Thursday, February 15, 2018

Why Pete Wishart is asking the wrong question about an independence referendum

As you may have seen, Pete Wishart has an opinion piece in today's issue of The National which effectively functions as his preliminary manifesto for the SNP depute leadership election.  The central thrust is a thinly-coded call for the party to allow its hard-won mandate for a second independence referendum to expire, and to instead try its luck at some unspecified point after 2021.  You won't be surprised to hear that I disagree with that entirely, which means that in spite of my huge regard for Pete Wishart, I'm almost certainly going to end up voting for someone else in the depute election.  Time will tell whether that'll be James Dornan or someone who has yet to throw his or her hat into the ring.

In fairness, Pete does half-heartedly leave open the possibility of supporting a referendum before 2021, but only if victory is "certain", which is an absurd threshold that is quite simply not going to be met.  Perhaps more pertinently, it's not going to be met after 2021 either.  We could wait twenty, thirty, forty years, but the fundamental point will not change - independence would be a rupture to the status quo, which means there will always be a considerable percentage of the population who fear it and instinctively oppose it.  The idea that gradual demographic changes or the long-term failures of Brexit are going to deliver us victory before we even fire the starting-gun is in the realms of fantasy.  Whenever the referendum happens, we'll go into the campaign uncertain of the outcome, and requiring a massive effort to emerge victorious.

Pete is correct in one limited respect - there is no guarantee that the big net swing to Yes during the 2014 campaign will be repeated next time.  The first independence referendum in Quebec in 1980 saw a substantial swing to No over the course of the campaign, while the second in 1995 saw a substantial swing to Yes.  It could very easily go either way, which means that all that can be said about the mid-40s showings for Yes in Scottish polls at the moment is that it leaves us within plausible striking distance of victory.  But the actual winning and losing will be done during the campaign, and that will be the case regardless of timing.  If we wait for certainty, we wait forever.  I'm not a big football fan, but I've heard it said of some football teams that they try to score the perfect goal and never actually shoot.  That's the first huge danger of Pete's strategy.

The second huge danger is that excessive patience may mean that we won't even be able to shoot for goal if we ever finally decide the timing is somehow 'optimal'.  It shouldn't be forgotten just how difficult it is to win a pro-independence majority in a Holyrood election fought under the Additional Member voting system.  Can you imagine the frustration if the SNP poll strongly in successive elections, but repeatedly fall just one, two or three seats short of a pro-indy majority, and consequently a referendum remains tantalisingly just out of reach for a couple of decades or more?  After the narrow defeat for Yes in the 1995 Quebec referendum, it was assumed it was only a matter of time before a third referendum would be called.  The sovereigntists duly won an overall majority in the 1998 election, but backed off from using that mandate - and as a result a referendum simply hasn't been possible for the last twenty years, because they haven't won a majority since.  They've been in power as a minority for a while during that period, but have never had the arithmetic to call a referendum.  I don't want the same fate to befall us.

Pete says the only question that matters is whether we win the next indyref.  But there's an even more important question that has to be placed before that - namely, "will we have the capacity to actually call an indyref?"  We know one thing for virtually certain - we'll have the arithmetic to call a referendum until May 2021.  We don't have a clue whether that will still be true at any point after May 2021.  Our window of opportunity is in this current parliament, and it would be a historic error to turn away from it.

70 comments:

  1. For anyone trying to share my blogposts on Twitter, be aware that there's some sort of algorithm that is causing tweets to be automatically rejected if they include the "blogspot.co.uk" address. The simple solution is to alter the address to "scotgoespop.blogspot.com" - that works fine.

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    1. I shared to Twitter before reading your post James. It appears to have uploaded fine to Twitter but it has changed your address to .com in the post automatically. Great post James.

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  2. Absolutely agree James. Who's to say if there'll even be a Scot parliament after the most right-wing Tory government in history have completed their mission post-Brexit. We have to go for it during Nicola Sturgeon's original timetable of late this year - early next year with an European ref-type snappy 3 month campaign

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  3. We may not have a Scottish Parliament if we wait till 2021. It’s a ridiculous idea.

