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The 'de facto' referendum: it's about to get messy.

My interview with Mhairi Black was, if anything, explosive.

Perhaps it was the build-up that caught the eye of big-name politicians like Alex Cole-Hamilton, after releasing my line of questioning for Black. Asking what her thoughts were on, for example, the language used in the release of the Scottish Democracy Movement.

Speaking of which, this is a debate that’s thrown Donald Trump’s name aboot like a soakin jaisket.

Unionist politicians accused the SNP’s ‘democracy deniers’ chat of being dangerous and inflammatory. They likened it to the populist approach by Trump to pot stir over the pond. In other words, the ‘us v them,’ demonising the establishment kinda patter.

The SNP have stayed firm but.

A spokesperson even came oot and went hud on a second here… if anyone’s Trump, it’s you mob. You’re pretending like an election was fraudulent by saying the Scottish Government dinnae have a mandate for a referendum despite the majority in Parliament promising one.

On Season 2, Episode 6 of the Untribal Podcast, Innes asked Black what she thought of words like “shackled” and “imprisoned” when talking about Scotland’s relationship with Westminster after folk chipping in wae all this. Black replied:

“So I agree with them (Stewart Macdonald & Alex Cole-Hamilton). I think that if you take a step back… to be using language like colonies, imprisoned and stuff, that does a disservice to the fact that Scotland played a massive part in colonising other countries…

But to the point what Yes Scotland is doing, for me I think the reason I support independence is because of the democratic argument. That’s how people are in control: you can vote governments out. It’s the most basic rule of democracy and yet Scotland doesn’t have that.”

I’ll let yous search it for yersels… let’s just say our Twitter notifications have been daein our nuts in aw weekend.

And yet, perhaps a more important point went under the radar. As Innes asked… what is a de facto referendum going to look like?

This was partly due to the fact Mhairi Black does not have the answers on this issue. Nor does any politician. FM Nicola Sturgeon announced there would be a “special party conference” next year to spell all this out.

This doesny mean we can’t talk about it the now but. This next election is going to, potentially, be life-changing for Scots and it’s an absolute necessity people talk about it. To gain much clarity as possible.

So what’s hapnin?

Well, the UK Government is blocking a second independence referendum despite meeting the threshold to have one… a ‘threshold’ that is based on what was set for 2014.

FM Nicola Sturgeon is, because of this, leading the charge to say that the Scottish people will get their say in the next democratic opportunity: most likely, the next UK General Election.

Now… the agenda for a General Election isny set by political parties. It is voters, the general public, that decide what they think is most important to them when casting their vote on polling day.

Some might think healthcare is the most important, others might vote based on tax promises. Some might think about a bunch of issues… but it’s important to note that the sole basis of democracy is that the people get to decide.

And how do people decide? Well, political parties make their pitch to us. They say, ‘this is our manifesto,’ campaign on promises they set out and hope enough of us are convinced.

In Scotland, the SNP has grown in popularity by their promise in taking Westminster to task.

Scottish politics changed about 20 years ago. It was no longer about what social class you belonged to. It was no longer about this British, decades-old understanding of politics… that if you were working class you’d vote Labour and if you had a few quid you’d vote Tory. The rise of the SNP was about saying: who can get the best deal for Scottish people out of the current system we’ve got?

And as the SNP became more popular, scepticism of Westminster grew… giving leverage for the party to put full independence at the forefront of their manifesto.

But this is where the upward trajectory has halted… although the SNP’s dominance is seeing them now consistently win elections in Scotland, the country seems split down the middle on breaking away fully from the United Kingdom.

Unionists felt the question was put to bed in 2014… but to campaign that “the only way to guarantee EU membership is to vote No,” and for the UK Government to then pull our membership based on the will of folk down south, some feel a sense of injustice. It’s the sole reason why we’re now having the whole conversation again.

However, the UK Supreme Court has said well it’s not really in Scotland’s hands to hold a legal referendum. We’d need a green light from the UK Government, given it impacts them as well… and that’s now no gonnae happen.

And here we arrive at the ‘de facto’ referendum. The parties making up the Scottish Government, ie SNP and the Greens, saying the next General Election is Scotland’s chance to have their say.

Simple right?


The reason Sturgeon has put forward a special conference to spell this all out is because it’s far from simple… because, as we’ve discussed, political parties dinny decide what’s in the voter’s mind come a General Election.

What they do dae, however, is make a pitch for our vote. Usually, parties say hings like ‘a vote for us is a vote to save our NHS, to spend x amount on education, defence and climate action. To clamp down on immigration, or maybe to encourage immigration. Worker’s rights, the economy, foreign affairs… you get the gist.

And this is where it gets tricky.

As Innes explained on the podcast with Black:

“So this is going to be a referendum, in reality, without actually being a referendum. So, the SNP and parties alike will have to seek votes on one sole promise: independence.

So they’ll have to put themselves in the shop window, in a yes or no fashion, to one question… because, I feel like, anything over and above that, you could be accused of clouding people’s judgement. And, more importantly for the independence movement, it gives Westminster a reason to go that isn’t legitimate. You mentioned this, you mentioned that… it wasn’t just about independence.

I’ll spell out why that’s important in a couple of examples.

Firstly, if I’m a voter that quite likes independence, probably vote for it… but doesn’t think this is the right time, I’d rather see it in 5/10 years. I’d vote for it then, but I’m gonna make this election about healthcare, who I think handles the NHS the best.

And I’m walking to the polling station, I’m imagining Nicola Sturgeon at FMQs, all those statistics about Scotland doing better than England in the NHS just now. I think right okay, I’m gonna vote SNP. That’s where it could potentially get tangled, right?

Or to give another example… if you’re an environmentalist and yer disenfranchised with politics, you think there’s so much greenwashing. You canny be bothered wae it, you turn off the news because it’s a load of rubbish. You just want what’s best for the environment, so you’re gonna vote Green… and yet you’re not informed of that choice you’re making of voting for independence.”

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The Green Party example is an extremely interesting illustration of this point. When people think of the Green Party, in almost knee-jerk psychology, they think of the environment. It’s widely known around the world that Green parties are environmentalists who will make choices for this sole purpose.

But this isn’t as cutthroat in Scotland. The prevalence of the constitutional issue makes this a lot more complex. The Green Party canny, for example, say in their manifesto we’re going to plant hundreds of trees if they’re voted in… they have no idea what the financial situation will be like to enable them to do so after an independence vote.

Sure, they can argue why independence would be beneficial in a more general sense… but what they can’t do is cite the record they’ve had in previous years making a difference to the environment. This was all done within a budget set by Westminster and amongst work done in close relationship with the UK Government.

If independence-supporting parties are not abundantly clear that voting for them is a vote for one sole issue, this adds severe complication to what the Scottish people’s views actually are.

This may be seen as a given for the ‘Scottish National’ party… but if they get over the 50% mark from votes earned by the Greens, it might not be so straightforward.

It's about to get messy.


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