Saturday, 20 May 2017

Changing the conventions of Scottish politics

British politics is about conventions. One of the most important of these is the one about a political manifesto. Few of us read manifestos. But this is not really their point. A party does write a manifesto to persuade people to vote for it. How many voters read manifestos? Rather a party uses the manifesto to justify what it hopes to do in the future. This is really why we are having a General Election at the moment. There is a convention that if something is in a party’s manifesto, then the House of Lords will not block it. The British public by voting for a government shows that it gives its consent to that party’s manifesto. It does this even if almost no-one reads the manifesto.

The fact that something is in a manifesto then has a peculiar force. It turns it into government policy backed by the electorate. It is for this reason that it is usually worth digging around a manifesto to see if there is anything of importance.

In the present Conservative Party manifesto there are some sentences that I think are of crucial importance.

We have been very clear that now is not the time for another referendum on independence. In order for a referendum to be fair, legal and decisive, it cannot take place until the Brexit process has played out and it should not take place unless there is public consent for it to happen. This is a time to pull together, not apart. (p.32)

This might seem just like a repetition of what Theresa May has been saying since the SNP said that they wanted another independence referendum. But remember this is now not merely a Prime Minister expressing an opinion this is a manifesto commitment that will be backed by everyone who votes Conservative. If Sturgeon later questions Theresa May’s right to say “not yet”, then May can simply point to her manifesto and the backing of the British people.

It’s worth looking in some detail at the wording of these sentences. The phrase “fair, legal and decisive” has been heard before. It is from the Edinburgh Agreement of 2012. At this point the SNP and the UK Government agreed that the independence referendum would deliver a “fair test and a decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect”. The Conservative manifesto is reminding us that crucially we have already had an independence referendum. The result was decisive. What does this word “decisive” mean? It means that the independence referendum of 2014 settled the issue. It was final. It was conclusive. If you disagree I suggest that you get hold of a dictionary and look up the meaning of the word “decisive”.

What the SNP frequently fail to realise is that having the referendum of 2014 changed the convention. Until that point no-one had ever asked the Scottish electorate whether we wanted to stay in the United Kingdom. Our saying that we did want to stay changed the political convention in Scotland.

At some point in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher said that if the SNP won a majority of seats in Scotland they could have independence. David Cameron thought that the mere fact the SNP had won a majority in the Scottish Parliament was enough for him to have to give in to SNP demands for an independence referendum. But conventions change. It may seem unfair that this is so, but this is how British politics works. The convention about when and whether Scotland can have an independence referendum has changed. It has changed because we have already had an independence referendum and the result was decisive.

There is no right to an independence referendum in international law. If there were then the vast majority of Western democracies could be prosecuted. But there is a convention in British politics that we govern by consent. If it became clear that Scotland really wanted another independence referendum then the convention is that the UK Government would allow it. This remains the case. But we are not in the same circumstance that we were in when the SNP asked David Cameron. The SNP signed up to the Edinburgh Agreement and agreed to respect the result. It is obvious that the SNP never did respect the result. They were campaigning for indyref2 the day after indyef1. But the UK Government signed up to the Agreement too and Theresa May is justified in respecting the 2014 result and recognising that the result was decisive. It is this above all that has changed the convention of Scottish politics. It must take into account that the Scottish electorate exercised its right to self-determination in 2014 in a way that it has never done before or since. No mere election can overturn this act of popular sovereignty in which the Scottish electorate expressed a clear wish to remain a part of the UK. Having had a decisive referendum a second one precisely thereby becomes harder to justify. It is this above all that justifies Theresa May's decision to say "not yet".

But when might there be a second independence referendum? Here the Conservative manifesto adds a few interesting words. Brexit must be “played out”. What does this mean? The sentence could have said simply that the Brexit negotiations must have been completed. But "played out" implies something further. The manifesto is suggesting that it won’t be enough merely to complete the negotiations, we will also have to see how Brexit is working in practice. The reality is that “play out” is vague enough to justify any sort of delay that Theresa May might wish for. At any rate we shall have to exhaust Brexit before we even approach indyref2. This means not merely 2 years starting from March 2017, but perhaps 4 years or who knows how many years. 