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  4. Absolutely correct.

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  5. Agree 100% James. Ultra caution guarantees failure. We need to see who else is standing for depute and who backs a campaign in the country.
    The polls won't change if we're not out there campaigning.
    That the litmus test for any potential candidate.

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  6. His hold, hold, hold analogy from that awful movie kept the voters at home and almost lost him his seat when they allowed the tories and labour to drive the narrative with their no second referendum. Won't be voting for him as deputy leader. More like faint heart.

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  7. I think currently that late autumn 2018 is best time to make the call. The actual date could then be any time from spring 2019. Too long a campaign would be counter-productive - nobody wants years of debate.

    The danger scenarios we must look out for are:

    1. Brexit is cancelled either because popular opinion becomes so heavily against, or through a vote of Parliament (or both). There is nearly no chance Scottish independence can be won in those circumstances. I don't quite know what Pete means by Brexit imploding into chaos, unless he means a UKIP resurgence, which I don't see an exhausted population falling for. At the moment at least, we will know one way or the other by October-ish.

    2. The Government's rhetoric in negotiations turns out to be nothing more than sabre-rattling and a soft Brexit is secured with a transition period. That will be a much harder call. It may be possible to win indy if things still go badly, or if Westminster continues to snub Scotland and takes back powers. Timing then will be important, but it is still likely doable within the term of this Holyrood administration.

    I suspect, however, that the crucial issue is the EU anti-tax avoidance directive, and whether the UK is bound by it during transition. We should know how that pans out by October.

    Ian MacDonald, Edinburgh.

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  8. I posted a comment in the Guardian on Oct. 2014:

    Milliband will never be PM
    The Tories will win the Electon
    Labour will be slaughtered in the Scottish Election
    Cameron will be shafted by Boris
    England will vote to leave the EU. Scotland votes to stay in EU
    Indyref2 will be in 2018

    and the result:

    58.3% Yes 41.7% No

    I never really thought we would win the first indyref.Although I hoped we would. Scotland was not ready for it at that time.


    We are ready now, so lets get cracking

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    1. I agree Scotland was not ready in 2014. My own preference back in 2011 was to have planned a successful full term of Scottish Parliament governance by SNP, get re-elected as proven competent, and add the dream into the mix with referendum in second parliamentary term. For different reasons now, we have a solid base of those that ARE ready and a whole new lot of people that need a dream. I’m still hopeful of replicating the 1997 yes vote share in our very own Berlin Wall moment. So we will need to do it before Brexit exits us entirely from current arrangements so that we are voting to secure just one, significant change, rather than trying to argue that we have started the roller coaster ride and so may as well add another complexity into the mix.

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    2. Rabbie Burns Wisnae BentFebruary 15, 2018 at 10:07 AM

      So after having campaigned for a lifetime to obtain a so called independence you were not ready! Sounds very professional! Or were the Scottish people just plain stupid?


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    3. State of this.

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    4. Rabbie,
      Sometimes you have to come second before you can become first. And to become first you use the knowledge and expereince of becoming second to make sure you become first next time.

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    5. Why all this pontification about brexit. Tell the people what would happen by being an independant country. Our taxes would be set, collected and spent by a SCOTTISH government. It would not be spent on weapons of mass destruction, on useless aircraft carriers, foreign wars, repairing Westminster buildings, cross London rail and other English only projects and many other things

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  9. I think it is term if parliament. The current mandate is tied to the Scot’s clear rejection of Brexit. That will eventually lapse. Once people get used to Brexit and the growing distance to Europe, it may become psychologically more difficult to leave. I think May is counting on that with the “now-is-not-the-time”, in order to make it never-will-be-the-time. So despite the possibiliy of Brexit being cancelled, I don’t see where additional votes will come from in the next parliament. Moreover, there is the danger that the SNP government will run out of steam, and there are certainly signs of it.

