Tag Archives: Scottish

There may never be a good time to call #indyref2, but …

This is a blog post for one of the two talks I offered to give, first at Warwick then Dundee.

I’ll start off with the same admission of hubris each time: these talks take a while to arrange, I suggested the topic in the late summer, and I assumed I’d know something about the effect of Brexit on the future of Scottish politics by now. Instead, I don’t know much more than the stuff I described in June (‘Brexit and the inevitability of Scottish Independence’). So, I’ll focus on what we know now, and speculate wildly (hand gestures at 100%) about what might happen. My gut still tells me that there will be an indyref2 and that Yes will win, but my gut is pretty crap.

Let’s start with an updated summary of why Brexit is good for Yes:

  1. It reinforces a well-established argument for constitutional change: we voted for X but got Y because we are outnumbered by voters in England. Voting Remain but getting Leave is the latest version of voting Labour (and now SNP) in Scotland but getting a Conservative UK government.
  2. It reinforces the same argument about the effect of that ‘democratic deficit’: ‘London’/’Westminster’ is forcing us to accept policies we did not choose. Voting Leave is the latest version of the ‘bedroom tax’ (and, for older readers, the ‘poll tax’).
  3. It helps reframe the idea that the Scottish independence aim is nationalist and parochial. Suddenly, independence is the cosmopolitan choice if we are rejecting a ‘Little England’ mentality.
  4. Some people who voted to stay in the UK and EU will prefer the EU to the UK (and think an independence vote is the best way to achieve it).

Traditionally, the main response to 1 & 2 has come from the Conservative Party, offering concessions in areas such as spending, levels of representation in Westminster, and in Scotland’s status in UK-devolved relations.

Recently, UKIP has been more critical of Scotland’s privileged position in the UK, and even the Conservative party qualifies its support of Scotland’s place in the Union.

Labour’s more recent response has been more interesting, and not what I expected. I figured Scottish Labour would encourage the equivalent of a free vote of its members. Instead, it has rejected indyref2 in favour of a ‘federal’ solution and two anti-referendum strategies:

  1. To describe indyref2 as yet another divisive and destabilising event like Brexit and the election of Trump.
  2. To challenge the idea that Scottish independence is the cosmopolitan choice. Sadiq Khan seemed to link Scottish nationalism strongly with the divisiveness of Trump and Leave campaigns, prompting some debate about how far he went to equate it with bigotry and racism. Although Khan is reported to have backtracked a bit, former Labour minister Douglas Alexander doubled down:

This strategy has gone down like a fart in a lift among people already committed to Yes. It’s too early to gauge its durability or long term effect on the voters thinking about switching, but we already know that the SNP campaigned in indyref1 with a message – for example, ‘to make life better for the people who live here’ – that contrasts heavily with the anti-immigrant rhetoric in some parts of the Leave campaign. Indeed, I’d expect it to reinforce a pro-immigration (or, a very pro-EU citizen) message to provide a deliberate contrast to parts of the Brexit campaign, making it relatively difficult for Labour to maintain an if-you-vote-Yes-you-share-the-same-aim-as-bigots argument (which didn’t work well during the Brexit debate anyway).

Let’s continue with an updated summary of why Brexit is good for No

  1. The No campaign was based on the economic harms of independence, and key symbols (like oil price volatility) have reinforced the message.
  2. We still don’t know what currency an independent Scotland would use.
  3. The Yes vote meant all things to all people, with no sense of what would be realistic.
  4. Brexit shows you that a transition to independence would be far tougher than advertised.

Point 4 is still unfolding. We’ve already seen that the £350m-for-the-NHS argument was mince, a reduction in the value of the pound, and some hard talking from likely EU negotiators (UK hard-talking was a key theme of indyref1). Yet, the effects of such developments are still open to debate (the £ issue is bad for the consumer but good for the exporter).

More importantly, it’s hard to know how to relate these events to Scotland. One the one hand, Yes needs a disastrous Brexit to show that it is powerless to ward off disaster. On the other, No needs a partly-disastrous Brexit to show that separation is painful.

