Saturday, December 28, 2019

London's pre-agreement is not needed to bring about an initial mandate for independence - even Mrs Thatcher accepted that.

Reading over the comments section of this blog recently, it strikes me that we're in danger of getting two separate concepts muddled up - and, in all honesty, if the "Scotland's Right to Choose" document is to be taken literally, it's guilty of exactly the same muddle.  Certain people are reacting to suggestions of a consultative independence referendum by saying "the international community will not be impressed unless there is UK government consent".  But that's an argument against UDI, not against a consultative referendum held without a Section 30 order.  Maybe this point needs to be made more often and more forcefully, but many of us who support a consultative referendum are either opposed to the concept of UDI, or at least highly sceptical about it.

London's acquiescence would be necessary for the international community to recognise a Scottish state - of course that is true.  But the sequence of events that brings about London's acquiescence is neither here nor there as far as the international community is concerned - if it comes about due to the retrospective acceptance of a mandate from a consultative referendum that was initially not regarded as valid, that'll be absolutely fine, and international recognition will still follow.  There's nothing sacred about the Section 30 process, or even about a referendum process for that matter.  It's worth remembering that thirty years ago, the Thatcher government and the SNP were on the same page about what would constitute a mandate for independence, and it didn't involve a referendum, or any sort of Edinburgh Agreement-style pre-contract.  If the SNP had simply won a majority of Scottish seats at Westminster, even on a minority of the vote, that would (if we can take Mrs Thatcher's words at face value) have been accepted by both sides as sufficient to open negotiations on an independence settlement.

So London's express agreement is required for independence, but NOT to gain the initial mandate for independence - that's the crucial distinction.  One hypothetical possibility, for example, is that there could be a Yes vote in a consultative referendum, and although the Conservatives refuse to accept its legitimacy, the Labour party might agree to recognise the result if it comes to power in the future.  Another possibility is that a Yes majority in a consultative referendum could be used as leverage to force the UK government to accept that the matter has to be resolved by a subsequent binding referendum.

If that seems optimistic in view of events in Catalonia, it's worth remembering that the political culture in Spain is different from the UK, and there's a tradition in this country of accepting that people can only be governed by consent.  If a convincing mandate for independence can be established, the dam is likely to burst at some point.

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Meanwhile, if you'd hoped that Pete Wishart MP might be weaned off his excessive caution by having increased his own majority from 21 to 7550 on an unashamedly pro-independence manifesto, you're in for a disappointment.  He's written yet another of his "Hold!  Hold!  Hold!  Hooooold!  Hoooooooooooold!" articles, and although it's ostensibly simply a call for patience, the subtext is unmistakably that we should accept the Westminster veto until 2024 and then put all our faith in the long-shot of English voters electing a new indy-friendly government.  The article is brimming with silly straw men about how the "fragile" new Yes support will be turned off by attempts to bring about independence by "tricks", "gaming" or by "illegal" means.  The reality is, of course, that a consultative referendum would not be a trick, it would not be a game, and it would not be illegal.  It's also rather pointless worrying about losing Yes voters when you're hellbent on ensuring that no referendum actually takes place in anything like the foreseeable future.