Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up

Subscribe

Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine

Subscribe

Subscribe to Holyrood
Sturgeon's call for a second referendum is designed to distract from her 15-year record in government

Sturgeon's call for a second referendum is designed to distract from her 15-year record in government

When even your own ethics advisor resigns because you put him in an “impossible and odious position” in relation to a request you make of him which would “risk a deliberate and purposeful breach of the ministerial code”, the question of whether this prime minister has the basic moral fibre to continue to credibly lead us as a nation is a redundant one.

He should go. He has made a mockery of our democracy, has denigrated our politics, and makes us look like fools on a world stage.

His failings as a law breaker, as a political bankrupt, and as a serial liar, are well rehearsed – almost half of his own MPs have no confidence in him, never mind the country. And the current ruminations over the international legalities of the Northern Ireland Protocol, coupled with two by-elections this week, should hopefully seal the deal. And sink him.

But while the fact that Johnson is on borrowed time is obvious, whether his personal frailties make the argument for why Scotland should become an independent country any greater, is much less clear. 

You can assert, as Sturgeon has, that she has a democratic mandate. But equally, you could argue that the SNP minority government is ignoring the democratic mandate of a UK government with a very large majority, led by a prime minister – loathed though he may be – who has the preservation of the Union baked into his job. 

And yet that is the button that Nicola Sturgeon hopes to push as she launches her latest bid for Scotland to hold another referendum on independence.  

Sturgeon’s withering critique of Johnson may be widely shared among Scots. Yet the reality for her is that regardless of Johnson, Brexit, Covid, a cost-of-living crisis, a looming recession, and all that is thrown at us from this UK government that cries ‘not in our name’ – from their abhorrent polices around everything from asylum to welfare – despite it all, half of Scots still think their future lies in the UK. 

And as much as the illegal, ill-fated, inhumane, and crassly un-British flights to Rwanda plan is designed as a distraction from the appalling state the Tories are currently in, so too is Sturgeon’s call for a second referendum, to take place in October next year, a distraction from her own 15-year record in government which leaves much to be desired.

The prime minister says he will not grant the Section 30 order required to pave the way for a legal referendum. He says this is not the moment to seek independence as we emerge from a global pandemic and world peace looks ever more fragile. Sturgeon has hinted she could find another way. 

But legal wrangles aside, whatever route that Sturgeon thinks she can take, besides securing a Section 30, and believe me, all those closely involved in the process ahead of the 2014 referendum were unable to identify one, there is no court in the land that could compel the United Kingdom to break itself apart on the say so of a vote in one integral part of it that the prime minister didn’t agree to.

Regardless, Sturgeon is entitled to argue that now is exactly the right time to sketch out a new future based on a world that has been turned upside down. Where economies across the globe are shot to pieces. When people have fronted their own mortality and are now open to change. A time to do things differently. To re-imagine, rise, and rebuild.

And she starts with an enormous advantage. The case for if Scotland could be independent has already been won. Her party long since shifted the parameters on that. The Union is not now what it was back in 2014 or indeed what it needs to be. The SNP made what before appeared ridiculous, feel possible – independence an acceptable norm – and whether she can now shift that into a reality, remains to be seen. 

But it must start with that referendum.

And you can argue, as the constitution secretary Angus Robertson does, that the UK government is “denying democracy”. You can assert, as Sturgeon has, that she has that democratic mandate. But equally, you could argue that the SNP minority government is ignoring the democratic mandate of a UK government with a very large majority, led by a prime minister – loathed though he may be – who has the preservation of the Union baked into his job. 

And if the SNP were such arbiters of democracy, why did we have the spectacle of Robertson being censured and silenced by the presiding officer from making a statement in the chamber on this new referendum bid because his boss had already fired the starting gun in Bute House, rather than doing the respectful thing in the Scottish Parliament?

If this was about valuing democracy, we wouldn’t have seen Robertson – a man that lost his own Westminster seat to a Tory back in 2017, misrepresenting the voting system and belittling list MSPs in the Scottish Parliament for not winning a constituency. 

Even more insulting when you consider the SNP government contains two Green MSPs who didn’t just fail to win in the constituency vote, but one only managed to scrape into parliament as the 7th and last place on the Lothians list.

And it is them now propping up an SNP minority government, giving it that pro-independence bloc and affording veritas to that all-important claim of a democratic mandate for a referendum.

What does that say about democracy?

If this was about democracy, Robertson would be less concerned about the semantics of how someone was elected, and more focused on why the returns in the census, for which he is responsible, fell so far short of the rest of the UK despite a time extension and an extra £30m to run it. 

And if this was about democracy, he might ponder on the fact that the lowest returns in Scotland came from its most deprived areas which are, coincidentally, the same areas where support for independence is at its highest and yet shamefully, where on almost all measurable indices, progress is stalled or going backwards. 

Where’s the democracy in that?

And if this was truly about respecting democracy, we would never have been fed the ridiculous line that Sturgeon hadn’t launched the first of her independence papers on ‘Building a New Scotland’ in the parliament, because it contained “no significant policy commitments.”

Press pause on that statement for a second and consider this: a blueprint for building a wealthier, happier, fairer, independent Scotland, that has no significant policy commitments…

Alexa, what is the definition of an oxymoron?

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Stay in the know with our fortnightly magazine

Stay in the know with our fortnightly magazine

Subscribe

Popular reads
Back to top