It strikes me that the "reasons" offered by unionist politicians for blocking an independence referendum are becoming increasingly bizarre and hard to defend. But as we have a mainstream media that doesn't even bother asking them for a defence, I thought it might be worth casting an eye over some of the most recent gems.
Jo Swinson says that London should attempt to block an indyref because the SNP lost ground at the last general election. As Lesley Riddoch has pointed out, this means that if the SNP gain seats at the next general election (as opinion polls currently suggest they will), the Liberal Democrats would be morally obliged to support and facilitate an indyref. But that rather satisfying piece of inescapable logic shouldn't distract us from the nonsensical nature of Swinson's statement. Democracy would grind to a halt if majority parties that happened to lose seats at the most recent election were not regarded as having a mandate to act. In both 1987 and 1992, the Conservative government won an outright majority but suffered a net loss of seats. According to the Swinson Doctrine, then, the Thatcher/Major government should have been prevented by some mechanism from implementing its programme for ten of the eighteen years that it was in office.
Which begs the obvious question: if the majority party didn't have legitimacy to govern, who had legitimacy in its place? Should a minority party have been able to govern instead because it had forward momentum? In other words, should Labour's 229 seats have somehow been regarded as outcounting the Conservatives' 376 seats, because the 229 represented a net gain of 20 and the 376 represented a net loss of 21? And if so, how on earth would you have got such a system to work in practice? Lock up 200 Tory MPs so that Labour could outvote them?
Or, just to float the only other alternative I can think of, should nobody have been allowed to govern at all between 1987 and 1997?
And there are other questions too. If the only decisive factor is whether a party gains or loses seats at the most recent election, shouldn't the SNP's massive stride forward at the European election only last month mean that there is now an open-and-shut case for an indyref? If Swinson's answer to that point is "ah, but that was only a European election, not a Westminster election", how does she explain the fact that her own party in coalition government regarded the SNP as having a mandate to hold an indyref in 2014 based on its success in a Holyrood election rather than a Westminster election? (The SNP had a mere 6 Westminster seats at the time.) At what point did Westminster elections take over from Holyrood elections as the designated democratic event in which these matters are decided? Were the electorate informed of this abrupt change, and indeed of the reasons for it? Would it be unkind of me to suggest that Swinson appears to be making this stuff up as she goes on?
Jackson Carlaw says that London should attempt to block an indyref because a majority of parties (three out of five) in the Scottish Parliament are opposed to the idea. What I'm about to say is so blindingly obvious that it shouldn't need saying, but apparently it does: the crucial point in a parliamentary democracy is who can command a majority of seats, not who can command a majority of parties. If it worked the way Carlaw wants, his own government at Westminster would be powerless to act, because it's supported by only two parties in the House of Commons (the Tories and the DUP) and opposed by six (Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Change UK and the Greens). Indeed, the Carlaw Doctrine would instantly make elections completely redundant - all you'd have to do is round up all the random bods who have registered a party with the Electoral Commission and ask them for a show of hands. Carlaw could find himself outvoted by seventeen splinter communist parties.
It's also worth mentioning that the Carlaw Doctrine flatly contradicts Ruth Davidson's recent arbitrary "ruling" that a pro-independence majority at Holyrood is only valid if it's a single-party SNP majority and not if it's a multi-party majority comprising the SNP, the Greens and possibly others. So which is it to be, guys? Do you want broad multi-party support for a referendum, or are you insisting it has to be a go-it-alone SNP effort? I don't see how you can have it both ways.
Carlaw also says that the Tories are "not dictating to the people of Scotland" because the people of Scotland do not actually want a referendum. But he knows full well that the evidence on that point is mixed: the most recent poll on the subject (conducted in May by Panelbase) found that 50.2% want an early independence referendum, with 49.8% opposed. For reasons that aren't clear, YouGov polls have tended to show a more negative picture. When evidence on the state of public opinion is contradictory, you have two options: you can either make the decision yourself, in which case you are dictating to the people, or you can put opinion polls to one side and allow the people to resolve the ambiguity by means of an election. And, as it happens, the people have already done that: they elected a government in 2016 that had a manifesto commitment to an indyref in the event of Brexit. Why is Carlaw ignoring their verdict?
Rather confusingly, Carlaw spent a large chunk of his debate with Keith Brown the other night demanding that Brown should "name the day" for a referendum and commit to bringing out a White Paper - the pretty obvious subtext being that the SNP are running scared of holding the vote and the Tories want them to "bring it on". If I may gently say so to Jackson, it's rather hard to make that line of attack stick when in the next breath you're bellowing: "THE SNP ARE HELLBENT ON CALLING AN INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM, BUT WE SAY NO, NO, NEVER!!!!"
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