The best argument for not having another independence referendum is by having another independence referendum

Doesn’t make sense? Hear me out.

Layla Moran has confirmed she is opposed to a second referendum in The Scotsman last week and Ed Davey (admittedly along with most other members) has a similar view. I feel this is the wrong tack and is sure to seriously hinder the Lib Dem’s prospects in the Scottish election before we even start next May. We will be fighting for scraps amongst the Unionist vote when we don’t have to.

Look across the water to Quebec, where I think we can draw a lot of parallels. The electorate confirming No twice in a space of 15 years, once in 1980 and again 1995. The answer was largely settled, in the context of plebiscites anyway. Hard to argue for a third referendum when you’ve already lost twice. Outright sovereignty is no longer the mainstream issue it once was. The largest party in Quebec, although a proponent of more autonomy, vows not to campaign for another referendum on sovereignty. The appetite just isn’t there anymore after the constitutional question had been bandied about for so long. The people of Quebec can be proud of their own identity, within Canada knowing that is what the majority have decisively asked for. Sound familiar?

It’s hardly an original thought that there is a level of hypocrisy that we supported a second EU referendum, but we are opposed to indyref2. I am not saying the Lib Dem’s should be campaigning for independence, but they should be campaigning that we should be again asked. The SNP are polling at around 50%. How are we supposed to win any of those voters round with our blinkered standpoint? A second question on the ballot paper “in the event of a No vote, would you support Home Rule for Scotland (or Devo-Max)” would have resolved the issue in 2014. It’s something we could campaign to be on the ballot paper next time. Home Rule has been a long-held policy of the Lib Dem’s. I can only dream of how Scotland could have had a veto in leaving the EU if we had federal UK before 2016. There is a golden opportunity to implement this, in my view the vast majority of Scots would back that second option, and then the constitutional question will be put to bed, for a long while at least. The Lib Dem’s can set them self apart as the party campaigning for a federal UK, in Europe.

But what if Yes comes out on top? You are gambling with the country for a shallow attempt at winning votes, I hear you cry. Not so, if most Scots wish to be independent then you have your answer. Who knows, maybe the electorate would vote in a Liberal Government to run it. But I feel Yes is unlikely to happen if the second question is there, tentative would-be Yes voters will be more inclined to back the second option. We would again have to win the argument in a positive way, and not to do it on a platform alongside the Conservatives and Labour as before, but rather as the federal Lib Dem model.

Nothing I have written here is a new idea or in my view that radical but is pertinent to remind everyone of this before we scratch our heads in May wondering why we didn’t do very well. If the arithmetic in the Scottish Parliament meant the SNP needed the Lib Dem’s support then we could demand having that second question on the ballot paper, ensuring a Yes vote would be less likely to happen. To deny that there’s appetite for another referendum is a stubborn unwillingness to face the truth.

Another referendum is going to happen, we may as well be supportive of the democracy when it does.

It is in our name, after all.

* Will is a newly qualified vet working in Renfrewshire, living in Glasgow. He has strong ties to his home of Aberdeenshire, where his family have a dairy farm. He have been a dormant member of the Lib Dems since 2015, though since leaving university last year would like to be more involved.

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25 Comments

  • Denis Mollison 29th Jun '20 - 5:08pm

    Some of us tried to get the party to support a Devo-Max question on the ballot paper in 2014; I spoke to a motion advocating this at the Scottish LD Spring Conference in 2012, only to see it shot down in flames by some senior party members using language I hope they now regret.

    But I think what we need now is to put forward something we can believe in, not a policy that just makes it look as though we are trying to find a compromise. I am hoping there will be a motion advocating a Federal UK at our Autumn Conference. The biggest difficulties lie in fitting England into such a structure – both in proposing a workable structure that protects the smaller nations, and in convincing the English that a Federal UK is needed. My personal preference would be to turn the H of C into an English Parliament and replace the H of L by a Federal Council of Ministers. Some would like to keep both as a 2-chamber Federal Parliament, but that would be top-heavy (at a time when the public would probably vote for fewer rather than more politicians) and would also be a difficult framework within which to empower the smaller nations.

