Reflections on Brexit and Moving Forward

Map of the United Kingdom displaying the results of the EU referendum via the strength of the Remain/Leave vote in each county/council area. Image Credit:  Mirrorme22  via  Wikimedia Commons   cc

Map of the United Kingdom displaying the results of the EU referendum via the strength of the Remain/Leave vote in each county/council area. Image Credit: Mirrorme22 via Wikimedia Commons cc

     It has taken time for me to get my thoughts together on the aftermath of the unexpected Brexit vote. Indeed, I fully expected that the United Kingdom would retain its membership of the European Union in last Thursday’s referendum, with the result being a close one, but still being a Remain vote and the country moving forward on that basis. There would need to be national healing and reconciliation of course after such a bruising and personal campaign, but the status quo would hold and potential constitutional, political, and economic disruption would be avoided.

     However, that did not happen and the decision to leave the EU was quite a shock to just about everyone, including those who voted Leave and expected to Remain.

     To be sure, it was a clear result, narrow but clear at 52% for Leave and 48% for Remain, and it was the express will of the British people, which must be respected. Nevertheless, the result has made a divided nation ever more divided, as new rifts have opened up and existing ones further exacerbated, as the country enters into a period of uncertainty as it confronts the future.

     David Cameron has announced his resignation as prime minister in the wake of losing the historic vote and Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn has been facing calls to stand down from the leadership of the Labour Party and even threats of a leadership challenge as many of his MP’s are unhappy with what they saw as his lackluster support for the Remain campaign, and are not confident in his ability to lead the party to a general election victory – either in 2020 or sooner depending on the outcome of the Conservative leadership election.

     That very election appeared to be almost a formality with former London mayor Boris Johnson as the favorite to succeed Cameron in large part to his leading role in the Leave campaign. Yet, this has been upended by another prominent Brexiter, Michael Gove, who was expected to back Johnson, but has announced he will stand for the leadership on the basis that he does not believe Johnson is capable of uniting a fractured country. Not long after that, Johnson pulled himself out of contention for the keys to Downing Street – throwing more another lump of uncertainty into the repercussions of the referendum.

     Those repercussions include the impact on the economy; financial markets throughout the world tumbled upon the news of Brexit and the pound plunged to levels not seen since the 1980’s. Both have since become more steady since the initial first couple of days, perhaps in part due to the behind-the-scenes work by the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney in reassuring the markets and taking appropriate measures to promote stability and mitigate the fall-out from the vote on the 23rd.

     Still, the UK having its credit rating downgraded from (gold-standard) AAA to AA status by rating agencies who have also downgraded the UK’s economic outlook is concerning and ought to be concerning for everyone as seemingly abstract economic and financial forces have real impacts on people’s lives. In addition, much of the economy’s future will hinge on the results of UK’s exit deal from the EU and the ability of Britain to obtain favorable free-trade deals with the EU itself (with access to the single market) as well as several individual countries.

     Furthermore, there is the issue of the racist incidents and hate crimes that have occurred since the vote. To be fair, such things have happened before and are not entirely new, but given the role of the immigration issue in this campaign, it has only confirmed the view of some people that Brexit was driven by a dislike for immigrants and is not a good show for a country known for its sensible nature and general tolerance for foreigners. These incidents need to be condemned in the strongest terms and action must be taken against those causing unnecessary societal disturbances and making people feel unwelcome in a country where they have made a home, built a life, had children, and been contributing to the economy for years.

     On this point, there is the question of what happens to those non-British EU citizens who currently live, work, or study in the UK, as well as British citizens living abroad in other parts of the EU (of whom I know quite a few), and this has to be solved in a manner that is fair to all parties as well as humane, for real lives and livelihoods hang in the balance.

     In the week gone by, I’ve been concerned about all of these things as the reality of Brexit settles in on people, just as I was concerned about them before the vote. Now that it was happened and will in all likelihood be made official by Parliament and invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (to begin the official two year process of terminating EU membership), minds will be focused on negotiations that will take place and the result of them.

     There will also be a focus on the internal struggles within the UK itself, for though the UK as a whole voted to terminate its membership of the EU, London, Scotland, and Northern Ireland all voted to have the UK keep its membership of the EU and the realities of a country divided were seen in stark relief on the maps displaying the results of the vote.

     The capital city, with its global financial services industry and culturally diverse population, is concerned about the effect of Brexit on its economy and ability to be a critical gateway and international hub. In Northern Ireland, there is concern over the peace process and the open border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland – the only land border which the UK shares with another country – which in part have been underpinned by the Republic and the UK both being members of the EU. These issues will have to be resolved in a suitable manner.

