Friday , November 16 2018
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Fighting on the ice

Alexandr Nevsky (1938) the Battle on the Ice 1242

In 2014 when I was campaigning for Scotland to remain a part of the UK it never occurred to me that the result of the referendum might be ignored or obstructed. If the Yes side had won, I fully expected that in a short time Scotland would become a fully sovereign independent nation state. I might not have liked this, but I had no intention of doing anything to prevent it. I might even have been willing to lend a hand. It’s impossible to know exactly how you would have reacted to something that didn’t happen. It would depend on all sorts of things that are unknowable. But things have changed. Most of all everything we have learned since 2014 makes a rerun of indyref completely pointless.

Scottish nationalists continue to think that we live in the days when an independence referendum in Scotland could be just like last time except this time they would win. But two things have changed Scottish and British politics decisively since then.

The first thing that changed is the idea that everyone would accept the result of a referendum. We learned in 2014 that immediately after their disappointment the SNP and the Yes movement in general started to try to overturn the result of the independence referendum. They didn’t wait for a year, they didn’t wait for a month, they didn’t even wait for a day. It was full on campaign mode from day one.

That’s fine. But how do they expect us to behave if there were ever to be a second independence referendum.  Pro UK people would overwhelmingly try to overturn a vote for Scottish independence by campaigning in whatever Scottish or UK wide elections were to take place between a vote for independence and independence actually taking place. If somehow independence did happen I imagine some present day Pro UK parties and perhaps some new ones would campaign for reunification of the UK. Under those circumstances I imagine Scotland might end up being even more lacking in peace and harmony than it is now. There might be a few tough early years for Scotland if only nationalists were onside and the rest of us remained sullenly delighted to see the whole thing go wrong, cheering on each set-back, siding with the UK at each point in the divorce negotiations, unwilling to help in any way and telling the nationalists that we told you so, but you wouldn’t listen.

We are already today in Scotland more divided than at any point since the eighteenth century. Scottish nationalism has set Scot against Scot. Can you imagine what it would be like if we carried on a Pro UK rear-guard action because we refused to accept the result of a Scottish independence referendum. But that is just what the nationalists are doing now.

What have we learned since the EU referendum in 2016? This is the second thing that has decisively changed British politics. We have learned that the Remain side have done everything in their power to frustrate what the electorate voted for. They have gone to the courts. They have used the House of Commons. They have used the House of Lords and they have cooperated with the EU negotiators so as to make it as difficult as possible for the UK to actually leave the EU. It may reach a point when we leave in name only.

My guess is that the Remain rear-guard action was in part inspired by the SNP’s refusal to accept the indyref result. In the short-term at least the SNP prospered from this.  But who knows perhaps Remain would have fought to keep the UK from leaving in a meaningful way even without the SNP example.

But what if there were to be another Scottish independence vote. For a start why do Scottish nationalists suppose that the question would be Yes versus No? The Electoral Commission ruled that Yes had an advantage. So we should expect the question instead to be something like “Do you want Scotland to Remain in the UK or do you want Scotland to leave?” There are other ways of phrasing the question, there are other words instead of “Leave” and “Remain”, but clearly no-one is going to be campaigning for “Yes” or “No.”

But the most important lesson that we have learned since 2016 is that referendums are advisory. You campaign for months and 17 million people tell you to leave, but you don’t actually have to leave. You can tell them that all of that effort and all of those crosses in little boxes were pointless indeed meaningless, just a long string of xxxxxxxs going up to 17 million.

Well Scotland can only legally achieve independence in the following way. There has to be a legal referendum. This means that the UK Parliament has to agree to allow such a referendum. It doesn’t have to. Spain has shown that it is possible to block separatists from legally seceding. An illegal referendum or a declaration of UDI didn’t lead to Catalonia gaining independence. It led to criminal charges against the leaders of the secession movement, exile and jail.

But Britain is not Spain. Who knows the UK Government might at some point in the future allow a second independence referendum. But if Scotland voted for independence there would still have to be an Act in the UK Parliament and votes won in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Well what is stopping a disappointed Pro UK Scot, call her Effie Deans from going to the High Court to try to prevent Scotland actually leaving the UK. What is preventing Pro UK Scots campaigning for the UK Parliament to treat the vote for Scottish independence as merely advisory? It is impossible, unless they start campaigning throughout the UK, for the SNP to have a majority at Westminster. So what would you do if Westminster simply voted for Scotland to Remain the UK? You could of course revolt. You would be justified in doing so. But that really is to say that democracy hasn’t worked. Instead of using the ballot box to settle disputes we will instead use clubs.

It might be that the UK “leaves” the EU only in name. But then it might be that a Scottish vote for independence had the same result. If the biggest vote in UK history doesn’t actually really lead to the UK leaving the EU, why should Scottish nationalists expect that they would be allowed to leave? Why should anyone obey the result of indyref2 if they don’t obey the result of EUref1? Why obey the result of any referendum or indeed any election?

This state of affairs is in fact is the natural and entirely just consequence of the SNP’s failure to accept the result in 2014. None of us are going to accept the result if you ever win a referendum. But there isn’t going to be another referendum, because we have discovered since 2016 that referendums are merely advisory and Parliament and indeed everyone else is free to ignore the vote.

Scottish nationalism since 2014 has depended on the idea that if we lose the loss can be ignored, but if we win our opponents will say well done let’s all join together to create an independent Scotland. But we won’t. We will ignore the result too. We will fight you in the courts, in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords. As a unionist said in 1863 we “will fight until Hell freezes over and then fight on the ice.” So what on earth would be the point of having a second referendum? What would it decide? Now do you understand what your failure to accept the result in 2014 has cost you? It has cost you a second change and at the same time it has cost all of us our democracy.

This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://effiedeans.blogspot.com/2018/06/fighting-on-ice.html

About Effie Deans

Profile photo of Effie Deans
Effie Deans is a pro UK blogger who works at the University of Aberdeen. She spent many years living in Russia and the Soviet Union, but came home to Scotland so as to enjoy living in a multi-party democracy! When not occupied with Scottish politics she writes fiction and thinks about theology, philosophy and Russian literature.

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One comment

  1. Profile photo of Isaac Anderson

    Indeed Effie. Can we then coin a phrase about the new turn in the Scottish Unionism/Nationalism debate? We have been forced into “No Surrender” mode by the Nationalists and their threatened neverenda.

    I’m sure I’ve heard of that phrase before somewhere…

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