Jordan Daly: Scotland needs to settle indyref once and for all so we can get back to politics

Student and political campaigner Jordan Daly says Scotland needs another independence referendum to end the limbo of constitutional politics

THE council elections have concluded and, alas, the constitutional question strikes again. 

The SNP emerged as the clear winner in yet another crucial moment in Scottish political history. The Greens also performed well, gaining five seats - but the biggest outcome is the performance of the Tories, who won 276 seats across the country.

There are two things to be clear about here. First, I’m not convinced that these gains have a lot to do with Tory policies but, rather, they’re the consequence of our continued constitutional divide. 

Read more – SNP win council election as Tories surge past Labour into second place

Second, they don’t represent any sort of new blowback against another referendum on Scottish independence; in this respect, it’s really just about the voting systems that each election uses. The constituency of unionist voters which turned out for the Tories last week has been active since 2014, but their votes achieve differing electoral outcomes which are very much dependent on the voting system that’s being used. 

If we adopted a form of proportional representation (PR) as opposed to first-past-the-post (FPTP) in our General Elections, then we would have seen a far more divided picture in 2015, too. 

If you think of the SNP as being indicative of a Yes constituency while the Tories (and also Scottish Labour, to a less explicit extent) are indicative of a No constituency, it’s not difficult to see why this election has concluded in the way that it has. 

I’m struggling to buy into this slightly dramatic narrative that Scotland is "lurching to the right" in a similar way to England, and I think that the commentariat needs to see this for what it is: another current example of our disconcerted politics.

Unionists are voting Tory in larger numbers, but this is not only a result of Labour’s recent struggles; it’s also because people were led to believe that they were sending some sort of anti-independence message by giving the Tories more influence over local issues and services. Post-political logic.

If we remove the backdrop of Scottish independence, do the Tories still have the same pulling power? I wouldn’t be so confident, and I’d be willing to bet that they aren’t either. 

Ultimately, local issues should have been placed at the centre of any prospective councillor’s campaign, and in any conventional political atmosphere they would have been. Indeed, the Tories’ effort to encourage voters to treat the council elections as a mini referendum on Scottish independence is clever skulduggery, considering that councillors have zero control over whether or not another referendum is held.

Interestingly, however, this strategy has revealed a little acknowledged truth about the Tories’ own understanding of their electoral ability. Just like every election post-2014, Scots are evidently still voting within the Yes versus No dichotomy, as opposed to thinking along policy lines. The Tories know this, as evidenced by their drive to ensure that these elections centred around Scottish independence. It's the best way for them to make gains - and, to their credit, it has been working. 

My question, herein, is this: if we remove the backdrop of Scottish independence, do the Tories still have the same pulling power? I wouldn’t be so confident, and I’d be willing to bet that they aren’t either. 

It’s in their interests that we do not have another referendum any time soon; not only for the stability of the United Kingdom, but also for the continued electoral success of their party in Scotland. Tory policies are still not really that popular here (see rape clause, public sector cuts, bedroom tax et al), so how else do they navigate that, other than to cement themselves as the only credible opposition to the looming 'crisis' of Scottish sovereignty? 

Ultimately, theirs is a strategic rebranding project and they’ve pulled it off brilliantly. 

Read more – Gender balance fail: Women fewer than a third of total elected councillors

But let’s put these results into perspective by taking a quick look at Calton, one of Glasgow’s most deprived areas, which surprised a lot of people by electing a Tory. Here, again, it boils down to voting systems: they took their seat with just 11 per cent of first preference votes, while the SNP and the Greens combined took 56 per cent. 

Translate that vote share into first-past-the-post, and we’re looking at quite a different outcome. This is mirrored across the country; the Tories were the largest party in four council areas (compared to two in 2012), while the SNP took sway in 19 (compared to nine in 2012). 

The Tories may have gained a lot more seats nationwide, but their electoral support is nowhere near strong enough to grant them any unchained autonomy and, ultimately, the SNP is still retaining its political hegemony - despite 10 years of governance. The results are not necessarily as earth shattering as we’re being led to believe.

We talk a lot about democracy here in Scotland, but the reality is that our politics is increasingly defined by single-issue soundbites and buzzwords, a feat which is actually having a negative effect on democracy in practice. 

We’ve seen this reductive campaigning in every Scottish election since the initial independence referendum and, to be fair, the Tories are not alone in engaging with it. Scottish Labour attempted the same narrative and, indeed, the SNP and fellow cohorts paid attention to the constitution and sending a strong pro-indy message in 2015 and 2016. 

We talk a lot about democracy here in Scotland, but the reality is that our politics is increasingly defined by single-issue soundbites and buzzwords, a feat which is actually having a negative effect on democracy in practice. 

