James Kelly has written an interesting reply to my last blog post. Here’s my reply to him.
To start with, I think James underestimates my commitment to Scottish independence:
I can easily appreciate why [Devo Max] doesn’t make any sense at all to someone for whom the whole point of Scottish self-government is as a means to remain in Europe.
If I only wanted independence in order to remain in the EU, it’s doubtful that I would have spent countless hours campaigning for independence before the first indyref. (I started the Arc of Prosperity blog in January 2012, when it became likely that we’d get an independence referendum.)
I’m campaigning for Scotland to become a self-confident and prosperous Northern European country that works together with neighbouring countries to create a better world. I believe independence within the EU is the best way to achieve that. In my view Westminster is pulling Scotland in the wrong direction in so many ways, and independence is the best way to fix that.
I don’t actually have a problem with Devo Max as a stepping stone to independence per se, apart from the obvious problem that the lack of a codified UK constitution makes it very difficult to ensure that Westminster cannot simply roll it back if they feel like it. However, in the context of a Brexit referendum where Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU, it seems rather odd to agree to leave the EU in return for some powers that we’d have to return as soon as we become part of the EU again. The powers I want to see Scotland gain are the ones we’d keep as an independent EU member state – e.g., powers over immigration – and they’ve never been on offer.
James then writes this, and I agree 100% – he puts it better than I’ve ever managed:
That said, I think Thomas is dead right to point out again that the SNP has at least partly lost sight of the moral obligation it owes to EU citizens after persuading them to stay in Scotland in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum on the basis that an indyref was coming and that it would secure full EU membership for Scotland. Somehow the clarity of that pledge has got lost as the SNP fret about the votes shed to the Tories in places like Moray. But those lapsed voters in the north-east were always unlikely to back independence in a referendum anyway, so there really oughtn’t to be any tactical conflict between those who prioritise EU membership and those who prioritise independence – the most promising way to achieve both goals is to push ahead unapologetically with an indyref, either next year or the year after.
At this point, I’m afraid James misunderstands my point slightly:
Unfortunately Thomas himself is now departing from that script by effectively abandoning independence as the most effective Brexit parachute, and is instead pinning his hopes on another UK-wide referendum to reverse the outcome of the last one. That’s not something the SNP can realistically be expected to campaign for, because they’d be conceding the right of the rest of the UK to overrule Scotland’s constitutional wishes. As it happens, I don’t think it’s a viable way of furthering Thomas’ own priority either, because I cannot see any circumstance in which a Tory government would allow a referendum in which Remain was a possible outcome. It would be electoral suicide for them to do so. A snap general election followed by a second referendum held by an incoming Labour government is just about possible, but there would still be the formidable obstacle of Jeremy Corbyn’s private but well-documented Euroscepticism.
I’ve been begging the SNP to hold an new independence referendum as soon as possible for the past two years. I’ve been waiting for them to start campaigning in earnest (by producing materials that can be used on the doorstep, and by mentioning why independence is a lifeboat for Scotland in every interview). It’s just that I fear we’re out of time if we get a no-deal Brexit, which means that we’ll leave the Internal Market and the Customs Union in March next year. So given that the SNP have been sitting on their hands for the past two years, I think preventing Brexit is best course of action at the moment. If Nicola Sturgeon can see a way to hold an independence soon enough to save us, count me in!
I fear that the SNP’s plans have been based on a no-deal Brexit not happening, in which case there’s enough time to hold a new independence referendum (because we just need to be independent by December 2020, not by March 2019). The reason I’m panicking at the moment is because the risk of a no-deal Brexit seems to be increasing, and the SNP leadership don’t seem to have a plan for that, apart from hoping that the exodus of people, companies and money and the subsequent economic collapse will turn Unionists into Independistas.
However, this really doesn’t work for me. As an EU citizen, my right to live and work in the UK will fall away if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, and it’ll be up to Westminster to unilaterally grant me some rights. That’s too risky, so I’m very likely to leave for the continent with my family if a no-deal outcome hasn’t been ruled out by early 2019 (unless Scotland has launched the independence parachute, of course).
I also worry that if there’s a deal, it will be tied to a so-called “blind Brexit”, which means that we won’t know what kind of Brexit will follow the transitional period – it could be copying Norway, Canada or North Korea. If that happens, there will not be any clarity, and the SNP might again keep delaying the independence referendum.
James finishes his post with this hopeful comment:
The bottom line is that there is a far greater percentage chance of maintaining EU membership because of an indyref than there is of maintaining it because of a second UK-wide vote. So although Thomas’ priorities may differ slightly from most of the Yes movement, I can’t see any reason why there should be a corresponding divergence on strategy. We should still be marching in the same direction down the same road. I do understand why Thomas feels misled and let-down, though, and I hope that Nicola Sturgeon’s long-awaited decision in the autumn will remedy that.
I very much hope he’s right. There’s nothing I’d like to see more than the return of the gallus Nicola that gave us all pride and hope after the Brexit referendum. I do fear, however, that she’ll just delay the decision again, blaming the lack of clarity. Hopefully I’m wrong. After all, has any general ever won a battle by delaying all action till the enemy’s exact position and plan were known?