But Nicola Sturgeon is going to have to wait not merely for time, she is also going to have to wait for “public consent”. This again shows that the convention governing a Scottish independence referendum is being changed. The most important point to realise is that the Conservative manifesto implies that the SNP do not have “public consent” right now. If they did have “public consent” how could Theresa May justify delaying the referendum? But the Scottish Parliament recently decided that it did indeed want to have a second independence referendum. There was a vote and the SNP joined with the Scottish Greens to form a majority. The Conservative manifesto is arguing that this does not amount to “public consent”. Mere elections are not now enough. 

What would constitute “public consent”? I have no idea. This is the beauty of the Conservative manifesto commitment on Scottish independence. Not only is the time frame vague, but so also the idea of “public consent” is vague. Taken together it amounts to this. You can have your independence referendum when I decide you can have it.

In Britain we govern with consent. But the fact that we had a decisive referendum on Scottish independence has changed the game. The SNP are going to have to demonstrate an overwhelming desire in Scotland for an independence referendum before they get one. How might they do this? For instance, when next there is an election for the Scottish Parliament, the SNP could put in its manifesto an unambiguous commitment to a second independence referendum. They could then explicitly say that this election is about independence rather than attempt to hide this. They could then win a large majority. If all of these things happened and public opinion polls showed a consistent desire for an independence referendum then our new Scottish political convention might well be to grant it. But the independence referendum of 2014 has created a higher bar than previously for the SNP to jump over. Merely winning an election is not enough. They have to overcome the will of the people that was expressed in 2014. This anyway is the view that Theresa May is putting forward in her manifesto. The act of doing so in itself changes the Scottish political convention.

If the Conservatives win a large majority in the UK then the commitments in their manifesto will be backed by the British electorate. Scottish independence would destroy the UK. It concerns all of us. There is nothing in the manifesto to suggest that "public consent" applies only to Scotland. Perhaps we are moving to it being a matter for the UK as a whole. We shall see. These things evolve. 

It is clear then that the Conservative manifesto could hardly be more Pro UK. It can act as an anchor guaranteeing our position rooted in the decision of 2014 being decisive. It is vital then that as many parts of Scotland as possible show that we support the Conservative stance on a second independence referendum. It is essential too that we reject the Lib Dem idea that there should be a second EU referendum, for this crucially undermines our stance on Scottish independence. 

Ever Scottish constituency that is Conservative is demonstrating that it does not consent to indyref2. It also demonstrates that we agree with the Conservative manifesto commitment to preserving the United Kingdom's unity. 

Theresa May is changing the conventions of Scottish politics. She is gradually making it harder and harder for the SNP to break up our country. We must back her and we must show her that we support this. Even if just once, lend the Conservatives your support for the sake of preserving Britain. This is our chance to tell Nicola Sturgeon that we are sick of her continual threats. This is our chance to shut her up. 

The SNP must be made to accept that we said “No” and that just as Brexit means Brexit so too “No means No”. There is a word for someone who doesn’t accept this. For too long the SNP have tried to ride roughshod over the fact that we said “No” and that we do not consent to their continual attacks on our country. On June the 8th it really is time that we sent the SNP a clear message. We reject your attentions, we reject your assaults and your refusal to respect our decisions and our wishes. You do not have our consent. Show them this by voting Conservative. If enough of us vote Conservative we will be able to stop indyref2. Theresa May will be able to point to every Conservative Scottish constituency to remind Sturgeon that she still lacks “public consent” and she will be able to point to her manifesto as justifying her “not yet” strategy indefinitely. Every Conservative vote anywhere in Scotland is one more that will help our Theresa May continue to stand up to Sturgeon. 


  1. The thing that tells against another IndyRef is that the SNP don't think they can win it. If they go ahead with one and lose then the issue has been put to bed for decades to come.

    1. The SNP manifesto said that they would have another referendum by the will of the Scottish people. Unfortunately for the SNP a poll showed 65% of the population didn't want a second referendum and this was backed up by a petition against of over 220,000. Undettered the SNP change their manifesto to the will of the Scottish Government and with the help of the Greens got the vote through the Scottish parliament by their usual undemocratic way of not listening to the Scottish people. Theresa May knows this and cunningly has said in the conservative manifesto it has to be by the will of the Scottish people which the PM knows Sturgeon has not got.

    2. yet representaives of parties supportive of independence voted in majority to have a referendum.