    In either case, I hope we will continue to press for more powers at Council level. One democratically unhealthy trait shared by the Conservatives at Westminster and the SNP at Holyrood is centralizing decision-making. The current poor pandemic response is evidence that too much centralization is not only undemocratic but inefficient.

  • Agreed.

    The only thing stopping me voting Lib Den in Scotland is their opposition to us being an independent country in Europe. I’d vote liberal in that country.

    I don’t mind if it’s not their favoured result, but blocking the self determination of the population is anti democratic. And it’s keeping Scotland tied to a country which has voted against reform and for terrible governments repeatedly.

  • I fully agree with this. While I don’t really want a referendum, I’m coming to the view that we would be better served by saying “bring it on” to the SNP, rather than trying to keep blocking it outright like the tories. The Tory position on it I think makes them look scared and weak and does nothing to help the pro UK cause.

    Also I am Renfrewshire LD Secretary and am reasonably involved with Glasgow LDs if you want to be more involved.

  • I also agree. Historically, Lib Dems/Liberals have not been traditional Unionist parties. Particularly in Scotland, we should be campaigning more actively for a federal U.K. – which is our own distinctive policy and needs to be better explained as a credible and coherent alternative to the binary unionist/separatist divide. However, whatever our position on the substantive issue (for or against Scottish independence), we cannot *as Liberal Democrats* legitimately argue against the Scottish people’s right of self-determination – or seek to obstruct any democratic mandate of the Scottish Government to hold a further referendum. Also, bearing in mind that the SNP’s policy would be to seek EU membership for an independent Scotland (whether or not that we consider that prospect to be realistic), it is perhaps somewhat misleading for Layla (or others) to brand them as “isolationist”.

  • Refreshing to hear from Will, Andrew and Jack. I hope the Scottish Lib Dem ‘grandees’ are listening and taking note. There’s nothing new in what they say. It was a majority Liberal view back in the days when Liberals dominated Scottish policies.

    As an expat Yorkshireman who has lived in the Borders and the Lothians for over fifteen years I too have gradually come to the view that Scotland would be better served preferably by a negotiated Independence following a referendum (which would allow again for membership of the EU), or as second best – a max Devo Max.

    I for one am fed up with having to live in a UK dominated by First past the post Tory incompetence. Even in the awfulness of Covid things have in general been better managed up here… by a First Minister who actually puts in some effort, shows up every day to be cross examined by the press, listens to the science and actually talks sense instead of doing press ups to demonstrate I don’t know what.

    And, as someone on the shielding lis,t I have nothing but praise for the support my wife and I have had from both Holyrood and my local Council.

    We already have PR for Holyrood and local government and it would give the Scottish Lib Dems (if they have the courage) the possibility of taking part in government again, as well as in Europe, instead of tying themselves in knots trying to justify the unjustifiable.

    Something is certain, if the Lib Dems don’t change their present anti-Indy stance they face wipe out next May and will be replaced by the Scottish Greens at Holyrood.

  • lloyd harris 29th Jun '20 - 7:27pm

    Be careful what you wish for. At one point we thought an in/out referendum on Europe was a good thing and would settle the question. We it did and not in the way we wanted.

    The one think I know about referendum campaigns is they are never clear headed election campaigns on the facts, but nasty affairs that drive wedges through society.

    I believe Scotland still hasn’t healed the wounds of the last referendum. Another won’t solve the problem but make it worse in my opinion.

  • Paul Barker 29th Jun '20 - 7:33pm

    A big part of The SNP “argument” for Independence is their assertion that England will always elect Tory Governments. This is nonsense but I dont suppose many Scots Voters follow the details of English/Westminster Politics, they may well not know that Starmer has higher ratings than even Blair had at the same point or that the Tories have dropped 10% in the Polls in just 3 Months.
    The obvious Historical Parallel is early 1993, the Tories had already crashed in terms of support but they clung on for another 4 Years, hoping that something would turn up.