     With regard to Scotland, I had hoped that with the SNP losing its majority and support for separation appearing to stagnate at best, that perhaps we had gotten to a turning point away from the inward-looking constitutional obsessions of the SNP.  Even with the Nats preparing for their summer independence campaign (a.k.a., the “Summer of Love”), it appeared that things had gone somewhat muted on the separation front. This may have been due to the EU referendum taking up much of the political space in Britain, but even then, I had a feeling that Scotland was moving forward as part of the UK with no immediate threat of another referendum and it appeared that the UK was going to vote Remain in the EU referendum – therefore avoiding further constitutional disruption.

     The surprise Leave vote has – at least for the time being – upended that prospect and the SNP has been given new life to go about its grievance-mongering and push for a second independence referendum on the basis that Scotland voted 2-to-1 for the UK to retain its EU membership while the UK overall voted to terminate it on a much more narrow vote. This was the nightmare scenario in which the SNP could complain that Scotland was being “dragged out” of the EU “against its will” due to the strength of the Leave vote in England and Wales, and then claim that this was a “material change” in circumstances from when Scotland voted to keep the UK together in September 2014. Indeed, there were many people who rejected independence back then on the basis that the UK held EU membership and Scotland did not, but may well vote the other way in a future referendum – especially if Scotland became a member of the EU in its own right or they saw independence as the means for Scotland to attain EU membership (notwithstanding the steep obstacles to EU membership for an independent Scotland, which are laid out in this blog post by my Twitter friend, Keith Steele, as well as in The Scotsman by Bill Jamieson).

     Before long, a Sunday Post poll claimed that support for separation had surged to 59% – just short of the 60% Nicola Sturgeon has cited as the number she needs for a consistent period to move forward with a second referendum and win it. But if that appeared scary, another poll by Survation reported (perhaps a more realistic) 49% support for separation and 42% support for staying in the Union, or 52%-48% when don’t knows are stripped out, which is still a ten point swing from the last time that poll was taken in April, which showed support for the Union at 47% and separation at 44%. Yet, that poll also showed that 45% of Scots opposed a second referendum in contrast to 42% in favor, which may indicate that while independence may be somewhat favorable, there is a lukewarm appetite for yet another referendum.

     Furthermore, it is totally possible that this is a knee-jerk reaction in the face of the Brexit result and that with time, any bounce for the separation cause will cool off (and it may also be of some worth to note that more Scots voted to keep the United Kingdom together on a much higher turn-out than for the United Kingdom to remain in the EU).

     Nonetheless, anyone who supports continuing the United Kingdom ought to be concerned about any polling which shows independence in the majority, or at least with more support than staying in the Union. It does no good to discount polling simply because it offers results going in contrast to one’s preferred option, for all that will do is engender a sense of denial and complacency which will prevent pro-Union supporters from fully understanding what needs to be done now and in the weeks, months, and years to come. Indeed, it was – I believe – complacency and a lack of imagination which cost pro-Union folks the 70-30 victory they had wanted to put the independence issue away for a long time.

     Of particular concern will be those who voted No in 2014 and Remain in 2016. There are many among that group of people who feel, at the very least, disillusioned with the UK in the aftermath of by what happened last week, possibly even betrayed. For them, there is no sense in denying that circumstances have changed and it is severely unhelpful to browbeat them by claiming that they are unpatriotic, traitors, or the like, and furthermore, they have every right to re-asses their position on the Union.

     My pitch to them would be that they should think of bigger picture with regard to the UK as a whole and not go down a path of creating more uncertainty piled on the uncertainty which already exists. Another way to put it is that current situation is precarious enough and need not be further exacerbated. Yes, you did not vote for this result, but neither did millions of your fellow citizens in Scotland and throughout the UK, and breaking up the UK will not be helpful to you or any of them. On the whole, the UK is still a better option than separation; for example, the rest of the UK and the UK’s domestic single market is of more importance to Scotland than the EU, with vastly more Scottish exports going to the rest of the UK than to the EU. Going forward, I hope this reality and other things will weigh on the counsels of people who may be thinking again about whether they support continuing the UK, and that they will take time for the dust to settle and think with a good mix of rationality and emotion to come to the conclusion that sticking with the UK is the better deal, for the world still needs the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom still needs Scotland.

     Indeed, everyone throughout Britain would do well to keep calm and take things a day at a time, especially after this referendum which proved to be so divisive, just as the one in Scotland had been to the point of causing horrible rifts between friends, within families, and young and old. The referendum and since have brought about an undeniably an ugly tone in British politics and society these days. I have see it every day on Twitter and Facebook, where people are demonized for what they believe in, shouted down and told to f**k off; where unfair accusations are made against those who hold those beliefs and where tempers flared and emotions were overflowing.