      It could be argued they should be crying for independence and bugger your referendum. However they need to pander to the grey vote and their dementia tax and the lost triple lock.....

      Has ever a politician buggered it up as much as May has with these 2 faux pas ?

      Rock Solid 55+ vote and then says ...wir having yir hoose.....and yir pension is up the chimney....

      Seemingly both policies agreed by May's inner circle and not discussed with cabinet or MP's....

    3. Douglas, They also said in manifesto that exit from EU should trigger another referendum...This by your previous post is then a solid mandate ? or do you wish to twist it ?

    4. Ken that is 100% true, thats why I'm staggered the unionists don;t try it. I personally think its not in the bag yet. We need a bit more Tory bloodlust and a bit more damage to the grey vote before its a cert.

      If the Grey vote cracks, its all over as they are overwhelmingly anti independence.

    5. The problem RM is that the SNP talked about brexit being a material change in circumstances in their manifesto, but they failed to win an overall majority. The Greens guaranteed the indyref request passed but only by voting against their own manifesto, which talked about mass public support as a trigger for indyref2. That wasn't forthcoming but they voted it through anyway.

      The vote passed, but there was no mandate - no clear instruction from the people backing it up.

      So the request then goes to westminster who can block, delay or approve as they wish. Personally I think their decision was more democratic than the Scottish parliament's decision. People in Scotland don't want a referendum nor did they vote for it. It appears that the parliament in London takes greater care of us and greater consideration of our wishes than the parliament in Edinburgh.

      As I say to those nerds on Scot Goes Pop, smell the block :0)

    6. Sorry its somehow undemocratic to ask for a vote ?

      The jokes just get better. If they were claiming UDI on back of Brexit you might have an argument.

    7. It's undemocratic to insist on a vote when A) we already voted on the same issue, recently and B) the public don't want a rematch.

      Don't you people ever try to see yourselves from a different angle? If 2014 had been a yes and a 2nd referendum were imposed, you'd be going totally off your nuts. And it wouldn't be disgusted of tunbridge wells stuff either - a sniffy wee letter in the paper - it would be full on public disorder.

  2. So, independence now booted off into the far future, it is now time for the SNP to concentrate on actual government. With education, the police and the NHS all an unholy mess, they have a lot to be getting on with. But do they even have the stomach for it, if their reason for being has effectively been removed? Take independence away from an SNP politician and what have you got? A Lib Dem. They have to be the Lib Dems for the next several years, haha! They might not be happy with that and may end up producing an even bigger mess than they already have.

    Everything is shaping up nicely for 2021....

  3. “public consent” means that the vote in Hollyrood is not an accepted request for indyref2 as the only party that had independence in there manifesto does not have the support of over 50% of the people, The greens may have voted for indyref2 but they did not get elected with this as one of there pledges, their manifesto pledge was that they would support it only if they had enough support on there petition which at the time of the vote in hollyrood did not exist.

    1. Public support - a range of respected pollsters putting yes consistently above 50% for a period of at least a year, post brexit process. That would be my benchmark for assessing readiness for indyref2. The Scottish parliament is 129 people, many of whom are idiots with agendas that lack widespread support but which are influential anyway due to the voting system and composition of the parliament. They do not equal Scotland. Only scientific polling can effectively measure the will of the people on this most serious of issues.

    2. Why not be revolutionary and use a referendum to test public opinion ......instead of lots of nonsense. You guys are hilarious , constantly changing the decision point until it suits your argument

      Face it, yir tea's oot and you know it. You need to win the referendum(not impossible)

    3. Put simply RM, we won. As such, we will decide the timing of any future independence referendum. Scotland voted to not be independent. Therefore it isn't independent and cannot make these types of decisions independently. That's just a fact of life. Get used to it.

      Fortunately, the UK government has said they will allow a referendum if there is clear support for it. This is the democratic approach and takes it out of the hands of everyone bar the people of Scotland. This position is unassailable. By arguing against it, you argue against democracy itself.

    4. But we are winning....and you know it. The wind is behind the independence movement. The young are firmly in favor. The Tories are imploding, Brexit will be an unmitigated disaster. There is nothing on the horizon that reverses this.

