I can't recall which country it was, but when I was growing up I remember seeing a news report about an election somewhere in Africa, in which the President was seeking a mandate to set up a Marxist-Leninist one-party state. The logic for the supposed legitimacy of this action was stated with cold clarity - the abolition of democracy was a political proposal just like any other, and if that proposal received a majority of votes in a free and fair election, the will of the people should be respected. Forever. By themselves. Even if they changed their minds five, twenty or thirty years later. Even as a child, I intuitively sensed there was a flaw in that argument somewhere.
But suppose it had been taken a step further. Suppose that proposal had never actually been made, and the President had won the election and only then announced that in his view he had just received a mandate to abolish democracy. That's the rough equivalent of what Jack Straw has just declared he'd like the London establishment to do. He wants them to permanently abolish the Scottish people's right to democratic self-determination, keeping them prisoner within the United Kingdom forever whether they like it or not, and his justification for doing so is that Scotland has just made a permanent decision. That'll be news to the people who actually voted No on Thursday, 38% of whom (according to the Ashcroft exit poll) said that their vote will settle the matter for no more than ten years. It hardly seems unreasonable to suggest that if the likes of Straw had told them before Thursday that they were voting to abolish their right to ever again decide on independence, they might have been given severe pause for thought about whether they were doing the right thing, and the result may well have different - after all, only about a quarter of those 38% of No voters would have had to change their minds to swing the balance.
Overall, the Ashcroft poll shows that 48% of voters think a No vote will settle the matter for no longer than ten years, and 72% think it will settle the matter for no longer than a generation. Just 19% take the Straw view that this was a "forever" decision.
Straw's other piece of 'logic' was that because a Yes vote would have had irreversible consequences, it's only 'fair' that the same should be true of a No vote. But hang on just a minute here. Who was it that was actually saying that there was no going back on a Yes vote? That's right, it was the London establishment themselves, as part of their push to scare people into voting No. The only thing the Yes campaign said was that it was fantastically improbable that anyone would want to reverse a Yes vote later - they didn't claim for one moment that it would be illegitimate to do so. So the Straw argument seems to be "well, because we said that a Yes vote would abolish your right to self-determination, it's only fair that we're allowed to say that a No vote did the same thing".
On Friday I was asked to write a reaction piece for the IBTimes - as far as I can see it hasn't appeared yet, so I'll ask tomorrow if they're planning to use it, and if they're not I'll hopefully post it here instead. But my thinking has already moved on slightly since I wrote it, because I was arguing that the SNP had to be slightly cautious about the timetable for moving towards a possible second referendum. The reason I've adjusted my view is not just the Ashcroft poll, but the anecdotal evidence that a large section of the public are not simply open to the idea of a repeat referendum, but are positively willing it to happen. Yesterday morning, a taxi took me to Edinburgh on my way to take part in the BBC Breakfast show again, and the driver was saying that practically every young person he'd had in the taxi since polling day had told him they were "gutted" and expected another referendum relatively soon. It seems that much of "the 45" were not just casually won over for this particular vote - they now have the proverbial zealotry of converts, and recognise that independence is an essential prerequisite for solving Scotland's problems.
We can't rely on this mood lasting, of course. Once the febrile atmosphere settles down, there's always a possibility that people might reframe the referendum in their memory as a disruptive event they don't want to repeat soon. But next year's general election might give us a clue - if the SNP make significant gains, it'll be a sign that the simple fact of 45% of the electorate actively voting for independence has changed the game for good. It would still probably be the case that there would only be two specific circumstances in which a second referendum could be contemplated within ten years - a) if the UK left the EU, or b) if the promise of more powers was completely reneged upon. Otherwise, I think the SNP would have to make clear that they were putting independence "on ice" for a set period of time, along the lines of the stance the Coalition Avenir Québec used to take (although has now abandoned). But that period might not have to be much longer than ten years - it's just a question of gauging the public mood correctly. And of course in the meantime, there's nothing to stop the SNP and other pro-independence parties demanding the maximum amount of devolution possible within the confines of the UK, because that option most certainly wasn't rejected on Thursday - quite the reverse, in fact. Not only did 45% of the electorate vote for full sovereign independence, but according to the Ashcroft poll a further 14% of people voted No on the specific basis that more powers would be granted. That's 59% altogether - fairly convincing evidence that Devo Max is the only option that can bring Scotland together for the time being, and that can truly be regarded as reflecting the democratic will of the Scottish people.
Incidentally, my "opponent" on the BBC Breakfast show this time was the Conservatives' Mark Brown. We both arrived quite early, so I had a long chat with him. Hopefully I'm not betraying any confidences if I tell you that I asked him whether he honestly thought that substantial new powers would be granted soon, and without hesitation he said that he was sure they would be. So that cheered me up, but it does seem to me that what used to be the Yes campaign urgently needs to re-coalesce in order to maximise the pressure for the "vow" to be honoured in full.
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You don't need me to tell you that the comment section of this blog has been infested with No-supporting trolls for months. But I now have quite convincing evidence that the suspicion that we also had "concern trolls" - ie. No supporters posing as "worried Yes supporters" in an attempt to sap morale - was fully justified. In particular, I'm 90% sure that the supposed Yes supporter called "Feline" was a No troll. She (if it even was a she) gave herself away in subsequent posts.
I know a number of you also strongly suspect that the "Yes campaigners" who tried to undermine the fundraiser yesterday were probably No trolls as well, but I can't be 100% sure of that.
Heaven only knows whether this has been a co-ordinated operation, but it's certainly left that impression. And it wouldn't completely surprise me if someone has paid for it to be done.
So just be careful - people leaving comments may not always be who they say they are.
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