Why we need an independence referendum in Scotland sooner rather than later

'If elections can be held whether in Scotland or even the USA, and if major events can be hosted whether COP26 or the Euros, it’s absurd to suggest it’s just not feasible to hold a referendum.'

A photo of a Scottish independence protest with a Saltire flagm with the word "yes" imposed on it

Kenny MacAskill is the Alba Party MP for East Lothian

The recent dip in the polls for Independence support has come as a salutary warning and saw Denis Canavan speak out. The former stalwart of both the Labour and Yes movements who chaired the Advisory Board of Yes Scotland, the campaign for independence in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, warned of the dangers of inactivity. His intervention comes as disquiet grows within the wider Independence Movement at Nicola Sturgeon’s unwillingness to act.

Repeated mandates to hold another referendum, after all, have been sought by the SNP and given by the electorate. But still there’s been neither action nor even preparation by the Scottish Government. Requests for a S30 order to be granted by Westminster have been formulaic. Made to appease activists yet put forward in the certain knowledge that they’d be rejected.

Legal steps to seek clarification on the right to hold a referendum were foresworn and even freelance steps by disgruntled activists opposed. Supposed Independence Task Forces have seen leaders come and go and still the basic work on organisation, planning and policy remains undone. 

It’s no wonder Denis spoke out and concern is growing. For Nicola Sturgeon has not just ceded a veto to Boris Johnson by making a S30 order a prerequisite but has now compounded it by granting him control over its timing. Her position that there can be none until economic recovery from coronavirus is complete, has all the timescale of a piece of string. It simply allows the UK PM to say now is not the time for a referendum and you’ve said so yourself First Minister. 

Yet now is the time. The opportunity has never been better to achieve independence and the dangers of remaining in the UK have never been greater. It was always said across the Irish Sea that Britain’s difficulties were Ireland’s opportunity and so it is north of the border.

David Cameron was no great shakes as UK Premier but both him and his cabinet appear stellar in comparison to the chumocracy and kleptocracy that’s now in charge. Britain under their control doesn’t seem so Great and their talents likewise. 

Within Scotland the opposition remains in disarray and the continued travails of the Labour Party, have seen the trade union movement move from opposition to likely neutrality. Though unlikely to ever support independence there’s an awareness that continued outright opposition would see members react as they did to Labour, and desert in droves. 

Just as importantly there’s been a risk transfer since 2014. Back then the concerns of many were that Scotland would be out of the EU, that the strength of sterling would be lost and that ability of a small nation to be a force for good on the world stage were outweighed by what Britain could achieve. 

The outcome though is that Brexit has been foisted upon Scotland, small nations with their own currency and central bank have coped with coronavirus and Johnson and his cronies have trashed and burned the UK reputation around the globe. Brexit has brought catastrophe for critical sectors of the Scottish economy and anger even amongst former Union never mind Leave supporters is high.  

So that’s why there’s an opportunity to strike now and why it should be taken. If elections can be held whether in Scotland or even the USA, and if major events can be hosted whether COP26 or the Euros, it’s absurd to suggest it’s just not feasible to hold a referendum.

But as well as the chance that awaits there’s the dangers of inaction. The opposition to Independence shown by the Better Together campaign on the last occasion has been supplanted by a centralisation agenda. Powers are being shorn from Holyrood, devolution is being shown as being power retained and the threat of further encroachment is significant. The noose’s tightening. Similarly, austerity and inequality are morphing and the economic challenges also increasing. The challenges for the Scottish Government with limited fiscal powers are as nothing to the pain that the most vulnerable will require to endure. 

It’s a recipe cooked up by Westminster, but the outcome will be increasing frustration with the Scottish government’s inability to deliver, all as UK money pours into areas in northern England. Worse still poverty and inequality will breed despair and hopelessness. Yet, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the areas that voted overwhelmingly Yes in 2014 were those deprived parts seeking hope. That hope cannot be allowed to fade, or their support be taken for granted.

Delay also allows for the UK administration to resolve at least in part the woes of Brexit. It’ll be too late and no comfort for many, but it might also mean that further constitutional change will be seen as a danger and unwelcome by some. 

It’s for those reasons that the time is now and why the Yes Movement’s organising even if the SNP’s unwilling. This is the time.

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