    5. Arguing against democracy ?

      I'm not the loon arguing that a vote in Scottish parliament is not democratic. In fact its me who is arguing for a vote and you who says I am undemocratic for doing so. Listen to yourself, its all nails on the cliff edsge stuff.

      Utterly lost in the moment, you can see the trend , feel the shift and yet you try to argue that a democratic referendum based on EU exit should be held up till a non scientific poll decides it could be won....What witchcraft is this....

    6. You sound desperate RM. You sound like you are trying to convince yourself.of your 'inevitable' triumph, more so than anyone else.

      The reality is that the SNP and yes campaign are in a state of slow decay. They are still pretty strong, I will grant you, but the current trajectory is slowly downwards. Sturgeon needs a game changer. She said brexit would be that game changer - it wasn't. And now their record in office is catching up with them. As I've said before, 2021 will be a crucial year. We're in the long game now and the SNP needs to still be a strong, majority winning force in 4 years if they are to have another go at indy in the near future. Going by current trends, that simply wont happen.

      Btw why are you so afraid of following the instructions of the majority of the Scottish public? It seems you want to impose a referendum regardless of what the Scottish public wants. Self determination? Only when it suits.

    7. I don't think the victory in the end is inevitable, firstly YES need to win, secondly even by winning does not mean perfidious Albion lets go. I'm well aware of its ability to self serve, especially with so many 5th columnists in our community ;o)

      What I am however 100% sure of is the rights of a referendum.

    8. You've both stated and implied that it is inevitable many times. But nothing in this life is inevitable. I'm glad you are finally acknowledging this basic fact of life.

      Of course you are sure of the rights to a referendum. You are a separatist and you want a referendum. But different viewpoints exist. At the moment, the UK government has the upper hand, having won a referendum already. The political capital that affords the UK cannot be underestimated - you basically solidified the British government's authority here by holding and losing a referendum. They are now exercising that authority - by stopping you in your tracks. Only public opinion can now break the stalemate - and so far the public are with us.

  4. Sturgeon's old instincts were to wait for a consistent 60% support in the polls. She's turned into a gambler, and here she's overplayed a weak hand.

    BTW major nation changing constitutional issues like indy & Brexit shouldn't be decided on tiny minorities. There should be a higher bar - around 60%.

    1. It's certainly hard to imagine an independent Scotland thriving after a 51-49 yes victory. It would struggle to thrive if the majority were 70-30 but at least there would be a spirit of coming together in the sense that the correct and democratic thing is being done, even if you didn't personally vote for it. A bare pass for a future yes campaign + sickening triumphalism + the dumping of the previous referendum + the massive austerity + the opportunistic killing of a 310+ year old union utilising the temporary upheaval of brexit - well, have you ever read a more perfect recipe for civil war?

    2. Civil war.....listen to you nuggets. Its the young who support independence. Old fogies don;t do Civil war lest their plant pots get broken.

      You are the same wingnut that was arguing that 62/38 vote in Scotland was meaningless.... yet these we have it.

    3. The young eh? So optimistic. So idealistic. So open minded.

      If you could actually get them to the polling stations in big enough numbers, they could actually make a difference. It's unfortunate, for you, that another of their main features is laziness.

    4. The auld....they bastards keep dying...

    5. Absolutely. But every Victor Meldrew currently voting Tory, reading the Mail and obsessing about the value of his assets was a long haired, dope smoking, peace loving, free loving hippy fifty odd years ago. People change. Or are you daft enough to think that today's youth will never age, suffering hard knocks and tough life lessons as they do so, like their forebears?

      Today's socialist is tomorrow's conservative. Today's separatist is tomorrow's unionist. How do I know this? Because you've been waiting for the old to die for decades.

  5. Well reasoned arguments however you could have backed them up by reviewing the labour, Lib dem and the SNP manifestos. Your blog does not consider these in anyway so to say vote conservative is a bit biased.

  6. Important things to note for nationalists more people voted for pro UK party's at Holyrood and local elections , than nationalist party's.

    Time to start working for all the people of Scotland and not just nationalist ones.

    1. And Mr Anonymous, you don't see the death of your argument in front of you in that you need to collect every single other hue of political view together to equal the Nationalist HGV....

      Let me ask you this...When will WM recognise the nationalist voice ?

