Cole-Hamilton: Greens have no mandate to call for second Scottish independence referendum

This week, the Scottish Parliament will vote on whether to seek a Section 30 order, the device in the UK Parliament’s power that would give it the right to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence. The SNP Government is expected to win with the support of the Greens. However, Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton has made it clear that the Greens do not have a mandate to call for a referendum given that the three conditions in their manifesto have not been met. He has challenged Greens leader Patrick Harvie – who could easily merit being called “Pushover Patrick” for voting with the SNP on these critical issues, to explain his actions.
Alex  has asked Mr  Harvie why the party has turned its attention away from public service reform, back-tracked on its requirement that opinion polls should indicate support for a new referendum, and scrapped its requirement that a million-strong petition should be the trigger.

Alex said:

The Scottish Greens had three criteria to allow a referendum from their manifesto. None has been met.

The Greens have no mandate for a referendum. They should respect that and decline to vote for a referendum at Holyrood next Wednesday.

Scottish Liberal Democrats had a manifesto commitment against a referendum and we will stick to that.

With education performance slipping, the mental health strategy abandoned and the economy sluggish, Scotland needs its Parliament working on these issues instead of a referendum.

Alex has written to Patrick Harvie saying:

Dear Patrick,

I’m writing ahead of next week’s parliamentary vote on the First Minister’s demand for a Section 30 order. It has been raised with me by a number of concerned constituents that the Green Party manifesto lays out specific criteria for a second independence referendum and I am writing to you to enquire as to whether those criteria still hold, given that none has been met.

In your manifesto you state that “For the next term of the Scottish Parliament Green MSPs will focus on using existing and forthcoming powers to deliver the changes that will make difference to the people of Scotland – on fuel poverty, land reform, funding public services and many other challenges which need to be tackled right on.” Do you believe that this focus is best maintained by switching priority to a second referendum?

Your manifesto also states that “If a new referendum is to happen, it should come about by the will of the people, and not be driven by calculations of party political advantage.”

Given that polls have consistently show less than 50% support for independence, and even less for a referendum, what evidence do you have to support a claim that this is the will of the people?

Your manifesto also states “Citizens should be able to play a direct role in the legislative process by presenting a petition signed by an appropriate number of voters” and you have offered further clarification that evidence of this would be “a call for a referendum signed by up to 1 million people on the electoral register.”

Is this still the Scottish Greens’ preferred way of deciding to hold a second referendum on independence? And if so, how many signatures do you have?

In May last year, I stood on a manifesto to oppose a second independence referendum and was returned by the voters of Edinburgh Western on that basis. I recognise that the Green Party are supporters of independence. However I am sure you are equally concerned by fidelity to the manifesto that the Green Party stood upon and on which voters supported you. I look forward to hearing your response.

Yours sincerely, Alex Cole-Hamilton

MSP for Edinburgh Western

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Well done to Alex. I accept that many voted Green hoping they’d support independence, but there are many more who just vote Green because they like the environment, and think it makes that statement. However, this is the party that uncritically backed the SNP White Paper that was actively seeking to turn Scotland into an oil-reliant economy. Now it’s claiming to be an anti-austerity party, that believes that an independent Scotland doesn’t need the Barnett formula or oil.

    It’s worth pointing out that even Sturgeon said on tv during the campaigning that a vote for the SNP wouldn’t be a vote for independence, or another referendum, but the party name somewhat gives away their overall aim.

    There has been much discussion on here on the role of the Scottish LibDems, and where we fit into the cramped, and chaotic political landscape in Scotland. I say that we remind people of our environmental roots, and that it is us, not the Greens, who have the best, evidenced-based policies to protect the environment.

  • Mark, I have a few friends who are active in the Green party south of the border, and they are shocked when I tell them some of the things the Scottish Greens have voted for or against. Rushing to promise to vote with Nicola as soon as she made her declaration last week underlined how far their priorities are from their wider reputation.

    The manifesto pledge was a reasonable one. They admitted to be ideologically in favour of independence (Greens as a whole favour devolution), but only once a lot of people had been persuaded that it was important. It gave the impression of a long-term project, driven by democracy and grass roots thinking.

    I have huge admiration for Caroline Lucas, and have made no secret of hoping we might not context her seat at the next general election, albeit I recognise that members of her party are not of the same quality. Nevertheless, the contrast between how she handles herself and the demeanour of Patrick Harvie is huge. I do wonder if some of the other Green MSPs will rebel, but I fear that the Scottish Greens have been taken over by nationalists who see it as a vehicle for their own ends. I know of at least one person who never previously cared for the environment who joined the Greens to aid their nationalist politics. Who knows how common that is?

