Tom Harris says much of the reaction to the recent poll showing a majority in favour of Scottish independence ignores two critical points, one political and one moral, which should give us pause for thought.

The latest poll from Lord Ashcroft is getting everyone in Scotland very excited. Years of polling that consistently showed little or no change since the independence referendum of 2014 isn’t very newsworthy, it seems. But a single poll, in the wake of Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister, showing 52 per cent prepared to vote for independence, is.

It may be an outlier, it may be not. It may be more of a short-term reaction against Johnson and Brexit than a new determined view of the Scottish electorate. No doubt we’ll find out in time. In the meantime, nationalists see an opportunity to take Scotland out of the UK with the support of a bare majority.

We need two lessons: one is political, and one is biblical.

So often have we heard the expression, “The settled will of the Scottish people” that we perhaps don’t bother thinking about what it means. It was one of the late John Smith’s favourite ways to explain why devolution for Scotland was right. He didn’t claim that a Scottish Parliament should be set up because a majority of Scots wanted it to be so; he said that devolution was right because a constant and large majority of Scots had decided that this was the right solution for the whole country.

It’s why the 1997 devolution referendum didn’t divide Scotland in the same way that subsequent referendums did. When any poll or referendum could comfortably gather the support of two thirds of the electorate, the outcome could hardly be described as controversial. Even those opposed to devolution had to accept the result. It was the settled will.

So even if, on two or three days last week, a small majority of Scots claimed to support independence, that does not in any way represent our nation’s “settled will”. I do not suggest that it cannot become so – it can and it might, although obviously I hope it doesn’t. Arbitrary figures plucked from the air are always unreliable, but if I had to define what the “settled will” of the Scottish people would look like, I would suggest that consistent support of at least 60 per cent over an uninterrupted period of at least a decade should be demanded.

Do nationalists who rub their hands at the prospect of a 51 per cent victory in a future referendum never stop to ask themselves whether launching a brand new country on such a marginal victory is the best thing for Scotland?

Which brings me to the Bible and King Solomon.

You may be familiar with the story, and if not I blame the schools. King Solomon of Israel had been given wisdom in abundance by God, and he would invite his subjects to come to him with their problems so that he could adjudicate. One day two women, carrying a baby, approached his throne, each claiming to be the true mother of the baby.

Solomon offers to settle the dispute by having the baby cut in half so that each woman can have equal parts, at which point the real mother begs the King to let the other woman have the full, uninjured baby. Solomon wisely deduces that the true mother was the one who was willing to sacrifice her own rights for the good of her child. Read the whole thing for yourself here.

You see where I’m going with this? So long as there exists no settled will of the people in favour of independence, Scotland will be scarred by division and resentment. The creation of a new country is a challenging task, for all citizens. To enjoy success there has to be a near unanimous enthusiasm for the endeavour. Old rivalries and resentments have to be buried. There could be a high chance of that happening if a 60 per cent-plus majority supported independence, and if that figure were long term.

But to trigger another insane dash for 50 per cent of the vote plus one and to claim that as a mandate for ripping Scotland out of a 300-year-old union, would be catastrophic. It would sow the seeds of resentment and hatred for generations. It would take Scotland on a perilous, uncharted course that almost half its population opposed.

Yes, the UK is leaving the European Union on the back of a 52 per cent vote for Leave in 2016. Is that the example Scottish nationalists want to follow? Look at the discord, the family rows, the hounding of politicians, the anger and sadness felt across the country. All this because there was no settled will of the people – there was only a majority. And Scotland would be attempting something far more radical and perilous than merely leaving a trading bloc.

A quick survey of international comparisons concludes the same thing: where countries demand, and win, independence, they do so on the basis of the settled will of their populations.

Surely those who hold a genuine love of Scotland and her people want the best for her? Even if you believe that independence is the best thing for Scotland, surely it’s better to take the whole of Scotland with you, perhaps at some point in the future, than take half of it with you today? Unless, of course, you love your political philosophy more. Unless you place the principle of independence over the happiness of the Scottish people?

Or perhaps you don’t have the confidence in your own arguments that they’re powerful enough to attract widespread support in the future, that they are so limited in their appeal that 50 per cent plus one is the best you can ever hope for? If you think Scotland deserves that, then we will have to continue to disagree. Because Scotland deserves much, much better than that.

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44 thoughts on “The judgement of Solomon

  1. 60% over a decade?? Says the leader of Vote Leave in Scotland……..

  2. Agree with every word Tom but ask you to consider your role in the Brexit referendum and then reflect on Matthew 7 verse 5 “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

    1. I see what you did there, Alastair. But when a referendum is called, even if you don’t think referendums are the best way of making these decisions, you’re forced to take a side and campaign by the rules set at the time. Just as we both did in 2014 and 2016.

