Over the weekend, Nicola Sturgeon once again talked up the possibility of another secession referendum if the people across the United Kingdom vote to end the country’s EU membership without a majority of Scots backing it. Once again, she used the emotive language about Scotland being taken out of the EU “against our will” and just as well, she cited this as a “significant and material change” that should trigger a second referendum despite the last result on this matter not even being two years old. Other than this, she said that a referendum would be held “if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people.”
The problem for the SNP is that this does not appear to be case now and does not look likely to be the case for several years, if ever. Facing this, Sturgeon appeared to put the brakes on a second referendum at the SNP’s main conference last November by stating that another referendum would not be called until “strong and consistent evidence” of a change in public opinion occurred, and it has been suggested that support for independence would have to be at or around 60% for a sustained period of time in opinion polls. Such polls have showed that despite the surge in support for the SNP since the referendum, there has not been a corresponding rise in support for separation – with most surveys either showing a tie, a pro-Union majority, or something within the margin of error.
If the First Minister called for a referendum under these circumstances and lost, it would truly set the SNP back for decades, so one would have thought that the SNP would put their signature issue to one side and instead, focus all energies on governing Scotland under the circumstances handed to it by the voters in September 2014 – that is, Scotland as part of the United Kingdom, and if the polls significantly changed in favor of independence, then the SNP would get its chance.
But this is the SNP and at the top of their party constitution is its commitment to independence; they can’t be content with governing Scotland under the current arrangements because separation is their raison d’être, and for many of its supporters, the idea of an SNP not focused on “The Cause” is inconceivable.
So, at the party’s spring conference in March leading up to the Scottish Parliament election in May, Sturgeon announced that instead of a firm referendum commitment, she and the party would seek to launch an initiative this summer to “patiently and respectfully” convince those who voted No in 2014 that Scotland should secede from the Union on the basis that it “really does offer the best future for Scotland.” This would not be, she claimed, about browbeating anyone or disrespecting those who continue to support the Union, but about listening to what people have to say and addressing the concerns they had from the last time around.
Last Sunday on Twitter, Ms. Sturgeon reiterated much of this in a video announcing the launch of the SNP’s campaign manifesto for this year – talking about the initiative starting in the summer and encouraging people to be a part of it, so that a majority for secession can be built. One can only assume that the First Minister hopes that such a majority (and a sustained one, at that) will exist within the next five years before the end of the parliament which will be elected in May – in effect, so that she can call that referendum that she cannot lose (and at her party's manifesto launch on April 20th, she said she would "very much" like to hold a second independence referendum within the next five years).
So much for once-in-a-generation/once-in-a-lifetime.
Alongside these plans for a renewed separation push are the continued threats regarding the EU vote and its outcome if Scots vote for the UK to keeps its membership in the bloc, but the British people as a whole vote for the UK to end its membership, with the added proposition that Holyrood ought have the ability to call a referendum in such circumstances. Indeed, such threats makes it appear as though Scots have no voice or vote on the matter; the “against our will” rhetoric suggests that Scots literally do not have a vote on whether UK remains a member of the EU, so that the people of England, Northern Ireland, and Wales have the right to vote in the June 23rd referendum, but Scots do not.
Nothing could be farther from the truth as the people of Scotland will have a vote just like any other Briton throughout the United Kingdom. All votes will count equally and only the overall UK result matters regardless of how the vote plays out in different parts the UK, and this goes for nationalists north and south of the border because only the United Kingdom (and not its constituent parts) has membership of the European Union.
With regard to the SNP, their push to keep separation and the constitution at the forefront of politics, as well as talking up the possibility of another referendum, amounts to what appears to be an obsession which gets increasingly tiresome and wearisome by the day.
Many people expected that the decision of the Scottish people would be respected and would stand for years if not decades to come, so that people of all stripes could move on and focus on the challenges that Scotland and the UK in its entirety face and must tackle. Instead, the SNP has treated the result as little more than a speed bump, and are arrogantly moving along as if the referendum never happened, or at the very least, as if the result is irrelevant despite the terms of the Edinburgh Agreement which both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon signed, and despite both of them claiming that the referendum would be once-in-a-generation/once-in-lifetime. Some of their acolytes patronizingly claim that the result from September 18, 2014 was merely provisional or temporary, and that the voters either didn’t know enough or were too “scared” to cast an informed vote. They also say that people’s opinions and attitudes can change in the course of time.
This may be true, but wait can’t the SNP wait? Why can’t they show some respect for the fact that Scotland voted No and not treat the people as if they were misguided children who will soon learn the error of their ways?
If the objective of the SNP was only to achieve that best governing/constitutional arrangement for Scotland, then they should be committed to focusing on what they can do under the present system as well as the new settlement that is gradually being phased-in. However, it appears they are not even giving time for the new settlement to work; it’s almost as if they are afraid that it will work and show that secession is not necessary, as the SNP and their supporters would have people to believe – not as though it was ever needed to begin with.
