As a very pro-EU Scot, who is broadly in favour of democracy, I think there are strong arguments against a second independence referendum, in 2023 or the near future.
Arguments that can be made without using the phrase “Once in a Generation”.
1. It’s the economy, stupid.
First, and most basically – The economic downside risk far outweighs the potential for upside gain. That might be contested by nationalists, especially ‘freedom at any cost’ extremists. But bear in mind both Derek McKay and his replacement Kate Forbes promised to publish an annual economic “case for independence” to counter GERS – their own annual economic case for the union. They have failed to do so – I suspect because they tried and simply couldn’t get anyone to publish the numbers with a straight face.
If, touch wood, the leave campaign won, it doesn’t fix Brexit. Analysis from the economists who informed the Scottish Government’s own Brexit Impact Analysis say that every possible outcome is more damaging to Scottish trade than Brexit has been.
2.The social cost
The LSE analysis is compelling enough, but that’s just trade analysis – the social fall-out, political damage, massive set up upheavals and loss of infrastructure and austerity max would all be on top. Even if the remain campaign won again, and we kept the status quo the campaign is likely to be acrimonious and keep Scotland deeply divided, cementing that division for another generation.
3.The Neverendum Story
The threat of further referendums harms foreign and inward investment. Quebec is a pathfinder, and it has barely recovered from the damage of their second referendum. Canada had two referendums, in 1980 and 1995, on the future of the relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada. Michael Ignatieff, former Canadian politician & president of Central European University in Budapest says the Canadian experience is:
“referendums split families and people right down the middle. “Never again” is the view shared by both sides now.”https://www.economist.com/open-future/2019/01/17/can-a-country-ever-recover-from-a-rough-referendum
The threat of another Independence referendum in Quebec, cemented by the second, made Quebec’s financial sector flee – and it has never recovered.
“Most of the money that fled the province made its way to Toronto, capital of Ontario, which by the early 1980s had replaced Quebec’s Montreal as Canada’s most populous city. Which is why First Canadian Place is today the de facto headquarters for Bank of Montreal, even though the lender is registered in its namesake city.”https://www.ft.com/content/7ba064e4-3a61-11e4-bd08-00144feabdc0
A second referendum sets a precedent for a third, for a fourth – a tyranny of uncertainty by a vocal minority that could keep Scotland in a fractured limbo for generations.
Andy MacIver argues poorly for a second referendum in the Herald, seeming to want reruns until Yes wins, or there’s a margin of victory that was substantial enough to neuter the issue.
As Duncan Hothersall points out – he’s
“…effectively saying the pro-UK side can only win with 65%+, while the indy side only needs 45% to keep the ball rolling.”Duncan Hothersall
We know of more than one SNP politician who has celebrated the IRA, and maybe they are taking a leaf from their book. After failing to assassinate the UK Prime Minister they said “We only need to be lucky once, you need to be lucky every time.” So why keep giving them another roll of the dice?
4.Robbed of Resources.
Between their unwillingness to minute meetings, their endemic forgetfulness under questioning, and spurious blocking for Freedom of Information requests we will probably never know what funds exactly have been directed by the SNP into their pet separation projects. But we do know this:
Every pound, every minute, every joule of energy that they have spent on independence while in Government since 2007 has been stolen from the devolved services they are meant to be funding.
Just as one example- The Holyrood administration has zero constitutional powers, they have no European remit – yet they create well paid ministerial posts for reserved matters using public money such as Angus Robertson, Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture. Neil Gray MSP Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development.
The Scottish government has no constitutional powers, and no external affairs remit. Yet hundreds of thousands of pounds are diverted from delivering Scottish Public services to spend in these roles.
The 11 civil servants currently diverted to work on the case and plan for an independence referendum are 11 civil servants who aren’t available for health, aren’t available for Justice, aren’t available for transport, for Education or for any of the devolved areas that the Scottish government is responsible for and that generally the Scottish people want prioritised and improved.
