I've been meaning for a few days to write a detailed response to Pete Wishart's new article, in which he claims that the experience of Quebec provides proof for his well-rehearsed belief that the maximum amount of independence referendums that Scotland can ever hold is two, and that we can't afford to lose the second indyref because we'd never get another one. Here's the short version of the point I was going to make: the Quebec experience shows no such thing, because the Parti Québécois has in fact won two elections since the second referendum loss in 1995, and one of those victories was with an outright majority. It therefore had the window of opportunity if it so wished to hold a third referendum, but it chose not to do so, and now the moment seems to have passed. The PQ was recently replaced as the main Quebec nationalist force by a right-of-centre party which opposes independence but theoretically supports more powers for Quebec within the Canadian federation. (The concept of an anti-independence nationalist party is an alien one in Scotland, but it has a long tradition in Quebec, and it arguably has some parallels in Wales - under Carwyn Jones, Welsh Labour was sometimes referred to as 'soft nationalist'.)
So this is an uncomfortable thought for Pete, who is previously on the record as wanting to delay an independence referendum until we "know" we will win it. The real lesson of Quebec is that if you timidly hold off from calling a referendum until the moment seems perfect, you eventually find that you're no longer anywhere near government and can't hold a referendum whether you want to or not. And if you can't call a referendum, you can't become an independent country.
As I've pointed out umpteen times before, the pre-knowledge of victory that Pete is seeking is unattainable anyway. Public opinion in referendum campaigns is notoriously volatile, much more so that in regular elections. Even if it was somehow realistic to think we'll get Yes support to 60% before the referendum campaign even begins (and I don't think it is), we'd feel a bit bloody silly for holding off until that point if there's a 20% drop in support within a week or two of the campaign starting. You can find endless examples from referendums around the world of that sort of thing happening - and indeed the two Quebec referendum campaigns are themselves excellent examples of volatility. In 1980, the Yes side were in a winning position but suffered a catastrophic loss of support as the campaign progressed, but in 1995 the swing was in the opposite direction, with Yes turning around a seemingly insurmountable deficit to draw more or less level by polling day.
Even if a 60% starting point wouldn't guarantee victory, surely it would give us a somewhat better chance than a 45% starting point? Well, maybe, but the operative word is "somewhat". I strongly suspect that the relative stability of independence polls in recent years is deceptive, and that once a campaign is underway we'd see a big swing in public opinion once again. The real test always comes when the public actually focus on the choice in front of them.
Incidentally, volatility has been increasing even in regular elections. There have been any number of occasions over recent years when we "knew" the result of an election in advance...until it turned out that we didn't.
2007 Holyrood election: SNP started the campaign with a solid lead, but ended up in a virtual dead heat with Labour.
2011 Holyrood election: Labour appeared to be coasting to an effortless victory, until the SNP completely turned it around in the closing weeks and won by a landslide.
2015 Westminster election: A hung parliament was supposedly guaranteed, and indeed masses of column inches were devoted to pondering whether majority government had become a thing of the past in Britain. David Cameron ended up with an overall majority that virtually no-one saw coming.
2016 Holyrood election: An SNP majority government was supposedly so assured that SNP voters didn't even need to bother backing the party on the list vote. In the end, the SNP fell two seats short of a majority.
2017 Westminster election: The reverse of 2015. A landslide Conservative majority was a nailed-on certainty, but we ended up with a hung parliament instead.
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On the subject of learning the wrong lessons from Canada, Stephen Bush of the New Statesman has offered the following reason for thinking that Dominic Raab wouldn't be able to follow Stephen Harper's notorious example by proroguing parliament for tactical reasons -
"One of several crucial differences between the Canadian example and the United Kingdom is that while Elizabeth II is the head of state in both, in Canada, her constitutional role is largely parcelled off to the governor-general, who is appointed by the prime minister. It’s one thing for the governor-general, who is usually a former political figure, to be drawn into politics, but quite another for the same to happen to the sovereign."
I'll freely hold my hands up and say that I don't know whether it would be legally possible for a British Prime Minister to achieve a No Deal Brexit by means of a tactical prorogation. But I do know that Stephen's reading of the Canadian precedent is incorrect. The Governor-General at the time of the 2008 constitutional crisis was Michaëlle Jean, a Liberal appointee. There was a great deal of speculation about whether she would allow herself to be dragged into political controversy by blocking the request of the Conservative Prime Minister for prorogation, in line with her presumed Liberal loyalties. When she took the opposite course of action, it was firmly interpreted as her playing a straight bat by putting constitutional precedent before partisan politics, in much the same way that the Queen would be expected to in this country. She had clearly received advice that it would be constitutionally inappropriate to decline a prorogation request from the Prime Minister.
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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 9 of the fundraiser, and so far £5722 has been raised. That's 67% of the way towards the target figure of £8500. A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I'm also extremely grateful to all the people who have left a kind comment with their donation. You can visit the fundraising page HERE.