mark mclaughlinMark McLaughlin argues that Brexit has handed the SNP a mandate for a second referendum, and says both sides need to recognise the crater-sized holes in their arguments this time around.

 

On December 17th 1928, American con man George C Parker was convicted of fraud for the third time, and given a life sentence. He was incarcerated in New York’s Sing Sing prison, where he would die eight years later at the age of sixty six.

In a glittering criminal career, George C Parker ‘sold’ New York’s famous landmarks to unwitting out-of-towners. Madison Square Gardens, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, General Grant’s Tomb, the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge were all centrepieces of a series of elaborate swindles whereby he would forge documents and set up fake offices to demonstrate his ‘legal ownership’. It is reported that Mr Parker ‘sold’ the Brooklyn Bridge twice a week for 30 years; buyers would only become aware of the ruse when police halted the construction of their own toll booths. His legacy lives on in the phrase “if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you”.

A casual observer of recent political discourse might reasonably speculate that George C Parker must have been a particularly virile man to have spawned quite so many descendants.

Every electoral cycle we are all offered the opportunity to own the Brooklyn Bridge. For the bargain price of one vote, we can secure £350 million extra a week for the NHS, or abolish tuition fees, or build 100,000 homes, or make America great again. Political parties with a chance of power promise what they must to win support, and those far from power promise anything they like, unencumbered by the burden of fulfilment.

The premise that general elections provide a mandate for anything more than a manifesto’s headline items is a fiction; a lie we tell ourselves to tether those who wield power to the pre-election small print. In truth, few voters read manifestos and even fewer believe them. The steady drumbeat of over-promise followed by under-delivery is a rhythm so familiar that most of the electorate has become deaf to it. Lying politicians lie; ’twas ever thus.

Yet there are commitments to which the political fortunes of the powerful are anchored. These are the promises that form the pillars of a party’s identity, from which no amount of flimflammery could justify a retreat. Difficult to describe in abstract but easy to identify in practice, the Liberal Democrats’ pledge to vote against a rise in tuition fees is among the low hanging fruit in this regard. For a UKIP voter, an equivalent betrayal might be a pivot to ‘open door’ immigration; for the Conservatives, a hike in income tax; for the Greens, to express support for fracking.

Consequently, the rammy over whether the SNP has a mandate to propose another independence referendum is borderline disingenuous. Their manifesto expressly stipulated the criteria for it to be considered, one of which was the very change in circumstances that has now materialised. Far more importantly, however, it would run counter to their very SNP-ness not to advance the cause of independence at every opportunity. For all the stamping of feet and gnashing of teeth in unionist quarters, the much greater betrayal would be for Nicola Sturgeon not to call a referendum at this point, having promised for 18 months to do just that.

The position of the Scottish Greens is more tenuous. No contortion of their manifesto could justify support for an independence referendum. However, there should be little doubt that they would have felt the coarsened edge of our constitutional debate had they not come to heel. Behind the SNP and the Conservatives, Patrick Harvie’s party has been the greatest beneficiary of the 2014 realignment, and their stance on indyref2 is a reflection of this new reality.

Is it really the contention of their political opponents that those who voted Green, most of whom switched because of their pro-independence stance, would be betrayed by backing another referendum? It seems like wilful ignorance to evidence this betrayal by relying an abstract provision of a manifesto on which few will have based their vote. Far more reasonable is the contention that the Greens would have lost support had they not acted like a nationalist party, for that is what they are. Nevertheless, it must be conceded that there is no clear and explicit mandate akin to that of the SNP.

The fact that there exists a parliamentary majority for another plebiscite doesn’t fill me with any less dread about the prospect of one. Pressing issues will be starved of political oxygen as the country is again consumed with divisive constitutional wrangling.

Political arguments are necessarily divisive, of course; debates on education, on tax, on poverty, on welfare are all adversarial. But the argument over statehood is an entirely different, more snarly, animal. It’s effect is so deeply personal as to provoke people to lash out and shut down; opponents become traitors; motives are questioned and characters are derided. It’s emotional and tribal and exhausting. The danger for the Yes campaign is not just a well-funded Better Together outfit, but that the youthful vigour that provided the impetus in 2014 is all democracied out.

Perhaps my greatest doubt, as a supporter of independence, is the futility of hopping aboard the referendum merry-go-round just to be in the same position when we hop off in a few years time. The central challenge is this: Leave did not win because they convinced the public to sacrifice economic prosperity on the alter of constitutional change. They won because they convinced the public that constitutional change was the route to economic prosperity. Or, at the very least, that its effect would be negligible. I remain unconvinced that this argument can be made in respect of independence in current circumstances.

There should be no doubt about the stakes involved as we prepare to roll the dice. There will be no indyref3 folks, we’re going all in. It’s a once in a gener… twice in a generation opportunity.

It also seems plausible that the shortest route between here and ‘First Minister Ruth Davidson’ is a narrow No vote. Labour will, as always, be too squeamish to engage on the issue of statehood and will retreat to the position that Scotland is too poor to be a separate state. The remaining pro-independence voices will complete their migration to the yellow corner while the No vote coalesces around the flag-waving Scottish Conservatives. When political gravity takes its toll on the Scottish Government, as it does with all governments, it would be Ruth Davidson, not Kezia Dugdale, waiting in the wings.

However, all these reservations and more are as nothing next to a Brexit vote which has laid bare the nature of the United Kingdom. Perhaps the most accurate snapshot of our current predicament is the ridicule heaped on Mhairi Black when she had the audacity to tweet that it was a shame that London, the city, could outvote Scotland, the country.

This is what critics would identify as the distilled essence of nationalism; the triumph of the state over the individual, the ‘people’ over the person. It has historically allowed nationalist governments to forego the rights of certain citizens for the ‘greater good’, paving the way for persecution and insularity. What silly, idiotic institutions would, as one critic of Ms Black’s comments put it, assign votes to a landmass instead of people?

