THIS is a modest attempt to shift focus. For years, much indy discussion has been reduced to pretentious argumentation about whether there is to be a referendum, by my party the SNP, by Unionists, and by the media, in which that question is assumed to be of supreme importance. But it is not in fact an independence issue, merely a devolution one.
It has diverted attention from the real question: how does Scotland take independence if, by whatever means, its people vote for it? That arises whether from a referendum or from an electoral vote, and would only be avoided if London was to co-operate after the actual vote.
Though the pusillanimous public stance of the SNP almost implies it, the notion that London holds a veto over Scottish independence cannot be seriously entertained for a millisecond (and has never been promulgated by London itself), but unless we redirect our attention, that is the trap which awaits us.
In their current manifesto and elsewhere, the Scottish Government have declared their intention to hold an independence referendum. Whether that will be legally possible is not yet clear. Time and again, the PM has confirmed that no S30 consent will be given. But through ministers, the UK Government has stated that, notwithstanding its view that Holyrood lacks the legal capacity, it will not refer the relevant Holyrood legislation to the Supreme Court.
If that is so, or if it is decided that Holyrood does have the capacity, then the referendum can go ahead.
As the Scottish Government has repeatedly said, that will only happen if there is no legal impediment. If it turns out that there is such impediment, and London still refuses to cure it by granting consent, there will be no referendum. The Scottish Government has favoured us with not a single word of explanation of how it would meet that contingency.
If a referendum does take place and the result again is No, then that is that. But what if the result is Yes?
My own view is that despite its obduracy, the UK Government at that stage would relent and become a partner, though unwilling, in negotiating the terms of independence.
But it might not, and continuing refusal is what the Scottish Government must prepare for. Come what may, whether or not it has to be used, the Scottish Government must have in readiness a route to independence which does not rely to any extent on London’s co-operation.
The two elements which any route must comprise are a Yes vote, and the putting of that vote into effect by becoming independent.
That second step must either arise from agreement with London, or it must be over London’s head. If London declines to co-operate and it has to be done over their head, then the step which changes Scotland into an independent country is crucially important, because to be beyond reproach it must be legal, constitutional, peaceful and democratic.
There is only one format which meets those requirements, and that is secession from Westminster by the majority of Scottish MPs, and their establishing of the whole body of Scottish MPs as the supreme parliament of a sovereign and independent Scotland.
Although the present-day SNP refuses even to discuss it, there is no doubt whatsoever of its legality and constitutionality, having long been the actual policy of the SNP, having long been, and still being, accepted by the UK Government as a proper method, and being free of any constitutional prohibition.
It was the Scottish parliamentarians who took us into Union, and it is their successors who can take us out (though how many of them are even conscious of that supreme power, we can only guess). It is the embodiment in legal and constitutional form of Scotland’s real and inalienable right to go independent by its own choice entirely, a right which London has correctly never denied.
Weirdly enough, the very body which has come closest to denying it has been the SNP, by their insistence on a referendum, the very mechanism over which London may well actually hold a veto.
It must be fully democratic, not only in principle, but also because that is the only proper way to overturn Scotland’s No vote of 2014. The democratic instruction can come from any legal vote by the people of Scotland, whether by referendum, or by ordinary general election for Holyrood or for Westminster, under the appropriate manifesto.
That would stipulate not only a majority of seats, but also a majority of votes, making it a directly democratic decision.
The legal changeover would essentially be simple. For Scotland, the new Scottish parliament would immediately assume all roles which are currently exercised by the UK parliament, and Holyrood would have the same relation to it as it now does to the UK parliament. The new parliament would thereby hold all the necessary power to make any appropriate changes to the form of government for Scotland, as for example by amalgamating Holyrood with itself, or whatever, and to proceed with all suitable measures to put independence into full effect.
Accordingly, if the SNP Government is serious not only about holding a vote on independence, but putting any Yes vote into effect, without delay it should make the necessary moves to seize and keep the initiative. If it considers that there is any hope of a meaningful referendum, it should try to elicit S30 consent and an undertaking to respect the result from London, by threatening to use the next (Westminster) election as the plebiscite if clear and unconditional consent is not swiftly granted. And in the absence of consent it should carry out that threat. If London continues not to co-operate in the event of a Yes vote, Scotland’s MPs should secede, and sit as the new sovereign Scottish parliament.
But does it have the gumption, and does it believe that the people of Scotland do? Independence has always been at Scotland’s table, and on a silver platter. We need only reach out our hand to take it.