Mon, 27 May 2024

Newsletter sign-up

Subscribe now
The House Live All
Harnessing North East Devolution Partner content
By Port of Tyne
Construction sector could cut prison leaver unemployment with right support Partner content
How the next Government can start planning for growth Partner content
Press releases

The Scottish Government is dithering on a referendum, all avenues must be explored

5 min read

All avenues of the Consultative Referendum should be explored now, and the Scottish Government should be decisive and not dither as it did over the Section 30 request

Given the UK Government is saying a loud “No” to Scottish democracy, it is quite clear that we are not in a “union” as the word might be understood normally. For instance, a very different union, the trading-union that is the European Union, showed more respect to the current UK, than the UK shows to its member nation, Scotland. 

Inside the EU, the UK could self-determine its relationship with the EU and the world, but in the centralising political project of the UK, it seems Scotland cannot. Therefore, there is a clear problem. 

Scotland’s political representatives now have some choices in the impasse Boris Johnson’s Westminster government thinks it has created. The democratic representatives of Scotland (The SNP) can in effect accept this situation as was done in the 1980s, under different political colours of Labour, and similarly proclaim the current behaviour of the Westminster Government as “unsustainable.” 

The 18 long years between the 1979 referendum, for a mere Assembly, had by 1997 created a huge momentum for a Parliament, due to obtuse deafness of 2 Tory Prime Ministers. The obtuse actions of Boris Johnson can add to this spirit. However, the big difference in this era is that, since the creation of the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, Westminster elections are not the only democratic avenue for Scottish determination and expression. 

Things being different today, sitting on our hands and crying, “this is an unsustainable Westminster position” for a decade or more, while perhaps the only choice in the 1980s, and certainly the only one unionist Labour were willing to countenance. That has less appeal to SNP members and MPs, people who are in, and should be in, politics for independence. Today with over 50% support in successive polls, independence has a choice of legal and democratic routes with which to go forward.

We need independence to move our society forward in Scotland, to match our Nordic neighbours, ditto our Celtic cousins in Ireland. They can set their own immigration policies; taxes, environmental laws, energy laws, methods of tackling societal inequality etc. Stuff all normal nations do, and mostly nations do different from each other, but do as deemed best for them, in each democracy. 

So, if we discount doing nothing bar shouting how unfair it all is, all the options open have surely to be considered. Firstly, we should not be in this position of discovering formally, after an election that the Section 30 option to transfer Referendum powers to Scotland is being rejected. This situation was predictable and predicted. 

We should have established the situation long before the December 2019 election and then tailored our manifesto accordingly. Indeed, I asked the question, in a letter of 16th November 2018 to then Prime Minister, Theresa May, on a Sec 30 order for a referendum following an alarming conversation I had with a Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary that Westminster would say “No” and seemed they had no back up plan in that eventuality. That assertion needed bottoming out, as fact and it was in a response 4 weeks later from Theresa May’s Government, on the now iconic of 12th December. That response however did not satisfy the Scottish Government who waited over a year to formally repeat the process and get the predicted predictable answer. In the meantime, no backup plan was put on a manifesto.

All avenues of the Consultative Referendum should be explored now, and the Scottish Government should be decisive and not dither as it did over the Section 30 request. That will be a hard sentence for many of my colleagues to read, but dither it was. Now the Scottish Government is dithering over establishing the legality of a Consultative Referendum and that is another hard fact to swallow. 

If all Referendum approaches are closed off, then we move away from (the Salmond inspired) Referendum approach that hold sway today and allow the Scottish people democratic expression at an election, either by majority of seats or votes. After all Boris Johnson has his mandate for any Brexit on 43% of the vote and 56% of the seats. The SNP in Scotland has 45% of the vote and 82% of the seats, on Westminster’s own rules! 

Incidentally international recognition will follow recognition in Scotland by whatever means this is established. We should remember the words of the great Daniel O Connell “No one can say to a nation, this far and no further. “ 

Some say, “There are no short cuts to independence.” Events of 1989 disprove such vacillating rhetoric but the Scottish period of 1979 to 1997 proves there are some long hauls. Personally, at age 49, waiting 18 years until I am 67 to improve Scotland is not a long haul I am ready for. In politics we are in it to win it, not to “hedge our bets” for decades. Scotland needs to win. 


Angus MacNeil is Scottish National Party MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar.

PoliticsHome Newsletters

Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.

Read the most recent article written by Angus MacNeil MP - Ensuring cross-party accountability on net-zero


Brexit Economy
Engineering a Better World

The Engineering a Better World podcast series from The House magazine and the IET is back for series two! New host Jonn Elledge discusses with parliamentarians and industry experts how technology and engineering can provide policy solutions to our changing world.

NEW SERIES - Listen now