  • Agree with Lloyd Harris. I think I’ve had enough of tactical referendums for one lifetime thanks. They are not healthy mechanisms for taking complex decisions.
    Also, one of the most potent attacks on the LibDems these days is that we don’t stand for anything, and that we U-turned on tuition fees and other supposed points of principle. Well, we have opposed independence referendums, very forcefully, for many years, and I believe this position has been central to winning the seats we hold in Scotland. To suddenly abandon it now would be a betrayal of those who have voted for us for that reason – and also incidentally a betrayal of our own members, who have repeatedly endorsed this line at conference. (This latter point is an inconvenient fact for those LibDems on here who advocate independence, but it is a stubborn one).
    And Will, if holding an anti-referendum line leaves us “fighting for scraps among the Unionist vote,” then surely taking a pro-referendum line would leave us “fighting for scraps among the Indy vote.” Not that much difference really. Except I think that SNP and Green voters are much harder for us to attract than Tory and Labour voters.
    However, if you think I’m wrong and you want to change the policy, put a motion to Scottish conference. Seriously, that’s how to decide this. Go for it. 🙂

  • @ Paul Barker I’m very sorry, Paul, but you put far too much faith in your repeated optimistic one per cent swings, fly the flag nostrums, and the notice you assume (wrongly) that Scottish voters take in English Westminster politics. I suspect you don’t know much about Scottish politics….. unless you can tell us otherwise.

    Much as I respect Keir Starmer and wish him well, you’re ill informed to point to parallels with 1992-97. There’s a huge difference between then and now. In 1997 the Labour Party elected 56 of the 72 Scottish M.P.’s. In 2019 they elected one, the well respected Ian Murray, and the Lib Dems elected more MP’s than the SNP. But since 2007 the SNP (love ’em or hate ’em) have run a very competent Scottish government.

    Whatever happened to Jim Murphy and Henry McLeish ?

  • David Raw says, “Since 2007 the SNP (love ’em or hate ’em) have run a very competent Scottish government.”
    This is highly debatable. For those of us who don’t(/i> support independence David, the SNP government’s record is not impressive. Here is an extract from Willie Rennie’s speech to conference last year outlining just some of the failures. There are many more, including Swinney’s chaotic ‘return to school’ policy in the last week or so, but this was Willie from last year:
    “I know it sometimes looks like life is good in the Scottish Government.
    But things aren’t always what they seem.
    They start with the comical.
    The First Minister went to launch a new ferry.
    It was months late and they didn’t have the heart to tell her.
    So they actually painted windows onto the metal so it looked like it was finished as it slid down the slipway.
    But they also get serious.
    They delayed their mental health strategy for 15 months, meaning tens of millions of pounds was left unspent on new staff.
    And they wonder why waiting times for young people can still be heartbreakingly more than a year, with targets missed the length and breadth of Scotland.
    Education slips down the international rankings, and SNP ministers try to impose Thatcherite national tests on five-year-olds, and are amazed when it doesn’t work.
    No wonder teachers are furious.
    They’ve a sick kids’ hospital with no sick kids, and no public inquiry about its three-year delay.
    There are trains with no carriages and no staff.
    Buses with no passengers.
    A nursery expansion that actually closes nurseries.
    An energy company with no customers.
    And a nationalised airport at Prestwick whose main business turns out to be the United States military who stop-over to use Donald Trump’s hotel at Turnberry.
    And, despite the climate emergency, they still support a third runway at Heathrow.
    With the chaotic performance of the Conservative Government at Westminster, the SNP have evaded the spotlight of scrutiny.”

  • @David Raw & Paul Barker
    David is right to point to the transformed political landscape of Scotland since 1992-97. This severely undermines the historical parallel that Paul seeks to draw. Whatever Labour’s current recovery in the opinion polls under Keir Starmer, they still have a massive mountain to climb in order to win an overall single-party majority at Westminster in the 2024 General Election – particularly since this will need to be very largely constructed from English and Welsh constituencies alone … and also taking into account likely boundary changes which will most probably be to their net disadvantage.

