Nicola Sturgeon lost no time after the EU referendum. The day after the vote she found the outcome of Scotland leaving the EU ‘democratically unacceptable.’ She knows, of course, that the vote wasn’t on whether Scotland should remain in the European Union, but whether the United Kingdom as a whole should leave or remain. Flimsy ground; but the SNP have recourse to their manifesto of 2015, where they promised they would not allow Scotland to be taken out of the E.U. against its will.
Scotland was the most emphatic in its vote of all four nations, voting 62 percent to stay on a turnout of 67 percent of the electorate. Intriguingly, those nations (England and Wales) with the highest turn outs voted to leave, while those with the lower turnouts (Northern Ireland and Scotland) voted to stay.
In any event, on this vote, the SNP are in a fix they deliberately designed for themselves, knowing there would only be one legitimate course for them to take in the eventuality of a Leave vote in the European Union Referendum. If the United Kingdom voted to leave, the SNP would be obliged by their manifesto to seek an independence referendum as the only recourse to ‘not allowing Scotland to be taken out of the E.U. against its will’. This is exactly the line they have pursued; and the only question is whether their neglect of other elements of government to the distraction of independence will continue to wash with the Scottish voter.
There are many strands of opinion in Scotland, and it is not at all easy to say whether those voting for the SNP in the 2015 election, with such cataclysmic results for the Labour Party, are content with the SNP position. Many voted to give Scotland a strong hand in holding Westminster to account on promises made during the Independence referendum, rather than with the particular idea to seek a new referendum. This was the declared mandate when the SNP entered the house after the 2015 election; now, as Nicola Sturgeon is fond of putting it, IndyRef 2.0 is firmly ‘on the table’.
Wherever this imagined table is, it is surely the strongest table imaginable. Everything is ‘on the table’, according to Nicola Sturgeon, and we should beware lest the table gives way and comes crashing down from its transcendent heights into reality.
The United Kingdom could be very great outside of the European Union. In any event, we are going to have to try. After talk of a ‘once in a generation’ vote, the SNP have quickly changed their tune as political expedience presents itself. What fox ever swears off chickens? Although we all expected a referendum, not neverenda, how quickly we have come back to the question. What do the Unionists expect? The question has been framed thus; if circumstances change, Scotland ought to have another vote. It is in the nature of circumstances to change. This is a poor criterion by any standard. If the vote had been to leave the United Kingdom, would there then have been countless more referenda on whether to rejoin? Indeed there would not have been.
The Unionists must devise their strategies and begin a more cohesive approach. The SNP strategy is working exactly as they planned. There is, so far, no great Unionist strategy. In the words of Jeremy Corbyn, it seems another referendum would be ‘absolutely fine.’
By Chris Johnson
Photograph: SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT