Tuesday 9 August 2022

Ruth Davidson is helping Sturgeon


It seems that Ruth Davidson is bored sitting in the House of Lords. It’s no surprise that being a baroness turns out to be less interesting than being an MSP battling against Nicola Sturgeon every day or campaigning in a General Election and proving that a Tory is not a species of Dodo in Scotland.

It’s easy to see the attractions of leading a No campaign during Indyref2. It beats changing nappies and it beats listening to snores during a debate between unelected worthies. But Davidson’s intervention shows a worrying lack of insight.

Davidson clearly views indyref2 as a rerun of 2014. She still views it as a debate about the Union. She thinks that the same question would require a No answer and we’d all behave exactly as we did 8 years ago.

But as I have long argued, if you think the UK is a union of four separate countries, you have already conceded the argument to the SNP. This was the problem with calling the campaign “Better Together” in 2014. Things are only together if they are separate. Mary is together with John because they are separate people. They are better together because John earns a lot of money and Mary gets to stay at home looking after the kids. If John loses his job or Mary becomes unhappy, they seek a divorce. If that’s your view of the UK, a marriage of separate countries, then you might as well give up campaigning for the union, because it won’t last another decade.

The only way to take on the SNP argument is to attack the SNP’s assumptions. The UK is not four countries, which are better together rather than apart, we are one nation and have been for centuries.

There will not be a campaign like in 2014 headed by a worthy figure in Scottish politics. There won’t be a Pro UK campaign at all. The task is not to campaign against Nicola Sturgeon. The task is to ignore both her and her Pretendyref. Ruth “Hold me Back” Davidson is simply legitimising a referendum which sensible Pro UK people are planning to boycott.

But this is our problem. If Sturgeon somehow organises an unofficial referendum next October, it will require people like Davidson not to take part. But they seem eager to do so.

Imagine if only one side of the argument was presented by the SNP/Greens. Let’s say that the British Government provided no official papers and no counterarguments. Just think about debates organised by the SNP on TV where only Scottish nationalists took part. When polling day came what would it be like if only Scottish nationalists voted and not a single Pro UK person took part? If all of those things happened would Scotland obtain independence? No of course not.

But it is going to take a little discipline. Some of us might think we could beat the SNP again like we did in 2014. Some of us might be tempted to lead a campaign or appear on TV. But if instead we boycott and ignore Pretendyref, we can be certain that it will have no legitimacy whatsoever. It won’t lead to negotiations, it won’t lead to anything.

Would we be boycotting because we think we’d lose? No. We might win a campaign just like we did in 2014. But it would be a coin toss where Scottish nationalists knew that they can keep tossing until they win, while if we lose once we lose forever. That’s not an honest game.

There needs to be new thinking on the constitutional issue in the UK. It is vital that Pro UK politicians make clear that although the parts of the UK are called countries, these countries are not sovereign nation states. There is only one sovereign nation state and it is called the UK. Its unity is no different from that of France. Instead of talking of a future referendum like Davidson is doing, make clear that there will never be another legal referendum on independence and that it was a mistake to grant the last one. Use Parliament to make this position legal watertight.

No country can long endure if it views itself as being made up of separate countries that have the right to leave if they ever vote for it. So, either do what is necessary to protect our country or concede that defeat will happen next year, the year after or sometime in the decades ahead.

The reason why politicians do not respond to the SNP by saying “No, Never”, is I think that they are scared of inflaming Scottish public opinion and increasing support for independence beyond a point where it can be contained.

But in fact, the opposite is the case. Support for Scottish independence was low from 1707 until sometime around 2013. It was the possibility of independence being achieved that increased support from 25% to 44%. It is that same possibility that puts the SNP in permanent power. Scottish voters don’t care about ferries not running or drug deaths increasing, because there is always the tantalising possibility of independence being achieved after the next election. Only when independence is no longer a possibility will we return to Left Right arguments instead of Leave Remain arguments.

The way to make the issue redundant is I believe to cease talking of independence being achieved by means of a referendum. Most countries historically have not achieved independence in this way.

The UK Government should tell the SNP and Scottish nationalist voters that we view the UK differently to you. We think it is a single nation state. You are free to go down the unilateral route. You can hold an unofficial referendum, or you can try to turn a General Election into a de facto referendum, but you don’t need to. You have a parliament in Edinburgh, you can vote to leave whenever you want, but we won’t cooperate in your departure.

If enough people in Scotland wanted independence there would be no need to win a referendum. There would be no need to win 50% or more of the vote in General Election. There was no referendum prior to the United States declaring independence and the First Congress created its own legal right to secede. The SNP could do the same whenever it wishes.

This then is the counterpoint to saying to the SNP that there will never be a legal independence referendum. You can leave when you want. We will do nothing to stop you.

I think this solves the problem. The SNP does not have the numbers to go down the unilateral route. All that is necessary is to expose this. The SNP thinks that it can force the British Government to negotiate the terms of independence by a unilateral referendum or a unilateral interpretation of a General Election. But it’s aim is not a Unilateral Declaration of Independence but rather a negotiated departure.

I think support for Scottish independence is soft. On the 2014 question opinion is evenly split. But ask Scots if we want to Remain in the UK or not and Remain as a double figure lead. What Scots want I conclude is to be an independent country within the UK. We want to turn the UK into a sort of four member EU, where we all stay in a currency union, have the same security arrangements and receive subsidies from the centre. But this is not on offer and never has been.

So, this is the offer the next Prime Minister should make to Scottish voters. There will never be a legal referendum on independence, but we will do nothing to stop you if your elected representatives choose like the First US Congress to leave. But in that case, there will be no negotiations. We will make clear to the world that you have rebelled and left without our consent. We will neither cooperate with you nor oppose you. We will neither help you nor hinder you. If you fancy that arrangement there is no need to wait until next October, you can leave tomorrow. A simple vote in the Scottish Parliament will be enough. But from that moment on you will get nothing more from us.

Sturgeon is all bluff. She doesn’t have the support to go down this route. There is therefore the chance to expose the SNP as the chancers that they are.