    The fact remains that the Tories (and their former Liberal National allies) haven’t won a majority of Scottish seats at any General Election since 1955 – David Raw will let me know if I’m wrong about that – yet the Scottish people have been subject to the rule of Tory Governments at Westminster for most of the period since then … and, in the absence of PR, this is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. No wonder this fosters a sense of political grievance and has steadily increased the appetite for independence.

  • John Marriott 29th Jun '20 - 10:18pm

    Yes, by all means give the residents of Scotland another referendum on independence. Some cynics might suggest that we also allow the rest of us an opportunity to vote on whether or not we would like them to go.

    Seriously, though, one thing is certain. Independence would be no walk in the park. Surely a fully federal UK would make more sense.

  • @ Ross Mcl Just to make it clear, Ross Mcl (?), I know and like Willie Rennie. He’s a very nice decent thoughtful man who would make a good minister in a future Coalition.

    His knockabout speech was no more than I’d expect at a party conference….that’s what party conference speeches are for………….and no doubt much fun could be had in another direction about fishery protection vessel contracts, sheep grazing on the banks of Loch Katrine, and about a view I agreed with about Digby Jones. In Willie’s case just as well there were no amorous farm animals on the stage.

    I particularly appreciated Willie’s efforts on transplant donation, fracking and minimum pricing. Just a pity not all his colleagues shared his views on those matters.

    As to safety issues at two new Scottish hospitals, the Public Inquiry begins on 3 August to look into issues relating to ventilation and building systems (the responsibility of contractors ?) at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus in Glasgow…. so try to keep up.

    John Marriott , I never believed you to be a cynic, John, more of a Lincolnshire Poacher.

  • Here in Wales, the reasons I support Plaid Cymru is exactly because it considers Welsh independence as a workable option.
    As been said, a new federal UK may be a dream, but if England is not federated into separate states such as Mercier, Anglia, Wessex, Cornwall, Yorkshire etc then England as a single entity could out-vote Wales and Scotland in debate.
    Such an equal federal system would depend on England federalising and at this moment I cannot see this happening unless the LD win a majority in England in the very next elections.
    Wales and Scotland cannot put their future in what England decides to elect and then be held hostage to Tory extremism and anti-Europeanism.
    To lose the UK level of government but gain EU federalism would be a better option.
    I look forward to Welsh self determination and Plaid Cymru joining the ALDE party in the EU parliament. Wales and Scotland as independent nations could even be represented at the EU council of ministers.
    I hope an independent England will sort itself out politically as it is that electorate’s sympathy to Tory extremism has shaped Welsh and Scottish opinion to that there is no place for us in the UK.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Jun '20 - 12:57pm

    I do not agree with anything in the article or these responding in support of policies that lead to Scottish isolation. That is exactly why I do agree with Layla Moran.

    This party has never backed a separate Scotland, it has ever backed an independently organised scotland in a United kingdom.

    If it goes the way of the Green party, it is finished. i would back Labour or nobody.

    Sorry, but some of us see the facts, the SNP are a divisive anti English party, and that government might be far better than the UK on some policies, but has not done much better on this virus, per comparison scotland is one of the worst performing in the world, compared to countries of similar and equal size, like New zealand, a comparison of sturgeon, Ardern, no comparison of any sort, chalk and cheese!

  • Peter Watson 30th Jun '20 - 1:45pm

    @Frank Little “Since the last independence referendum was based on a false premise …”
    Throughout the EU Referendum campaign it was always likely that a Brexit-supporting England would drag Remain-supporting Scotland out of the EU, but I did hold on to a hope that the result would be so close that the Scottish vote would be enough to keep us in the EU and p*ss off the anti-EU anti-independence UKIPpers! 😉

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Jun '20 - 2:36pm

    Martin I think you might be disinterested or not quite, but the UK and, if there is such a thing, English, media outlets, are obsessed with and involved with Scotland too much compared with other parts of the United Kingdom.

    How many presenters are on tv from Northern Ireland? Even, besides, Huw Edwards, from , Wales?

    What coverage did Northern Ireland ever get in twenty years?

    Why is Wales and their issues in regard to us who are in England, ignored?

    Why was Sammond and now Sturgeon, always on tv? In the UK?!

