There have been some daft arguments put against allowing people in Scotland to have a choice about the future of their country.
You have no mandate, Ruth Davidson tells Nicola Sturgeon. Really? Did the SNP not mention this in their manifesto for the Scottish Parliament election last year? Let’s check. Maybe it’s buried away somewhere. No wait. Page 24 has a whole section on a second referendum. It says: “We believe that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum…if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.”
Okay, but the SNP lost the election. Mmmm, not quite. Actually at nearly 47 per cent the SNP got more votes and a bigger share of the vote than ever before. True, due to our proportional system they lost a couple of seats and narrowly failed to get an overall majority. But they won the election by a country mile in what was a resounding endorsement of Nicola Sturgeon’s party. Yeah but they’re only able to force this referendum through with the support of the Greens who never said anything about it in their manifesto. Oh come on. Who’s kidding who? Everyone knows the Greens are as keen on independence as anyone. You can’t seriously suggest Green voters are unhappy with how they’ve voted in parliament on this.
All right, so the pro-Indy parties have a majority in parliament, but there’s no appetite amongst the public for another referendum. Really? Actually, whilst only a quarter of people say they would like a referendum straight away, a clear majority say they would like one before Brexit actually happens. And that of course is exactly what the Scottish parliament is suggesting. Once the Brexit deal is known but before it’s too late to do anything about it, people in Scotland should have their say.
But a referendum will be divisive. Now that’s a bit rich from a party who have just divided the whole of the UK down the middle over Brexit with a campaign that quite deliberately whipped up antagonism against migrants. Talk about pots calling kettles!
In a democracy we have a vote when opinion is divided. So in one sense you can say that any referendum is divisive. But the only way to eliminate that completely is to not have a vote on anything. I guess you could argue that dictatorships for all their faults aren’t divisive.
In fact, debates and decisions about how we want our country to be run need not be divisive at all. They can resolve differences, leaving us more united and our democracy stronger as a result. I believe that the overall effect of the 2014 referendum was incredibly positive and that we emerged from it more engaged and more aware of the political circumstances our country faced. And if we are to continue the discussion about our constitutional future then it must be done with tolerance and respect for differing points of view.
Why don’t you respect the 2014 result then? But I do. The reason why we need to have another referendum is not because the people who lost didn’t respect the last result. It is because the people who won changed the deal. The UK Scots voted to be part of in 2014 simply will not exist in the future. That has led many, many people to change their minds on the matter. And in a democracy when people change their minds they are allowed to express that.
Yeah, but what about the oil? Later.
Tommy Sheppard is SNP MP for Edinburgh East