     Really, it is very sad to see the UK as bitterly divided as it is along so many fault lines. On a personal level, it has been painful and disappointing to watch friends and acquaintances from the campaign to keep the UK together going at each other over this issue and other that are related to it.

     Going into this referendum, I was concerned about the potential consequences for the economy, Britain’s standing in the world, peace and security, the impact on people’s lives and livelihoods, and the UK itself. Those concerns are true today and have been heightened by the edginess of the political atmosphere which took hold during the referendum and has been carried into the current circumstances.

     The nation needs to needs to heal itself in a big way following these last couple of years of constitutional wrangling between Scotland and the EU. Indeed, it may have been better to have held the EU referendum much later, so as to give it more space after the Scottish referendum and allow for the passions and feelings emanating from it to calm down before going onto another emotional and divisive vote affecting the constitutional structure of the country (which I believe ought to only be valid with a vast majority of the voters electing to change it).

     As with the Scottish referendum, this one was motivated by dissatisfaction with the status quo, the feeling of alienation from the political establishment, and a distrust of elites of all kinds. In many ways, those in power over the generations have themselves to blame for where we are currently, for it was they who failed to provide adequate answers to the issues of ordinary people who struggled with the effects of an ever-changing and increasingly global economy, as well as economic and societal pressures of immigration. The killing of MP Jo Cox, though it may not have been motivated by politics, still added to what has very much become an ugly atmosphere as discontent with the present system bubbled to the surface, and of course, this discontent is felt throughout the Western world, including America.

     Going forward now that the referendum has passed, everyone needs to reflect upon what has happened and go forth to work together to hammer out a just and fair settlement. In this light, it would be preferable for the SNP to be at the table of the UK team to offer assistance in these efforts, for there is a long and proud history of Scottish influence on the shaping of British diplomacy and foreign policy. My hope is that whatever happens, the United Kingdom will stay together and that people of goodwill will strive to make it a better place for everyone.

     Indeed, I must say that I love Britain. I value Britain. I respect Britain. I think highly of Britain and have given the better part of two years focused on keeping it together. I deeply care about Britain and its people, and wish nothing but the best for it in the years to come as it looks forward to its future.

     Along with Jo Cox, the beloved husband of one of my very good friends in Britain also passed away that day after a long and well-lived life. He served his country in the armed forces, and was from all accounts, a good patriot, father, husband, teacher, and all-around gentleman. Like Cox, I’m sure that he wanted was to pass on a better country and a better world to future generations.

     Their passing can be a reminder of the fleeting nature of life and the need to live our lives to the fullest extent, stop bitterness and needless violence against one another, and to work in a common effort to solve the problems we face with debates, discussions, and solutions befitting the lives they led.

     To the people of the UK, I say that in these challenging times, you need each other now more than ever. You’ve all been through so much over 300 years – fighting together to save the country from tyranny, exploring and trading with the world, exporting yourself culturally, standing up for basic rights and freedoms, pushing to advance social justice, and so much more. The centenary commemorations of the Battle of the Somme beginning on Friday are a testament to that.

     Indeed, you still have much more that unites you than divides you, and you need to move forward together as one country with a positive attitude and vision for the future, so as to aim for securing the best possible deal with regard to the EU and trading relationships with countries throughout the world, which means working toward a settlement which is beneficial for the UK as a whole, including its constituent parts and projecting Britain as an outward-looking and forward-thinking country robustly engaged in world affairs to help tackle the problems facing us all while taking care of its citizens at home, which are not mutually-exclusive.

     Perhaps this positive hope for the future can be expressed in the patriotic tune I Vow to Thee, My Country, which speaks of a love of country and doing good for it and the people, without malice or prejudice toward others.

Enough Neverendum, Please

     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.

Still Together and the Path Forward

The "Aerial No" in Edinburgh just days before the referendum.

The "Aerial No" in Edinburgh just days before the referendum.

     Today would have been the day that Scotland became an independent country and when the United Kingdom would have been broken up.

     Thankfully, it is not. The people of Scotland saw through the dubious, dodgy, and threadbare claims of the separatist case pushed by the Yes campaign, led by Alex Salmond and the SNP. The people debated and argued throughout a two year long campaign in which all of the issues were discussed at length. During this campaign, there was almost constant media coverage of the campaign and the issues at stake; there were claims and counter-claims – in print, on television and radio, on various online platforms. Indeed, with all the back-and-forth going on between the positions and people on both sides, it’s a wonder that many of us didn’t lose our heads!