    2. Tory + Labour is now bigger than the SNP, RM. Add in the Lib Dems and UKIP and it's considerably bigger. All told, unionist parties outgun nationalist ones in the popular vote by a full ten points, at least. If we operated by pure proportional representation, you'd be outnumbered nearly everywhere and at every level. Your 'voice' is artificially loud. It is amplified by dodgy voting systems and a docile, compliant media. But 55% of voters actively oppose you and about 65% of the population either vote against you or fail to vote for you by abstention. There is a huge majority in Scotland unrepresented by the SNP, who presume to speak for them anyway.

    3. Its only 1 seat per constituency and you dont; get to add them until you get a formal union of Labtory.

      Survation telephone poll of GB-wide voting intentions :

      Conservatives 43% (-5)
      Labour 34% (+4)
      Liberal Democrats 8% (n/c)
      UKIP 4% (n/c)
      SNP 3% (-1)
      Greens 2% (n/c)
      Plaid Cymru 1% (n/c)

      Slip sliding away...slowly slip sliding away...

    4. Of course we get to add them. The popular vote is what really matters here - especially when considering a two option referendum. You may win most seats, but you will lose the crucial popular vote, giving the UK government an excellent reason to block your referendum.

      A nine point lead in the polls for the tories still gives them a comfortable majority.

    5. Utter shite....I mean it, WTF. Does that also mean that the Tories have no mandate for Brexit if they don't get >50% of the vote.

    6. The mandate for brexit already exists from the referendum.

      You are getting angry RM. What's wrong? Are you finally starting to see how this is likely to play out?

  7. Another few important facts and figures for you RM.

    The separatist parties won fewer votes, on both ballots, than the unionist parties in last year's Scottish parliament election. More people voted for unionism than voted for separation. The election 'machine' took this input and spat out a sep majority. Fair enough, that's how voting systems go. None are perfect. But let's not pretend there is some 'mandate' for indyref2. It just doesn't exist.

    Secondly, the no vote was 2 million, the yes vote 1.6 million. The SNP and Green votes totalled approx 1 million at Holyrood 2016. This can't overturn the 2 millions 'no' vote nor does it represent growth on the 1.6 million yes vote. Therefore, no mandate.

    You live in a world where a small group of losers can eternally demand a rematch with the winners - and the winners have no choice, no recourse, but to enter the breach once more and risk everything again just to get you to shut up for 5 minutes. That is completely un-Scottish. We are an alpha male society. We don't place losers on some kind of pedestal and afford them superior treatment. If you get beaten, it's over - and you shake the other guy's hand and bow out for a period of dignified silence and serious self improvement.

    That's the Scottish way.

  8. It was not a referendum, it was a vote for Scottish parliament... I thought it was us who were obsessed with independence. Seems its you who is demented with dependence.

    You keep trying to twist numbers to meet some mythical benchmark

    You are right though, if we lose next referendum vote its done. What you would you know about being Scottish and even funniser Alpha male FFS. You have your nose so far up Englands chufter you are probably losing your accent

    1. "England's chufter"? What's this got to do with England? England has never been consulted on her own constitutional status, nor has she been consulted on that of the other so-called Home Nations.

      You beef, Running Man should be with the British state (which denies any recognition to England, the English or English identity).

    2. The anti-English nature of Scottish Nationalism is laid bare with Running Man here.


  9. Your credibility is falling faster than your ability to spell and construct sentences, RM.

    You can't claim a mandate for a referendum when most people have voted against separatist parties. That's just a fact. It is you who is trying to twist things.

    I'm no more obsessed with independence than wartime Londoners were obsessed with sitting in the dark. It is the SNP that is genuinely obsessed with independence, having mentioned it once every week since the indyref. And it is obvious that you are fairly obsessed yourself, coming on here night after night like a Jehovah's Witness trying to convert a Mosque.

    What would I know about Scotland? Well, I live here so that's one better than you straight off.

  10. Effie, I must say I'm far from impressed with the government's response to the Manchester attrocity and their glaring failure to prevent it. We need a much tougher stance against Islamic terrorism - sending soldiers out to march about after the deed is done is completely useless. It's the action of a government that wants to look tough but is afraid of actually being tough.

    I will still vote Tory as a unionist vote, but the conservatives need to be aware, just as with nippy, they have a day job - and their performance the last couple of days has been woeful.