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  10. It's a simple case of use it or lose it.
    There will never be a better time to go for Indyref2 than during the years 2018 to 2021. The SNP at its zenith, and Westminster Gov and the Scottish Unionist opposition a shambles, at a low point unlikely to be seen again for years.

    MSPs and MPs have perhaps become too comfortable with the status quo with plenty of prestigious “jobs for the boys”, and maybe they would like to kick Independence into the long grass, rather than try to win a difficult IndyRef2 campaign.

    As part of the UK the SNP is running Scotland with plenty of money to do many, many things to improve the lot of Scots without Independence. Thus the SNP/SG get all the kudos of, being in power and being a successful Government without the hassle of governing Scotland as an Independent country having to fend for itself in the wider world. The weak Opposition and poor quality Scottish media can be shrugged off as more or less irrelevant; just an irritant to be put up with but with little real effect on how SG wants to govern.

    Losing IndyRef2018/21 would not be the disaster some think. It would at least strengthen the SNP and re-invigorate the waning credibility of an IndyRef as a threat, and during the campaign the BritNatz would be forced to make many promises for concessions to Holyrood vis a vis Brexit et al. It would be up to a much stronger SNP/Greens cabal to ensure the promises were adhered to afterwards. It would also harden the case for SNP to win the next elections at HR and WM.

    Abandoning the mandate would be disastrous. It would destroy the plausibility of IndyRef as a threat in the future, and the SNP/Greens would become a laughing stock. The heart would be knocked out of YES supporters. The Tories and BritNats would have a field day and would likely win a majority at Holyrood in 2021.

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  11. I entirely agree. There is little chance of there being a majority SNP government in 2021 and to hold out until there is a clear majority in favour before calling a referendum is utter folly. We should be looking to call one between Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019, no later. The clusterf**k that is Brexit (or should that be EnExit)should be a little less cloudy by then. One hopes.

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  12. It shouldn't be forgotten just how difficult it is to win a pro-independence majority in a Holyrood election fought under the Additional Member voting system.

    um, if you and stu campbell asked all snp supporters to vote green in lothian, mid scotand fife, west scotland, glasgow, central scotland...

    that woulds deliver enough Pro indy indyref2 supporters in the next parliament.

    you premise is wrong, it isnt difficult to win a pro-independence majority in a Holyrood election, it is difficult for "one party" to win a majority

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    1. Oh yes of course. I'll just pick up that mind control ray from the corner shop. Getting hundreds of thousands of people to vote for a party they don't want to vote for should be pretty straightforward. Thanks for pointing this out.

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    2. what difference would it make if you didnt? the SNP won no list msps in lothian, mid scotand fife, west scotland, glasgow, central scotland. Failing that, could the yes groups stand list candidates in these regions? how much does it cost to stand candidates in the lists?

      point being made is that, while i agree with your dislike of the greens, they are an indy supporting party, and getting an indy majority is not difficult in a holyrood election. getting a "one party" majority is difficult. 2011 looks like a one off event for the SNP, or indeed for any party. I also tend to agree with you and not pete wishart about when we should hold indyref2.

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    3. I don't "dislike the Greens". I obviously have a problem with one or two extremists like James Mackenzie, but that doesn't mean I dislike the party as a whole.

      What you're suggesting about Yes groups standing on the regional list would be a blatant attempt to cheat the voting system, and I would be amazed if the Electoral Commission didn't intervene in those circumstances.

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    4. really? why?
      are you saying that yes list candidates could nt stand on an indyref2 ticket?

      i cant see why not,

      but your reaction to my initial question to the greens has convinced me that this tactic would not work using the greens, if not you then too many others in the yes movement would not support them now.

      but your argument against this tactic is, no, not the greens or no they wouldnt allow it. You forgot to say whether you thought it could work and produce an indy majority?

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    5. Do you mean I forgot to answer the question I've already answered seventeen billion times on this blog over the last few years? I'm more than happy to clarify that tactical voting on the list is not viable, not least because it depends on making wild and unwarranted assumptions about how many constituency seats the SNP would win.

