THERE’S A LITTLE WOMAN I know who is from the Glasgow area and she always gets her own way. If there is a committee meeting she is aggressive. She interrupts. She tries to belittle the point of view of others. People avoid getting into an argument with her because rather than discuss calmly she gets emotional. She makes assertions which are really just her own opinions, but they are presented as truths. If someone crosses her she will bear a grudge, but at the same time she is a sycophant always trying to find allies and sucking up to superiors.
I’m sure most of us know men and women like this in the world of work or elsewhere. The problem is that these tactics frequently work. Most of us want a quiet life. If I come across Mr Angry on the street I do my best to avoid eye contact. The problem in Scottish politics is that we are confronted with legions of Mr and Mrs Angry, lead by the angriest woman of them all. The problem is that they have been indulged. They have been spoiled. No-one dares to stand up to them. It’s time we started daring to.
We may have to face another Scottish independence referendum. I am sick to my stomach at the prospect. Must we really have to go through all that again? Only this time I suspect it would be much worse. The experience of conflict changes you. The first independence referendum divided Scotland in a way that I could not have imagined previously. The nationalists may enjoy this. They claim that they found the experience inspiring. I did not. There will come a point quite soon when the prize for either side will not be worth having. It will be a permanently divided country whether independent or not.
We all learn from each other’s tactics. The SNP chose not to accept the result last time. They just kept fighting. I doubt they would accept defeat next time either. Yet they appear to think that if they could win by one vote everyone who disagrees with independence would joyfully accept the result and come together united as one Scotland. This may have been the case last time, but we have learned.
We do not ask for this fight. We thought that the last battle was decisive. That is what we were told. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes it is necessary to fight over the same ground twice before we can relax knowing our country is safe. If that is how it has to be, so be it. But for goodness sake make this the final battle and let us at least fight it on our own terms and on ground of our own choosing.
The reputation of David Cameron is looking worse and worse as time goes on. His greatest tragic flaw was overconfidence. He thought he would win a referendum on Scottish independence easily. After all the SNP were miles behind in the polls. He should never have granted it at all. It was the experience of the campaign that created mass nationalism in Scotland. Cameron should have simply told Alex Salmond that the United Kingdom like every other European country was indivisible and it could not be broken up by a vote. Our historical experience is no different from that of countries like Germany, Italy and Spain. They would not allow the formerly independent countries that make up their constituent parts to vote to break up their country. Why should we?
But this is a problem rooted in British history. We have allowed the constituent parts of the UK to continue to maintain a separate identity in a way that is quite uncommon in the world. We have for centuries indulged English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalism. France imposed a common identity, law and language on its parts. The United States made its children pledge that their country was indivisible, because the alternative was the bloodiest war in American history. In Britain however a combination of liberalism and overconfidence meant that we thought we could continue with a very loose sense of common identity. It worked, or seemed to. We didn’t experience the nationalistic revolutions of the 1830s and 1840s. But eventually nationalism always rears its head. It is always ready to take advantage of weakness.
David Cameron was too weak to stand up to the SNP. He should have simply said “No”. This is how the Spanish will see off Catalan nationalism. This is how Abraham Lincoln prevented secession. But even if Cameron was too weak to say “No” why on earth did he make the terms of his agreement with the SNP so beneficial to them?
The Edinburgh Agreement spoke of the result being decisive and that everyone would accept it. But has anyone tried to enforce this? The SNP considered the result of the independence referendum as decisive only if they won. When they lost it was no longer decisive. What’s more it cannot be said that they accepted the result as they immediately set about trying to reverse it. How long did they wait? Was it a day or was it two? Why wasn't this challenged legally as a failure to follow the Edinburgh Agreement. Why could it not be challenged now?
More importantly why didn’t David Cameron insert a clause stating that the SNP would agree that they couldn’t have another referendum for fifty years if they lost? Why did he allow them to set the question? Why did he allow them such a long campaign and to set a date of their own choosing?
The SNP’s tactics of playing Mr and Mrs Angry have been working up to now. We give in rather than confront them. This has to end.
The UK Government had the authority to organise the referendum on the Scottish Parliament. Constitutional matters are reserved. Why give the SNP power to hold a referendum at all? If they don’t like it, tell them that they need not have a referendum at all. If there is to be a question, make it a fair one. It was crucial, perhaps decisive that the EU referendum did not involve a Yes/No answer. A Yes campaign has an inbuilt advantage that may amount to 5% of the vote. Let the Electoral Commission come up with a fair question. It could be “Should Scotland leave the United Kingdom or remain in the United Kingdom?” There may be other alternatives involving different words than “leave” or “remain”. These should be tested to see that they involve no bias and no unfair advantage.
The question of who decides whether Scotland should remain a part of the UK must also be addressed. I would not expect to decide on such an issue in any other country. What right do I have to determine if Bavaria should revert to being a sovereign independent nation state? I am not a German, nor am I Bavarian. What has it to do with me? Someone who wants to break up my country while keeping his own intact is a hypocrite. We have defended our country’s territorial integrity against foreign armies. To allow foreign residents to vote us out of existence is perverse. Therefore only British citizens should decide. Moreover, it is unfair that Scots who happen to be living outside Scotland, perhaps for a short time, should have no say in our country’s future. For this reason I would argue that any British citizen who has been on the Electoral register in Scotland in the past twenty years should have the right to vote.
The franchise too on such an important issue should be exactly the same as during a General Election. It makes no sense to give the vote to school children as the issues involved are those that adults who work and have to run a house are more likely to understand as directly affecting their lives. If we are to give the vote to 16-year-olds, why not 15-year-olds? Why not 10-year-olds? The issue concerns their future too. The SNP know that school children are frequently junior nationalists because of football. They also know that they often grow out of it. The break-up of our country is an issue for careful thought and consideration. Let it be decided by adults.
Let us get this over with quickly. We must never again give the SNP a chance to build momentum with a campaign that goes on for years. The period from announcing a referendum to holding it ought to be no more than three or four months. “Twere well it were done quickly”.
Finally and most importantly make it absolutely clear that this will be the last time that the SNP will be allowed to have a referendum on independence. Set a legally binding date far in the future. If we don’t do this, then they will want to hold another referendum in another two or three years.
I would much prefer that Theresa May simply says “No” you’ve had your referendum. But if she feels unwilling or unable to do that, then at least set conditions that will make the contest fairer than last time. It’s time that we stood up to Mrs Angry. If nationalists want to boycott the referendum, then we will just have to take the result as more decisive than it otherwise would have been. We are all sick to death of Nicola Sturgeon. Let this be the final battle and if she loses, let her do the decent thing and retire from public life.
This is an edited version of a longer article by Effie Deans that first appeared on her blog on Saturday 18 February. To read more please visit Lily of St Leonards