Saturday 8 April 2017

Indyref2 is in the long grass, we kicked it there

A short time ago it looked as if there would indyref2 within a year or so. I could feel the tension building within myself, I could sense it coming from others. If there were going to be another vote on independence next year, the campaign would begin more or less now. It would be another long and drawn out affair with the result uncertain to the end. All the old arguments would be repeated with new variants. I dreaded the prospect.

It didn’t look as if anything could be done to stop this. Somehow an idea had developed in Scotland that you just couldn’t say “No” to Nicola Sturgeon. Apparently if you did something apocalyptic would happen. If a UK Prime Minister said “No” it would lead to something like the 1745 Rebellion. The clans would rise and support for Scottish independence would go through the roof.

There is a lot of received wisdom put forward by journalists and others who apparently should be listened to. Much of it turns out to be quite wrong. Journalists often have access to sources that the rest of us don’t, but their ability to think is no better than anyone else’s. Sometimes it’s worse. They’ve been getting quite a lot of things wrong lately.

Few political commentators thought that the Conservatives could win a majority at the last General Election. Perhaps fewer still thought that it was possible that the UK could vote for Brexit. Quite a large part of the media thought that a vote to leave the EU would lead to immediate economic disaster. Instead it has led to growth. Many journalists thought support for Scottish independence would rise, because we voted Remain while the majority of the UK voted Leave. Lots of journalists were until recently writing as if indyref2 was inevitable and it was happening soon. Theresa May wouldn’t dare say “No” and anyway Ruth Davidson would advise her not to.

Now where are we? In First World War terms Nicola Sturgeon made her great push, but it got entangled in the barbed wire. Maybe Ruth Davidson was bluffing all along, but she came out in favour of blocking the latest SNP attempt to break up our country. Theresa May has stood firm. At the moment indyref2 has been kicked into the longest of grasses. Nicola Sturgeon is taking swing after swing, but she doesn’t actually even know where her ball is. Let the SNP spend the next few years looking for it. Meanwhile the rest of us can get on with our lives. The simple of tactic of telling Sturgeon that she would have to wait has proved effective. The UK Government has not said “No” rather they have said “Not yet”. Who knows when we will arrive at yet? It may be after the next Scottish Parliament elections, then again depending on the result it may be never.

Has there been an uprising in Scotland? No. Quite the reverse. Pro UK Scots demonstrated to the Theresa May that we supported her stance. Hundreds of thousands of us signed a petition saying we didn’t want our lives disrupted by indyref2. This was crucial. This made a difference. It made more of a difference than anything I have ever written.

Politics is about public opinion, which is expressed not only at elections. The SNP like to give the impression that they speak for Scotland. Pro UK people must continually show that they don’t. Each of us can contribute in different ways. But every Scot who shows that we agree with delaying, perhaps indefinitely, indyref2 helps Theresa May maintain that position.

Of course some Scottish nationalists will be angry. That is after all their default position. But contrary to some expectations a Tory Prime Minister saying “Not yet” has not led to a surge in support for the SNP, nor has it led to mass demonstrations in the street, nor has it increased support for Scottish independence. Most Scots still don’t want indyref2 anytime soon and polls suggest the result if it were to happen would be the same as last time.

Moreover I have noticed some Scottish nationalists who while maintaining their long term goal of independence have also recognised that the time is not right. This strikes me as sensible. Why not first do what we can to make Scotland more prosperous? Why not work hard to improve our schools and healthcare? Let’s see how negotiations work out between the UK and the EU. We just don’t know what sort of a trade deal we will get. Nor do we know the details with regard to a whole host of other matters that will affect all of our lives. There is enough uncertainty for the moment. I think some of the more rational Scottish nationalists are reasoning in this way and are willing to put off their goal for a few years.

The relationship the UK has with the EU affects nearly every argument for Scottish independence. To debate now is to debate on shifting sands. On all sorts of issues such as the border, the currency and trade we have no idea what an independent Scotland would look like. If, for instance, the UK gets a free trade deal with the EU, would it really be in Scotland’s interest to leave the UK in order to remain a part of the Single Market? After all a free trade deal does not look all that different from the situation we have at present. If on the other hand the UK walked away from negotiations without a trade deal, would it really be in Scotland’s interest to prioritise trade with the EU over trade with other parts of the UK? We trade much more within the UK than we do with the EU. The point really is this. How can we possibly have the debate until we know how such matters will turn out?  

It is I think for this reason that some of the more sensible SNP voices have been taking the long view. Most Scots whether they want independence or not are content to wait. It makes sense. For this reason whereas a few weeks ago it looked like we would have indyref2 soon, now it doesn’t. It’s important however, that we don’t all go to sleep though. There may not be a new campaign for the next few years, but we should do what we can to prepare for one. Pro UK Scots working together at the grassroots level is crucial. The Scottish media rarely puts forward the crucial arguments that help us to defend the UK. Too many are defeatist. Too many share the assumptions of the SNP. But by working together grassroots campaigners can get that message across.  

There are local elections coming up in May. We should think about how we can use them to show Theresa May that we welcome her decision to tell Nicola Sturgeon “not yet”. Ruth Davidson has become I think the most effective defender of Scotland’s place in the UK. Now might be the time to show our support.

I will continue to point out what I think are the disadvantages of Scottish independence. I will also, no doubt, write about the developing Brexit story. The key, I think, long term is to tell a better story about the UK than the Scottish nationalists can tell about an independent Scotland. Being positive wins. For this reason I am going to look forward with hope to how the UK will change for the better in the coming years. How we can become more prosperous and democratic. I will point out that inevitably the Scottish Parliament will gain more power because of Brexit as will every other Parliament in our country. I will tell a story about an open minded European country called the UK that will get on well with our neighbours and continue to welcome many, many people from elsewhere. If you are Pro UK like I am, I suggest that you join in with this story. It’s the one we need to persuade our fellow Scots who disagree with us.