BlogScottish Politics

We’ve Maybe 15 Years & Another Defeat Before Independence

This time last year – like most people I know – I was physically, emotionally and mentally numb. For around three days or so, Scotland was shrouded in a sort of leaden mist, both literally and figuratively; so suddenly we’d been catapulted into the cruel aftermath of one of the most hopeful, exciting and all consuming debates in modern history. And we’d lost.

There have been far too many retrospective pieces on the referendum: the defeat, the lessons we should learn from it, what we can change right now…

I confess that I can’t bring myself to read much of it, even now it still feels very raw; especially this week, as Twitter and Facebook have been saturated with wall-to-wall indyref nostalgia. So let me set out my stall from the off: That isn’t the sort of piece I’m about to write.

Instead, I’d like to make my own predictions as to the much vaunted, ever elusive second referendum. Pretty much everyone agrees that it will happen – what no one seems to agree on is when it will happen. So I may as well throw in my tuppence worth.

Im afraid I don’t share the optimistic belief that there’ll be a second vote at some point in the next five years, most likely following an EU referendum. Firstly, it’s just too soon. We’re still feeling indyref fatigue right now, how on earth will that feel after an EU referendum? Secondly, there are too many assumptions regarding the EU vote, we’re quick to ignore the extent to which things like TTIP and the Greek crisis have dented left wing voters’ confidence in the European Union. For goodness’ sake, even the director of Common Weal, Robin McAlpine said: “I don’t want to use Better Together arguments for staying in the EU”. There are no certainties regarding the EU vote, and we really should stop acting as though there are.

Undoubtedly the most radical suggestion that’s been floated is that of UDI, whereby we’d just declare independence following – I can only assume – a stonking victory for the SNP at an election. Wings over Scotland has already done a fine job of roundly debunking this idea, so I’ll not spend much time on it here. Suffice to say, any scenario which legitimately allows the UK Government to literally send in the tanks, would be stupid beyond belief; not to mention setting the movement back decades, if not centuries.

So what’s my prediction? I hear you ask. Well, it’s not going to satisfy the impatient among you, as it doesn’t see Scotland independent for at least another 15 years or so – but we waited 307 years for the first referendum, so we can probably hold our nerve a wee bit yet:

Come 2021 (assuming the SNP are still able to command a majority – hopefully more of a cross party majority favouring independence though), seven years on, support for a Yes vote could very easily have topped the 60% mark; the appetite for a second referendum will probably have returned.

Herein lies the rub however. Back in 2011 this whole thing totally blindsided the establishment, they had no idea how to respond, and no fear of losing. Hence the “Edinburgh Agreement”, wherein Westminster agreed to recognise the result of the referendum and abide by it. Don’t count on that next time around.

I would envisage a scenario whereby the Scottish Government of the day committs to holding a referendum on independence, but Westminster refuses to acknowledge its legitimacy. An entirely different propaganda campaign would be rolled out in this instance. Rather than “better together”, brace yourself for something along the lines of: “This new referendum is just an expensive SNP vanity project, whose result is meaningless, it’s a glorified poll!”.

Rather than campaigning for a No vote, unionists would likely be encouraged to stay at home on polling day, so as not to dignify the result with their participation. The intention being to humiliate independence supporters, and to deny them a revival of the glory days of 2014.

The Yes side would undoubtedly triumph in this scenario, but it would be a hollow triumph. The refusal of unionists to engage would render the potential 90%+ Yes vote utterly meaningless. The absence of any sort of “Edinburgh Agreement” would absolve Westminster of any duty to acknowledge the result, and unionists could simply snigger from the sidelines as the union limped on to fight another day.

This would naturally breed massive resentment across Scotland, especially if polling had consistently favoured independence. Despite the intentions of the UK Government and their unionist allies, this would be their undoing in the long term. The narrative of a nation robbed of its voice, robbed of the ability to determine its own future, would carve a permanent fault line in Scottish public opinion, whereby unionism would be forever confined to the minority.

Amidst this atmosphere, Scotland would face some uneasy years within the UK, and successive Prime Ministers would feel the weight of this albatross hanging around their neck. So it would therefore only be a matter of time before a UK Government (most likely a Labour Government) agreed to give the Scots a proper, legally binding referendum on their independence.

My guess would be 2030 (sorry). On the upside though, Yes will definitely win.

Apologies if that seems an overly pessimistic prediction, and it might not be what you wanted to read on this, the anniversary of last year’s defeat, but we sometimes need a bit of realism. I appreciate that 15 years sounds like an eternity, and a 2nd defeat sounds utterly soul destroying – but hey, forewarned is forearmed and all that. These things take time, and 15 years is still a heck of a lot less than 307! It’s also entirely possible that I’m wrong.

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