      1. Except Vote Leave did not campaign by the rules. Unless Turkey’s accession to the EU is imminent and the 76 million strong population of Turkey were set to come to Britain. Oh, and let’s not forget the fine for breaking electoral law. And the small matter of the £430,000 that originated in Glasgow that made its way to the DUP. But apart from the lies, the racism, the law-breaking and the unanswered questions about the provenance and legitimacy of the DUP money, Vote Leave did indeed campaign by the rules.

  3. This is pretty desperate from Mr Harris. Three points for now;

    (1) Two thirds of Scottish voters have repeatedly shown they want their country to Remain in the EU in numerous polls and elections over far more than 10 years. Yet pro-Leave activist Mr Harris apparently sees nothing wrong in that “settled will” of the Scottish people being rubbished …. because HE got what he wants.

    (2) His assertion “where countries demand, and win, independence, they do so on the basis of the settled will of their populations” is simply weasel words. It’s just rhetoric. So long as there are some people who oppose a change there is NO “settled will” of a people; just a majority view. He gives no actual examples of his interpretation of “settled will” in action because it cannot be definitively shown to be the case. Indeed, in the case of the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, the majority view in both Slovakia and the Czech Republic was for the Union to continue. However, the govt’s decided it would be better for both to govern themselves in their own best interests and dissolved the union anyway. There was no widespread anguish and bitterness in what became known as the “Velvet Divorce” and within months the overwhelming majority of both populations would not even countenance re-unification …. NOT the “settled will” of the Czech and Slovak peoples as some still do favour it; just the majority view.

    (3) Mr Harris taunts: “Or perhaps you don’t have the confidence in your own arguments that they’re powerful enough to attract widespread support in the future, that they are so limited in their appeal that 50 per cent plus one is the best you can ever hope for”. Yet his own arbitrary level of 66% for his definition of “settled will” means he is only confident unionist arguments can convince 35% of the population. Which he is apparently happy about. In fact, his taunt actually betrays how weak he believes the unionist case to be, and the hypocrisy he is willing to display to get his own way. 50+1% is enough for Mr Harris and the UK (Indeed, 35% is enough) but not for Scotland. As ever for unionists, it’s different for Scotland.

  4. Until the UK Government has no further desire to have nuclear weapons, they will never grant Scotland a 2nd independence referendum.

    Or for that matter, following a Yes vote, allow independence unopposed.

    I believe that to be the case now and was the case in 2014.

    When Faslane and Trident were redeveloped to host Trident from Polaris, it took 13 years to redevelop the existing sites. Can you imagine the cost, logistics and hassle involved of developing them from scratch somewhere else in a less suitable location?

  5. This is a daft article! Polling is not a way to justify the ‘will of the people’. Polls are written generally with an agenda and a viewpoint so they are not a good way to monitor public sentiment. The fact remains that there was a clear promise made during the referendum that voting no to independence would secure a place in Europe for Scotland. It was promised over and over and the fact remains that this hasn’t happened. I don’t agree with Independence but I feel there is an almost inevitable move towards it and the right wing cabinet in London couldn’t care less and neither it seems does Jeremy Corbyn, The No to Independence and the Remain campaigns still think treating the Iniy and leave voters as stupid or misguided has failed time and again yet the lessons still haven’t been learned or even it seems understood.

  6. During the 2014 referendum we were promised by Gordon Brown (on nightly on BBC Scotland) and Alistair Darling (with Jackie Bird)–
    A. Federalism.
    B. Home Rule (promulgated first by Keir Hardie who wanted Dominion Status for Scotland).
    C. Devo Max.

    We were also told—– we were in a “Union of Equals”.
    The only way to remain in the EU was to reject self government.
    That the powers of Holyrood would be entrenched.
    That our opinion would be respected, indeed Scotland would LEAD policy in the UK.
    None of this has come to pass.

    Instead people like Tom Harris want us to stay, ruled from London by clowns like Boris, until a majority is set for independence at 60% for a decade. A majority of Scots reject THAT constitutional settlement if polling is correct, including some 40% of Scottish Labour voters.. What about them, Tom?
    Why should we listen to someone who write for the Torygraf, very much an English nationalist broadsheet?
    Timing is all, as history teaches us. British nationalists should have agreed to indyref2 when they had a lead, now they face humiliation as McDonnell bows to the democratic will in Scotland.