More likely perhaps is the sense that the party needs to keep the separation conversation going and prevent it from being overtaken by more important day-to-day issues such as health, education, transportation, welfare, housing, taxation, economic growth and opportunity, and a host of other things which can be dealt with as Holyrood acquires powers akin to that of – perhaps more powerful than – a province or state in federal system, such as in Canada, the United States, Germany, and Australia. They can’t let it go because this is what motivates the core of their base. If anything, it would appear that the SNP is more concerned about its internal party management than anything else – holding the core which wants separation at all costs along with those who vote for the SNP for other reasons where separation is not the most important issue.
And of course, the SNP also need to appear in near-constant mortal combat mode against (big, bad) Westminster. Why focus on governing and make tough decisions when they can blame others for their problems and further claim that only breaking up the UK will solve those problems?
Indeed, it feels as though the referendum has never ended. Before the weekend following the referendum was over, independence supporters were claiming that media bias, voting fraud, and other supposed “misdeeds” were responsible for their defeat. Others shouted foul play and “betrayal” by Westminster over The Vow (which has been delivered), whilst still others turned their rage toward the three main pro-Union parties – Labour and the Liberal Democrats in particular – and joined the SNP to defeat them in the hope of bring about another referendum. At the top, Alex Salmond made suggestions about separation being achieved through other means, such as UDI – a unilateral declaration of independence. His successor has downplayed this scenario, but she has done her bit to unnecessarily fan the flames of discontent along with other SNP politicians and supporters – stoking division and resentment with the rest of the UK, which have not been helpful in healing referendum wounds or achieving political stability or certainty.
Since the referendum campaign itself began in 2012, Scotland has been in a near constant state of political campaigning – with the referendum itself and the EU elections (which functioned as a pre-referendum proxy) in 2014, the UK general election in 2015, and the Holyrood election and EU referendum this year. Next year will come local elections at which the SNP is likely expected to do very well and extend their post-referendum dominance to council chambers throughout Scotland.
After this, providing that there are no snap elections and no other referendums, Scotland will have about two years free of significant political campaigning.
Regardless of how the votes fall this year and next year, there will be many Scots who I suspect will be pleased at the prospect of having some time without an election or referendum on their minds, as well as perhaps the day-to-day and wall-to-wall campaigning which have become regular features over the past several years with back-to-back elections and referendums (with the added bonus of focusing on Team GB at Rio 2016).
To repeat, it probably cannot be expressed enough how quite wearisome and tiresome it has become – all the years of claims and counter-claims, arguments and counter-arguments, debates, advertisements, rallies, social media postings (and the drama they can generate), broadcasts, speeches, polling numbers, and everything else under the sun with seemingly no end in sight.
With regard to the SNP in particular, their insistence on keeping up talk – in various modes – about independence and future referenda is very wearisome, because again, it’s almost as if the referendum never came to an end.
Simply put, people are getting tired of this; they've had enough of the upheaval and wrangling of the last several years, and desire a break from it - at least 15-20 years - because it does feel as if their lives and all of Scotland have been put on hold by the SNP's obsession. Furthermore, and speaking as an impartial observer, there is a possibility that all the talk of trying to build support for independence may well hurt the SNP because there will be a perception that the party is putting independence first, rather than Scotland first, and the two are not the same.
At some level, the people will have enough of the constitutional obsessions of the SNP, especially with the enhanced powers of Holyrood which will be available for the SNP to use. Prominent independence supporters such as Darren “Loki” McGarvey have voiced their displeasure at the SNP’s timidity and lack of progressive action on several issues, and have said that in the grand scheme of things, it’s not all about independence.
Indeed, some have said – explicitly and implicitly – that so long as Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, the SNP ought to do all it can with the powers it has to improve the lives and prospects of the Scottish people and should not wait for independence to do it. More to the point, it should prepare for the prospect that Scotland will never become independent and that each year it excuses itself by claiming “well, if only we were independent…”, it will only hurt itself and “The Cause” in the long term as the clarion calls for separation become increasingly stale.
On this point, I would go farther and say that it should be the duty of any Scottish Government of any political stripe to work toward delivering positive outcomes for the people and if need be, it should do so with assistance from the UK Government. We already see this with the city deals for Glasgow, Inverness, and Aberdeen, and I believe that there is much potential for greater cooperation for the benefit of Scotland and the United Kingdom in its entirety.
However, in order to achieve this potential and to truly move Scotland forward, the constitutional debates must be put aside for the time being. The people of Scotland need to decide whether they want a party that offers little more than continuing down the road of obsessing about independence and perpetuating a neverendum. The SNP had its chance and it’s time to move on. Enough is enough.