      On your first point: of course anyone can stand on a pro-Indyref2 ticket. What they *can't* do is try to cheat the electoral system in the way you're proposing.

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    6. if pete wisharts view that indyref2 should happen after the next holyrood election, is it not a legitimate aim for a political party like ,yes, to stand for election in an attempt to hold the SG to account? i'm soz james, i cant see the logic of why the EC would stop this?

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    7. What? So you're now saying these list candidates would be standing on an anti-SNP platform? Of course the Electoral Commission wouldn't try to stop that, but what would be the point of it?

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    8. I'm more than happy to clarify that tactical voting on the list is not viable, not least because it depends on making wild and unwarranted assumptions about how many constituency seats the SNP would win.

      no it doesnt, that is a point of order about the snp wining an over all majority, you aticle said how difficult it would be to win a pro indy majority. It isnt difficult. if 2 yes candidates won from each of the regions, lothian, mid scotand fife, west scotland, glasgow, central scotland, this would pretty much ensure an indy majority in holyrood, even if the SNP lost a few more constituencies

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    9. So you're now saying these list candidates would be standing on an anti-SNP platform?

      No, a pro indyref2 platform,

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    10. You're very helpfully proving my point there - your whole argument rests on the wild and unwarranted assumption that the SNP cannot possibly lose more than "a few" constituencies.

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    11. "No, a pro indyref2 platform"

      Look, it's got to be one or thing or the other. Would these list candidates be acting in concert with the SNP? If so, the Electoral Commission would take a dim view because it would be an obvious attempt to cheat the voting system.

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    12. Would these list candidates be acting in concert with the SNP?

      I doubt the snp would stand with anything other than snp 1&2, indeed it would be unadvisable for them to do otherwise.

      but if pete wisharts plan to delay indyref2 happens, I cant see why you think the EC would stop Yes Candidates standing in the list at the next HE.

      the point I am making is that it should be possible to get 2 yes candidates elected in 5 regions. enough to ensure a pro indy majority.

      even if we do hold indyref2 this autumn and win, we will still need a pro indy majority at the next HE to keep out a unionist majority hell bent on indyref3 or reversing the yes result in indyref2

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    13. Look, it's got to be one or thing or the other

      no it doesnt, the greens are pro indy, the EC didnt stop them standing

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    14. I'm not sure if you're deliberately pretending to misunderstand my point, but it's a pretty simple one. If non-SNP list candidates act in concert with the SNP, that would be an attempt to cheat the voting system and the Electoral Commission would step in. If there's no collusion and the list candidates are entirely independent, there's no issue - but those candidates will in all likelihood receive a derisory vote if they stand in opposition to the SNP, and so I've no idea what the point would be.

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    15. your whole argument rests on the wild and unwarranted assumption that the SNP cannot possibly lose more than "a few" constituencies.


      of course the snp can lose more than a few constituencies, but the threat of a pro unionist majority in 2021 lies in their ability to pick up all list seats (40) in these 5 regions. If they can do it, why cant a pro indy majority?

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    16. Again, your argument is a nonsense unless you make the unwarranted assumption that the SNP will take a huge number of constituency seats. How will the unionists take all 40 list seats in those regions in any other circumstance? Hint: they won't.

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    17. If non-SNP list candidates act in concert with the SNP, that would be an attempt to cheat the voting system and the Electoral Commission would step in. If there's no collusion and the list candidates are entirely independent, there's no issue - but those candidates will in all likelihood receive a derisory vote if they stand in opposition to the SNP, and so I've no idea what the point would be.

      fair point, no YES candidates could be SNP members, not a problem.
      their likleyhood of success would be down to their support on social media from people such as yourself and stu campbell

      there is a difference between cant and wont James. If you wont, fair enough, but dont say it cant be done. It can

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    18. Well, if you're talking about purely theoretical possibilities such as "Willie Rennie might be the next First Minister", fair enough. I'm talking about the real world.

