#IndyRef2: Like Kezia and Nicola, I’ll keep all the options on the table.


The UK now faces its greatest crisis since the Suez debacle. Just like Suez, the situation is of our own making and will, for better or worse, change our standing in the world. The vote to leave the UK  has the potential to reshape and dominate the political landscape for a generation.

The political response so far has been mixed. David Cameron, after announcing he’ll stand down in the Autumn, is keeping a low profile, but I expect/hope his government is working frantically to prepare the UK for what comes next. Boris Johnson looks like a man who just lost a game of Russian roulette, but is now no doubt focussing on replacing Cameron as our PM. UK Labour is turning inward as the campaign has raised more questions about Corbyn’s  leadership.

In Scotland the debate, understandably, is focussing on whether or not Scotland should leave the UK. Ruth Davidson argued that Scottish remain votes do not cancel those cast in 2014 to stay in the UK. Nicola Sturgeon is less sure, but has said a second independence vote is “highly likely” – she’s making herself look busy by holding press conferences. Scottish Labour’s Kezia Dugdale has made it clear that the party will “consider all options”.

An opinion poll today shows a clear majority of Scots now back Scottish independence.  Whilst this poll does reflect the conversations I have had with people since Friday, my view is that it’s too soon to know what’s best for Scotland now. There will always be those who will support independence at any cost and those who support remaining in the UK equally strongly. In 2014 the bulk of Scots were caught in the middle of these opposing groups, but rightly voted “No” as it was clear we’d be worse off outside the UK – the vote was about head, not heart. To be clear, we made that decision knowing Brexit was possible as the EU Referendum was already on the table.

Of course the economic argument for Scotland remaining in the UK has now changed. However, we don’t know how it has changed and will not do so for some time. For that reason, I think it’s too soon to know how I will vote in any second independence referendum. Yes, solidarity with the rest of the UK is hugely important, but the Brexit vote may mean that Scotland may have to choose between that and Europe.  Until the uncertainty is reduced we simply do not know what outcome is the best path to protecting public services and economic prosperity in Scotland.  In my view, the economic argument can’t be made until three things (at least) are known.

Firstly,  we need to know what the UK’s future relationship with the EU would be. It’s clear that the UK will try to establish some sort of a Norwegian/Swiss style EFTA deal. This will, its supporters will claim, give us the benefits of EU membership without the downside. The costs and benefits of this deal are key to the UK’s economic prosperity.

Secondly, we need to understand what an independent Scotland’s relationship with Europe will be. It appears unlikely that Scotland can stay (yes, I know we are not a member right now) in the EU as the rest of the UK leaves:

1.       With one of the largest deficits in the western world (more than double that of rUK), we don’t meet the entry criteria -The EU does not need another country with a huge deficit.

2.       Any country which backs Scottish membership would essentially be triggering the break-up of the UK – a diplomatic minefield.

Can Scotland really leave the UK  due to Brexit only to become an independent state adrift outside the EU without the support of the Barnett formula? The 33% of SNP voters who backed Brexit may think that’s a good idea, but I don’t.

Thirdly, the SNP have several of the usual non-trivial questions to answer on things like borders with rUK and currency.

This uncertainty explains why even the staging of a second independence referendum looks less than certain to me. Until the three points above are addressed I will remain undecided but, like Kezia and Nicola, I’ll keep all the options on the table.

[This blog is based on one I posted on LabourHame]







Now is precisely the point at which we should be considering the nature of our political discourse.

In so many ways Jo Cox’s death is shocking. It can’t be rationalised because it is irrational. It defies explanation or justification. This is why it troubles us so much. I earnestly hope the trial of the man accused of her murder provides her family with some answers.  

Her death has, however, raised questions about the risks our MPs face (along with their staff) and the contempt with which our “political elite” are held. Whilst this debate has resulted in much handwringing in England, in Scotland it is nothing new. During the build up to the independence vote we saw the hate and vitriol in politics increase. We saw people assume the moral high ground and from those lofty heights anyone holding an opposing view was fair game. Many MPs were denounced as “quislings” and were subjected to “community justice”.

For many, opposing views could not be respected or even heard. Public meetings moved from heckling (part of our political culture) to people being shouted down. Our great referendum became, for many, about good versus evil.

The EU referendum has done the same in the rest of the UK. People are being told that somebody else is responsible for their problems and that getting rid of them will solve everything… and we’ll all be richer when that happens. The barrier to reaching this nirvana is, of course, a corrupt political elite, so called experts and a biased media. The parallel with Scottish independence debate is clear.

Outside the binary world of our referendums what people don’t see is that the “political elites” of both sides actually work together on many issues and that much of the work they do in their surgeries makes a huge difference to their constituents. That’s why Jo Cox was respected so much locally – she did a good job of helping people with the boring stuff like noisy neighbours, dog crap, bin collections and planning issues.

I’m convinced that if more people met their local MP, MSP or councillor we’d all have more respect for them. Some are better than others, but the vast majority are well intentioned and want to make a difference to people’s lives.