Well, most international institutions do just that. In the European Union, each individual parliament of the twenty eight Member States must agree and ratify treaty changes. The United Nations, and the League of Nations before it, operates a one-nation-one-vote policy in the General Assembly, no matter the size of the States. Equally, a veto from the United Kingdom in the Security Council can override the votes of nations representing billions of citizens. Amendments to the Constitution of the United States require a two-thirds majority of state legislatures. In each instance, it is the individual parts of a union that are of significance, not the number of its citizens.

Morally superior sneering at those who believe Scotland should occupy the same position as every other nation is wearing in the extreme. Blinkered denial that the concept of nationhood exists, and that it has real and tangible effects, accounts for so much of the chasm that exists between Yes and No. London is a city, Scotland is a country, and that matters.

The United Kingdom is the anomaly, not the norm, in refusing to respect the democratic will of its constituent parts. Any suggestion of a Brexit veto for nations of the union was treated with derision and dismissed out of hand. If there ever was a union of equal nations, there isn’t any longer. It is a slogan, nothing more. There is only one nation-state.

This is the battleground on which Nicola Sturgeon will fight the second independence referendum. The foundations are already being laid by raising the spectre of Westminster ‘dismantling’ Holyrood, or stripping its powers. It’s a barefaced lie of course; there is no serious prospect of either, and the existing powers are substantial in many policy areas. But like all good political lies, the aim is to reveal a far more potent truth: that the Scottish Parliament exists at the whim of the UK Parliament.

Westminster, not Holyrood, is the sovereign entity. Holyrood’s powers, processes, limitations, structure and budget operate at the pleasure of a Government that has one MP north of the border. It is Scotland’s Playmobil Parliament, bestowed with the powers with which the UK Government has decided we can be trusted, but starved of the ‘economic levers’ to fulfil our potential. This is a gross mischaracterisation, of course, but remains the perfect framing for a nationalist cause. If pro-union voices aren’t worried about its potency, they should be.

Theresa May risks fuelling the grievance machine by denying that Scotland has a right to self determination. That right is well established in international law and exists in perpetuity. There is a legitimate way to stop the SNP governing astride their independence hobby horse, and that is at the ballot box. If the independence cause is to be defeated again, it will be defeated democratically, in Scotland, as it was in 2014. Technical chicanery risks reenergising a fatigued SNP base.

My personal view was that it is too soon, that the Yes side could not afford to lose again, and that the arguments around currency, borders and EU membership have not been coherently developed. Yet every time Theresa May advances Brexit with scant regard of Scotland’s vote to remain, or repeats that ‘now is not the time’, the political case for independence is made anew.

There should be no mistake, the second independence referendum will be as much a trial of the United Kingdom as an independent Scotland. Pro-union voices should be prepared to defend the idea of a Brexit process explicitly rejected by a majority of the Scottish people. You will have to defend a United Kingdom with no opposition and a slash-and-burn Conservative government in perpetuity. You must argue that it is preferable to be part a State that will prioritise keeping out immigrants over economic growth, rather than, in the customary schmultz, ‘rise and be a nation again’.

There are crater-sized holes in both arguments this time, and Better Together has as much thinking to do as the Yes campaign. Because if you truly believe that the UK’s balance sheet will be enough to save the union again, then I have a bridge to sell you.

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85 thoughts on “The Playmobil Parliament

  1. Yes, the SNP manifesto did contain a commitment to #IndyRef2. However, they are are a minority administration and it’s clear Scots want neither #IndyRef2 nor independence.

    In Scotland children are waiting months for the support they need to deal with mental health issues. Tomorrow in Holyrood a debate on mental health is being postponed to enable the SNP to talk about their divisive independence obsession. It’s just a guess, but I’m feel most Scots would rather the SNP got on with its day job and fixed Scotland’s mental health crisis.

    1. Hi Scott,

      My argument here is not that they should, just that they can. They are a minority administration, yes, but that doesn’t absolve them of one of the few manifesto commitments that their voters would know about. Presumably you will hold them to the rest of their manifesto, so to cherrypick this one to flout seems more pragmatic than principled.

      There was a way to stop this from happening, it was stopping a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament.

      Having said that, I do lament that more pressing issues will be starved of political oxygen, as I said in the article. Not sure we’ve recovered from indyref 1 yet.

      1. On the contrary, there’s quite a lot of the SNP manifesto I’d be happy for them to scrap or, at least, be more ambitious about. I think if we shared a coffee we’d agree that on things like education the SNP are a shambles.

        The SNP should be seeking consensus on issues like education, not further division within families and workplaces.

        1. I agree people have referendum fatigue and it’s far too early for another referendum since the 2014 one.

          But I find the constant Labour line about ‘division’ a little odd.

          On the one hand, Labour were bemoaning the fact Scotland was some sort of one party state without plurality and opposing views after the Scottish elections in 2011.

          Now in a few short years there are divided views about Scotland’s constitutional future and suddenly opposing views are also bad for democracy.

          Clearly you can’t have it both ways.

          In reality, the bitter industrial disputes (of which many in the Labour party supported) in the 1970s and 1980s were far more violent and divided communities more than the independence referendum.

          I don’t remember seeing mounted police on horseback charging at anyone across fields in 2014 or mobs attacking buses with stones.

          Scotland has never been a particularly harmonious place and anyone with a primary school level of education knows this.

          We should probably just be thankful we have moved on from the razor gangs, sectarian violence, Jacobites v Hanovarians, Covenantors v Royalists, etc.

        2. “On the contrary, there’s quite a lot of the SNP manifesto I’d be happy for them to scrap or, at least, be more ambitious about.”

          Yet you claim they don’t have a mandate to do that. So what right would you have to complain when they don’t?

      2. Not even the mighty Labour in its heyday managed a majority in the Scottish Parliament, it ruled in coalition with the LibDems. You keep saying there is no mandate, when the SNP won 80% of the constituency seats and even if the greens abstain can still pass an Independence vote. Surely any democratically elected government that can find votes to pass legislation is legitimate – otherwise everything passed by the Scottish Parliament except for the time which the SNP had a majority can be called into question.