  7. The problem of your “settled will” argument, Tom, is that it applies to both sides. The status quo now appears to be in the minority but it has floundered around the low 50s since 2014. Surely in a situation like that there will be an inevitable move towards decisive change. There are only two options there, Brexit or independence. Why should Scots accept the one they don’t want rather than the one they do?
    In 1979 Scots voted for a watered down version on devolution but it was denied to them for the same reasons that you advocate above ie the majority was too small so our will was not really settled. Did this lead to a long period of tranquillity and contentment with the status quo? It did not and it took until 1998 to move a, by then, shockingly degraded Scotland back into some sort of normality.
    Of course, 1998 led directly to the rapid rise of the SNP and support for independence. When long-term trends are identified by opinion pollsters perhaps they should not be delayed while we await some sort of “settled will”.
    Gratuitous obfuscation can also lead to “division and resentment”, hostile obstruction to “hatred”. Changing a few words in your second last paragraph would not change its meaning in the slightest “Surely those who hold a genuine love of Scotland and her people want the best for her? Even if you believe that the United Kingdom is the best thing for Scotland, surely it’s better to take the whole of Scotland with you, perhaps at some point in the future, than take half of it with you today? Unless, of course, you love your political philosophy more. Unless you place the principle of Unionism over the happiness of the Scottish people?”
    In the recent EU election, the SNP outpolled the Tories, Labour and the over-hyped Brexit Party COMBINED. Latest opinion polls show Labour currently polling at less than 20% and about a third of them say they would vote for independence tomorrow.
    I can understand why senior Labour politicians are worried but we must be wary of them when they come to Scotland and try to redefine democracy.

  8. Tom I voted remain in 14 and at the EU Ref I cant believe what has happened you were involved in vote leave so do you agree with do or die Boris on no deal .
    It was all supposed to be so easy was it not .
    Did you even consider we would have to spend billions on no deal planning stock pile medicines was that on the ballot paper .If so I did not see it .
    Did you know about this and did not say including threatening to send EU citizens away to somewhere called home.
    Here in Scotland have you heard look at that Poles over here doing our jobs I have and when I intervened I got turned on .
    Michael Gove and co at Dover to see if its ready for Brexit its not did you tell us that .If so I did not hear you .
    I am on Oxygen at home .
    The equipment is manufactured in the USA and Australia the company who maintain my equipment on behalf of the NHS have told me they have a years worth of equipment stockpiled in Warehouses in case of problems at the ports .
    Did you and vote leave mention this if so I did not hear you .
    My medication is manufactured in England under license from Eu countries none in Scotland .
    Went to see my MSP recently at his surgery never been to one before .
    He said he never thought he would be sitting in a surgery discussing possible medicine shortages in Scotland neither did I Tom did you and if not why not .
    I am in the Labour party but I will vote Indy .How about you Tom or are you happy with the mess you helped create what is your opinion .

  9. I agree with Tom but in practice if I was a nationalist and my dream was Scotland leaving the UK I would be happy to settle for victory by one vote and take it from there. I seem to remember at some point Alex Salmond saying one vote would be enough and talking about the referendum result representing the ‘sovereign will’ of the people of Scotland. A Sovereign Will being determined by one vote seems a bit of a stretch, but it would still constitute a majority.
    However now that the SNP are settled on arguing for a second confirmatory referendum on EU membership, maybe any future referendum on Scottish independence should be in two stages? A first advisory referendum on agreeing the principal and a second referendum (once the details and prospects are clear) to ratify the decision. I can’t now see how the SNP can refuse a two stage referendum (and Pete Wishart has pointed this out a couple of times), but maybe they would be happy to do that.
    Scottish Labour is in a similar bind over the EU referendum issue however. It cannot plausibly oppose a second Scottish Independence Referendum now that it has declared in favour of a second EU referendum. Did anyone think that policy through?
    It seems that whatever else the future holds, it holds death by referendums.

    1. “Death by referendums”???? Damn this democracy and its insistence on giving us a say on how we are governed. Don’t “they” realise how much of a burden having to think about stuff is, and how tiresome it is to give up 15 mins of our lives every couple of years to actually vote? Why won’t “they” just leave us alone?

    2. Richard, might that not be “progress by referendums”?

      If we accept the use of referendums as a valid means for a nation to make major constitutional changes, we can’t just change the rules when that nation changes its mind.

      In 2014, Scotland voted to remain in the UK and nobody questioned the validity of the vote. The SNP has not tried to find some way around it in spite of all the talk in “Yes” circles about UDI or revoking the Treaty of Union. However, it would be a bizarre precedent if the will of a nation’s people was accepted in 2014 when it was for the status quo but not accepted 5, 8, 12 years later when that nation had changed its mind. In such situations, dominant governments would “get their referendums in early” to kill developing ideas and movements.

