Swans Commentary » swans.com January 15, 2007  



Unity Of The Scottish Independence Movement
The Demand for a Referendum


by Joe Middleton





(Swans - January 15, 2007)  Tony Blair has said independence would be "disastrous" for Scots, however the truth is somewhat different as was revealed recently by Blair's cabinet colleague, the former Foreign Secretary and current leader of the House Jack Straw, in an interview with the BBC.

Straw is quoted as saying: "Historically, England called the shots to achieve a union because the union was seen as a way, among others things, of amplifying England's power worldwide. And the reverse would certainly be true. A broken-up United Kingdom would not be in the interests of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, but especially not England."

He adds, "Our [England's] voting power in the European Union would diminish. We'd slip down in the world league GDP tables. Our case for staying in the G8 would diminish and there could easily be an assault on our permanent seat in the UN." [Security Council]

We should perhaps be grateful to Straw for his honesty. What he is effectively saying is that countries like Scotland and Wales are expected to give up their unique voices in the international community so England can enjoy "amplified," i.e., undeserved, international status.

The case for union, then, is simple if like Gordon Brown you support England's interests over Scotland's; then as Straw says there is an excellent case for retention of the union because it was designed to amplify England's voice and it still does today. If however you support Scotland's right to have her unique voice heard, then the only logical choice is independence.

Independence is now the most popular constitutional option for the Scottish people. This has become more and more obvious since devolution has been established and is part of a consistent trend of upwards support for independence.

It is obvious that the Scottish parliament has not got strong enough powers to get to grips with the Scottish economy or to tackle issues like immigration or defence. Most people in Scotland want more powers for their parliament, and the only way those powers will be delivered is by voting for independence.

Return to direct rule from London is not a possibility and therefore support for independence has soared. This trend was the main reason behind the formation of the non party-political referendum campaign, Independence First (IF).

Analysts may wonder why independence support dwarfs Scottish National Party (SNP) support. It's simply that the independence movement has grown larger than the SNP. A great many groups now support independence. The Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), and Tommy Sheridan's Solidarity all support independence, as do smaller parties such as the Free Scotland Party, the Scottish Independence Party, the Scottish Enterprise Party, and the Communist Party of Scotland.

The Celtic League, the James Connolly Society, the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement, and others also support independence. All these organisations also support Independence First and its call for a democratic referendum for the people of Scotland. The diverse organisations supporting IF were on display at our successful rally on 30th September 2006.

Britain's motto has always been "divide and conquer," and, in the past, the Scottish independence cause has been divided, with various factions attempting to fight for control of the SNP. Nowadays, although there are many more groups supporting independence, those who believe in independence are more united than ever before.

Groups like IF and the Scottish Independence Convention have allowed the independence movement room to breathe and the opportunity to properly prioritise the independence cause. While the Independence Convention is aimed at resolving potential tactical differences between the Scottish parties and designing a constitution for an independent Scotland, Independence First is attempting to maximise support for independence by uniting the Scottish people around our campaign for a democratic referendum.

Anyone who supports independence would also support a referendum on it. While some might be uncertain if such a referendum could be won at this time, all have accepted that there is no other route to independence and that, after devolution, the public would logically expect a further vote, on an even bigger constitutional change.

The fact that Scottish politics is now equally divided between Westminster elections and the Scottish elections has focused the media more on Scotland, despite the papers remaining largely unionist-orientated and hostile to the arguments for independence. (That not one of the major newspapers reflects majority public opinion on this issue is a cause for concern in our supposedly democratic society.) Nonetheless, this increased focus on Scottish politics has undoubtedly helped the Scottish-based parties, and these Scottish-based parties all favour independence. Even at the last election, while the SNP's vote fell sharply, the overall level of independence support and the number of independence-supporting Members of the Scottish Parliament actually increased.

The smaller parties tend to be marginalised in UK-wide opinion polls and, even in Scottish polls, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3% it is pretty much impossible to determine exactly what the vote for the Greens or the SSP is likely to be.

What we do know is that these parties tend to poll higher than their opinion poll results, and we also know that the support for the SNP is much higher than ever before. The new parties, like the right-of-centre Scottish Enterprise Party, or the anti-EU Free Scotland Party, or Tommy Sheridan's Solidarity party, may well pick up further votes for independence as well.

The possibility is there then for a pro-independence coalition which could project Scotland to independence.

Independence First has achieved a number of important objectives.

We have clarified the position of the UK and Scottish governments on constitutional matters relating to referendums. We recently wrote to both the UK government and the Scottish Parliament asking for a democratic referendum for the people of Scotland on independence.

The Scottish Parliament responded: "Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 defines matters reserved to the UK Parliament. [According to this] the government of the United Kingdom is responsible for considering fundamental changes to the devolution framework."

The Scottish Office in London stated: "... the UK Parliament is sovereign and it is for Parliament to decide whether to hold a referendum on any particular issue -- and what the terms should be."

Obviously the Scottish Parliament wants to pass the buck, while Westminster does not recognise Scotland's proper constitutional position. In England, Parliament may be sovereign, but in Scotland and Scottish law it is generally recognised that it is the people of Scotland who have the right to decide their own destiny.

It makes logical sense that any referendum on independence for Scotland should be organised here by our devolved parliament and the UK Government approached to dissolve the union after a vote in favour of independence by the people of Scotland.

We have effectively united the independence movement behind our campaign, and we are expanding fast. We launched a new branch in Glasgow last month and we already have branches in place in Angus and Edinburgh.

We have also come up with a structure that will be resistant to any attempt by British unionists to undermine it by playing on political differences. IF have decided that since no important political objectives can be achieved without independence we will not argue about political issues before then. Beyond independence, Independence First has no policies whatsoever: we believe any decisions on the EU or the monarchy or anything else must be made by our national parliament after independence. This non-political position means we are flexible enough to include every single political group and individual who supports independence for Scotland.

Our ultimate task is a big one: it is to encourage a massive groundswell of people on the scale of Scotland United to demand a referendum as a matter of urgency. We have calculated that around a million Scots voters need to vote for independence in both the first and second ballots to win an election. Current opinion polls show over half the people of Scotland already support independence and a further substantial chunk is undecided.

We recently ran an e-petition through the Scottish Parliament with over 1,300 signatures attached. Unfortunately, the Scottish Parliament's public petitions committee decided that there was no need to ask the people of Scotland their views on independence because they already have the opportunity to vote in elections.

In actual fact, people vote for political parties for a variety of different reasons. Independence is supported by individuals on the left and right of politics and some of those people support Labour, Tories, and Lib Dems as well as the parties based in Scotland.

The only way to get a clear idea of the Scottish public's desires on independence is to ask them directly. This executive isn't asking because it doesn't think it will like the answer.

Independence First believes one million votes are well within the independence movement's grasp. We also believe that once the Scottish people realise just how close independence potentially is then they will vote for it en masse next year.

If you are reading this article and would like to learn more about independence for Scotland or to help, then there is a lot more information at the Scottish Independence Guide Web site. This site includes up to date news and views and a lot of articles about Scottish culture and history as well as a full guide to Scottish politics.


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Internal Resources

Why Scotland Must Put Independence First, Joe Middleton, January 2006

The Only Road To Scottish Socialism Is Independence, Joe Middleton, April 2006

Why Scotland Needs A Referendum On Independence, Joe Middleton, September 2006

Activism under the Radar Screen


About the Author

Joe Middleton was in the Scottish National Party from 1987 to 2004 and held various positions at constituency level. He is currently a member of the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement and is the Press Officer for Independence First and is IF's representative on the Interim Forum for an Independence Convention (IFIC).



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Published January 15, 2007