    If the Scottish Greens want to be a party that prioritises nationalism, then that is of course their prerogative, but long-standing members and voters who care for the environment may have a different view.

    There were also apparently six SNP MSPs who were pro-Brexit. Will any of them speak out?

  • Thomas Robinson 19th Mar '17 - 3:51pm

    Lib Dems and other unionists really need to grasp that when the Scottish Parliament votes (probably 69-59) to ask for “permission” to hold a second referendum on independence that IS a mandate.

    It is also foolish to think that the polls will not move in favour of this referendum occurring as the electorate in Scotland gradually becomes aware of the timing which is perfectly aligned with the time when all 27 EU countries and Westminster will be voting to accept the negotiated Brexit terms.

    Why do the Lib Dems, with fewer MSPs than the Green Party, think they can credibly demand that the Greens, the party most in favour of the EU (75%), should vote against the express wishes of the Scottish Green Party members in October 2017?

    Even more ridiculous, even if the Greens simply abstain and don’t support the SNP on this issue, the SNP motion will still pass.

  • Thomas Robinson 19th Mar '17 - 3:53pm

    Correction: “October 2016” for “October 2017”

  • The Scottish Lib Dems leave me bemused and frustrated. . Becalmed in a poor fifth place with very very little to say that is radical, challenging and most important DIFFERENT. If I was them I would support the call for a referendum next week, on the grounds of let the people say, under the radically different situation we are now in compared to 2014.
    Tactics in politics are all important, just carrying on the same old same old boring line that is now the prerogative of the Scottish Conservatives is taking us precisely no where.
    We have to make our own luck. That will come from doing something unexpected and different. Otherwise we are handing any chance of votes not SNP, Labour or Conservative to the Greens in Glasgow.

  • Thomas, the polls are not showing a move towards independence. The latest was 56% against independence, with 44% in favour. The polls also show that the Scottish people do not want another referendum. Why is it suddenly wrong to challenge rival political parties when they break their manifesto?

    I disagree with Ruth Davison on many things, but I was thrilled she made the point on Marr this morning, very firmly, that when the SNP say they are annoyed about something, that doesn’t mean Scotland is annoyed about it. She accused the London-based media of getting that wrong a lot, and she was right. I only hope they listen. She also had a sneaky dig at George Osborne’s new job.

    If Scotland leaves the UK before the UK leaves the EU, Scotland will be out of the EU. It would then need to reapply, which Sturgeon has not even promised will happen, because she knows that a third of SNP voters were pro-Brexit. She knows that the Scottish deficit is too high to get into the EU, and that substantial austerity measures would be required.

    Theakes, stop trying to lecture us on tactics. Your posts have revealed you neither understand, nor appear to care for the future of real Scots, and treat this all as a game. Your bemusement is not enough for me to campaign for wrecking the Scottish economy and public services. Repeating yourself doesn’t make your argument any more compelling.

  • Interesting speech, particularly the appeal to British values, not a traditional LibDem approach, in fact most of the threads on here that discuss this topic are full of people stating for the most part that they don’t understand what the term means.
    As for his aim to replace Labour, that has to be the way forward but it will take a lot longer than 2020.
    He still seems to be campaigning to stop Brexit at all costs, assuming that significant numbers of those who voted leave will come to their senses.
    It is fair enough he should direct his speech to enthuse his followers,but there is not much here to attract those who voted leave other than a kind of hang your head in shame, join us and we will forgive you message.
    I am fairly sure that this approach will not bring the numbers of voters the party needs if it is to achieve its objectives.

  • Geoffrey Payne 19th Mar '17 - 6:28pm

    The SNP and Greens need to establish from the EU whether they will be allowed back in the EU if they gain independence from the rest of the UK. If they get that then I find it hard to understand why the Lib Dems in Scotland would oppose a referendum. However it is their call and they will stand or fall accordingly.

  • Well it is a bit confusing, Nicola Surgeon said leaving the EU was the trigger for independence, then back peddled to say theu join the trading block but not the EU, and now back to the EU.

  • Thomas Robinson 19th Mar '17 - 7:18pm

    The Chair of the European Foreign Affairs Committee, German MEP Elmer Brok has stated that the negotiations with an independent Scotland to join the EU would be “easy negotiations”
    You applaud Ruth Davidson for pointing out that the SNP is not Scotland but it represents far more people than does Ruth.
    You are also deceiving yourself about the support for another referendum. Most polls show very little difference between those for or against a referendum taking place in the next 2 or 3 years.
    The SNP have made it clear that they do intend to splurge to join the EU. Membership of other organisations is seen as a temporary position to preserve the single market arrangements in a transitional situation.

