Nicola Sturgeon’s statements yesterday, ruling out another independence referendum this year, have provoked a flurry of gleeful activity in the unionist media. In the immediate aftermath of the June 2016 Brexit vote Ms. Sturgeon highlighted that the difference in the outcomes of that referendum between Scotland and England constituted “a significant and material change in circumstances,” and therefore grounds on which to press for another referendum on the future of Scotland. The First Minister has consistently made it clear that the position of her government is to do what it takes politically to keep Scotland in the single market – whether that is with the United Kingdom or not.
Her confirmation that she will not hold such a referendum in 2017 has been taken up by unionists – eager for any hope of security – as a sign of defeat or, at the very least, an indication that support for independence is on the wane. This hope is woefully misguided. This coming May the council elections are set to see the SNP dominate even Scottish local politics, demolishing what is left of the Tory-allied Scottish Labour Party. Reflecting on this certainty even Jill Stevenson, retired lecturer in history at Edinburgh and lynchpin of the unionist cause, conceded that she and her Scotland in Union cronies are “stuck with the SNP a bit longer.” Defeatism never was so sweet.
The truth of that matter is that Nicola Sturgeon and the National Party in government have two obligations – one to their duty to govern and another to their clear mandate for securing our country’s separation from Westminster. These are not mutually exclusive priorities, but there is always the danger that in over-stressing one the other will suffer. By driving ahead with another independence referendum we run the risk of another defeat, which may well result in the destruction of the independence movement and with independence itself being put back decades. Before we can take this risk – and it will always be a risk – all of our ducks must be in a row.
Undecideds will not decide the next referendum. The voters who will give us what we want will come from the No side, and so these are the people who must be shown in no uncertain terms that independence is the only thing that will protect them and our place in the single market. To this end the Scottish government is playing a long game. Nicola Sturgeon has offered a compromise to Theresa May – one that will be rejected – seeking a soft Brexit that will suit both the interests of Scotland and the rest of the UK. May, however, is not for turning. She has determined that Brexit will be what the people of England decided and that Scotland will have to settle down. As always, Westminster will follow an English agenda and Scotland and Scottish people will suffer.
When no compromise has been reached, despite our government doing everything in its power to reach an agreement that would demonstrate the equality of Scotland in this union, the Scottish government will have no alternative but to seek a second independence referendum. At this point the unionists too will know that only separation from London can guarantee what they voted for in June last year. No one is imagining mass defections from No to Yes, but we can safely expect enough to tip the balance.
Much has also been made of the polls reflecting “only” 45.5% support for independence. This may or may not be the case, but in either case it is an irrelevant statistic – as there is no campaign. This number merely reflects the starting location for Yes when a campaign is begun. Whether we want another referendum or not, at some point we are all going to have to accept that one is inevitable. Scotland cannot continue to be bullied by the British government and only another referendum will break the political deadlock we have reached. Delaying this is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact it is no bad thing at all. First we must know more clearly what Brexit will mean on the ground here in Scotland, and we must use this reality as a basis for winning support for independence from our fellow Scots on the wrong side.
We are far from “disappointed.” We are tired and frustrated, sure, but we are living in the sure and certain hope of another referendum that must come. Brexit’s time frame is two years, and it will be at least a year from now before we know which way the winds are blowing. A referendum, with a year-long campaign before it, sometime in early 2019 – before the end of the Brexit negotiations – isn’t just good timing, it’s perfect timing.
The Butterfly Rebellion