    2. Minority administrations legitimately get their manifesto commitments through Parliament by engaging the support of other parties to obtain the required majority. This is not only acceptable in terms of legitimacy but also in terms of mandate to enact on the legislation.
      Labour Governed in Scotland from 1999 to 2007 as a minority on a minority manifesto of commitments. Are you claiming none of the manifesto derived legislation passed had legitimacy because it required the support of the Lib Dems?

      It was the opposition parties who insisted on 2 days of debates not the Scottish Government. It was an unforeseen circumstance in London that delayed the 2 day debate.

      The Scottish Government does its day job as well as gets through the constitutional process that Westminster insists is required in order for the Scottish Government to legitimately enact on their constitutional mandate. You spend much of your time complaining about every issue the Scottish Government has to deal with. The NHS Education Welfare you whine about the action the SNP does take while lying about the fact that they take no action at all.

      You haven’t got a single leg to stand on but it never stops you manufacturing pseudo grievances because you think that’s what it means to oppose.

    3. They are a minority administration with a clear mandate to call #indyref2, in a Parliament without a unionist majority to block it. The Greens would have to vote against the SG to stop it. The current polling evidence doesn’t support your contention that Scots want neither a second indyref or independence; the split is pretty even, and only a tendentious reading of the average polling numbers since indyref1 and the brexit vote would deny the direction of travel has been from No to Yes. So much for the oft claimed peak SNP or overwhelming appetite against a further vote!

      As you say, it IS just a guess on your part that “most” Scots would rather the SNP got on with the day job. Truthiness isn’t going to get you far in the face of the realities of hard brexit and losing our EU membership Scott. You and your party don’t represent “most” Scots do they? In fact they represent less than 20% of Scots. The 80% of Scots you don’t represent might take your crocodile tears more seriously if Labour hadn’t fought tooth and nail to deny Holyrood control of every significant area of policy which *might* have led to the “near Federalism” promised, but never delivered, in the Vow in 2014.

      The re-hashed offer of more powers from Labour (faster, safer, better mark 2…?), who are in an even less favourable position to deliver on such a “Vow 2” now than they were in 2014, will be seen by Scots for what it is; dishonest, desperate and undeliverable.

    4. Scots absolutely do want another chance to prevent Tories do what they like with our lives. We spent many years building up rights for workers, unions, families, only for Tories to rewrite the Human Rights Act and abandon many checks and balances won over decades. There is a pro- independence majority. It is less than half the story to just consider SNP. Greens are also of the view that independence for Scotland is the only way to preserve our hard won rights. Yes, there are challenges in Scotland, made harder by Tory austerity, which is an ideological force stopping the growth of the country. Underinvestment, budgets straining, are all indicative of how badly Scotland is run under the financial ruin that is Westminster policy. With no fiscal levers to change that, we continue to rely on Tories to bring success to Scotland. We have waited far too long for that and it has never appeared. It is time we do things for ourselves, as no one can know better what we require than the people who live and work here and pay taxes.

      All the talk of crisis is just a smokescreen. Mental health budgets have slipped by less than one half percent. We have now had numerous alleged crisis, yet this country is doing well compared to the Red Cross aided English NHS, Education is dire in England. In Scotland we have the highest completed tertiary education levels in Europe.

      SNP are getting on with the day job. One look at their manifesto and their achievements should tell you that, although, you may not want to let on that it is well on its way to deliver exactly what they promised. SNP are not Scotland but a part of it. Greens are too. Let us ask the public what sort of mandate they have to hold a referendum. After all, giving people a choice is democratic. Avoiding giving them that choice, is a dictatorship and we are best to avoid that type of governance.

      1. Out of curiosity, how do you define the parameters of Tory Austerity? Because right now, if we are experiencing austerity, then austerity means having near identical levels of expenditure in scotland as in 2010 (which is the post crash peak the SNP always uses as its benchmark when discussing the block grant).

      2. What is the abstraction? 9 billion pounds out would be a fairly grievous error by the statisticians. It is real. Surely devolution + fiscal stability wins over existential nationalism?

  2. A very thought-provoking article. Labour in Scotland are in a bad place at the moment – low in the polls, trapped between the strident voices of hardline unionism and the SNP. We are certainly not helped by the uselessness of Jeremy Corbyn as UK leader – as a campaigner in the local elections, I find this comes up on the doorsteps quite often, and is an added difficulty.
    I still cannot see any rational case for separating from the UK, economic, social or political, but we are in completely uncharted waters with Brexit. There could be huge political convulsions at Westminster if the Brexit negotiations go badly, as they probably will. This is why I don’t buy the idea that we are doomed to permanent Conservative government – May’s position is much weaker than it appears. She obviously feels that she can’t consult meaningfully with the devolved parliaments for fear of alienating the hardline Brexiteers, but I’m convinced there will be a showdown with them (the hardline Brexiteers) which could split the government – which is why it’s a pity we don’t have a UK leader who can exploit these divisions.
    Scottish Labour’s only option if there is a second referendum is to campaign out with the Tories, by promoting a federal solution. That would at least allow us to avoid being tarred with the Project Fear2 brush, and promote the advantages of a reformed UK. But I fear we will be drowned out by the hardliners on both sides.

    1. Some great points Dave,

      Yep JC is a liability to Labour now, i thought for a fleeting moment Labour had t last got a leader with some integrity, and the fact that the Blairites hated him so much only added to the feeling he was different, but his compromises on almost everything he previously stood for has just made him look easily pushed around by the right wing press.

      your point about the federal solution is a busted flush. Scots have been promised these extra powers again and again, only for these same promises to be backtracked, as soon as it was convenient. fool me once shame on you…fool me twice…and all that.

      We started the last independence referendum with Yes at less than 20%, this time we start with Yes at 50% and Scotland staring down the barrel of a right wing Tory Cannon.