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    19. your argument is a nonsense unless you make the unwarranted assumption that the SNP will take a huge number of constituency seats. How will the unionists take all 40 list seats in those regions in any other circumstance? Hint: they won't.


      how many constituency seats the snp take in these 5 regions will not effect how many list seats are won by YES?
      it will effect the over all number of SNP seats but the point being discussed is how to win an indy majority, not an SNP one

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    20. Precisely. If the SNP fall short on constituency seats, they could be in desperate need of list seats, with no guarantee that other pro-indy parties will reach the threshold for one list seat in any given region.

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    21. James, what would be the real difference between such a green _ SNP deal be than the tory_ lib dem one a few years ago?

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    22. James, you make the assumption that standing 'Yes Scotland' candidates only on the List is 'cheating' I disagree, it is the system that Wastemonster instituted to prevent an SNP majority. A blatant FIX.
      Standing a 'Yes Scotland' only on the List would force the Unionists to abandon the charade that they are separate parties with different agendas rather than being obviously the same 'establishment party' partioned to make it look as if there is a choice.

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    23. "James, you make the assumption that standing 'Yes Scotland' candidates only on the List is 'cheating' I disagree"

      Of course it's cheating if done in concert with the SNP. The Additional Member System is a corrective system that uses the list to correct the lack of proportionality in the constituency results. The whole principle falls apart if 'alter ego parties' are used on the list. We'd be fuming if unionist parties did it.

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  13. A referendum on an unqualified mandate in the next Parliament removes the EU as a divisive issue for Yes (unless the UK withdraws A50). Because by then even the most stubborn will have to accept that we are out!

    It will be no surprise that I agree with Pete, and disagree with James.

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    1. "Unqualified mandate"? Are you casting doubt on the unambiguous mandate we already have? If so, it sounds like you're agreeing with Ruth Davidson as much as anyone.

      How you think we can remove the EU as a divisive issue just by twiddling our thumbs for God knows how many years baffles me. Rejoining the EU will be an unpopular policy with Leavers. Not rejoining will alienate Remainers.

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    2. i think we do have a mandate, the question here is whether we should exercise it before the next HE

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    3. I think you're missing the point. The mandate only exists *until* the next Holyrood election. At that point we'd have to win yet another mandate.

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    4. Mandate applies to lifetime of this parliament only, no one could argue otherwise.

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  14. "it was assumed it was only a matter of time before a third referendum would be called. The sovereigntists duly won an overall majority in the 1998 election, but backed off from using that mandate - and as a result a referendum simply hasn't been possible for the last twenty years"

    What Pete Wishart seems to be suggesting is that the SNP sit on the fence. No one votes for politicians who sit on the fence, as the example you gave from Quebec clearly shows.

    "It's a simple case of use it or lose it."

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    1. or he is saying use it too soon and lose it.

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    2. Needs to be finished one way or the other, if Scots won't vote for independence based on Brexit they won't with the current electorate still alive.

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  15. When a new referendum is called,is all about opinions,if enough people in Holyrood are of the opinion we will win then it will happen.Similar the opposite is true.I have respect for Pete Wishart's opinion as I have respect for James Kelly's opinion,neither are right nor wrong its just each's opinion only a referendum can answer whom is correct.I'd like to be alive when Scotland becomes independent once more,so I'd go for tomorrow for a fresh,fair and honest referendum,it'd be nice to know I lived part of my life as a free Scotsman no longer tied to the injustice of Westminster.

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    1. Pity we cannot hear the harp and see the tears in your eyes.

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    2. Pity your death notice isn't appearing anywhere.

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    3. Come that day our Union Flag will be oan tap of the box and led by a flute bawn playing some traditional music.

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    4. How about this song just for you...
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Jn3wZ2Buu2Y

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  16. The fact that we have had a majority twice is an absolute miracle. The dismembered Britania,post Brexit will make sure Scotland never has a chance to break away. Use it or lose it end of! Needs to be autumn 18 or spring 19. Six month campaign.

