The Scottish Government has today, and for consultation, published its draft Referendum Bill, in order to protect Scottish interests against the consequences of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The consultation period runs until January 2017.
I’ll be blogging on this again, no doubt. But, for now, time to nail some colours to the mast. I voted ‘no’ in IndyRef 1 in 2014. I define myself as an internationalist and could never bring myself to vote for any party which defines itself, in contrast, as a national one (leaving aside the obvious -ist, sometimes held by aficionados of that same party, if not centrally); the answers to the problems of today’s world lie not in looking to the national (pun fully intended), but to the international. Given precisely the same circumstances as applied in 2014, I would be voting ‘no’ again: Scotland’s interests were then, and would otherwise be now, much better served by the sharing and pooling of resources within the context of the wider UK.
But, of course, the independence debate is not about voting for one party or another; but for a course for Scotland stretching far into the future, much farther than any (even regularly-renewed) democratic mandate normally allows. And the circumstances that apply now are qualitatively, momentously, different. Not least given the way the UK government has responded to the the vote, but not only in that context, June’s EU referendum, here in 2016, changes everything.
It is impossible to avoid the pitfalls of generalisation, but Scotland – as the independent nation that it continues to be: the (repeated) question proposed in the Bill is somewhat misleading – is substantially different to what the UK has, in voting collectively to pull out of the EU, now become (slightly more accurately, the UK outside the major towns and cities and away from the east coast). Scotland voted heavily to remain (62:38), with majorities for remain in each and every one of its 32 council areas. It is more social democratic in principle, with notions of solidarity between people more deeply entrenched. In the workplace, trade unions are better received and senior union officials are able to take their place more easily and more naturally in public life. Public discourse is (and acknowledging that IndyRef 1 was not always as ‘joyous’ as some claimed) more open, less narrow and more progressive, with the contributions of EU nationals readily embraced. In these areas as in others, Scotland looks instinctively much more ‘European’ in outlook than the UK, currently, appears. In terms of its direct interests, Scotland simply needs more people to deliver goods and public services – and so has a strong interest in ensuring that freedom of movement continues to apply.
The Bill exists to allow a debate on the issue as to how best to protect Scotland’s interests in a UK targeted towards EU exit. Tactically, and leaving aside the debate about independence, this is the right thing to do – most importantly, it keeps the pressure on the UK government to ensure that the post-Brexit landing is as soft as possible (and that it thus takes account of Scottish interests). The implication of the timing of its publication – on the same day that Theresa May attends her first EU Summit as Prime Minister, in a process in which Scotland has no direct voice – is clear. If it keeps the pressure on to the point of success, then it will have done a valuable job (and to the benefit of the rest of the UK, too).
If, on the other hand, push comes to shove, independence may well continue not to be the right answer for Scotland (or indeed the UK), even a UK that seeks to exist outside the EU. (Though it is very tempting to remind Brexiteers that a break-up of the UK was the logical, and heavily trailed, consequence of a vote to leave.) But it is, given the fundamentally-changed circumstances that now apply following the referendum, the right time at least to ask the question of people living in Scotland as to whether this is a process they might support.