Every week we’ll be asking our pool of contributors a topical question and presenting their responses, with the aim of fostering debate around an issue. For this first week our question is…
“What is an appropriate timeframe for the next Scottish Independence referendum and why?”
Of course, we’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on the issue, so please feel free to join the debate or even join our team of contributors!
In a time of unprecedented political change very much ongoing in Scotland and beyond, I find this an impossible question to give a specific answer to. I voted Yes not for independence as its own cause but as an opportunity for the kind of radical changes I feel we are very unlikely to see while tied to the Westminster establishment. I still largely feel this way, especially with events of recent months including the general election result.
However to rush into another referendum too quickly without comprehensive planning or a clear majority – eg upwards of 70% supporting a Yes vote – would be a mistake. There is benefit to seeing how things will play out regarding issues such as the EU referendum and also changes within the Labour leadership while carefully considering when a next referendum should take place if circumstances are still much the same in terms of the detrimental effect in many ways, as I see it currently, of remaining part of the UK rather than being independent.
I certainly would be less opposed to being part of a UK with someone such as Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. As with so many things, I feel it is important to remain equally open-minded and critical. Scottish independence should not be regarded as a single issue, and neither should it be focused on in an unhelpful way at the expense of considering much more immediate and pressing concerns.
My answer to this has to come from two viewpoints.
From an objective point of view, a second referendum cannot be rushed, after all the first referendum took place almost three and a half years after the SNP’s majority in the 2011 election so a similar timeframe (assuming an SNP majority in next year’s election) points to a referendum in autumn 2018. This is the minimum amount of time which should be allocated to organise, legislate and campaign for a plebiscite of such magnitude.
However, such a swift revisitation of the question is problematic for a few reasons. Firstly, the Conservative government in Westminster is not amenable to another independence referendum and would block it at every opportunity, so waiting for a change in government – or at least Conservative leadership (likely in 2018 or so) may be necessary.
Secondly, the EU referendum is pencilled in for autumn 2017 and it’s implications should be made clear before Scotland is asked to decide on it’s own constitutional future again. Thereby it would be preferable to wait rather than potentially have a predictable material change in circumstances midway through the campaign.
Lastly, four years is a very quick turnaround to revisit a constitutional question of such magnitude and more time for analysis, reflection and for attitudes to change in either direction is only seemly. Of course, the ‘once in a generation’ rhetoric is unreasonable, because if there is popular demand for a vote, no administration should stop there being a vote in the name of some arbitrary 25 year moratorium on the issue.
From the point of view of a Yes voter, who took that position in the informed belief that Scotland could thrive economically and socially as an independent country and that the progressive change needed could only happen shorn of the Westminster establishment, I don’t wish to rush a second referendum when the possibility of another loss exists.
Quebec took fifteen years between their independence referenda and the second result was still a No vote. Since that second (incredibly narrow) loss, the issue has not been revisited in twenty years…
I’m also of the belief that if progressive change becomes possible within the UK, then many of the most compelling reasons for undergoing the turmoil of secession from the union fade away.
Both points of view indicate that a second independence referendum should not take place within this parliament and that it would be best for both sides to fully analyse the reasons for the first result before even considering a second ballot.
There is also a lot going on at the moment, between the EU referendum and Jeremy Corbyn’s potential to revitalise the Labour party as a progressive force and it’s worth letting these issues play out before rushing back to the polls.
As such, I’d say that a referendum in the next parliamentary cycle is perfectly reasonable, perhaps initiated by the result of the EU referendum or an SNP majority in the next Holyrood elections, making anything between 2021-2024 a plausible date for the vote.
I agree that suggesting any specific length of time on this would be arbitrary. Should another referendum on independence go ahead, it ought to be as a response to the calls of the electorate – whether that is in two years or ten years or longer doesn’t matter, that’s just how a true democracy functions.
That being said, I think there does need to be a reasonable length of time to pass before the question is posed again. At the end of the day, any referendum will somewhat detract from other issues of importance, and that must be taken into consideration. Further, and as many politicians themselves have pointed out, there needs to be some change in circumstance to mean a referendum would be required, or simply risk repeating the same outcome we saw in September without actually addressing any new issues or for there to be a reasonable suggestion that voters have changed their minds.
Having a Conservative majority at Westminster does not qualify – we were all well aware that this could happen in September, and votes were cast with this knowledge. Any referendum that would fundamentally change a composition of Scotland and the wider UK should not be called on the basis that people don’t like the government of the day – after all, this is subject to change at least every five years (under current legislation).
