In last Wednesday's Times, Kenny Farquharson held Unionist Ultras responsible for defying the sovereign will of the Scottish people by opposing a second “once-in a generation” referendum being held less than four years after the 2014 poll. In upholding the Edinburgh Agreement and seeking to ensure the result stands for at least a portion of the generation promised to Scots by the losing side, the Prime Minister is apparently “sowing the seeds of this Union’s demise”.
Kenny elaborates further to state that the minority Scottish government has a “cast iron mandate” to hold a referendum in the duration of this parliament because of their manifesto pledge stating a UK exit from the European Union should warrant the holding of a second referendum and because they have the support of Green MSP’s.
That is a governing party that did not gain enough seats to form a parliamentary majority and did not even bother putting their desire to hold a referendum in their short form manifesto and explicitly stated time and again during their election campaign that a vote for the SNP was not a vote for independence, nor for a second referendum. And that is eight Green MSP’s who were not elected on any sort of manifesto commitment to disrespect the Edinburgh Agreement and overturn the result of 2014.
Such tenuous claims do not constitute the basis of any cast-iron mandate and it cheapens Scottish democracy to consider that they may form the foundation by which the losing party to the 2014 referendum may seek to reverse its decision.
The verdict of 2,001,926 voters supporting to remain in the UK on an 85% turnout cannot be simply be annulled by the 1,059,897 votes to elect a minority nationalist government on a 55% turnout with a vague manifesto commitment stating a belief about what the Scottish parliament should be able to do. The “right to choose our fate is being denied”, Kenny cries. No Kenny, it is being upheld.
The Scottish government’s mandate is weakened even further when one considers the SNP’s latest stance towards the European Union as it seems they will not even seek to join the EU post-independence but will instead settle for Scotland applying to become a member of the EEA in the manner of Norway.
If the Scottish government do not intend to join the EU immediately after leaving the UK then there is no need to have a second referendum. After all the SNP’s 2016 manifesto makes no reference to holding a plebiscite if Scotland is taken out of the single market.
Either the results of generational referendums on seismic constitutional issues are to be respected and enforced or they are meaningless and such referendums should never be considered.
The Edinburgh Agreement did not set out any timescale that a result should be adhered to and instead left the “respecting” part of the document up to the political process. In practice this means that the result actually has to be democratically defended and upheld against the inevitable forces that will wish to disregard it.
By pursing a second referendum with such a dubious mandate it is Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP who are holding democracy in contempt, not Unionists who merely wish to see their 2014 democratic verdict treated with the respect it deserves. The SNP Scottish government are violating the Edinburgh Agreement and it is the Conservative UK government that is respecting it and holding all parties to account and seeing that the result is sustained.
Partitioning the United Kingdom is not some trivial matter. It is a profoundly momentous event and any electoral mandate to seek to hold a referendum to decide on the issue has to be beyond reproach.
At the very least, the governing party should have won a majority of seats to the Scottish parliament on a clear manifesto pledge declaring an explicit intention to seek a mandate to hold a referendum. This intention should be communicated clearly throughout the preceding electoral campaign.
All parties, including the SNP, have a political and legal duty to adhere to the Edinburgh Agreement and see that the 2014 result is respected and endures. Therefore, any attempt to hold a second referendum has to be grounded in reasons of profound importance.
The Scottish government’s mandate fails on all of these levels. They are a minority government and it seems the SNP no longer even intend to take Scotland back into the European Union.
Therefore, Theresa May is completely correct in refusing to acquiesce to the Scottish government’s demands and allow another independence referendum. Only when the SNP actually gain a serious electoral mandate with a view to overturning the 2014 result should any desire to hold a second referendum be countenanced.
However there was one further view on a second referendum in the SNP’s 2016 manifesto - “We believe that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people”.
I’m sure it hasn’t escaped Kenny’s attention that independence is clearly not the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people. The first opinion poll since Sturgeon announced her plan to hold a second referendum showed support for separating Scotland from the UK slipping to minus 12% and from the time of 2014 opinion polling has clearly shown continued majority support for keeping Scotland within the United Kingdom. All indicators suggest nothing has changed in terms of public opinion on Scotland’s great constitutional issue and to try and hold a further referendum when this is so would be a gross violation of the sovereign will of the Scottish people.
A sovereign will that was marvelously expressed on 18th September 2014 when Scots engaged in the most momentous act of self-determination since the Act of Union by deciding to remain within the United Kingdom. Far from denying Scots their right to decide their own destiny, Theresa May is seeing that the sovereign will of the Scottish people is upheld in defiance of the attempt by Nicola Sturgeon to thwart it.
For it is not “Unionist Ultras” who are only opposed to a Nationalist First Minister disregarding the historic 2014 result, it is the clear majority of the Scottish public.
Perhaps if Kenny took a closer look at the reasons why the SNP chose to call a second referendum when public opinion demonstrates evident support for the Union, strong opposition to holding a second referendum and a desire by Scots to have the exact same Brexit deal as the rest of the UK he would see that it is Nicola Sturgeon who is dancing to the tune of the Ultras in her own party, who since 19th September 2014 have wholly refused to countenance accepting the unanimous verdict of their own independence referendum. Self-determination does not only travel in the preferred direction of the SNP.