Category Archives: referendum

If the UK votes to leave the EU, #indyref2 must follow soon afterwards

EU?
EU?.
There are indications that the SNP leadership are trying to talk down the prospects of a quick indyref2 after a Brexit vote. For instance, this is what Humza Yousaf said recently according to The Herald:

Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Government’s transport minister, has made clear that, personally, he would not like a second referendum on Scotland’s future in such circumstances, noting how it would “make the argument for independence very difficult”.

[...]

[He] then added: “I do not want a referendum in those circumstances. It makes the argument for independence very difficult as well. It presents us with some additional difficulties and some additional challenges.”

I agree with Humza that it might be difficult to win a new indyref immediately after a Brexit vote, when voters are aware that a Yes vote will mean that the English-Scottish border will become the external border of the EU. I therefore very much hope that the UK votes to Remain in the EU.

However, if Brexit happens, it'll only get harder to win a new indyref if we wait a few years, so unless we want to kick Scottish independence into the long grass, we'll need to act immediately afterwards and hold a new referendum in late 2016 or early 2017, well before the (r)UK leaves the EU in the summer of 2018.

The reason for the urgency is that Scotland's big chance is to vote to remain in the EU without ever leaving the bloc. If that happens, many companies will choose to relocate here from the rUK. On the other hand, if Scotland leaves the EU together with the rest of the UK, those companies will move to Ireland or another EU member state, and they won't move to Scotland even if we decide to become independent a few years later. Even if just 5% of the companies currently domiciled in the rUK move to Scotland, it will be a huge boost to the Scottish economy and will lubricate the change from dependence to independence nicely.

It's also likely many people in the EU will suddenly encourage Scottish membership of the EU so that not all of the UK is lost after Brexit. For instance, in a role-play organised by Open Europe, the "Netherlands predicted an effort to channel investment to Scotland, in an effort to peel it off from the rest of the UK."

Furthermore, YouGov's Peter Kellner has pointed out that there normally is a late swing towards the status quo in referendums, which is exactly what we saw in the 2014 independence referendum. However, just after Brexit, there won't be a status quo -- the alternatives will be to remain either in the EU or in the UK, but not both -- and this might prevent this late swing from happening again. On the other hand, if we sit on our hands for ten years, a status quo will have re-established itself, which will benefit the pro-UK side.

In other words, a snap indyref2 will appeal to both risk-takers who believe Scotland can poach a lot of English companies as well as to the natural conservatives who are worried about what will happen if we leave the EU. Combined with those who are already convinced about Scottish independence, that might well be a winning combination.

Things won't get easier over time. So long as England remains outside the EU, a vote for Scottish independence will be much more daunting than it was in 2014 when it was simply a question of turning the English-Scottish border into an internal EU one.

So yes, I'm pessimistic that we can win indyref2 after a Brexit vote, but our only chance of doing so is to have it almost immediately afterwards so that Scotland never leaves the EU and can become the natural new location for companies wanting to remain within both the EU and the old UK. After that, any hope of independence will be kicked at least twenty years into the future.

Of course I'd prefer the UK to remain within the EU, but given recent opinion polls, we have to be prepare to seize the moment after a vote to Leave.

Lest the momentum fades

Time
Time.
Yesterday Craig Murray made some important points about the timing of the next independence referendum:

The SNP is full of siren voices arguing that they should enjoy their spoils for a decade or two while maintaining a steady trudge towards independence. They whisper that we have to await a 60% Yes lead in the opinion polls before we try again as another defeat would be disastrous.

But the greater danger is that the momentum fades. You would have to be the greatest optimist in the World to imagine a more favourable conjunction of circumstances for Independence than an extremist Tory government at Westminster, a Labour Party in meltdown, the Liberals almost eliminated and the SNP supreme in Scotland. Plus the residue of the huge momentum of the IndyI campaign, which put on 14 points in 12 months.

This dream conjunction will not last forever. The great danger is letting the moment slip through our fingers.

I think this is a very good point. If we look at the situation in other countries, everything is in a flux at the moment, and people do things they wouldn't have dreamt of before. Syriza and Podemos wouldn't have done so well just a few years ago, and closer to home Jeremy Corbyn wouldn't have stood a chance against Miliband five years ago. At the same time, huge numbers of refugees are arriving in Europe and it is not at all certain what that will mean for the future of the EU and our place in the world.