      Time to look again at the case for your own people making the decisions about the place we all live in Dave, rather than let out of touch wealthy Tories and Labour types who find it hard to imagine life outside of eaton never mind in Scotland, make our decisions for us.

      Oh, perhaps you can start by looking into some of those nasty YES type blogs you have been hearing about…it will soon give you wings! 🙂

    2. I am with you that I think Brexit is going to be much worse than people generally think.

      The currency markets are currently predicting a depression (i.e. a more than 10% drop in GDP). That’s the sort of thing that is very, very noticeable to the average voter.

      The question is will that result in a compromise and a switch to a more sensible position or will it result in even more extreme English nationalism? I hope for the former but suspect it will be the latter.

        1. Alex, how is it “praise” to tell somebody they’re very, very bad at reasoning?

          Catherine caught you out but rather than admit it, you decide to insult our intelligences.

          Are you not able to recognise that the young man – as you call him – has made some powerful points?

          You lot in the ‘old guard’ really need to start shifting or you’re going to get left way behind.

          1. I presumed he made the arguments and reached the conclusions he set out to reach. That takes skill and intelligence. Theologians do it all the time.

    1. Sophistry in the Labour Party?
      Naw. You would have to go some to beat George Galloway. Or John Stonehouse. How about Lord Mandelson, or the “Two Jimmies”?
      I was born in the first half of the last century, joined Labour, gave them time and money. I have seen Labour politicians adopting pretty well every possible side of every argument, sometimes two sides at once.
      Like many others my eyes were opened to the scams, cheating, expenses fraud and hypocrisy of the “Brothers”. This article doesnt even come close to sophistry, when you look at what has gone on in the past.
      How about the weekly articles in a Tory paper by Brian Wilson? He was a director of a company which left huge ecological damage in the old mining areas of Scotland: Did not pay their whack into the pension scheme, so “industrywide” mineworker pensioners will lose money for the rest of time.
      An apology?
      An explanation?
      Nope, nothing, not even “sophistry” from Mr Wilson.

    2. Alex, I recall, but only just, having such a refreshing, if ultimately misguided, monochrome view of the world.
      Nicola Sturgeon is not selling the Brooklyn Bridge, she is building the Forth Road Bridge.
      Angus Robertson is not selling building plots in the Algarve, he’s building affordable homes in ‘the’ Aberdeen.
      The SNP and Greens are the only parties in Scotland who opposed and continue to oppose the Red Blue and Yellow Tory Charter for Budget Responsibility Austerity Cuts of £30 billion, while the Blue Tories, that’s chubby cheeks and her LisTory Boys, give £73 billion in tax cuts to the filthy rich and big business, and oil companies can now suck out oil from the North Sea for nothing.
      I have yet to hear Rennie, Findlay, Dugdale, Marra, Tavish the Gentleman Farmer , attack the Tories in Holyrood.
      Widow’s and Pensioners, and Disabled JobSeekers are the latest Targets.
      Newly bereaved widows with young families will no longer be respected and given the special support that any descent society would afford them. Widows’ Benefits and allowances are being taken away from newly bereaved spouses and their children. Meanwhile JK Rowling gets a 5% tax cut.
      Ruth Davidson and her cackling yahooing table thumping gang of brats are demanding that women, with two young children and on benefits, prove that they have been raped to prove their entitlement to welfare payments for a third child. The Tories have capped Child Tax Credits to two children now. Don’t lose your job if you have been rash enough to have 3 or more children in Tory Britain. Well, population control worked in Communist China didn’t I?

      Pensioners whose state pension is so meagre that they receive aMeans Tested Pensions Credit Top Up, will now face eviction, if they have a ‘spare room’, as they are sucked in to the vile Bedroom Tax vortex.
      Disabled Jobseekers will no longer receive £30 per week Employment Support Allowance, to cover additional expenses while they search for work.
      11,000 18-21 year olds have been made homeless at a stroke; their Housing benefit has been scrapped.
      I could go on, but I won’t. The SNP and the Greens are getting on with ‘the day job’. Scotland’s new Welfare System is being developed as we speak. Thousands of volunteers, the customers themselves are contributing to developing a Scottish Welfare system that is fair, and treats our citizens with dignity and respect. The ‘day job’.
      I have heard not one word of protest hurling across Holyrood from Dugdale and Rennie, as The Blue Tories systematically attempt to destroy Scotland. Not one fucking word.
      Defeating Brexit is not just about our Self Determination.
      We face a CERTAIN future, another quarter of a century of Ultra Right Blue Tory Rule from London.
      We are being dragged out of the EU against our wishes.
      I will not stand for that.
      Neither, I’m sure will millions of my fellow Scots citizens.
      We are nor war weary, we are not licking our wounds, with no stomach for the fight. Far from it.

      The next 18 months will expose the WM Neo-Conservative Coalition of Red Blue and Yellow Tories for what it is. Little England, ubermensch.
      We shall be ready come October ’18.

      78 weeks is a helluva long time in politics.

  3. Mark

    Once again you articulate a point of view which is well written but fundamentally flawed because you seem to care more about the articulation than the substance.

    “Yet there are commitments to which the political fortunes of the powerful are anchored. These are the promises that form the pillars of a party’s identity, from which no amount of flimflammery could justify a retreat. Difficult to describe in abstract but easy to identify in practice, the Liberal Democrats’ pledge to vote against a rise in tuition fees is among the low hanging fruit in this regard. For a UKIP voter, an equivalent betrayal might be a pivot to ‘open door’ immigration; for the Conservatives, a hike in income tax; for the Greens, to express support for fracking.”

    You forgot to add A labour party that betrays its fundamental Socialist values to embrace ideology that they believe attracts the greatest number of seats from the South East region of the UK where the unbalanced population distribution ensures the majority of seats will always be found and where is focused the core of privileged and well healed voters.

    I believe you may have left out this example deliberately because it actually happened and isn’t an example of betrayal that simply highlights a point you were trying to make.