     It was an emotionally training and exhaustive campaign – the likes of which many of us had not ever witnessed – and the world watched to wonder if the United Kingdom was on the verge of dissolution. Indeed, as the campaign went into its final month, the Yes campaign caught up and it looked as though they might have had a shot at their prize.

     In the end, after all the speeches, rallies, leaflets, ads, marches, bean counting, pronouncements, and flag-waving, on September 18, 2014, the people voted decisively to maintain the United Kingdom and to preserve over 300 years of history, heritage, and relationships – economic, social, cultural, and political. The people said quite politely and in a fair and legal democratic referendum: “No, Thanks”.

     We should all be thankful for the result, for it spared Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom from unnecessary and untold upheaval on many fronts. A bullet was dodged and one of the greatest countries in the world was saved.

     However, there’s no denying that the SNP – far from being mortally wounded – has gone on to dizzying heights as a political party. Successfully capturing the 45% of Scots who voted Yes and trading on the popularity of their new leader Nicola Sturgeon, they won all but three of the 59 UK parliamentary seats in Scotland at the General Election in May 2015 – becoming the third biggest group in the House of Commons and in terms of its membership, the third biggest political party in the United Kingdom.

     Now, there appears to be little sign of them slackening in the opinion polls, and they are projected to win an unprecedented third term in government with another majority – thereby likely keeping the separation and constitutional issues at the forefront of politics in Scotland. Scores of voters who tended to vote for the three pro-Union parties have bolted to the SNP, and there are no indications that they are coming back soon.

     In the face of this, the SNP’s opposition is divided between those parties – Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats – with Labour and the LibDems at historic lows and the Tories seeing something of a small revival since their 1997 wipeout, but nothing in the way of providing the numbers and political muscle to provide a strong opposition by any single party.

     In the circumstances – especially with most polls still showing a majority or dead-heat on the independence question – some people such as columnist Alex Massie have come to the conclusion that Scotland has too many parties, and that if the vast majority of Yes voters are fueling the SNP’s rise to around 50% in the polls, then it stands that No voters need to have a party of their own – a single “Unionist Party.” They believe that the pro-Union/anti-Union split and a focus on constitutional arraignments are the new norm and that, in Massie’s words, “the great political realignment spawned by the referendum is not over yet”, and in this vein they believe that a Unionist Party must be formed out of a merger of the three main parties and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in order to give a proper voice to those who voted No, mount an effective opposition to the SNP, and “offer a plausible alternative to the SNP’s constitutional vision.” Given that the SNP is effectively (in practice, if not in rhetoric) a centrist party, a Scottish Unionist Party would run largely parallel to them and differ only on the national question. As Massie put it, the SNP and SUP would be “rather like Caledonian versions of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael [in the Republic of Ireland], parties sharing the same part of the political bandwidth, but ferociously opposed to one another.”

     In many ways, I must say that this is an enticing prospect. There is sound logic behind, and in theory, would very much help at providing an effective answer to the SNP. The problem is that theory is just that – theory – and there are three main problems with the creation of a Scottish Unionist Party.

     Firstly, how would it work in terms of political ideology outside of advocating for the Union? It may be easy to say that it would be a centrist party to appeal to most people, but realistically, how would it accommodate those members, activists, and voters from Labour, the Tories, the LibDem's, and UKIP? If you can't get the vast majority of those who voted No to back a Unionist Party because of differences over non-constitutional policies, then where will they go when their parties have been merged into it?

     Secondly, how would it work in relation to the House of Commons? Would the party vote with a whip unto itself or would left-wing MP’s be able to vote with Labour and right-wing MP’s with the Tories?

     Thirdly is the concern that a party whose raison d'être is “Unionism” will only entrench the referendum dividing lines and make for – and I say this with no disrespect – a Northern Ireland-type situation in which politics and society are perpetually focused on and organized around the constitutional issues. This “are you pro or anti UK/indy” dynamic plays into the SNP’s hands as elections become less about real policies and what is happening in the world.

     Of course, there once was a Unionist Party operating in Scotland, but that party (which lasted from 1912 to 1965) was basically the Conservative Party in Scotland and took the Conservative whip at Westminster before formally merging with the Conservatives in England and Wales; a new (serious) Unionist Party would have to capture the vast majority of those who voted No from across the political spectrum in the Labour, Tory, and LibDem traditions. However, it is hard to see that happening; it was tough enough keeping the Better Together campaign rolling as a competent operation staffed and fronted by people who were (and still are) opposed to each other on virtually every other issue save for the constitution.

     Now make no mistake: I am a head, heart, and soul supporter of the Union – economically, socially, culturally, and politically, and I dearly wish for the United Kingdom to survive as a country forever. However, I am simply not convinced that the creation of a new Unionist Party is the best way forward.

