Thursday, 28 January 2021

How to wreck an illegal independence referendum


How should Pro UK people in Scotland respond to threats from the SNP to hold an independence referendum without permission or to use the upcoming Scottish Parliament elections as a proxy referendum on independence leading to a unilateral declaration of independence? The answer as always is to do what your opponent least wants.

I have been disappointed in Douglas Ross since he became Scottish Conservative leader, but his recent statement that Pro UK parties should boycott an unofficial referendum is correct. I am and will always be a Conservative. I support Boris Johnson and if Mr Ross begins to stand up to Scottish nationalism in this sort of way, I will support him. This is what Pro UK people have been waiting for.

I will always remember how after Remain lost the 2016 referendum, we suddenly discovered that the referendum was merely advisory and could be ignored by Westminster. Nothing at all had been said about this during the campaign. But we later learned that the decision to leave the EU was ultimately up to Westminster. In that case it rather makes referendums pointless. They become just large and expensive opinion polls. But if the result of a legally organised referendum can be ignored how much more can that of an illegal referendum?

There is only one way for Scotland to become legally independent. It is not by means of a referendum. Even if Yes had won the referendum in 2014, Scotland would have remained part of the United Kingdom until a vote in Westminster that repealed the Act of Union 1707. We now know that Westminster could have treated a Yes win as merely advisory. So too now and more so if that win were in an illegal referendum. The advice could be ignored.

Let’s imagine the SNP wins a majority at Holyrood and afterwards asks for permission to hold a second referendum and Boris Johnson refuses. If the SNP tried to organise a referendum anyway this would be contrary to the Scotland Act which makes constitutional matters reserved. It would be contrary too to the mandate from the referendum vote in 1997 that set up a devolved Scottish Parliament. It would therefore be undemocratic.

How should Pro UK people respond to an illegal and undemocratic referendum? We should ignore it. If all of the Pro UK parties in Scotland chose not to take part and advised their supporters not to vote, the result of the referendum would have no legitimacy at all.

An illegal referendum could not have the involvement of the Electoral Commission. The SNP would therefore have to set the question. But the precedent of the 2016 referendum shows that a Yes/No question is unfair to No. For this reason, it would be expected that the Electoral Commission would come up with a different question in a second independence referendum. If the SNP instead repeated the question from 2014, that in itself would make the result illegitimate.

The campaign would have no involvement from Pro UK parties or people. There would not be any organisation or person to take part in debates. There would be no official reports or statements from the UK Government putting the counter argument. The Scottish electorate would have no idea how the UK Government would respond to Scottish independence. There would only be SNP statements about how wonderful independence would be. There would be no counter arguments nor indeed any real knowledge tested by argument and counterargument.

In that case how could the Scottish electorate make an informed decision when they would only hear one side of the argument? This in itself would make the result of such a referendum illegitimate.

No one employed by the UK Government would be involved in organising the SNP’s illegal referendum. The UK Government could treat such involvement as grounds for dismissal. So, it is unclear who would count the ballot papers and fairly assess who had won.

A complete boycott by Pro UK parties and people would lead to the SNP winning more than ninety percent on a low turnout. But what would that prove? Nothing at all.

Even if the SNP were able to win half of the electorate including those who did not vote, they still would not be able to declare that the result had been legitimate, because the referendum would remain illegal and it would not have been carried out according to democratic norms with both sides taking part in the campaign and with arguments from all sides heard.

The BBC and other broadcasters could be made to treat any illegal referendum as worthy of only minimal coverage. Broadcasting (and ultimately its funding) is reserved to Westminster. So, there would be none of the usual coverage of the campaign or the result. It would be contrary to the duty of impartiality to cover only one side of the argument.

If Westminster can ignore even the result of a legitimate referendum organised according to the democratic norms and with a high turnout, how much more could it simply ignore a referendum with a low turnout where only one side took part. This would go nowhere for the SNP.

But the same argument obviously applies if the SNP went down the route of attempting to use the election to the Scottish Parliament as a vote for independence. In that case also it would be logical for Pro UK people and parties to boycott that election. I suspect selfish reasons might prevent Pro UK MSPs from taking this step. They would lose their jobs. But do they prefer to keep their job or their country?

If Scottish Parliamentary elections and the Scottish Parliament itself are to be used for Scotland to illegally hold a referendum or to illegally secede from the United Kingdom, then both the election and the Scottish Parliament would be outside democratic norms and would cease to have the legitimacy given to them by the vote in 1997.

Imagine if the SNP and other independence parties won all of the seats at Holyrood. Far from giving them absolute power, it would lead to them having no power at all. The response to such a parliament would be to repeal the Scotland Act and to end devolution in Scotland.

The SNP requires the consent and the cooperation of Pro UK people to achieve Scottish independence. Without it Scotland would lack the unity and common purpose necessary to achieve independence. Unless Pro UK people at least acquiesce and agree that the SNP has achieved its goal democratically, legally and fairly, there could be no successful independent Scotland, but rather a hopelessly divided failure stillborn because its only parent was Scottish nationalism.

I would have consented and cooperated if the SNP had won in 2014. I would have accepted the majority view, but I would withdraw my consent and would do all I could to thwart an attempt to achieve independence illegally, because once you start down the illegal undemocratic route tyranny follows soon after.

The correct response therefore to any illegality on the part of the SNP is to do what the SNP does not want us to do. Our failure to cooperate with SNP plans, by refusing to take part, by boycotting, by not voting and by ignoring, makes any unilateral attempt to achieve independence lack the legitimacy that independence supporters want and require. If you go down the illegal route, we won’t work with you and you will fail.