    “The fact that there exists a parliamentary majority for another plebiscite doesn’t fill me with any less dread about the prospect of one. Pressing issues will be starved of political oxygen as the country is again consumed with divisive constitutional wrangling.”

    Such as what? We’ve had a budget. The public funding allocation has been determined and is being distributed accordingly. Local authorities will get on with their day jobs and life will go on. The Scottish Government will Govern the opposition will find excuses to whine about everything they actually do in their “Day jobs” While complaining that they do nothing in their day jobs because of the constitutional wrangle as you put it. Life will go on.

    “But the argument over statehood is an entirely different, more snarly, animal. It’s effect is so deeply personal as to provoke people to lash out and shut down; opponents become traitors; motives are questioned and characters are derided. It’s emotional and tribal and exhausting.”

    Because its far more fundamentally symbiotic to our lives. It is the single most vital issue in our very existence. You first have to determine the boundaries of your power and influence before you can even begin to exercise that influence and power legitimately and within an acceptable sphere.

    Every other vital issue and service has as its foundation the constitution. It is the constitution that determines the very limitations of what can or cannot be done to EVERY issue.

    If you get the constitution wrong then nothing will be right and clearly there is something badly wrong with the UK constitution.

    A perfect example of that would be to point out how often the opposition to the Scottish Government complains about the failures of the Government to fund everything adequately while promoting a Constitutional setup that limits ANY Scottish Government to Devolved authority with the proportional powers and fiscal means that that entails.
    The denial of full fiscal autonomy is fundamental to how any Government funds any and all public services.

    Another prime example is the power and authority to take us to war. Glaringly the Scottish Government doesn’t have that power or authority. It doesn’t have the power and authority to keep us out of any wars we don’t want or need to engage in.

    That has to be viewed as a constitutional deficit right there.

    Thats just 2 of many examples I could site so you can understandably see why the constitution would engage more interest and emotion because justifiably IT SHOULD!

    I will stop here before this get too long. But may engage with the rest of your article later on.

  4. “Leave did not win because they convinced the public to sacrifice economic prosperity on the alter of constitutional change. They won because they convinced the public that constitutional change was the route to economic prosperity. Or, at the very least, that its effect would be negligible. I remain unconvinced that this argument can be made in respect of independence in current circumstances.”
    This is an important crux. I personally believe that Sturgeon and Cameron had a pact (attack Labour, go easy on each other retain control of the Govts) and this alone was the reason why Sturgeon has not been pushing for a Second Referendum more forcibly before now. May is not affording Scotland primacy, so there is no reason for the SNP to hold back. You are right that Independence is the SNP’s raison d’être, and the commitment to a Second Referendum left sufficiently vague, that it is pointless to quibble over mandates.
    But Economy wise. London and the South West is bankrolling the UK. We’ve already seen currency devaluation. We are a poorer country post-Brexit. Sturgeon running around complaining to everyone and causing scenes makes that situation worse surely? A concerted effort to get May to realise that she is not playing a game of poker, Europe are our friends and we can work together to ensure that the negative effects of Brexit are contained, would make far more sense to me. Because a fragmentation of the UK from the EU then Scotland from the UK will not result in Scotland becoming wealthier. The South East can out spend us, the Bank of England would have control over Scottish Monetary Policy, and Brand UK is far far stronger than Brand Scotland.
    The Tories/SNP love/hate pantomime over Constitutional change does leave Labour confused. Look around Western Liberal Democracies. They are all much the same. So what is the point of all this fighting over where the balance of power resides? That is an ideological issue and to be honest when I see the aping of the Tory Budgets, gimmicks like free school meals to P1-3s, Baby Boxes, race to the bottom on business taxes, no safety net for people affected by ESA/PIP/DLA cuts or welfare caps, etc, I don’t see much ideological difference between the Westminster and Holyrood Governments. When I hear the successful City of Glasgow trash talked by the woman who wants to take over leading it – after years of not being able to offer an alternative Budget to the sitting Council – I wonder where their much lauded positive vision is?
    It’s boring and grown up to talk about the Economy, but a strong economy lies at the heart of every single improvement we want to see. And second key ingredient: Scotland needs immigrants, England doesn’t want any more, why are we not working in collaboration to have all levels of Govt actively promoting settlement in Scotland? Where is the next generation of nurses coming from following Sturgeon cutting training places? Why are there no supply teachers? (Why can’t foreign trained teachers fast-track? Who is blocking such a move?)
    None of these questions require independence, in fact all they require is that we grow stronger bonds.
    And that is why Labour don’t actually care about Constitutional questions, because we have truly better things to be getting on with. It’s not a hatred of any country but a focus on peoples’ lives.

  5. I disagree with some of the points you make, Mark, but that really is a stellar piece of writing – you young, talented bastard.

    1. It is a masterful piece of articulation but a total pup in terms of substance and viewpoint.

  6. It is well written and thought out. I still believe we should be concentrating on local issues . I think their will be a ref at some time within the next 2 years.. I don’t think it matters whats in the manifesto. They have the parliamentary votes. Anyway its not about holding a ref its about wining it. A lot of very deep thinking on that has taken place on that. Expect take our country back. Question is where to

  7. “Perhaps my greatest doubt, as a supporter of independence, is the futility of hopping aboard the referendum merry-go-round just to be in the same position when we hop off in a few years time.”

    The whole point of referenda is to find out exactly where the merry go round stops. You cannot determine where the merry go round is going to stop until you have a referendum to determine its resting place.

    Or, at the very least, that its effect would be negligible. I remain unconvinced that this argument can be made in respect of independence in current circumstances.

    Is that because you give project fear claims credence?

    “The central challenge is this: Leave did not win because they convinced the public to sacrifice economic prosperity on the alter of constitutional change. They won because they convinced the public that constitutional change was the route to economic prosperity. Or, at the very least, that its effect would be negligible. I remain unconvinced that this argument can be made in respect of independence in current circumstances.”