Can there be a ‘rational’ calculation of when/if to call indyref2?

If we focus on the idea of a rational calculating Nicola Sturgeon, developing a formula to determine the right time to hold indyref2, the timing would involve: (a) waiting long enough for Brexit to ‘bite’ and prompt voters to feel its effects and shift to Yes, and (b) waiting for the UK Government to stiff Scotland in its negotiations of future Scottish devolved powers, but (c) not waiting too long to disrupt the (not guaranteed) continuation of its EU membership. This time has not arrived and, as John Curtice suggests, may not arrive.

Or, will it come down to passion and emotion?

Yet, if recent events have taught us anything, it’s that people are driven strongly by emotion, and might put ‘feelings over facts’. So, why should leaders of the SNP be exempt from a bout of passion, especially if loads of their supporters are keen, see it as a last opportunity for decades, and hope that they can change some minds during the next campaign? The fact that I argue the very opposite in another post is neither here nor there!

I still think that the result itself will comes down to who tells the Yes/ No stories and how well they do it, and that Yes has a far better hero/villain story now than in 2014, while No has the same old boring story of economic disaster and can no longer rely on those leaflets with Salmond’s face on a pound coin.

See also: a gazillion posts on the last Scottish referendum (scroll)

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Scottish independence, Scottish politics, Storytelling

The World is Watching the Scottish Independence Debate

This appears on the ESRC website: http://www.futureukandscotland.ac.uk/blog/world-watching-scottish-independence-debate

The Scottish independence debate may, at times, seem parochial, but its reach is global. We often seem to focus on narrow Scottish issues but the big questions travel well: what should be the size of a nation state? Should large countries have central, regional and local governments? If so, how should we share those responsibilities and coordinate policymaking between levels of government? Which policy areas should be centralized and which devolved? Should regions have taxation and spending powers?

I was struck by this global interest when invited to speak about regionalism in the UK, and Scottish devolution in particular, to a Japanese audience (in meetings with policymakers, parliamentary researchers and the general public) at the National Diet Library last month. This type of exchange shows you how the big questions matter, because a large part of the Scottish experience does not apply to Japan at all: proponents of ‘doshu-sei’ want to use it to foster economic policymaking powers in regions and to help reduce the national debt by slimming down central government. There is almost no equivalent in Japan to something that we generally take for granted in the UK – the groundswell of popular support for a degree of Scottish self-government. Instead, the lessons are about regional policymaking:

  • Scotland has shown that regional governments can make policy differently and introduce different policies. They can foster meaningful networks between governments, business, professional and voluntary groups, and they can use those networks to gather knowledge to inform the production of policies more suited to a specific region.
  • The Scottish experience shows that central and regional governments can work well together. Although the UK and Scottish governments do not learn from each other very much, they have a remarkably smooth relationship. Adding a new layer of government does not cause a confusing or crowded policymaking environment.

The UK is also a potential source for broad inspiration. In Japan, the devolution of powers from central government has been piecemeal and difficult for the public to see. Some observers from Japan saw UK devolution as a major high profile event (even though we often call it a ‘process’) and see Scotland in particular as a hub for regional policy and economic innovation. This experience may be used to sell regionalism in Japan as a necessarily ‘bold’ step, to engage the public imagination and address political crisis.

So, the next time you see what looks to be a parochial and inward looking argument in Scotland, remember that the world is watching too. What we often take for granted and treat as humdrum may be viewed very differently elsewhere.

This is where the role of the ESRC Future of the UK and Scotland programme is crucial. External observers need a way to condense a huge amount of information and experience into a set of ‘take-home’ messages. We have shown that research is as much about external engagement as knowledge gathering – and that, even at this early stage, we are well placed to provide it.

See also The International Image of Scottish Devolution: a view from Japan

What Can Japan Learn from Devolution in the UK?

Leave a comment

Filed under ESRC Scottish Centre for Constitutional Change, Japan, Scottish politics