You’re standing together with your partner on the shores of a river covered by thin ice.
“I bet life is much better on the other side,” he says. You don’t really think it’s looking much better than the side you’re on, but more importantly you’re pretty sure the ice is too thin.
“Nonsense, the ice is fine,” insists your partner.
“I don’t want to do this,” you exclaim.
“We went through this two years ago when you nearly left me,” he shouts. “I would let you have a bit more spending money if you agreed to stay with me, and I’m saying we’re crossing this river!”
What do you do? Do you do everything you can to prevent him from attempting to cross the river, and if you can’t, will you stay where you are?
Or will you follow him out onto the ice with the intention of going back if the ice starts breaking up?
Or will you stick with him through thick and thin?
This is what Scotland’s choices after the Brexit vote look like to me. We can try to convince the Westminster government that leaving the Internal Market is barking mad and a Norwegian solution is the only safe way to do a Brexit. And if they do opt for a hard Brexit in order to restrict immigration, we’ll hold a second independence referendum.
However, some people seem to think it would be better to bide our time and wait to see what Brexit will be like before holding a second independence referendum. To me, that’s the equivalent of walking out onto the ice with your partner in the hope that you can get back to safety later if it doesn’t work.
And of course the Unionists just want to stay with England, no matter what they do and what the consequences are for Scotland.
Back in the early days of the first indyref, Yes Scotland designed some cards asking people to places themselves on an independence scale from 1 to 10, and they told us activists to knock doors, ask the questions and fill out the cards.
I did exactly that (being a bit literal-minded), but I soon realised that most other activists took it as an opportunity to talk to people about the benefits of independence. In retrospect, I think most of the conversions from No to Yes were due to these conversations — much more so than the targeted materials Yes Scotland will have sent to some people based on the classification on the cards.
I’m mentioning this because the SNP recently launched a huge National Survey that asks even more questions than the small cards Yes Scotland sent out, and they’re asking their members to get as many people as possible to answer the questions.
What I’m wondering is whether they just want us to go out and record the answers, or is it really just an excuse to campaign on the doorstep? If it’s the former, it won’t change many minds (but it might tell the SNP who the soft No voters are and where they live), but if it’s the latter, we really could do with some new pro-independence campaign materials to aid us in the conversations.
It’s really a catch-22. It would be easier to campaign if the campaign had been officially launched and we were backed up with materials and all that. Also, many people won’t change their opinion on independence before somebody talks to them — they won’t just have a eureka moment in the bath one morning. However, the SNP clearly doesn’t want to launch the campaign prematurely and there are many indications that nothing will happen before Yes has clearly overtaken No in the opinion polls. So opinion won’t shift before we start campaigning for real, but we won’t start campaigning before opinion has shifted.
This makes me think National Survey is probably a campaign in disguise. They hope that we will all campaign hard on the doorsteps while pretending it’s just a listening exercise, so that opinion shifts enough that the official campaign can start.
Perhaps it’s the right way forward, but annoyingly it means we’ll have to create campaign materials on our own instead of getting them from Yes Scotland II or the SNP. I just wish the real campaign would start, but then I’m of course really impatient given my status as an EU migrant.
People have started talking about the post-factual society, mainly in despair. Basically voters have stopped listening to “facts” and will now form their opinion based on feeling, which is for instance why England voted in favour of Brexit in spite of practically all serious politicians and academics being against it.
It’s a natural development, however. When politicians started hiding behind spin doctors and got extremely good at never answering a question with a straight answer, at the same time as the media stopped doing costly investigative journalism and started reprinting press releases most of the time, things started falling apart.
Politicians and spin doctors might truthfully say that they never actually lie, but if they cover up their intentions up in so much spin that only the 2% of the population actually understand what they’re saying, they might as well be lying. For instance, if a politician makes it sound as if they’re about to restrict immigration, does it really matter they’re actually saying they’re unable to do so for many good reasons if hardly anybody gets it? If the vast majority of voters believe that the politician said they were going to restrict immigration, what will they think when the politician admits five years later that immigration figures are up instead? That the politician was lying, of course.
(Because of all grants academics have to apply for these days to keep their job, it’s now sadly also often hard to get a straight answer out of them, and similar things apply to most other people in the media.)
The result is, of course, that most voters sadly think that politicians are lying bastards and that you cannot trust a word they say. And of course, in that situation you might as well listen to the ones that are fun or say something different.
Also, if you think of politicians as part of the elite, you can even get the idea that if they’re all in favour of something, it must be a secret elitist plan, and so it must necessarily be in the interest of the rest of us to vote for the exact opposite.
The problem here is that Brexit will most likely be a complete disaster, a wasted decade (if not a century), a source of xenophobia and missed opportunities, and in general just the opposite of what normal people need. The elite will be fine, but it’ll be harder and dearer to go on holiday abroad, there will be fewer jobs, and nobody will stop the Tories from taking away our human rights. In this case the voters ought to have listened to the politicians and to the experts, but how were they to know they’re weren’t just spinning.
I blame the spin doctors. They created this post-factual society.
We live in a real world, however, and eventually the chickens will come home to roost.
I really worry what will happen in England once the Brexit voters realise that they’re the ones who’ll have to pay the bill. Will there be more racist attacks? Or even riots?
I just hope Scotland will get out of the UK before the Brexiters realise what they’ve done. Time is short.
Lots of people are currently talking about Scotland (and perhaps Gibraltar) doing a Reverse Greenland, which means that the UK would leave but Scotland (et al.) would remain within the EU.
I don’t think that’s particularly likely for the following two reasons:
A Greenlandic solution doesn’t mean that Greenland is independent in all areas where the EU is representing Denmark. Instead, Copenhagen is ultimately in charge of these areas (unless they’re devolved, of course). In other words, if Scotland achieved a Reverse Greenland solution, Westminster would for instance have to conduct their own trade policy for England while representing Scotland in Brussels at trade summits. It would lead to a lot of conflicts of interest at Westminster, and I don’t think Brussels would like this at all.
As Craig Murray has pointed out, there’s no legal basis in the EU treaties for having a territory of a non-member state as a member: “The European Union is an institution which is based on treaties which have legal force. There is nothing whatsoever in any of those treaties, and nothing in any existing arrangement with any state, that makes it possible for part of a state, even a federal state, to be inside the EU, when the state itself is outside. […] The Greenland case is not in the least comparable because its relationship with the EU is based on the fact that it is an autonomous territory of an EU member state, Denmark. That is completely different from the situation of an autonomous territory of an EU non-member, which the UK will be.” I presume this means that the only way it would work would be if the UK remained a member, and England and Wales then left the EU (like Greenland). Given the size of England, I really can’t see this happening.
However, I think it’s absolutely correct and proper that Nicola Sturgeon explores all options before calling a second independence referendum.
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.