    Is that because you give credence to Project fear claims over the Scottish economy or because you believe supporters of Scottish Independence cannot convince enough voters of the duplicity and dishonesty of the claims made with regards to the Scottish economy?

    “It’s a once in a gener… twice in a generation opportunity.”

    Nobody has the authority nor legitimacy to make that call. It is a collective call ONLY the people of Scotland can make.

    “It also seems plausible that the shortest route between here and ‘First Minister Ruth Davidson’ is a narrow No vote.”

    I think you started drinking just before you made this point. Alex Salmond failed to win in 2014 yet nobody called for nor demanded his resignation he decided to do that all on his own and MOST Yes voters were disappointed at the time that he did.
    The Pro Indy vote isn’t going to suddenly start voting Tory if they find they cannot get over the line. Why you would make that claim is staggering.

    “The foundations are already being laid by raising the spectre of Westminster ‘dismantling’ Holyrood, or stripping its powers. It’s a barefaced lie of course; there is no serious prospect of either, and the existing powers are substantial in many policy areas. But like all good political lies, the aim is to reveal a far more potent truth: that the Scottish Parliament exists at the whim of the UK Parliament.”

    What evidence do you have that shows its a “Bare faced lie”? Hasn’t the Tory Government said they intend to hold onto the powers over agriculture and fisheries when returned from the EU?
    Hasn’t the supreme court ruling on the Sewel convention not opened the door to potential constitutional change away from Devolution?
    Isnt the UK Government presently considering direct rule over NI just now in light of the present crises over there?
    Sorry sunshine but you went off the rails a bit with that one.

    “Westminster, not Holyrood, is the sovereign entity. Holyrood’s powers, processes, limitations, structure and budget operate at the pleasure of a Government that has one MP north of the border. It is Scotland’s Playmobil Parliament, bestowed with the powers with which the UK Government has decided we can be trusted, but starved of the ‘economic levers’ to fulfil our potential. This is a gross mischaracterisation, of course”

    Or it would have been if the Sewel convention was worth the paper it was written on eh? Did you write this before the Supreme court judgement?

    “There is a legitimate way to stop the SNP governing astride their independence hobby horse, and that is at the ballot box. If the independence cause is to be defeated again, it will be defeated democratically, in Scotland, as it was in 2014. Technical chicanery risks reenergising a fatigued SNP base.”

    Not something I as a supporter of Independence would have written if somebody had threatened to rip my nuts off with a pair of plyers if I didn’t.

    “My personal view was that it is too soon, that the Yes side could not afford to lose again, and that the arguments around currency, borders and EU membership have not been coherently developed.”

    Problem is the timing is actually outwith control and in the hands of events and circumstance. The first Indyref timing occurred as a result of a freak election result and a manifesto promise that had to be kept.

    This one as a direct result of an unexpected EU referendum result.

    “There are crater-sized holes in both arguments this time, ”

    I don’t see any holes in the pro Indy argument at all let alone crater size ones but then I don’t subscribe to project fear as being anything like credible or defensible. A deficit that doesn’t exist and wouldn’t have been applicable to an Indy Scotland if it had existed. An EU that is going to invite Scotland to REMAIN not REAPPLY.

    Like I said you were far too busy trying to make it look intellectual you forgot to give it substance and reality.

  8. Great article Mark and a lot of good topics for discussion.
    I see the dinosaurs in your party are quick off the mark, attempting to silence you with a typically Slab mixture of ridicule and smears, but they are the reason Slab are in such a mess, and it’s only people with your ideas and ideals that have any chance of saving your party.

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Pretty sure the loudest voice of ridicule and smear is “Mike”, who is not in the Labour Party. Then again, neither is Mark.

      1. Ah!, I thought mark was in the Labour party, my mistake. That being the case then I suppose the Slab comments on the article are fair enough.

        I agree that Mike was a bit harsh, and think any youngster who is prepared to write an article and have it published, should be encouraged by all of us no matter our political persuasion.
        Not necessarily agree with it and not be afraid to challenge the points, but leave him with some positive feedback and encouragement.

        1. Its only harsh if its invalid. Would you encourage somebody to write a follow up to “Mein Kampf” if the author was a youngster?

    1. 47% of the *constituency* vote.

      I don’t understand – well obviously I actually do – the presentation by the SNP of constituency vote as most important, notwithstanding a majority of constituency votes went to pro-Union parties at the 2016 election.

      Actual votes for pro/anti indy parties at 2015 and 2016 elections across both constituency and regional list ballots show a majority for the Union, and given that the matter is reserved, arguably a mandate for HMG opposing or at least delaying a plebiscite which they consider inappropriately timed.

      Anyway, I don’t think a game of mandate versus mandate gets us anywhere. The issue is clearly not settled and unless and until the substantial minority nationalist support falls away it won’t be without another referendum.

  9. Hi Mark,

    I don’t feel disenfranchised by the possibility that a grouping of London MPs could defeat a grouping of Scottish MPs on a particular issue in the House of Commons. I don’t even think that it is an especially frequent occurence hostorically – London and Scottish constituencies having regularly been represented by MPs from different political parties.

    An equivalence can be drawn with my current Holyrood representation: my constituency MSP is frequently outvoted on a great number of votes. This is of no greater or lesser offence to me than the unsustainable scenario you and Mhairi Black (not a nationalist) describe.

    The theoretical possibility of Scotland being outvoted by “London” , which assumes London and Scotland vote homogenously in the House of Commons, or of the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament, only propels these theoretical “iniquities” to the forefront of Scottish Nationalist approaches to the constitution, with its determination to emphasise the primacy of the “Nation” in every debate on the suitability of our arrangements. It is this approach to constitutional analysis which, among other things, presents Scotland’s fiscal transfer as a “problem” created on Westminster’s watch…why is it a problem to begin with? Historically when the gap has existed it has been caused by higher public expenditure, not by lower tax receipts.

    For many others – myself included, and I would wager a comfortable majority in Scotland – the constitution’s worth will be assessed against its efficacy in acting as an interlocutor between the public will and the public good.

