It’s great to see so many people are becoming supporters of Scottish independence, but how does that translate into actually achieving it?
Quite often, independence supporters from Nicola Sturgeon’s gradualist camp assert that if a large majority of Scots support independence, it will become impossible for unionists to maintain their opposition to a new referendum. The assertion often is that if Scotland rises, nobody will be able to stop her.
But how? I’ve been racking my brains for a long time, and I genuinely find it hard to imagine what people can do in Scotland that will make a difference to Westminster.
When the poll tax got introduced, refusing to pay it was a powerful message because it had been introduced by Westminster – and it was an actual bill that had to be paid, not some money that your employer would deduct before you got your wages.
It’s possible to refuse to pay your council tax, but that will be a problem for the council, not for any higher level of government. You cannot refuse to pay your income tax, because it gets withheld by your employer and sent directly to the HMRC. The same goes for VAT and most other taxes I can think of. In theory, Scottish companies could transfer PAYE taxes and VAT payments to a Scottish Government account instead of the normal HMRC one, but it’d be a rather unusual revolt if the main protagonists were company finance directors rather than rebellious citizens.
Any physical protests would get handled by the Scottish Police, not by UK police (as would be the case in some countries), which would make the symbolic effect rather less impressive.
The United Kingdom has been designed in such an ingenious way that almost all the administrators of Scotland are Scottish, and most fiscal transfers happen behind the scenes. It’s really difficult for a normal citizen to disrupt anything that will inconvenience Westminster in any way whatsoever.
Scottish MPs could disrupt proceedings at Westminster, and large-scale demonstrations in London and other English cities might also be efficient, but the SNP leaders want to be regarded as grown-up politicians, not as mad protestors, and it’s not clear that most independence campaigners would be very happy to march in what they consider a foreign country.
Craig Dalȝell has written a great blog post about various ways that Scotland could ramp up the pressure on the UK Government until they agree to recognise our independence, but to the best of my knowledge it hasn’t gained much traction, something which I fail to understand. Perhaps it’s because it’s all rather hard, with very little low-hanging fruit.
Of course it’s possible that sensible and decent politicians at Westminster will find it impossible to ignore the calls for a new independence referendum if the opinion polls find a large and sustained majority in favour of one – and even if the Tories are able to continue to refuse it, then maybe the Labour government that hopefully will replace them in 2024 will cave in.
In politics, however, you should always think through all the possible outcomes, and we need to figure out what can be done if Westminster simply go on ignoring the referendum wanted by a clear majority of the people of Scotland, not just if they do the decent thing.