I also believe that a ‘landslide’ win for the SNP next year would not necessarily provide the ‘mandate’ the party has been talking about. Many who vote for the SNP may not be supporters of independence, but rather their other policies. Poll after poll has actually indicated that many No voters trust the SNP to deliver on other issues – notably devolution.
On the EU referendum, this could qualify as a shift in circumstances – with a caveat. The difference between the Scottish and rUK vote would have to be more than just marginal. It could happen that the rUK vote 51% out whilst Scotland votes 51% in – though this marks the difference between In/Out, is also means thinking is similar enough than nearly as many people rUK would feel exactly the same about a result as Scotland. However, I genuinely don’t believe the UK will opt out of the EU, so have doubts that this would be an issue anyway.
Essentially, it’s a very difficult question to answer. Of course a referendum should be held if people are calling for one – but exactly how to measure those calls and what is deemed as a shift in circumstance are very complex issues.
I am wary of a kneejerk response to the ‘no’ vote and its immediate aftermath. When I narrowly fail a test or an exam, my first reaction is usually to wish to try again straight away; but the correct reaction is to learn from why I failed – while not forgetting what I did right, how hard I worked and how close I came. I think we have a lot of reflecting and learning still to do.
We are still in the aftermath of the 2014 referendum. The aftermath will last for many years to come, as the short term destinies of Scotland, the UK, the Eurozone and the EU develop over the next ten years or so. Much of the referendum campaign, rightly or wrongly, hinged on popular predictions around what was going to happen in the global economy. Factors such as North Sea oil, the destiny of the global economy, and the ability of ‘the left’ to stage a revival among floating voters in the South of England, all need to be given time to play out. It will be time to consider Scotland’s constitutional future when these grand macroeconomic and political positions have fermented.
I also feel uncomfortable even considering a second referendum while relations between our two biggest parties, Labour and the SNP, remain tribal and, at times, hostile. I do not blame London Labour alone for this; Miliband’s stance at the recent General Election was ill-considered but the SNP government has behaved provocatively towards Labour activists and Labour-run councils in Scotland over recent years, and this will have stoked the tension between the parties.
On the left, we also have to use our parliament and our local government to back up our discourse of a more equal society with well-resourced public services. Regardless of the pathetic dilution of ‘the Vow’, we have some (not enough, but some) powers over taxation and planning. We need to use these to defend our long tradition of universal public services, while finding creative and fair ways to discourage the creeping trend for better-off Scots to use private health and education services, to show that Scotland really is different, a place that knows, deep down, that we are all equal.
Then, and only then, will we be ready to sit the exam again.
As much as it pains me to say it. I do not think a Scottish Independence referendum is a sensible decision in the current political climate. It hasn’t even been a year since the last one and given the significance of the recent developments in Greece, there are quite simply more pressing issues on the horizon!
Pressing issues such as the EU referendum. It is all relative. If (and thats a big ‘If’ given the Left’s recent loss of patience with the EU) Scotland is dragged out of the EU against its wishes, then of course there would be legitimate cause for protest. Nicola Sturgeon has often spoke of a material change in circumstance and this eventuality may well be it but we will just have to be patient. I believe some in the Yes camp are making a mistake by pushing for another vote as soon as possible!
We all know how little effort the House of Commons have made to keep their promises on devolution but this is going to take a while to sink in with the general public. The bottom line is, we need to convince more people of the practical benefits independence has. Now I fully accept there was significant influence from the state media and business last time around but asking people to contemplate our nation’s sovereignty again so soon is only going to alienate the people we need to sway!
I do not have an exact year and date I think another referendum should be called, but before we start thinking about when, we need think about how. There are arguments we must win that we didn’t last time. The currency was for most people the biggest obstacle. So if we return to this debate with the same arguments as before, we can expect the same result. Once the EU referendum, the Holyrood election and the 2020 UK General elections are out of the way, Scotland will have a much better insight in to public opinion and what lies ahead. Timing is incredibly important regarding ‘Indyref 2’ because if we lose again, it really will be ‘settled for a generation’.
That’s what our contributors think, but what do YOU think? Next week’s question will be “Would Jeremy Corbyn winning the Labour leadership be good for Scotland?” and we’d love to hear your take on both this week and next weeks topics.