    While I admit that post Brexit Britain is not a as attractive a proposition feom that perspective as Britain within the EU, I nevertheless think the SNP will struggle to win over voters who approach the constitutional debate in the same way I do.

    The SNP strategy is to present the choice as one between two equivalent uncertainties, post Brexit Britain and post Independence Scotland. Frankly there is no equivalence to be drawn between the importance of the two Unions, nor the uncertainty present in each proposed scenario.

    Scotland has never had common fiscal, monetary, foreign or defence bonds with the EU to anywhere near the same extent as it shares with the UK. Scotland’s trade with the EU is nowhere near the same size as its trade with the rUK. The EU does not ensure a £9 billion fiscal transfer in lean years. There is far more movent of people between Scotland and rUK than between Scotland and rhe EU.

    I think soft No voters will disdain attempts by Nationalists (which are frequent) to downplay or ignore the scale of the post independence challenge, or to present the two uncertainties as equivalent. This will particularly be the case if there is a flip flop on currency or EU membership, or if there is an attempt to airbrush the ludicrous economic proposals in the 2014 white paper, or Scottish Government statistics on the scale of the deficit in Scottish public finances, out of the debate; I predict all of those things will happen. I don’t know if your piece grasps the credibility gap the SNP have on fiscal policy among no voters and undecideds. I think a large section of soft voters on either side from 2014 will feel as if the SNP are trying to sell them a pup, because they are.

    The further uncertainty introduced by Nicola Sturgeon demanding a referendum before (ostensibly) having concluded one is necessary will also, I feel, come to be viewed as cynical and opportunistic. Particularly her doing so before, 4 years after the white paper, having a coherent position on currency, EU membership or the deficit will be difficult for her to overcome.

    In regard to the “variable geometry” you identify as a desirable feature of other constitutions, well forgive me, but that variable gemoetry is part of the devolution settlement already. London MPs don’t vote on our income tax, health policy, business rates, local government settlement…

    Anyway, it looks like we are going to have another three or four years of this. Can’t wait.

    1. Hi Hugh, thanks for your thoughtful reply.

      The London outvoting Scotland issue was particularly related to the EU referendum question in Mhairi Black’s tweets (which admittedly, is not clear from my piece). It does rely on nationhood to provide the foundation of the ‘grievance’, but I’ve come to accept that this is a gap in perspective that can’t be bridged between those who believe it and those who don’t. Happy disagreement is the best we can do.

      This also explains the perception that countries vote homogenously. For example, I don’t think you’d quibble too much with the statement “the UK has voted to Leave the EU” and yet people are more relcutant to say, without qualification, that Scotland has voted to remain. It’s a subtle difference, I think, but it exists. Like I argued, statehood does matter.

      All of your reservations about the independence case are those I share to some degree. As you say, it has to be weighed up against the uncertainty of a post-Brexit UK. Which, incidentally, will continue to have no opposition for some time. If i was to place a bet right now, it would be on roughly the same result as before, which makes it all the more exhausting.

      1. Mark, say just as a hypothetical that my concerns about independence (not the “case” for independence but the anticipated lived reality) are well founded. In particular if you assume the concerns about the fiscal starting point of an independent Scotland are well founded, woild you still go for it?

        1. The perennial question. I find it difficult to escape the logic that the people best place to decide what happens in Scotland are the people that live here. So when it came down to it, I would find it difficult to vote No based on abstractions.

          1. *inserts clip of Nigel Farage saying the people best placed to take decisions for Britain are the people that live here*

          2. The £9 billion figure is statistically uncertain. But that also could be higher as well as lower. Nations operate with deficits, and I’d be surprised if you find an independent state wishing they weren’t. It seems a shallow basis on which to base a decision.

          1. Does that logic then apply to Catalonia or Flanders or Wallonia or Cornwall?

  10. @Alex

    “Read this and compare it with Mark’s effort. Short, to the point and with facts, quotes and logic. In a few hundred words it destroys his 2000 words of waffle.”

    Jill Stevenson? Seriously? Didn’t she make the arguments and reach the conclusions she set out to reach then?

  11. Do people reading this article actually believe its Pro Independence? Seriously?

    1. Mike, I literally say “all these reservations and more are as nothing compared to a Brexit vote which has laid bare the nature of the United Kingdom”. I also say “every time Theresa May advances Brexit with scant regard of Scotland’s vote to remain, or repeats that ‘now is not the time’, the political case for independence is made anew”. I also say “there is no union of equal nations”.

      If I’m not pro-independence enough for you, then I have no idea how you plan to convince the 55% that voted No.

      1. Would you believe that I could write a pro Indy article which includes quotes which could on their own without the context of the article look like pro union statements?

          1. My replies to your articles are long enough to be considered articles in their own right and yet you ignore them.

  12. “While I admit that post Brexit Britain is not a as attractive a proposition feom that perspective as Britain within the EU, I nevertheless think the SNP will struggle to win over voters who approach the constitutional debate in the same way I do.”

    It doesn’t seem to matter what the reality is only what people perceive the reality to be. Far too many in Scotland are getting their perceptions influenced by disinformation misinformation and bare faced lying.
    In other words its not the events that determine how people react its the way people are led to perceive what the events mean to them that determine how they react to them.

    The obstacle to Independence is media. Not reality. Reality is on the side of Independence. Perception by media is against.

    That’s the battleground.

      1. No I’m saying they are a more effective opposition than any party can hope to be.

  13. “To be clear everyone, I’m 24, not 7…
    In Glasgow, that’s practically middle aged. #satire”

    Actually from a Glasgow perspective thats old enough to be considered in terms of resurrection.

  14. “*inserts clip of Nigel Farage saying the people best placed to take decisions for Britain are the people that live here*”

    Except he doesn’t want most of them to live in Britain. Hardly a comparison then eh?