The upcoming election in June will pitch along the exact same lines. That’s not to say that our parties aren’t proposing strong policies or addressing key issues - they are. The issue is that such policies don’t necessarily transcend the manifestos and hit the mainstream in the same way that they once did. Events, rather than a concerted effort from any individual party, are ultimately to blame for this situation.

Thus, contemporary Scottish politics has been diluted and truncated in a way that isn’t too healthy. The question of our nation’s independence remains dominant, slithering its way into all areas of sociopolitical life and resulting in an awful lot of unprecedented upheaval. 

The traditional two-dimensional ideological continuum has lost significance, and many voters are clearly paying little attention to where their chosen party sits on the political spectrum. 

Our society continues to be typified by major levels of health and wealth inequality, dropping educational standards, rising homelessness and 'working poverty' - yet these live and pressing issues are being shrugged off by the electorate as they position themselves around the constitutional question. We need more than that. 

The debate in Scotland isn’t around raising the minimum wage or putting an end to zero-hours contracts - it’s been reduced to the constitution, and I’m sure that I’m not alone in hoping that we can start to move past that. In this respect, there’s only one solution.

Read more – Charities hold SNP and Green councillors to 'green pledges' as new era dawns in Glasgow

Scotland's political narrative has steered way off track, and to such an extent that no one would probably have predicted it a few years ago. This will continue: in future elections, the battle between independence and unionism will keep playing out through the ballot box — which is why we really do need to settle the question of Scottish independence. 

There is already a parliamentary mandate for another referendum, so its fate is now subject to timing. Regardless of when the vote may be, this has to be the last shot - for the sake of our politics. After we return to the polling booths to vote for or against Scottish independence, we need to be firm and make clear that there will not be another rerun. We cannot be a nation of 'neverendums'.

Answering the constitutional question, once and for all, is the only way to bring back some political normality to Scotland, and it really is time for policy-focused politics to reclaim the narrative. 

There will be a lot of interesting shakeups after a second referendum, without doubt, but real interest lies in what will happen to our political landscape. If voters opt for independence will the SNP’s hegemony start to crack, or will it continue to be rewarded? Will the Tory revival persist? Will Labour make a comeback by constructing itself as the progressive, post-independence option for the Scottish left? 

Time will tell, but one thing is true: Scottish politics has dichotomised to present two options to the electorate - Yes or No. In order to bring back political diversity, voters need to be given one 'last chance' platform through which to express themselves. 

Irrespective of outcome, we need to settle the biggest political question of our time.

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Tue, 05/09/2017 - 14:43

There is already a parliamentary mandate for another referendum

There is not. Here is a link to one of the SNP's manifestos for the 2016 Holyrood election.

All that it says about a do-over is:

We believe that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to
hold another referendum if it is clear that more than half of the
people in Scotland want independence.

That condition has not been met.

We don't need to settle the question of Scottish independence. It is already settled. We were asked to vote in 2014 to settle the matter for a generation, and we said no.


Tue, 05/09/2017 - 14:44

accidental duplicate post deleted


Tue, 05/09/2017 - 14:45

This is a great article and highlights issues that must be addressed sooner, rather than later. I believe those that dismiss the "Ulsterisation" of Scottish politics, do so at their peril. By Ulsterisation, I mean in a purely political sense and nothing to do with violence or conflict - this is an important distinction. As someone who grew up in 1970s-1990s Belfast, I see parallels. Withdrawing into two camps and voting along those tribal lines does breed inertia and real issues become sidelined at the expense of "the constitutional question". More worryingly, once embedded along those lines, people begin to take on the behaviours of their chosen side. In Scotland, this is the Tories way back in and they know it. In Northern Ireland, those who would be sympathetic to the preservation of the union and would therefore feel it necessary to vote (chiefly right-leaning) DUP/UUP to protect that view, have been drawn to the right ideologically - even those whose fundamental views would be a more natural fit with left wing parties. Where they should have been voting for Labour-affiliated SDLP, they couldn't do it as SDLP were a party, sympathetic to reunification of Ireland. It's anecdotal on my part but I was certainly aware of it happening around - and in some cases - to me. Campaign literature and debate was always framed by the constitution with the result that the province never achieved anything near its potential. My fear is if the independence question is not settled soon, it will usurp all other political discourse for years to come, leaving Scotland at the mercy of what gets decided at Westminster. Scotland has to move on one way or the other or it faces a bleak future.


Tue, 05/09/2017 - 15:29

The independence question was settled in 2014.


Tue, 05/09/2017 - 17:13

Settled: Resolve or reach an agreement about (an argument or problem).