      I believe that if 55% v 45% was widely accepted as valid in 2014 then, equally 45% v 55% in 2020, 2022 or 2025 should be acceptable.
      Like many other supporters of Scottish independence I am a former Labour supporter. I was brought up “in a Labour family” and was on the verge of joining the party when I was a union rep in 1975. However, I decided at that time that the left in Scotland could never make progress while Scotland was part of the British State and I believe that history has proved me right. I am comforted to note that around 40% of Labour voters, in spite of the party’s decreasing popularity, would now vote for independence and the current “debate” between Richard Leonard and John McDonnell just illustrates how irrelevant the Party is in Scotland.

      Referendums are democratic tools just like elections. The fact that we are discussing having two referendums so soon after the first of each simple reflects the fact that the voters have changed their minds. there is nothing odd or sinister about that. How else should nations test, reject or adopt evolving ideas on major constitutional matters?

    1. John there have been quite a few comments haha Just heard on STV news Ferguson Shipyard going into administration next week .

  10. Times today Michael Gove why not declare Nov 1 a bank holiday in case of no deal turmoil in the financial markets Gov no plans for that

  11. strange that Tom Harris has not called for Brexit not to go ahead on the basis that only 52% supported that option. Of course he supports Brexit….

    1. Robert spotted this in the National. Kenny MacAskill wrote in the Scotsman the FM is wholly unprepared for an early referendum .
      Nicola lacks a strategy and a campaign on Independence
      He said the 52 lead for yes should be much higher given the rise of Boris and his pro Brexit cabinet .
      They should be more concerned with the closeness of the poll than its coverage crashing pound .Investment drying up and catastrophe threatening
      It confirms what he and others believe the worse for Britain the worse for Indy .
      Nicolas lack of a strategy never mind a campaign will see her face increased demands for an early ref from within its something which she cant deliver and she is wholly unprepared anyway despite her rhetoric.
      All complaints to Kenny haha

  12. Got to declare I am a Rangers supporter .
    I would say this anyway Celtic sold a player for 25 million with that and other big money transfers can we not by law require clubs to pay a percentage of the fee into some sort of fund that could contribute to the NHS or Foodbanks etc

    1. David sorry to say that the idea of supporting food banks is not a good one it’s exactly what the Tories want folks to do. By normalising food banks your taking away from the state or government their responsibility to provide proper welfare benefits.

      1. Thankyou for your comment Ted you are correct but those transfer fees are obscene .Just thought Food banks would be a good example

        1. David l would like them to give some of the transfer fee cash to open up after school evening and weekends and also school summer holidays youth club’s and also provide a free meal.

  13. Thing is polls have shown a consistently high support for dev max. If you want the settled will then that is the democratic outcome.

    However the unionist parties have twarted that at every turn. The promises in the dying days of the indy ref when it looked like yes would win, abandoned. Instead of the lies and false promises if the unionist parties had delivered home rule then we would not be in this position.

    1. We already have Home Rule. Home Rule is just devolution. We’ve had Home Rule since 1999. Labour delivered it.

      And no, the promises made were also delivered. “The Vow” has been delivered in full.

      The post-2014 indy movement is based entirely around false grievances.

      1. I would have been willing to accept Devo Max – the devolution of everything except defence and foreign affairs – but Unionists refuse to consider that option. Therefore I will vote Yes next referendum

      2. The Vow promised the Scottish Parliament would become a permanent feature of the political landscape that could not be dissolved by a hostile Westminster government. That is still not the case and the current hostile Tory govt is ignoring its views while stripping it of powers. Given the views being expressed by right-wingers on the web and beyond, it’s not inconceivable it could be abolished in the near future.

        Promise NOT delivered. Vow not delivered.

        1. No, the Vow said “The Scottish Parliament is permanent”. I just went and checked. Those are the words it uses, nothing whatsoever about “could not be dissolved by a hostile Westminster government”, that is entirely your invention. And absolutely no powers have been stripped from the parliament, that is an out and out lie. Don’t repeat it on these pages.

          Section 1 of the Scotland Act 2016 makes the Scottish Parliament permanent. Your pretence that it is under threat is nothing more than grievance propaganda. Don’t bring that bull here again.

          1. A Westminster Vow and a Hothersall description of a Vow, nae difference.

            Both are deceitful and malicious with more twists than a spring. Duncan knows full well that powers have been taken from the Scottish parliament and that they are the powers that are to come back from the EU when we leave.

            These powers are not in place just yet and he knows this so that’s why he claims no powers have been stripped from the Scottish parliament, its just another twisted piece of deceit.