Resources have been diverted, and after 14 years it shows. It also makes a sick kind of tactical sense – after all, the only way that the SNP can increase support for independence is by making people feel worse off within the union. If they improve things and people are happy – why would they vote for change.
5. There is no consent in a misinformed decision.
Leading on from the Neverendum Story, is the question of consent. Think of the distasteful metaphor used by SNP MSP John Mason after the first referendum.
In 2017 he was challenged that there was no popular wish for a second referendum and he replied
“The girl does not always say yes first time.”John Mason SNP MSP
The case for independence is being made with the 12 propaganda tactics of the populists playbook – as I’ve outlined elsewhere. I believe that Scots should be entitled to make informed decisions – but that the only way that the Leave campaign could win is by making sure it’s an uninformed decision.
This is endemic, and unchallenged within nationalist ranks. For example – Michael Russell is caught out in a direct lie on social media, A complaint is made, and the Scottish government essentially say that he is allowed to lie as long as it’s on a personal account.
Not one of the major questions from 2014 has been answered.
Not the currency 💵
Not the deficit 📉
Not the EU membership criteria 🇪🇺
Not the Border 🛃
Not the damage to trade 💣
Not our Mortgages 🏚
Not our Pensions 👴🧓
If they have not been able to answer them by now, do you think they have any intention of giving Scots a possibility of informed consent?
Perhaps the closest metaphor would be the practice of “stealthing”. Where people think they are giving consent, because critical information is being withheld.
6. I don’t trust the Scottish Government, the SNP, to run a fair referendum.
I’m sure many of them don’t trust the UK government to run a fair referendum, that’s hardly an excuse to hold one either. They will do everything in their power to make it a biased vote. Case in point – The question. Will they take Electoral Commission advice on the question?
Much has been made about the “yes” advantage in Yes / No referendums. The electoral commission have revised their advice since the 2014 campaign – which is why the Brexit Referendum was phrased as Leave / Remain.
In their updated advice available here, one of the key advice points they recommend is
“Is the question written in neutral language, avoiding words that suggest a judgement or opinion, either explicitly or implicitly?”electoral commission advice
This rules out Yes / No
Academics at the London School of Economics found the wording of a question for a second referendum could sway voters to back independence or the union, depending how the question was asked.
The SNP have previously resisted calls to revisit the question – and in 2020 formally asked the commission to retest the original Yes / No question
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/scottish_independence_referendum_12 that gives the yes side an advantage.
Having served as an electoral agent myself; and having personally corrected misallocated ballots, I know first hand how robust vote counts are – but they are not the only way to manipulate a campaign.
Look to the franchise; the SNP are raising the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland arguing that brains don’t mature until 25, so offences under that age shouldn’t mean jail. They wanted to assign a named person, a civil servant, to monitor every Scottish citizen up to the age of 18; but they want to make the voting age for a referendum 16 because they believe that younger, less educated, and less experienced voters are more likely to vote for independence.
Yet they would simultaneously disenfranchise the 400,000 Scots who live and work in other parts of the UK- for no other reason than they would be likely to vote against independence.
If you think that’s reasonable, ask yourself this: is there any chance would those Scots, our daughters and cousins in London, Birmingham and Liverpool be denied independent Scottish citizenship? If that seems unthinkable, that naturally they would be citizens, then surely they should also have a right to vote on the very creation of the country?
7. It’s just depressingly parochial
a small world mindset for small minds. In a world where Russia is invading Ukraine, where the limits of growth suggest that we are on track for a civilisation threatening collapse in complexity by 2040, where we are facing interlinked GLOBAL problems from climate change, habitat destruction and over population – reverting to small tribal groups seems to be moving civilisation in the wrong direction. Look around the world from Brexit to Syria and tell me we need more uncertainty and risk.
Surely to God, as a species, we have bigger fish to fry as the clock runs down to boiling seas
8. It’s a discriminatory and elitist cause.
Let’s presume, even, that we should take one of the the nationalists’ arguments at face value and that a Scotland of 5 million is somehow, against all the evidence, underwriting and subsidising the whole of the UK economy – be that with whisky export duties or fresh water exports…I for one couldn’t morally justify voting to make 90% of a small island poorer for the benefit of an elite based on an accident of birth or geography.