  15. There is definitely going to be a referendum that’s a fact, the Labour Party UK said that if the Scottish Parliament vote for it then Westminster should not block it that’s a fact, The SNP are for Independence and the Tories are against Independence so there was an opportunity for the Scottish Labour Party to support a referendum instead of taking the side of the Tories yet again. I personally think that the best tactic is to support a referendum on Independence and if the outcome is independence then another have an referendum regarding an Independent Scotland’s membership for or against joining the EU.

    1. But a referendum will divide the country again and a vote for independence would result in further catastrophic economic damage on top of that from Brexit. Labour can’t base it’s positions on doing the opposite of whatever the Tories are doing! The referendum, and independence, would be bad for working people. Labour exists to represent their interests. Therefore Labour must oppose both.

      1. The party agrees with the Conservatives on the Union. In any subsequent campaign the party should share platforms with whomever it can find common cause (within reason).

        The party lost votes to the SNP in 2015 because of its stance on independence, not necessarily for having campaigned with conservatives.

        It lost votes in 2016 – to the conservatives – by equivocating on the Union.

        SNP yessers ain’t coming back, but a strong campaign for the Union could bring back voters from elsewhere. Voters are smart enough to understand that agreement between political parties on one issue doesn’t entail agreement on every issue. And voters appreciate that the constitution is different.

        Maintaining the Union is crucial for working people; short to medium term party political implications should be put to the side.

        People who denigrate Labour for Better Together tend to be the opponents of both Labour and Better Together.

        1. If Labour in Scotland supports the principle of ignoring the Scottish voters over the EU in favour of the Union then how can any voter in Scotland trust Labour to not ignore them over any other issue that they may want to vote for?

        2. “The party lost votes to the SNP in 2015 because of its stance on independence, not necessarily for having campaigned with conservatives.”

          That’s not why the party lost my vote, or the votes of a good number of the people in my social circle. It started to lose it during the Blair/Brown years, the expenses revelations, the jailing of my MP and the distancing from the trade union movement. Even then I was prepared to vote Labour after the referendum, after all, I was assured they had heard what people like me were saying. The party finally lost my vote when it appointed Mr Murphy, a career Westminster MP, as its new leader clearly demonstrating they hadn’t heard me at all. Since then the party has done little to make me change my mind.

          All of that saddens me.

      2. No it wont. It will only allow people to express their different points of view. “DEMOCRATICALLY” If that causes the kind of division you’re implying then perhaps Democracy is not something we should be considering as our basis for Government?

        Perhaps a form of Westminster privileged fascism is the answer?

        What economic damage is greater than a Nation giving up its Full fiscal autonomy and Full fiscal potential?

      3. Duncan I suppose as with the EU referendum you are in the category of Expert how do you know what is good for the people why not let them decide. The Scottish Labour Party would have been better of taking a neutral position on a Scottish Referendum and let their members decide whatever way they choose its called democracy you should consider trying it.

  16. “The £9 billion figure is statistically uncertain. But that also could be higher as well as lower. Nations operate with deficits, and I’d be surprised if you find an independent state wishing they weren’t. It seems a shallow basis on which to base a decision.”

    Scottish Govvernment statisticians are 95% confident in it, and it is in a National Statistics certified document, so the uncertainty you posit is residual at best.

    Most countries are currently in deficit, but you ignore the scale of ours. Which doesn’t reassure me about the credibility of those who argue independence is a necessary utilitarian destination, as opposed to an existential one.

    My suspicion of those advocating independence is that they approach the public finance question from the persepctive of manufacturing an argument,. Their sole desire is to defeat the presentation by Unionist parties of the current fiscal deficit as a systemic threat to our public services (which it would be if we were independent). They don’t admit the scale of the challenge, nor do they explain how it would be met. I could characterise their engagement with the challenge as engaging tactics like misdirection “lots of countries are in deficit” deniial “GERS tells us nothing about the finances of an independent Scotland” or misrepresentation “that money goes to WM and cones straight back to Scotland”. Or I could just say that they are lying. My suspicion…that those advocating Independence at the upper ecehlons of rhe SNP really would live in a cave to be free. That, to me, is very shallow indeed.

    To me, the fiscal stability which does not leave Scotland having to fund a hole the size of the education buget from tax/borrowing/spending cuts isn’t a shallow benefit of the Union. There are a lot of people who feel rhe same way, and you need their votes. You won’t get them by denying the scale of the issue.

    1. GERS is a good document but it’s a not a financial projection for an independent Scotland. It doesn’t take into account the macro economic environment, backward linkages or more simply spending choices.

      Having said, I think it’s reasonable to say that Scotland does have a deficit problem and whether or not we become independent it’s a hole that needs fixed.

      Certainly I think it is unlikely that the English will decide to shield Scotland from spending cuts as Brexit bites, I can’t see Philip Hammond standing up to announce cuts in the English NHS and pensions, English tax rises and then for him to say “Don’t worry we’re putting income tax up by 3 points to protect Scotland”.

      It’s also worth modelling the impact of the immigration cuts on Scotland’s deficit. If we have the 75% cut proposed by the government then it will accelerate the ageing of our population and destabilise our universities as they lose the income from international students.

      Anyway, it’s a pretty complex bit of analysis. But certainly not as simple as the status quo is fine but independence is a massive fiscal hole.

      1. I didn’t say the status quo was fine, but I do resent the denial, deflection and misdirection in regard to this issue.

        Differentiated immigration policy is certainly a policy benefit of indy I hear mentioned a lot, but never quantified. I look forward to seeing more meat on the bone…

  17. When the Scottish parliament votes for an Indy ref I think Labour should then support the will of the parliament. We can do that and once its called campaign against

  18. Hugh

    “I repeat my previous comment.”

    And I repeat my question because that doesn’t answer it.

    1. You offer advice to Labour in regard to how it advocates its position on the constitution.

      You care neither for the Labour party nor its position on the constitution. I think therefore the party should look elsewhere than to you and other Scottish Nationalists – I see Kevin McKenna is writing in the National today for instance – for advice on how it approaches the next referendum, should there be one.

      Hope that clears things up.

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