It’s a funny old thing when you start writing a politics blog. I chose to do it entirely for my own interest and to get myself writing regularly. My original aim was to write semi-amusing articles that some people would like and some wouldn’t – and to deliver something every couple of weeks. I hadn’t realised that politics in the country would be turned on its head by a vote to leave the EU. I sat down last night and counted 15 separate topics I wanted to cover in separate blogs. It’s a funny old world sometimes. We now have a smirking Nigel Farage trying to destroy any goodwill remaining in the European Parliament, racism and xenophobia rampant on the streets, David Cameron resigning, looking less likely that we will actually Brexit every day, Boris Johnson not standing for PM (right now) and a thoroughly horrible coup in the Labour party threatening to rip the party apart. But there has remained one constant – Nicola Sturgeon would like to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom.
Dear Nicola Sturgeon MSP
Firstly, well done to Scotland for voting to remain within the EU. This would have been my preferred outcome for the whole of the UK. Many people across the country are still reeling from that vote. The only thing that we can say with clarity because of that vote is that we are heading for a great deal of uncertainty. This uncertainty affects all of us – whether we are in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland or Gibraltar.
The numbers in the vote were quite stark – and the differences between the countries marked. 1.6 million people voted to Remain across Scotland compared to 1 million people who wanted to Leave. That is a 62% remain vote within a turnout of about 67% (http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/find-information-by-subject/elections-and-referendums/upcoming-elections-and-referendums/eu-referendum/electorate-and-count-information) . A huge push for Remain. Whilst this was across the UK the biggest democratic exercise that has ever been performed (in terms of turnout) it wasn’t in Scotland. Many more Scots voted in the Independence referendum in 2014. Then you have another 1 million people voting.
Obviously, we can’t know which way people voted in each referendum – whether people who wanted to stay in the UK wanted to also stay in the EU for example. I am not sure the data is readily available for that. But it is a desperate shame that we couldn’t get more EU remainers out to vote in Scotland. It could have had a big impact on the overall result. As it is such a low turnout in Scotland may have helped the Leave side – and forced you into considering a second referendum yourself.
Although I say forced, I am not sure that is quite the correct word. You are after all the leader of the SNP. Your entire raison d’etre as a party is to take Scotland out of the UK. The party line following the defeat in the last independence referendum was that something would have to materially change to hold another one. This certainly seems to count. I can understand to some degree how you must have felt after that result – I am sure it was similar to how I felt this week. But here’s the thing – given the uncertainty can you be sure that is the right thing for Scotland?
My often repeated views during the original referendum were quite simple – the case put forward for independence was pie in the sky and didn’t add up, and that we are all better being part of something bigger. That co-operation with others was always the best way to go. To not follow arguments that were purely nationalistic rather than actually good for the country. I would have argued until I was blue in the face that the people of Britain believed that. I would have argued that leaving to go it alone was an inherently more risky proposition for Scotland. I can see how some of those arguments have absolutely been holed below the waterline now.
Of course at the time we had no idea what the Scotland Out campaign would really deliver. A manifesto that promised a government to be all things to all peoples was never going to wash. The fact that the manifesto was predicated on receipts from oil money that has largely dried up also now shows the wisdom of the Scottish voters in rejecting it (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scottish-independence/12052565/Independent-Scotland-would-be-bankrupt-and-appealing-to-IMF.html) . There seems to be an interesting learning from both referendums best summed up by Jamie Vardy – “Chat shit. Get Banged.”. If you try to sell the voters a clearly unreal picture they will rally against you. Of course in your case that was a picture of Scotland that could never come to pass. In the EU case that was a serious of threats to do horrible things to pensioners and the working class that no-one believed by George Osborne.
I would imagine you have learned from that. I am sure there are some very clever election strategists working out how to avoid that pitfall. Maybe that would help in any future campaign to deliver the result that your party has been seeking for its entire life. Certainly it must be really tempting, whilst the rest of the UK and our politicians are looking the other way to try and push ahead with your agenda. Knowing they are out of the game whilst fighting within their party or negotiating with the EU would certainly make me go for an early referendum.
But would that, right now, be in the best interests of Scotland or Scottish people? Or is your desire for independence at any cost clouding your judgement a little bit? Because to win a referendum you would have to change the minds of about half a million Scots – and if I may generalise for a moment – it is hard enough getting one Scot to change their minds once they have decided on something. Would using the fact that Scots want to be part of the EU be enough to change how voters would vote?
Firstly, you would need a clear, realistic plan of what would happen if you left the UK. That needs to be clear from 2 points of view to win people over. One of those is that you would have to be clear what you are going to. If you ceded from the UK, what would that plan be – to immediately rejoin the EU? If so, you would need to be really clear the terms that would be on and get assurances from the EU on that. Do you think that is going to be, right now, a top priority for EU politicians? Never mind the fact that you would have Spain standing in your way at every step (because of their own Catalan separatists) (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-36656980)? So how quickly would you be able to do that? Also, given that the oil price has fallen off a cliff and doesn’t look like recovering the economic case this time round would be much weaker that isn’t helping your case.
The other point of view is showing people what they are voting away from. As you have shown once simply answering “The English” to this question really isn’t enough. Whilst the Leave EU campaign managed to tap into people’s anger, you have failed to do that once. So what would you be taking people away from? The answer is that you simply can’t know. I get that neither would any Stay campaign – and from a political point of view that would possibly help you massively. But look inside yourself and be honest - would that really be doing your best for the Scottish people as a whole? There still remains a possibility that a UK outside of the EU would be a good thing for Scotland. There also remains an increasing possibility that nobody will be brave enough to pull the trigger on Brexit – or as Leavers hoped – we end up with all the benefits and none of the costs.
You simply can’t know. And so you would be asking the Scottish people to vote blind-folded, with one hand tied behind their backs on what would be right for them. Purely to achieve a vote for independence from something unknown and unknowable on the basis of nationalism. If you think you can live with that on your conscience, perhaps go and talk to David Cameron.
I understand that the SNP will re-run this referendum time and again until it gets the right result. But please, do what is right for Scotland first and foremost, and wait until people can honestly know what they are voting for and against. Because voting in the absence of knowledge can often get you the wrong result.