     Most post-referendum studies have shown that among No voters, only around a third did so primarily out of affection for the United Kingdom and being British; much of the rest did so out primarily out of concern for their personal economic interest and because the case for separation was not convincing, which perhaps explains why some them do not label themselves a “Unionists.” Their support for the Union is not – at least primarily – driven by sentiment and the sense of historical connection to the rest of the UK. As such, they are not the type of people who support the Union come what may and appeals to Britishness and waving the Union Flag may not be helpful among them; they are the people who said that they would have supported separation if they were £500 better off individually, and so their support must not be taken for granted.

     Many of them are primarily concerned about the economy and prospects for themselves and their families, and they were convinced in 2014 that they were better off within the United Kingdom. Who’s to say that at least some of them may not be convinced should another referendum be held – God forbid – within the next few years?

     At the very least, polling ought to be done to find out what kind of support a Scottish Unionist Party would have, and especially if the vast majority of people from all three main parties are willing to join and vote for it. Without that polling however, I am willing to bet that with all of the practical obstacles facing it, an SUP will not likely gain traction as an effective counter-weight to the SNP.

     Going forward, the best option in the long-term will be to support the existing Union parties, who need all the help they can get to recover themselves to respectable positions at all levels in Scotland, especially Holyrood. Indeed, as Holyrood obtains more powers over people’s lives, it will be incumbent upon each party oppose the SNP and offer viable alternatives to the people of Scotland, with a focus on making life better for people on issues such as education, policing, healthcare, welfare, transportation, housing, and – above all – the economy, and moving away from the constitutional issues as much as possible.

     We are already seeing some rumbles of dissatisfaction within the SNP ranks, with the recent announcement on tax policy - keeping the top rate of tax in line with the rest of the UK - being just one area causing some consternation in some sections of the party. To be true, there may not be enough dissatisfaction with the SNP in time for this upcoming election, but it’s there, and Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats need to be ready for those who may become disillusioned and are ready to give at least one of those parties an audience. This, I believe, is bound to happen as the SNP stays in power over a longer period of time with more powers over people’s everyday lives than any previous administration at Holyrood and perhaps find it difficult to please it's broad church of socialists, neo-liberals, progressives, environmentalists, fossil fuel promoters, free-marketers, free traders, social democrats, and hard-core nationalist's.

     However, this is not to say that the Union does not need defenders advocating on its behalf day in and day out, and that’s where campaign groups such as Scotland in Union (SIU) and United Against Separation (UAS) come into play.

     UAS first came about during the referendum and played a major role in it as the “Vote No” page, and like its current name suggests, it is against breaking up the UK and has played more of role in opposing the SNP and pointing out its many contradictions and duplicity on several issues, while SIU came about more out of the aftermath and division caused by the referendum, and is more about promoting a positive message about Scotland and its place as part of the UK, and is not necessarily as much of an “anti-SNP” organization. As such, they are genuinely complementary in various ways – UAS is bigger with more “Likes” on Facebook and has more of an activist edge; SIU has more of a mainstream media presence, and conducts research and polling on Scotland and the Union. Broadly they have the same goal, but with just a slightly different approach.

     Both of them are doing a good job with what they are doing, and last night, SIU held a special gathering to mark this day when Scotland and the UK as a whole dodged a bullet. Going forward, UAS and SIU need to continue on by promoting and supporting the UK, and the ideas that the UK is better for having Scotland and Scotland is better for being in the UK. Their success will be an end to the dominance of the SNP, as well as the reality that separation and nationalism are not good options for Scotland. The byproduct of this will be more Labour, Tory, and LibDem members in Holyrood and Westminster in a much hoped-for return to non-constitutionally aligned politics.

     At an individual level, more people among us need to get involved with UAS and SIU, and volunteer their time leafleting, manning stalls on the streets, knocking on doors, having conversations with people, hosting/holding events, being active online, and generally doing all they can to help spread the word about the Union and its benefits to Scotland, along with how the UK in general is made stronger with Scotland. Part of this should be to make a social and cultural case for the UK in tandem with the economic case, so that there can be an even stronger case against the SNP – one that talks about the UK as a whole and how Scotland makes it what it is because of its people and many other contributions.

     This is likely going to be a long-term effort which will require a lot of work and sacrifice. None of us wanted the referendum and all that has transpired since, but this is where we are, and we have to take this thing one day at a time. There will be progress and setbacks, but with time, I do believe that all of us can do something to make a difference in helping to keep the United Kingdom together in a positive, bold, and confident manner.