People everywhere are looking for a way out of the current mess. At some point in the future, a solution will be found (let's just hope it's a positive solution and not a modern version of the 1930s) and things will settle down again, and by then independence could easily be off the agenda for another generation.

The time to take a leap into the unknown -- and declaring independence from the rUK falls into this category no matter how many components of the UK you decide to retain after independence -- is during a time of uncertainty.

Nobody knows how long the current situation will last, but I would expect things to calm down within the next decade. In other words, if the next independence referendum doesn't get called before 2025, there's a huge risk it will suddenly have to wait another 30 years.

I'm not arguing we should call a new referendum tomorrow. The opinion polls haven't shifted enough yet, and there needs to be a real, tangible reason to call a referendum. However, time is of the essence.

We need to campaign for independence now as if the second independence referendum had already been called. By campaigning -- and yes, that means arranging meetings, marching through Edinburgh, putting Yes stickers everywhere and chapping on doors -- we can get to the 60% support for Yes that will convince our most cautious of friends that the time is right to call a second referendum, and at that point winning it will be a mere formality.

(In Craig Murray's blog post he then goes on to discuss the conditions for a UDI, which I think is perhaps a distraction at this stage. There are times when that might be the best solution, but at the moment we should assume that Westminster won't fight a Scottish Government that has got the popular mandate to call another referendum. He's also unhappy that the SNP won't let him stand as a Holyrood candidate; I appreciate he's a bit more outspoken that your typical prospective MSP, but I believe “it's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in,” as Lyndon B. Johnson said about somebody completely different, so I hope they'll reconsider in the future.)

We need to campaign for independence now

My daughters were doing their bit during the indyref, too.
My daughters were doing what they could during the indyref, too.
Although the opinion polls are shifting towards Yes, they're moving at a snail's pace. (The most recent one had 47.5% Yes vs. 52.5% No.) I personally find it puzzling that no matter what horrors the Tories throw at us, most of the No voters don't seem to be reconsidering their position.

It's particularly strange because the months since the referendum have seen the huge landslide towards the SNP, so in many polls this party is now more popular than independence (and that's ignoring the other Yes parties).

The problem with this is that we're unlikely to get a new referendum until Yes is significantly ahead of No in all the polls. I don't think there's a magic number as such, but Alister Rutherford's argument that we need 60%+ is pretty sound.

Not only that, but we can't expect the Tories to listen to the 56 SNP MPs unless they're backed up by a convincing majority in Scotland. As long as they know that we wouldn't dare call a new referendum, they can effectively ignore Scotland and concentrate on making their Southern English voters happy.

We have to grasp the nettle: We need to start campaigning for independence again. We must find a way convince 5-10% of the No voters that they should join us. If we can also make them support one of the Yes parties, that'd be great, but I'm actually more interested in their support for independence than in their party-political allegiance. In fact, it might even be helpful to ensure there are independence supporters in all parties and none.

I'd love us to create some huge Yes events where we can all meet, like the wonderful independence marches in Edinburgh. Recent Yes events seem to have been organised by far-left groups and mainly shunned by the main Yes parties, so the SNP and the Greens need to take ownership of them.

Perhaps the best way forward would be to resurrect Yes Scotland -- not as a high-cost PR organisation, but as an umbrella group that organises marches and other events and creates Yes materials (badges and car stickers and so on). Like the old Yes Scotland, it could effectively be controlled by the SNP and the Greens.

I know many people are tempted to focus always on the next election, but this means that we keep focussing on the parties rather than the cause itself.

If we want independence, we need to campaign for it. We can't simply wait for the next referendum to be called.

Cameron wants the UK to leave the EU

PM attends European Council
PM attends European Council by Number 10, on Flickr.
David Cameron has said in the past that he intends to campaign to remain in the EU provided that he achieves a satisfactory deal before the referendum. I've just realised he must be bluffing.

The reason for this is Number 10's announcement that EU citizens won't be able to vote in the referendum. They didn't have to announce this yet, so they're clearly trying to shut down debate on this topic quickly -- which again means they must be desperate to achieve this. It would have been much easier simply to let everybody discuss the pros and cons of different franchises, but then the outcome might not have been what they wanted.

And let's face it: There can be only one reason to be desperate to prevent EU citizens from voting in the referendum, and that's to achieve a vote in favour of Brexit, given that they're the only group of people living here who would be almost guaranteed to vote in favour of continued EU membership. It's worth noting in this connexion that the Tories have also ruled out giving 16- and 17-year-olds the vote -- another group that are likely to be more positive towards the EU than the average UK voter -- while being perfectly happy to let Commonwealth citizens vote, although they're likely to more lukewarm towards EU membership.