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  17. My thinking is that the Deputy Leadership election is a proxy "now or later" question to the SNP membership, since both Mr Wishart and Mr Dornan have put the timing of an independence referendum foremost in their leadership campaigns. James Dornan urges a referendum in this parliament: Pete Wishart tentatively recommends waiting until the next parliament. Since another referendum is, obviously, absolutely central to all SNP members (whether it's now or in the future), a vote for Wishart or Dornan is effectively a call from the membership to either fire or holster the starting gun.

    Like you, James, I'm of the belief it is imperative we use the mandate we have even at the risk of losing a referendum - because if we don't use the mandate we won now, why would anyone vote for the SNP the next time around?

    It must never, ever be forgotten that the 2016 SNP mandate for a second referendum in the event of the UK tearing Scotland out of the EU is a *greater* mandate than the 2011 SNP mandate for the first referendum, in terms of vote share and vote number - in fact, it's the greatest mandate for a single party since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened. Refusing to use that mandate would be a betrayal of voters' trust, and ensure that they would lose a 2021 Holyrood election.

    Either we try and fail, or we don't try and never get the chance again.

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    1. My thinking is is we had a referendum less than four years ago and you English hating nat sis lost. Your hatred of the English is clear by the mere fact you would sell any sort of independence out to the EU beaurocracy.

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    2. My wife is english and I support independence. So your logic sucks. There is nothing wrong with the average english person but there is something wrong with the Proud Scot Buts and the english who think themselves above everyone else including you GWC2 although you're probably too blind to see it. Too much wanking probably.

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    3. The other thing in my mind is that the 'referndum' doesn't have to be a carbon copy re-run of the last. Keep your opposite guessing would be my advice. Choose the ground wisely, why not have a consultative referendum on single market membership for Scotland once the UK is guaranteed to be outside in any Brexit deal and once NI is getting it's own bespoke deal.

      They could even have two questions. Should Scotland retain access to the EU Single Market (Yes/No). Should Scotland's Parliament at Holyrood have the power to call any future Independence Referendum? (Yes/No).

      Keep it simple but choose the battles you can win, one at a time.

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  18. Jock nat sis need some of this diversity training about Englishphobia.

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    1. Still pullin' it wanker

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    2. Nuffin wrang wae a wee ham shank tae release the Independence in Europe hunky dunk.

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    3. State of this.

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  19. Firmly of the view a consultative referendum should be called by Holyrood as soon as it is guaranteed the UK will be outside the single market and a side deal is being done for NI.

    In doing so this takes a huge leap forward towards independence; (1) I would hope assures victory for Yes which is important psychologically for the whole country to take affirmative action, (2) forces the EU to back Scotland or not which guides future Yes campaigns on whether the EU is worth our efforts and (3) leverages NI to Scotland's advantage by throwing the gauntlet at Westminster to justify why Scotland should not be afforded the same deal as the province.

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    1. The Province did not get a special deal it is British. The ROI got a special deal. The EU negotiated for the ROI who gave up their independence and we are getting ours back... What a silly nat si bhoy you are..

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    2. The province is getting a special deal 1.5bnGBP buys a lot of deal. NI will be in the ROI or in the SM & CU. There are no other choices based on the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Apart from Trouble returning.

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    3. We were discussing brexit and the border arrangements and you now change the goalposts to include funding to NI which all the devolved entities do...
      The ROI are at the mercy of the EU and the EU negotiate for the ROI..Seems the ROI and their Republicans who went on a murder spree for independence have sold themselves down the river. The Belfast agreement is not set in stone and is always subject to amendment via negotiation.
      If there is a hard border between NI and ROI then that will be the EU who create this and not the UK as the ROI are subject to EU rules.

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    4. State of this.

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  20. Whatever ROI, EU, UK negotiate between themselves is up to them. My point is why shouldn't a 'special deal' apply to Scotland?

    In order to evidence the democratic will of Scotland to achieve this political goal there should be a consultative referendum held by Holyrood in March 2019. Two questions. (1) Should Scotland retain Single Market access and (2) Should the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood be able to call any future independence referendum without a Section 30 order?

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