9. It’s not about ‘Freedom’
As it is Scotland, within the UK, is not oppressed. We have a parliament with powers it daren’t use incase, God forbid, it makes things better. We have, on the whole, some of the most pampered, richest, safest, healthiest humans not only alive now, but ever.
Earning the average wage in Scotland, in the UK, puts you in the top 1% of global earners.
Read that again.
Remember the wall street protests against global inequality? Well the average Scot IS the 1%
America fought for their independence because of “taxation without representation”- the very opposite of Scotland in the Union, where we have *too much* representation, from our 32 council areas and hundreds of nodding-dog-hive-mind-personality MSPs while we spend far more on public services than we raise in tax.
10. There is no mandate.
If I support democracy shouldn’t I recognise the claimed mandate or mandates for an independence referendum? I would say that it’s because I support democracy I recognise the four locks AGAINST a mandate.
i) The Legal Block.
Nicola Sturgeon has long recognised that the legal route to a constitutional referendum required a Section 30 from Westminster. Holyrood has zero constitutional remit. It follows that if Holyrood has no constitutional remit then a Holyrood election cannot create a democratic mandate. A wildcat referendum carries no weight at home or abroad.To demonstrate this – think of your local council election, or parish council election! They have exactly the same constitutional remit as Holyrood. If a unionist council is elected based on an election commitment that their council area is opting out of any referendum – don’t they then have a mandate to stop it? Nationalists will say no, but If not, why not? Local councils have the same constitutional legal powers as Holyrood; none. But they can just as easily say their votes are their mandate- it’s the same voters, so if the people are sovereign…To believe in democracy is to believe in the compromises of democratic systems – and here and now that means accepting levels, from local government in our councils, devolved government in our regional assemblies, to national government in the commons and lords, to international and supranational levels of government in organisations like the UN, EU etc.
ii) The Plebiscite fallacy
Elections cannot be taken as plebiscites – but suppose they were, would that have delivered a mandate for a referendum at the last Scottish Election? No. The slim majority of pro-referendum parties as expressed by MSP numbers is an artefact of the poorly representative d’Hondtt voting system in Scotland. On a plebiscite model only 31% of the electorate voted for pro-referendum parties. 32% of voters voted for parties AGAINST a referendum – that’s a slim but solid 43,049 Majority. 37% didn’t. even. vote.
Not only was there no huge majority, or indeed any majority for a referendum – but from an anti-referendum vote and not bothering to vote, the pro-referendum vote was option FEWEST Scots supported.
Then even if ‘pro-referendum’ parties had won a majority of votes – could we take all those specifically to be votes in support of a referendum? No – Not according to Nicola Sturgeon, and not according to Lorna Slater. When specifically asked how someone who was happy with her as First Minister, but didn’t want a referendum, should vote – Nicola Sturgeon said “Both Votes SNP” – She cannot now claim that every SNP vote supports a referendum.
Similarly when Lorna Slater was asked how Scots should vote who were Unionist, but whose primary concern was the environment – Lorna said they should vote Green.
11. Scots don’t want another referendum so soon.
Nicola Sturgeon herself put the bar at 60% – she initially claimed she did not want to call a second referendum before there was a sustained 60% support for independence in the polls. At best she has pipped 50% a couple of times in a couple of polls.
12. We are far from recovered from the pandemic
Brexit and the pandemic have changed our world, and not for the better; we need to take stock and recover. Dampen the flames, not pour more fuel on the fire.
So – Because we have other priorities, because it would be a drain on resources, because we should be working with each other, not against each other, because there’s no democratic mandate, because we would be worse off win or lose – we should not have a second independence referendum any time soon.
its telling that even those Scots who say they do want a referendum, consistently say they want one in about 5 years: and have been saying that since the last one.
Maybe that is the prayer of a nationalist in a foxhole.
“Lord, grant me a referendum… But not yet!”