The much more plausible explanation for the delay, fudge and inaction is internal Labour politics. They now have a tortuous compromise policy which states that they will first try to bring about a general election and only then consider the option of a so-called "People's Vote". So if we assume Corbyn himself doesn't want a referendum, there's every incentive for him to run down the clock and avoid getting to the point where he can be said to have failed to secure a general election. Frankly, I think he may be doing us a favour, because for the life of me I don't see how it will do anything but harm the cause of independence if the SNP get what they say they want, and Britain as a whole stays in the EU after a second UK-wide referendum. The Liberal Democrats are already making the case that "people are now seeing what major constitutional upheavals look like, and they don't want any more, thank you". That line is unlikely to gain much traction for the moment, because people are actually looking for radical solutions to the current crisis, and independence is one obvious solution. But if Britain unexpectedly stays in the EU, middle-of-the-road Remainers in Scotland will look back on the events of the last two or three years as a bad dream, and think to themselves "never again". I know it may sound insanely unjust, but the independence cause will suffer tremendously because of the incompetent failure of British nationalists to negotiate an orderly exit from the EU.
I have a degree of sympathy with Craig Murray's view that the SNP should respect the democratic decision of England and Wales to leave the EU, and use that respect as a shining example to others of how to respect Scotland's decisive choice to remain in the EU. That actually was the SNP's position in the aftermath of the EU referendum - indeed I can remember them saying that England and Wales "must" leave the EU in line with the wishes of voters. I have no problem with them making a tactical switch to supporting a UK-wide referendum if they've calculated that it will never happen anyway and if they think they will win brownie points with Remain voters for at least trying their hardest to avoid Brexit for the whole UK. But it's hard not to get the impression that it's gone way beyond that now, and that the SNP leadership really do want the People's Vote to happen. If so, it's puzzling.
It was suggested to me by several different people in 2015 and early 2016 that, contrary to the assumption of cynical unionist commentators, the SNP were honestly hoping for a Remain vote. That wasn't because they wanted to put off holding a second indyref until the fabled "generation" had passed by, but they did want to wait until the 2021-26 parliament, when they calculated they would have the best chance. I do wonder if some senior SNP people would quite like a UK-wide Remain vote to take us back to that Plan A, and to be fair they have People's Vote diehards constantly whispering in their ears, trying to convince them that Scotland will have a better chance of becoming independent if England and Wales never leave the EU (averting a hard border and so on). But the reality is that the current chaos is changing the calculation utterly, and from here on in it may be impossible to convince people to choose independence for any other reason than as a solution to Brexit. I'll be expanding on that point in my column for the next issue of iScot magazine.
There's also the wider point that by becoming so wildly enthusiastic about a People's Vote, the SNP are unavoidably associating with people who are deploying arguments that should be deeply uncomfortable for anyone who believes in democratic self-determination. It's being said, for example, that the Leave vote in 2016 doesn't have to be respected because it was a "stupid" decision that will cause harm to the people who made it - in other words, the elite knows better than the voters. It's not hard to imagine a similar case being made in the wake of a Yes vote in Scotland. It's also being said that the outcome in 2016 was somehow illegitimate because a majority of the registered electorate didn't vote Leave. That's effectively an argument that no major constitutional change can happen without a 1979-style supermajority, which is very, very dangerous territory for the SNP to get into.
OK, I'll admit there's a flipside to the coin - we have Jacob Rees-Mogg, Liam Fox and apparently some unnamed Tory MSP saying that a second EU referendum within three years would set a precedent for Scotland. And it's true that it would make it harder for Westminster to justify refusing to grant a Section 30 order, although it's fairly likely they would still refuse. I'm not convinced that a little discomfort in Whitehall will make up for all the immense disadvantages of another UK-wide referendum.
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