Photo by Seán J Crossan
Can you contain your excitement? Indyref2 (or a second Scottish Independence Referendum) is definitely on the horizon…
… except that it isn’t, but this is the impression given by sections of the Scottish and UK media.
On 28 May 2019, Michael Russell MSP, a senior Scottish Government Minister introduced the Referendums (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Parliament.
Does this pave the way for more constitutional upheaval (as if Brexit woes aren’t enough at the moment?) across Scotland and the rest of the UK?
Well … actually, no it doesn’t.
Are we on the cusp of a political event approximating the Apocalypse or the Second Coming? Hardly.
From a cursory glance of the Bill and its accompanying documents, it’s very hard to see any mention of Indyref2. In fact, the aims of the Bill are incredibly modest:
“This Bill provides a legislative framework for referendums. It provides a power for the Scottish Ministers, by regulations, to provide for the holding of referendums throughout Scotland within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.”[my emphasis]
Critically, even Ken MacIntosh MSP, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament has stated:
“In my view, the provisions of the Referendums (Scotland) Bill would be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.”
The Bill is very limited in scope (or timid depending upon your viewpoint). There’s nothing problematic about a future Scottish Government wishing to consult the people of Scotland through the medium of direct democracy (i.e. a referendum) on issues that are firmly within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. Off the top of my head, I can think of several matters which might be suitable for direct democracy e.g. local government, NHS reorganisation, Police and Fire Services reform; education and more thorny, ethical and moral matters such as abortion and euthanasia.
In terms of the Scotland Acts 1998 and 2016, the Scottish Parliament is confined to legislating upon matters or issues which are deemed to be “devolved”. It is not permitted to legislate upon matters which are deemed to be “reserved” to the Westminster Parliament.
In a previous blog (“Bring it on! (or Indyref2?)” published on 26 April 2019), I emphasised that the last Referendum on the question of Scottish Independence (held on Thursday 18 September 2014) was permitted to go ahead because the then UK Government and Parliament gave their consent. This constitutional arrangement became known as the Edinburgh Agreement of 15 October 2012 and operated under the auspices of Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998.
Currently, it does not seem likely that the UK Government and the next British Prime Minister (who we know will come from the Conservative Westminster Parliamentary Party) are likely to agree to Indyref2 going ahead.
So, what does the Scottish Government hope to achieve?
Be in no doubt: this is about the political long game and the Scottish Government is attempting to shame the UK Government into giving it the right to hold a second referendum.
Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP is calculating that she can portray the refusal of the UK Government to approve another referendum as a deliberate denial of the Scottish people’s fundamental democratic rights. If a UK led Conservative Government becomes even more unpopular, SNP activists and other independence supporters are hoping that it will become politically costly for the Conservatives to continue to oppose a second referendum.
Where will it all end? At the moment, who can really predict the future with any degree of certainty.
Interesting times indeed!
An infographic (taken from the Scottish Parliament’s website) showing the introduction of the Referendums (Scotland) Bill can be seen below:
The subsequent progress of the Bill can be seen in the info graphic below:
A link to the Bill and its accompanying documents can be found below:
Finally, you can find links to some news articles below which discuss the implications of the Bill:
On Friday 6 December 2019, 6 days before the UK General Election, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, First Minister of Scotland conceded that a legal Indyref2 was a ‘hard fact’ that some supporters of Scottish independence would have to accept.
What Ms Sturgeon was alluding to was a question of fact as we like to say in the law: the power to hold a future referendum on Scottish independence lies with the Westminster or UK Parliament in terms of Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998.
Boris Johnson, the current UK Prime Minister has emphatically ruled out any second independence referendum if a majority Conservative Party Government is re-elected next Thursday.
Some Scottish independence activists have advocated a Catalan style independence referendum i.e. going ahead with a poll without legal authority. Understandably, this not a popular option where the First Minister is concerned when one remembers the chaotic (not to say) violent events in October 2017 during the independence referendum in Catalunya
A link to a discussion on the BBC website about the tensions over tactics in the Scottish pro-independence movement can be found below:
General election 2019: Sturgeon says legal indyref2 is a ‘hard truth’
Copyright Seán J Crossan, 3 June and 6 December 2019