If David Cameron really thought he would be likely to campaign in favour of remaining in the EU, it would be nonsensical to move fast to ensure the EU's biggest fans are disenfranchised.

My guess is he's already expecting his negotiations will fail (if for no other reason because he's asking for things that any EU expert will tell him the other countries won't give him), and he'll then go out and say something along these lines: "I really wanted to remain in a reformed EU, but the other countries have turned their backs on us, so I will with a heavy heart have to recommend that this great nation leaves the EU."

Why is Cameron doing this? My guess is it's to save the Conservative party. If he came out in favour of leaving the EU already, some pro-business Tories would break out, and if he campaigned in favour of EU membership, a very large number of MPs would rebel. By pretending to negotiate in good faith, he keeps the pro-EU Tories happy, and by setting the negotiations up to fail, he ensures the Eurosceptics will eventually be happy.

Indyref postmortem IV: Postal voting considered harmful

I think it’s quite likely the next independence referendum will happen sooner rather than later, so it’s important to have a look at what we could have done better, not in order to point fingers at anybody, but simply to make sure that we win next time. This is the fourth of several indyref postmortems.

After verification, the referendum ballot papers were put back into ballot boxes to be counted at 4pm.
After verification, the referendum ballot papers were put back into ballot boxes to be counted at 4pm. by Epping Forest District Council, on Flickr.
I'm not one of those conspiracy theorists who believe the independence referendum was rigged. Electoral fraud might have happened in a few places, but not to such an extent that it can possibly have turned a Yes into a No.

However, I still think postal voting as practised in this country is a very problematic.

Firstly, it's democratically questionable when there's a late shift in the public opinion. As a campaigner, I don't like the fact that there is one deadline for convincing postal voters and another one for everybody else, and from a postal voter's perspective, it's horrible if a late development in the campaign suddenly makes you realise you've changed your mind.

Secondly, it's not healthy for democracy when conspiracy theories flourish. Ideally, everybody should be able to convince themselves that no fraud took place, and huge numbers of postal votes makes this much harder, especially when there have been many examples of fraud using postal votes in the past.

Thirdly, Westminster politicians have been pushing postal voting in a vain attempt to stem the tide of low voter turnout. However, the independence referendum demonstrated that people are very happy to vote, so long as their vote counts and the election matters. The corrupt Westminster system with its FPTP electoral system and nearly identical main parties might need postal voting as a form of life support, but independence referendums most definitely do not.

Of course there needs to be a mechanism in place to allow everybody to vote, also those who cannot go to the polling place for various reasons. In Denmark, in lieu of postal voting voters can cast their vote at council offices and embassies for a period of time before the election if they know they will absent on the day, and polling places have a small mobile team who can take a small ballot box out to immobile voters. Mechanisms such as these could be considered in Scotland, too.

Hopefully the Scottish Parliament will soon get more responsibilities for conducting elections and referendums in Scotland, and if that happens, postal voting should be replaced by a better system, hopefully in time for the next independence referendum.

The uniqueness of the referendum will ensure a Yes victory

OUI
OUI by Hélène Villeneuve, on Flickr.
Once in a while somebody enters the independence debate to tell us it's all futile because the Yes side can only win in a referendum if they were enjoying a huge lead in the opinion polls before the campaign started (the idea behind it is that in most referendums the No side gains ground during the campaign).

My standard reply to such people is that the Scottish independence referendum is quite a special case because it has been going on for two years. Normally referendums are discussed for a month or so, just like general elections, and it means there's very little time to convince people and especially to refute scare stories (which are always inevitable because it's an easy way to obtain a No vote).

When you've got two years and have managed to get the No side to release all their Project Fear stuff very early, you've had a chance to refute the stories, and the electorate has had a chance to realise the stories are just there to frighten them.

The latest person to say that Yes is doomed was Alan Renwick in The Telegraph yesterday. Interestingly, he added three more reasons why the Yes side might win in a referendum:

There are three basic reasons why support for reform may pick up steam. The first and most banal is that voters sometimes already know what they think well ahead of the vote. If opinion is already settled, scope for a drop in the Yes vote is limited. [...] Things get more interesting with the second reason. This is what is called “reversion point reversal”. The “reversion point” of a referendum is the situation that ensues following a No vote. Generally, the reversion point is the status quo: if voters opt against change, then the pre-existing situation continues. But sometimes the pre‑existing situation can successfully be painted as unsustainable. [...] The third and final mechanism is the anti-establishment bandwagon. If the establishment as a whole opposes reform and voters are in the mood to give it a kicking, a bandwagon for change can sometimes gather speed.

