Theresa May seems to have said today she’s decided to prevent Scotland from holding a new independence referendum until Brexit has happened. It’s not entirely clear that’s what she meant (she was being vague and repetitive as usual), but that’s the interpretation most people took from it.
It’s absolutely unacceptable. In Scotland, the sovereignty belongs to the people, and an unelected prime minister cannot simply tell us to shut up.
Theresa May might be naïve enough to think that we’ll now just go back to eating our cereal because we don’t have any choice, but of course we have many options:
- Nicola Sturgeon can try to change Theresa May’s mind. Given that she was being very vague today, she can quite easily climb down simply by saying that ‘now’ simply meant ‘not in 2017 or 2018, but early 2019 is fine’.
With any other prime minister, I would have thought it had a decent chance of success, but Theresa May has shown many signs of being a control freak, so I think the chances are rather slim. However, perhaps some clued-up Unionists can make her change her mind.
- The Scottish Government can go to the Supreme Court and argue that there is precedence for a Section 30 order being issued automatically whenever the Scottish Parliament asks for it.
I’m not a lawyer, so I’ve no idea whether this would have any chance of succeeding.
- The Scottish Government can call a non-binding referendum. As far as I know, it’s only legally binding ones that require a Section 30 order.
It’s not certain that the Unionists would participate in such a referendum, which could create problems with its legitimacy.
There are also a real risks that many countries wouldn’t respect the outcome. Spain has for instance been very clear that they’re happy to recognise newly sovereign countries that obtained their independence through a legal, constitutional process (e.g., Montenegro), but otherwise they’re not (e.g., Kosovo).
However, the Brexit referendum was non-binding, too, and yet the Westminster parliament was ridiculously keen to treat the result as gospel, so they might of course do the same after a non-binding #ScotRef.
- An alternative to a non-binding referendum would be to call new Holyrood elections with independence as the main question. If the Yes parties then have a majority afterwards, that can be seen as expressing the will of the Scottish people without the need for a subsequent referendum.
It does raise the question whether it would be sensible for the Yes parties to run individually, or whether they should form an electoral alliance for this election to make it more certain they’ll win a majority that cannot be contested by anyone.
- Finally, we could of course just accept Theresa May’s order, shut up and go away and do something different for a few years. I personally think that’d be disastrous – it would simply embolden the Tories, and Brexit will cause a lot of damage to the Scottish economy in the meantime.
There’s also a risk that the Tories would prevent EU citizens from voting in the #ScotRef post-Brexit (if there are many of us left at that point).
I reckon the most sensible option is to try (1) first, perhaps followed by (2), and then move on to (3) or (4).