On 19 September 2014, I might have agreed with you. However, such have been the ramifications since then, the issue is clearly not settled. Notwithstanding the SNP's last general election result - which even by Thatcher's measure would have been enough to secure Scottish independence, the subsequent EU referendum result, Scottish Parliament election and Scottish local government elections make it abundantly clear the issue is not resolved. Of all these, the EU referendum result has changed the game markedly. Such has been the constitutional gravity of Brexit, Theresa May has seen the need to call an extraordinary general election to cement the UK position. Even she recognises that such a monumental decision requires her to ask the people again. There are very clear mandates that cannot be ignored if the question is to be settled. However you dice it, the SNP have a clear mandate from Scottish Parliament election to revisit the issue. Even the local government election we have just had, where Theresa May's team made their objection to a future referendum their sole policy, resulted in defeat for the Tories on that very platform. I too would like it settled but just saying it's settled does not make it settled.


Tue, 05/09/2017 - 17:44

Maurice's Easy Read version omits the following regarding another referendum: "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." I think that's clear and unarguable.

If Maurice prefers the Tory nirvana to Independence he might like to read an article by Iain Macwhirter published yesterday on his blog. Here's the final paragraph: "Ms Davidson’s success in Scotland has been built on denying the party of which she is a member. The party whose Defence Secretary says he’s in favour of first use of weapons of mass destruction. That treats millions of EU citizens as hostages. Whose bumptious Foreign Secretary, announces wars on the Today programme. That has favoured Donald Trump over Europe. That comforts the wealthy while demonising immigrants, benefit claimants and pensioners who stand to lose the triple lock. The SNP alternative to the Tory mantra of “strong and stable government” should be: “They’re still the Nasty Party”. And that's only part of it - Bedroom tax, disability allowance and vehicles being taken away. And there's more. If you're rich and wealthy you've probably done quite well out of them, as long as you don't have any social conscience. I can't think of anything positive to say about the Tories.


Tue, 05/09/2017 - 18:19

Here is the link again:

Tell me what page that appears on.

You cannot because it does not.


Tue, 05/09/2017 - 18:57

"the subsequent EU referendum result" had nothing to do with independence.

"the Scottish Parliament election" saw the SNP reduced to a minority government propped up by 6 regional list Greens

"Scottish local government elections" saw the two unionst parties get less than 40% of the total seats.

It is already obvious that there is not enough support for independence for it to scrape by in a dodgy re-run of the referendum. Moreover, to actually make a success of independence - i.e. get a good outcome from the separation negotiations with Westminster and then make it through the turbulence of the first few decades - requires the support of 60 or 70% of the population or more.

Nicola Sturgeon said repeatedly in 2014 that we were settling the matter for a generation. Time to return to that very sensible position.


Tue, 05/09/2017 - 19:17

The EU referendum result met the SNP's criteria of "significant material change" as stated on page 23 of the manifesto as you well know:

The party then went on to claim the vast majority of the popular vote - more than the two main opposition parties put together. By what measure is that not a mandate?

The very fact we do not share the same view on a way forward and are taking the time to debate it - as do a great many people in Scotland every day - shows the issue is very, very far from settled. That after all is what prompted this article, not the whys and wherefores of how it gets settled.


Tue, 05/09/2017 - 19:50

Here is a link to one version of the SNP manifesto. No such statement appears anywhere in it.

The decision of 2 million voters to remain in the UK on an 85% turnout cannot be annulled by the 1 million votes to elect a minority nationalist government on a 55% turnout with vague statement that appeared in one version of their manifesto stating a belief about what the Scottish parliament should be able to do.


Tue, 05/09/2017 - 20:44

Here is the bit that MauriceBishop cannot find.First line under Scotlands Future it reads as

We believe that the Scottish Parliament 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.


Tue, 05/09/2017 - 21:13

Follow this link to another official version of the manifesto.

The words you rest your case on disappear.

And so therefore so does your argument.

alienined's picture


Wed, 05/10/2017 - 18:06

If Teresa May can call a referendum on a referendum(GE17) in which she said 'Brexit means Brexit', then surely the people who live and work in Scotland have the same right to challenge the Independence vote in 2014. The same 'project fear' agenda was used both in the Scottish Ref and in the Brexit Ref; £250million for the NHS; The Lib/Con/Lab signing up to the 'Vow' to give Scotland's Parliament loads of new powers? Westminster Talk is utter tosh. When the time is right the Scottish people will have an informed choice on staying in the Westminster Bubble or foraging a new path as an Independent Country denied to them for over 300 years, well 310 to be precise. Remember Scotland was trading with Europe centuries before the Union was even dreamed of, constantly fending off raids by English Armies or interfering in Scotland’s trade links with the rest of the world. The people who make up the Scottish People have a right to self-determination whether they were born here or not, is a testament of the ‘Grown-up’ politics that is debated in Scotland.


Fri, 05/12/2017 - 09:27

Jordan Daly hits the spot. We need to get back to meaningful politics.
'No to a referendum' is the only Tory policy with significant support in Scotland. Take that away and the Tories have little to offer the Scottish electorate so they will be the big losers, post referendum, in Scotland. Their aim in a referendum is to achieve Tory rule in Scotland from Westminster but their anxiety about the referendum suggests that they are not confident of achieving it.

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