The first reason is not very relevant to us -- it just explains why a No landslide victory is impossible. (The people who were already planning to vote Yes to independence two years ago were convinced then and thus very unlikely to be persuaded to vote No.)

The second reason is much more relevant. More and more voters are discovering that we can only protect important parts of the status quo by voting Yes (such as the NHS, free university tuition and a decent welfare state), and this is having a marked effect.

The third reason should also help Yes -- the establishment is split in Scotland, but the entire Westminster establishment are united in their opposition to Scottish independence.

When all these factors are seen together, it becomes clear why Yes campaigners in general are so optimistic. This referendum is eminently winnable.

If we don’t get a Yes this time, we might end up like Catalonia

2013_09_11_JorgeLizana_Via Catalana Cuidadela7
2013_09_11_JorgeLizana_Via Catalana Cuidadela7 by Fotomovimiento, on Flickr.
There is a school of thought that the independence referendum is happening too soon, before the Scottish public has been fully convinced of the merits of the prospect. However, a number of events (a capable SNP government and a useless opposition at Holyrood, a major recession, the collapse of the LibDems in Scotland due to their Westminster coalition with the Tories, and a Westminster government that didn't understand Scottish public opinion) together created a perfect storm that gave us first an SNP majority in Holyrood and then Westminster's acceptance of a referendum organised by Scotland.

Now that we've got the chance to be sovereign again, we need to grasp it with both hands because the opportunity might never arise again.

At first, this might seem counterintuitive. After all, many Unionists moan about the prospects of a neverendum if we vote No. Indeed, I have argued in the past that only a Yes vote is likely to bring closure:

If it’s a Yes, I expect most people from the No campaign to start fighting Scotland’s corner relatively quickly. This is because I don’t know of many countries that after independence have had a large group of people trying to undo the divorce. [...]

If the referendum ends in a No, I’m not so sure. Of course we’ll all accept the result and try to make the best of it at first, but having talked about how much Scotland will be able to achieve as an independent country, it will be very difficult to abandon the dream completely. The SNP might lose a few disillusioned voters, but on the whole I expect the party to survive and keep the flame alive. Also, given likely subsequent developments in the UK, such as leaving the EU and getting a Tory government supported by UKIP, I wouldn’t be surprised if large groups of Scots would soon bitterly regret their No vote in the referendum.

However, even if in ten or twenty years' time everybody in Scotland agrees that it was a terrible mistake not to vote Yes in 2014, circumstances might be less favourable. Oil might be running out (or be banned due to global warming), Westminster might have decided to invest in nuclear power instead of Scottish renewables, the Scottish Parliament might have been declawed and defanged, and the UK might have succeeded in dismantling the welfare state everywhere to such a degree that restoring it and extending it (as suggested by the Common Weal project) would be completely unrealistic.

Even more importantly, would we ever be allowed to hold an independence referendum again? Even if pro-independence parties gained an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament once more (which is not an easy thing to do, given the electoral system used), would Westminster really cooperate? We shouldn't forget that David Cameron only agreed to the referendum because he thought it would lead to a quick and decisive victory for the No side, which would have buried Scottish nationalism for a generation. If Scotland then decided to organise a referendum anyway, it's very likely it would be deemed ultra vires, especially because Westminster will interpret the Edinburgh Agreement as a concession by the Scottish Government of sovereignty/authority -- in other words, there would be a legal precedent that the Scottish Parliament should seek approval from Westminster before holding an independence referendum.

If the Scottish Government tried to organise a referendum after Westminster and the courts had decided it was illegal to do so, we'd get into a Catalan scenario, and that's not a pleasant thought. It might look very romantic when you look at their 400 km-long human chain and all that, but this article calculates that the chance of an amicable divorce there is just 14.8%, and it emphasises the risk that the police and perhaps even the military will be deployed by Madrid to keep the situation under control. Hopefully things wouldn't get that bad in Scotland, but the danger would be there.

We have a unique opportunity in September. We can vote Yes knowing that Westminster will respect the result, and it can all happen completely peacefully. However, it might be our one and only chance to do so. Nobody should vote No because they don't think the time is ripe yet. This is probably the best chance we ever get.