  • Thomas Robinson 19th Mar '17 - 7:20pm

    Correction: remove “splurge”

  • David Allen 19th Mar '17 - 7:20pm

    “Stop trying to lecture us on tactics. … you neither understand, nor appear to care for the future of real Scots…”

    Well, I’m another Englishman, remote from Scottish politics. However, I’m not sure whether that makes my opinion less valid, or perhaps, more valid.

    Many Scots just seem to be consumed with an obsessive hatred of all things SNP. Perhaps they have been hurt: or perhaps they are just jealous of the SNP’s successes.

    This Englishman doesn’t want to see Scottish indpendence, but when this Englishman listens to Question Time, for example, he can guess where most of the common sense and principled radicalism is going to come from. In the absence of a Lib Dem, it will usually come from the spokesperson for the SNP.

  • Geoffrey, the rules are already published. Scotland would be fine for being European, and our legislation is already in line with that of the EU etc.

    Our big problem is our finances. The EU requires new members to join the Euro and have a deficit of 3% or less. The current deficit is above 9% We’d need an extreme exemption to be allowed in without Greek style austerity, and why would the EU agree to that? To replace the Barnett formula, we’d be relying on EU grants, and again, why would the EU want to bend the rules to swap a net benefactor in the form of the UK for a net recipient? It might annoy the rest of the UK, but would also annoy the people of Germany and France, who the EU cannot afford to lose.

    There’s also the minor detail of markets. The claim is that in leaving the EU, the UK will negotiate a poor deal, so trade with EU countries will be hampered. What that theory overlooks is that Scotland would be on one side of the deal or another. If the deal is bad, we either have a bad trade deal with the EU or a bad deal with the rest of the UK. We do a lot more trade with the rest of the UK.

    Anyone thinking it would be easy, and just like the UK is now, hasn’t thought it through.

  • We appear to have cross-posted, and I didn’t mean to ignore you. However, yes, you are right, the SNP have not been good in government, and obsession with independence contributes to that problem. I won’t start, or I won’t stop, but their record in things like education, health and reducing the gap between rich and poor has not been good, and there was an expectation that they might be heckled on this at their conference. Instead, they announced another referendum, so just did a lot of flag waving instead.

    Do you stand by the idea that you can only be critical of politicians if you are jealous of their success? Please do read up on the scale of the cuts to public services that would be required should independence go ahead. See if it makes your jealous, or anxious.

    On a related note, I see that the people of Cornwall voted for Brexit. Can I suggest that the Cornish LibDems abandon all this pro-EU talk, and start to campaign for a hard Brexit? Same for everyone in constituencies that were 44.6% Leave or above.

  • nvelope2003 20th Mar '17 - 1:05pm

    Perhaps as part of the independence treaty with England, Wales and Northern Ireland ? Scotland should be required to hold an indepedence referendum every 5 years. Well why not ? What is sauce for the goose etc

  • @fiona

    “The EU requires new members to join the Euro and have a deficit of 3% or less”

    No it doesn’t. It may be in the rules but its not enforced. If it were, Sweden and several other countries would be joining the ERM to then join the Euro. They are not and won’t be.

  • @Cllr Mark Wright

    “And yet the same people think the Scottish one should be granted every few years on an SNP whim.”

    Hardly on an “SNP whim”. The SNP were elected on a manifesto which said another referendum would be justified by a material change in circumstances such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will. They will now need to obtain the mandate of the Scottish Parliament to implement that commitment.

    In effect you are saying that the Westminster Parliament can determine in advance what the electorate of one nation in the Union can and cannot vote on. What else as a liberal and a democrat would you like to see the Westminster Parliament stopping the Scottish electorate doing?

  • Hireton, no doubt you can explain exactly what deficit would be acceptable to both the EU and to the Scottish economy. Do you also know what the trade deals will be between the UK and the EU? Because those deals would also control how Scotland trades with the rest of the UK, and I’d quite like to know this before campaigning starts in earnest.

    The SNP are a minority government, with less than 50% of the vote. Even if you add in the votes for the Greens, who said they’d only pursue independence if there was a petition with a million votes, they get less than 50% of the vote. There is no mandate for Holyrood to call for another referendum at this time, no matter how they try to fudge it.