    Scotland is very loud about much that it could be quieter on. most Scots are mainstream and pro the Uk, and not against the English.

    there is a liberal nationalism, exemplified in classical liberal enlightenment, Italian rissorgimento, Garibaldi, Mazzini. It is about the nation state being its own self. It is not about breaking up or breaking away, it is about building up and bringing together.

    If italy had continued with it my late father might not have been forced to be in the Mussolini youth, top salute the Duce in person, nor would have needed to go on to help the partisans, because Italy would have been on the allied team!

  • Peter Hirst 30th Jun '20 - 2:45pm

    We need a better legislative framework before embarking on further referenda. The result must reflect those effected’s view rather than those who have the most money. If the majority of Scots want independence then that is what they should get. It would mean that England is not prepared to grant sufficient powers and resources to it rather than the desire for independence is something to die for. We desperately need more devolution within a federal framework for the whole UK.

  • @ Martin, Come off it, Martin. Your conclusion is better than your preamble – it
    sounds like a retired District Commissioner in Cheltenham Spa discussing ‘the natives’ in the days of the Raj. Which particular tribe do you belong to ? The Iceni, the Trinovantes the Catuvellauni…… or is it one of the others ?

    As for Mr Cherin, he is correct that the modern Liberal Democrat Party has never supported an Independent Scotland, but I can assure him that in the days of the last Liberal Government, when the Liberal Party held 58 of the 70 Scottish seats many of them most certainly did….. and who knows what would have happened if events had turned out differently in 1914.

    As for isolation, it’s obvious you have little knowledge of the Scotland that voted almost 2 to 1 to remain in the EU in 2016 – and given the opportunity would rejoin. Over the centuries Scotland has had strong connections with Europe…… the Auld Alliance with France, connections with Norway, the Reformation in Northern Europe and the Enlightenment….and even with Italy in more modern times.

    It’s time you visited Barga : Barga, Italy: A little piece of Scotland in Tuscany The Scotsmanwww.scotsman.com › arts-and-culture › barga-italy-littl… 14 May 2018 – Alison Campsie visits the charming town of Barga in Italy, and discovers a little slice of Scotland in the Tuscan hills.

    Sadly your knowledge of what actually happens in a PR elected Holyrood Parliament and in PR elected local authorities appears. Have you ever been ?

    If anybody is isolated in modern times it’s the Brexit voting English.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st Jul '20 - 12:16am

    David, amidst the lecture from you was real knowledge, thanks, but we do not disagree on isolation, I get, that, I referred to not wanting Scotland isolated from England!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Or us in England separate from them!

  • @ Martin Thanks for the questions, Martin. You ask,

    1. “tell us what the SNP are like: are they really a mirror image of UKIPers and ERG, Johnson fawning Tories ?”

    No, Martin. With very few exceptions they could be described as Social Democrats. Much of their legislation could Be (and is) happily supported by left of centre voters. Your question implies the divisive Tory tabloid characterisation of wild hairy skean dhu waving Scots wearing Jimmy Hats descending on Wembley Stadium. I suits the Tories to push this line to scare the Home Counties into hiding under their beds. As a Social Care Convenor Cabinet Member I had a mutually respectful relationship with the SNP minority.

    2. “Could you give your own estimate of what proportion of our vote in Scotland would turn away from us if SLD were more sympathetic to the possibility of Scottish Independence ?” Not really. There’s not much of a vote left to turn away – they’ve already gone.

    Latest poll : SNP 53%, Con 21%, Lab 17%, LD 6%, Green 3%.

    Fifteen years ago Lib Dems were on 26%. Party HQ is now coy about the LD level of constituency activity – the 2010 Coalition torpedoed it.

    Scotland has always had a Radical thread and with a population of 5.5 million, Scotland is every bit as capable of running itself as Ireland, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway etc., and it’s 75% self sufficient on renewable green energy.

    Time the Lib Dems stopped tying themselves in knots demanding a second referendum on the EU, but not on a second referendum on a social democratic self governing Scotland……… and Lorenzo would still be welcome as a tourist one day post Covid.

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