The Referendum Murders (paperback)

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Saturday, 16 July 2016

Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon, the Brexit negotiations and the #indyref2 option

Way back in March 2012, the Scottish Tories – an endangered species - were banging the Union drum in Troon, and BBC Scotland still had the superb Isabel Fraser as a television anchor woman, and Isabel had a guest on whom she could exercise her finely-honed interviewing skills  - one Theresa May, Home Secretary. The issues and the arguments presaged what the new Prime Minister is about in Scotland right now as she meets with our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Events since that time have unfolded in a way that no one predicted – the 2014 Referendum outcome, and what followed that pyrrhic victory for No to independence. A brief summary of the state of play for the ‘defeated’ YES Campaign in mid-July 2016, following September 2014 No vote -

YES to Independence has the most committed activist supporters, the most effective online presence, the best organisation. A YES party (SNP) is in its 3rd term in government and, with Green support, has an overall majority.

A YES party (SNP) with a massive membership, has a charismatic, high media visibility leader, a massive, dominant Scottish Westminster presence and 2015 general election mandate from the electorate.

The main UK opposition parties (Labour, Tories and UKIP) are in near meltdown mode, and a third (LibDems) is almost irrelevant.

The SNP Government has a May 2016 mandate from the electorate to resist #Brexit and call #indyref2 based on its manifesto commitment if it so decides, has a June 2016 mandate (62%) from the EU Referendum electorate to resist Brexit and has a mandate from the Scottish Parliament to resist Brexit, i.e. three inter-related mandates.


Our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has made many statements about the implications of the EU Referendum of 23rd of June both before it and subsequently.

The 2016 Manifesto statement before the May 2016 Holyrood election may be taken as definitive of the pre-EU_Ref position and of her current position

SNP Manifesto 2015, page 23

We will achieve independence
only when a majority of our fellow
are persuaded that it offers
the best future for our country
. Our
success will depend on the strength
of our arguments and the clarity of
our vision.

We believe that the Scottish
should have the right to
hold another referendum if there
is clear and sustained evidence
that independence has become the
preferred option of a majority of
the Scottish people
or 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

The FM’s post-referendum position is illustrated by such recent statements as these -

"The option of a Independence Referendum must be on the table if it becomes clear that that is the best or only way of preserving our EU status”

”I've been absolutely clear on this issue – people of Scotland voted decisively to stay part of EU and their wishes must be respected

The First Minister’s position therefore rests on three distinct yet related mandates that inter-weave in a complex and challenging pattern as she considers the chaotic, unpredicted and unpredictable UK and Westminster chaos following the June Brexit verdict  - the LEAVE narrow victory, the resignation of the Prime Minister, the shambles of the Tory Leadership contest, the Theresa May victory and virtual coronation as  Prime Minister  followed by a brief and brutal wholesale demolition and reconstruction of the British Cabinet – actions so radical that they led to demands for a general election, which have so far been rejected and resisted.

Add to this poisoned cocktail the utter shambles of the factional thing once called the British Labour Party, riven by in-fighting and on the brink of a great schism, and we have the scenario of a confident and outward-looking Scotland and its First Minister, secure in her party’s third term in office - and the most popular political leader in the UK - facing the Prime Minister of a confused, not a little frightened Disunited Kingdom  facing a hostile Europe, leading a Tory Party that has shifted seismically to the right.


The May 2016 mandate from the Scottish electorate to resist #Brexit and call #indyref2 based on its manifesto commitment if it so decides

The June 2016 mandate (62%) from the EU Referendum electorate to resist Brexit

The mandate from the Scottish Parliament to resist Brexit

The first of these – a mandate from voters who voted SNP - is sharply distinct from the second two, which derive from more complex sources. The mandate from the Scottish Parliament derives from two independence-supporting parties, the SNP and the Greens and one Union-supporting party, Scottish Labour, with the third union-supporting party, the Tories abstaining.

But it is the mandate from the June EU Referendum electorate that presents the greatest challenge to Nicola’s formidable intellectual and political mind, since it comes from a REMAIN-supporting Scottish electorate comprising voters both in favour of and opposed to Scotland’s independence, many of whom voted REMAIN specifically to avoid a second independence referendum if they followed their Tory and Labour parties lines. An added complexity is that as many as one third of LEAVE voters supported the SNP and independence!

Nicola, who is highly aware of this aspect, has repeatedly asserted that, despite her personal commitment to Scotland’s independence and her party, the SNP’s commitment to it as their goal, she is the First Minister of a Scotland that voted in 2014 by 55% to 45% to remain in UK, albeit on promises that have now been broken – a material change in circumstances.

If time and energy permit, I may go on to a second blog tomorrow to analyse, from a professional negotiator’s perspective, the negotiating dynamics of this fascinating situation.