    I’m not going to explain the constitutional history of how Scotland got our last referendum, or the legal status, because it is long and complex and was designed to be legally binding (unlike the EU referendum). What you need to know is that it is not within the remit of the Scottish Government to be able to insist on another referendum whenever they feel like it. The UK Government is not over-ruling the Scottish Government on anything, and whether by accident or design, the Tories in London (and Tim Farron) are more in tune with the people of Scotland than the SNP on this particular point. The SNP want me to get angry with the Tories, but on this particular matter, I’m finding myself grateful that May has more steel than Cameron did when he went along with a foolish referendum.

    If the Westminster Government were to over-rule the Holyrood Government on education, or health or any of the many other devolved issues, that criticism would be valid. However, the chance would be a fine thing, as the SNP government seems to allocate less time to subjects over which they do have powers than on debates designed to blame Westminster. And does anyone really think that another Scottish referendum, with campaigning during Brexit negotiations is fair on the rest of the UK?

    Now, I’m not saying that further requests for another referendum should be postponed for the promised generation, but it is more than reasonable to wait until we have a fighting chance of knowing what we’d be voting for and against. Nor do I think that it’s right that the other duties of the Scottish Government should be forgotten about.

  • Thomas Robinson 20th Mar '17 - 9:16pm

    If there was to be no further independence referendum perhaps Fiona or someone else could explain to me why there is no such constraint in the Edinburgh Agreement about none for a generation
    I assure you that those who are trying to declare that the coming vote for a second referendum will progressively come to be regarded as undemocratic fools
    If you are prepared to accept that Scotland is a European nation you might like to point out to me a single country in the entire European Union (UK not excluded) where the leading party has anything like the percentage support that the SNP can command
    If the SNP are not allowed to carry out their manifesto then who on earth is?

  • Thomas Robinson 20th Mar '17 - 9:25pm

    Mark Wright
    It is the purest of nonsense to say that the SNP asked for a “once in a generation”vote

    Not even Clegg, who blew all our chances for PR for Westminster with his idiotic AV referendum, committed to or asked for a “once in a generation” referendum.

  • @fiona

    “…and I’d quite like to know this before campaigning starts in earnest.”

    And quite right too. Since any referendum is at least 1.5 or 2 years away at least I am sure that will be made clear. And thanks for admitting that your assertion about a maximum 3% deficit requirement to join the EU was wrong.

    “There is no mandate for Holyrood to call for another referendum at this time, no matter how they try to fudge it.”

    So if the Scottish Parliament – elected on a proportional basis – votes in favour of another referendum you are saying that is democratically illegitimate. OK.

    “…because it is long and complex and was designed to be legally binding (unlike the EU referendum).”

    No it wasn’t legally binding. The Section 30 agreement was arrived at to ensure that the legality of the referendum was beyond any doubt.

    “And does anyone really think that another Scottish referendum, with campaigning during Brexit negotiations is fair on the rest of the UK?’

    Campaigning would happen once the negotiations have been concluded so hardly unfair.

  • @cllr mark wright

    “The Eurosceptics asked for a “once in a generation” referendum on independence from the EU and they got it. ‘

    Can you point to where anybody said the EU referendum was once in a generation?

  • @cllr mark wright

    “I simply don’t care what misleading garbage the nationalists put in their manifestos.”

    You do seem to be articulating a view that the Westminster Parliament can in effect say what voters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can have an effective vote on however much circumstances change. Does this only apply to “nationalists” and does it apply to British nationalists like you?

  • Little Jackie Paper 21st Mar '17 - 1:12pm

    Hireton – ‘No it doesn’t. It may be in the rules but its not enforced. If it were, Sweden and several other countries would be joining the ERM to then join the Euro. They are not and won’t be.’

    I’d be very careful with that. Firstly, the big difference with Sweden that you don’t mention is that they voted down monetary union in a referendum. I doubt very much politically that is a route that the SNP would want to go down. Secondly, it is true that a number of countries have, treaty obligation notwithstanding not attempted to join the euro and that no attempt has been made to force the issue. That however might not be the case into the future. The European Commission states , ‘However, it is important not to underestimate the significance of euro adoption as a medium-term policy anchor and the risks to credibility and confidence of derailing the convergence process.’ ( Make of that what you will.

    More generally whilst I don’t think that (for the moment) Scotland would be under any compulsion to join the euro I think it would need the CAPACITY to do so should it join the EU. A membership criterion is, ‘the ability to take on and implement effectively the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.’ ( I don’t see how a currency union with sterling would meet that. No reason Scotland couldn’t establish all these things of course – but to me that would be a proposal some way beyond that made in 2014.

    I am assuming here that the aim would be for Scotland to join the EU. It is not 100% clear to me that is the aim.

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