can declare that a vote for them is a vote for independence. Victory on the list for independence overides any Boris Veto. The SNP can run it on their strapline and others could do likewise. It could be argued as another reason for voting SNP 1 and 2, but equally it could apply to others showing common cause.
For the SNP it gets them off the S30 hook and affords a reason for “both votes SNP”. But unlike the plebiscite call, a list vote mandate can still proceed without Scottish Government approval. If the SNP fail to support it, they might find that as in past elections the electorate will simply split their vote.
Hopefully, the National Assembly can have the membership listened to, not lectured at. Scotland, not Boris Johnson, must decide Scotland’s future.