Wildcat referendum on Scottish independence will simply worsen division – Alex Cole-Hamilton

A recent All Under One Banner march in support of Scottish independence saw expletive-ridden, hateful placards and chants of “Whose streets? Our streets. Whose flag? Our flag”, writes Alex Cole-Hamilton.

Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 6:00 am
Independence supporters march through Glasgow earlier this month. Picture: John Devlin

Scotland is peculiar in its ability to remember the same event in its near ­history in two wholly ­contradictory ways. For half of our population, the run-up to the independence referendum of 2014 was a festival of democracy and a celebration of nationhood, where politics blended with culture to offer a ­thousand different visions of an imaginary utopia (irrespective of how achievable that utopia actually was).

For the other half, it wasn’t.

Those of us who wanted Scotland to stay in the UK found ourselves defending a dysfunctional status quo and lying awake at night, watching opinion polls tighten and major corporations quietly plan to withdraw from Scotland. For us there was no festival, only anxiety and a hushed reluctance to overtly state our views in public for fear of the kind of the reaction we’d seen screamed in the faces of our campaign leaders.

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Alex Cole-Hamilton is the LIb Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western

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The result of the referendum left the first group shattered and the second relieved. Its closeness left both groups unsure that the matter was finally ­settled. It wasn’t.

In fact, far from being settled, the idea of independence and another divisive border poll has set the weather in Scottish politics ever since. It has hung like a cloud over parliamentary debates, election manifestos and media coverage in Scotland these past six years.

It’s starved all other policy areas of ministerial consideration as SNP bosses calculated and schemed over the best time to go for it. So it was that over Christmas, shortly after the General Election that they went for it. A formal request was made to London for Holyrood to be given the power to hold another referendum (a so-called section 30 order), only to be rebuffed in early January by the Prime Minister. This was always going to happen, so what now?

Boycott by unionists

Well, for all their success in the recent General Election, there’s a whiff of angry impatience around the Nationalist camp these days. That impatience is now manifest in the actions of some of the movement’s most respected figures.

News broke over the weekend that SNP grandee and former leadership contender Alex Neil MSP is calling on Nicola Sturgeon to forgo the formality of a Section 30 order and hold a ­so-called ‘wildcat’ referendum on independence. There is huge support for this in the Yes camp, but SNP high command is very frosty on the idea.

Emulating the Catalonian referendum of 2017, a wildcat referendum would see the Government organise a poll in a manner that contravenes the principles of devolution. It would lack any legal basis or the formal ­legitimacy of the original 2014 vote and would most likely suffer a ­widespread boycott from most unionists. (It would certainly suffer a boycott from this unionist.)

With supporters of the UK staying at home and any Yes victory being declared illegal, such a referendum would be less conclusive than the last and there are signs it would be even more salty.

My streets, my flag too

Scenes from the pro-independence All Under One Banner march in Glasgow a couple of weeks ago showed sections of the crowd carrying expletive-ridden, hateful placards and chanting: “Whose streets? Our streets. Whose flag? Our flag.”

Eh, I’m sorry, but they’re my streets too matey, it’s also my flag.

Appropriating thoroughfares and national symbols like this is hardly going to win people over, and it’s yet another sign of growing desperation in the nationalist movement.

This anger and despair will only serve to ensure that the two halves of Scotland’s divided people will ­continue to see and remember things very differently from each other for a long while to come.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western.