At the weekend, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn grotesquely urged the SNP to "respect democracy" by doing absolutely nothing while a hard-right Tory government drags Scotland out of the EU, the single market and the customs union against its will. To state the bleedin' obvious, the reason the SNP do not have to "respect" a 52%-48% UK-wide vote is because Scotland is a country in its own right, and has voted twice over the last three years to remain within the EU. The No vote in the 2014 independence referendum was explicitly won on the basis that it would keep Scotland inside the EU, and the pro-European mandate was emphatically confirmed in the EU referendum itself by a 62% to 38% margin. After that sequence of events, the idea that Scotland being forced to leave the EU is all about "respecting democracy" would be enough to make an East German communist blush.
All the same, though, there were English MPs (including many from Corbyn's own party) who also voted against triggering Article 50. Those people are equally entitled to raise an eyebrow or two at the "respecting democracy" schtick, given a very clear past precedent of how democracy actually works in the UK.
Here is the UK-wide result of the EU referendum last year -
Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
And here is the result of the referendum on setting up a devolved Scottish Assembly in 1979 -
Do you want the Provisions of the Scotland Act 1978 to be put into effect?
The margins of victory for Leave and for Yes were identical, and yet the provisions of the Scotland Act 1978 were not put into effect. One of the very first things the Thatcher government did upon taking office a mere few weeks after the majority Yes vote was to defy the results of the referendum and repeal the Scotland Act.
The so-called "40% rule" that applied in the 1979 referendum was of course a deliberate and shameless attempt at rigging the outcome. On the respectable turnout that was actually achieved, a near 2-1 majority in favour of Yes would have been required to clear the artificial hurdle. Nevertheless, the 40% rule is also much-misunderstood. Contrary to popular belief, it did not mean that devolution automatically failed if 40% of the entire registered electorate didn't vote Yes. It simply required that if the target figure was not met, an order to repeal the Scotland Act should be tabled in parliament. It was then entirely up to MPs to decide whether to vote in favour or against that order. If they voted against, the Yes result in the referendum would have stood and an elected Scottish Assembly with limited powers would have sat in Edinburgh throughout the 1980s and 1990s, tempering some of the worst effects of Thatcherism.
The SNP urged the Labour PM James Callaghan to immediately table the order of repeal and whip Labour MPs to vote it down. He refused to do so, on the grounds that the referendum result was not clear enough, and that devolution could only go ahead at some unspecified date in the future if the package was thoroughly revised. That was tantamount to taking an outright anti-devolution position, because it was obvious from opinion polls that a Thatcher government was inevitable within months. Labour and the Conservatives were therefore equally culpable in overturning the 52%-48% verdict of the people of Scotland.
So the next time anyone from those two parties (or from UKIP) starts wittering on about the SNP "disrespecting" the 52%-48% will of the British people, just ask a simple question : "where was our Assembly for twenty years?"
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