            You have been doing the same thing for years Duncan, typical labour “same old – same old”.

          2. Duncan, under the constitutional traditions of England (Scotland being different), Westminster is sovereign and no government can be bound by Acts of their predecessors. So Holyrood cannot be considered “permanent”.

            Holyrood had responsibility over farming, fishing etc–devolved from the powers of the old (now defunct) Scottish Office–and partially administered from Brussels. These responsibilities will now be ran from Whitehall (Michael Gove already had plans )–the Fisheries Board for Scotland for example, was set up in the 1920’s I believe—so yes, I think we have “been stripped of powers”, unless weasel words are now political currency.

          3. If we take your view of what the Vow “said”, we have to ask what such a statement was doing in a “vow”? Vows are what you promise to do in the future; not statements of what currently happens. The statement’s very existence in the “Vow” means the Scottish Parliament was not guaranteed permanency in 2014 and it is still not guaranteed today. Westminster, unfortunately, is sovereign in the UK. Holyrood’ s existence is at Westminster’s sufferance and it can be abolished by the stroke of a hostile pen.

            As to the risk of such a thing happening, the mood music among Tories is distinctly moving in that direction. You should look at Effie Dean’s blog. She is all for it and her supporters back it too. In fact, she and her fans want to abolish all things distinctly Scottish in the hope it would dissipate feelings of being Scottish and engender Britishness. Nuts I know but we are talking Tories here.

            As to powers being stripped, others have already informed you of the veracity of my claim.

          4. It’s not “my view of what the Vow said”. It’s what the Vow said! We are in an age, it seems, where people like you think that fact and opinion are interchangeable. They aren’t.

          5. When I used the word “said” I meant the implication beyond the bald words on a page. If there was no subtext to the statement then its existence within “The Vow” makes no sense.

            And none of your steadfast pedantry makes Westminster’s sovereignty in relation to Holyrood any less true. It is a simple legal “fact” that Westminster legislation brought the Scottish Parliament into existence and it can abolish it the same way. regardless of the wishes of the peoples of Scotland.

            So, even “if” we accept your “fact” of what the statement “said”, it makes it a lie. So take your pick, it is either a “vow” not delivered or a lie.

  14. Duncan I agree with you but for me Brexit has changed everything .
    Today a Tory said I should leave Labour join the Liberals because I said Richard is not a Communist .
    He said shut Holyrood .Then he called Nicola names for being a woman when I defended her and Holyrood he gave up.

  15. Todays Times In the event of a no deal Brexlt Michael Gove ls working on a bailout fund for companies at risk of collapse .
    Its called operation KingFisher .
    George Freeman a transport minister has described no deal Brexit as an absolute disaster and could lead to the Tories being out of power for 20 years .And the PMS sacking spree last month has left us with a bill for 1 million .
    Each cabinet minister will get a payoff around 17thousand every junior minister 8thousand 2 Dozen Downing street advisors will get 3 month redundancy payments .Including PM Mays chief of staff and communications chief who were on 140 thousand a year they will receive 35 thousand in total .
    The advisors clearout bill might be half a million .

  16. Sunday papers SNP Lib Dems Greens thinking about in all 13 Tory seats standing aside in favour of 1 party to unseat the Tories

  17. Joanna Cherry is quoted in Today Mondays Times as saying The SNP should cooperate with Labour to end Austerity decommission Trident at Faslane and secure an Indy vote .
    They are looking at a possible confidence and supply arrangement Indy vote the price .
    Andrew Gwynne Labours election strategist .No formal SNP pact aiming for a majority if not then will govern as a minority .Nicola is backing this.

  18. The action before the Scottish courts to stop no deal Brexit case will be heard in Sept .
    Why did no one stop Westminster and Holyrood stopping for lengthy summer holidays .
    And STV News holiday makers coming back to find cars are write offs due to flooding .

  19. Boris v Hammond all kinds of accusations about leave voters being told of the risks of a hard Brexit before the ref .
    I voted remain will someone tell me why we should believe anything these guys say .And where is the evidence Leave warned of any problems .
    Tom did you give any warnings of a hard Brexit If so I missed it.

  20. Well the cat is well and truly in amongst the pigeons now Jeremy for PM .
    And Jo Swinson a car crash interview on ch4 news

  21. I got a phone call today Thursday computer said emergency 600 pound unauthorized withdrawal is being made from your bank account press 1 to speak to an operator .
    I hung up and phoned RBS call centre I have lost no money its a scam RBS are aware of its been going on for weeks .
    Don’t give out financial details to anyone .

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