2021 will a big year for Scotland in politics and football – Scotsman comment

In June this year, something wonderful is due to happen. For the first time in 23 long years, Scotland will take part in a major men’s football tournament.

Supporters of independence and the Union hold Scottish Saltires and Union Jacks to show their allegiances (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)
Supporters of independence and the Union hold Scottish Saltires and Union Jacks to show their allegiances (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

The postponed Euro 2020 tournament will hopefully not need to be further delayed, given our hopes and expectations that the Covid vaccines will restore our way of life to something like normality over the next few months.

Just as we have been largely united as a nation in our struggles against the virus, Scots of all political persuasions will roar on the national team as they take on England, Croatia, the Czech Republic and, fingers crossed, others among Europe’s finest teams.

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However, in the months running up to this landmark event in our sporting history, Scotland will be gripped by a political debate in which our divisions over its future – as a member of the UK or an independent country – will be front and centre.

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Avoid Catalonia’s mistake

With polls suggesting the SNP is heading for victory in May’s Holyrood elections, the next Scottish government may well end up on a collision course with Westminster over the issue of a second referendum.

As we have said before, it would be a mistake for the SNP to hold a referendum without permission from the UK government because it would be boycotted by unionists. This would produce a landslide for independence – just as a 2017 vote in Catalonia did – but would be dismissed as illegitimate by the unionist camp. So it would achieve little other than stirring up division and antipathy on both sides.

Instead, if there is a pro-independence majority at Holyrood, the most sensible tactic would be to use this democratic mandate to force Boris Johnson to allow a referendum for political reasons. Continuing to ‘just say no’ – in defiance of the “will of the Scottish people” as nationalists would undoubtedly put it – is only likely to ramp up support for independence and could also start to concern voters south of the Border too.

‘All Jock Tamson’s bairns’

A parliamentary election and a referendum are very different things so no one should make the mistake of thinking that an SNP victory in May means independence would be inevitable. The economic damage caused by Covid has left Scotland in a weakened state and that’s far from the best of times to make a leap into the relative unknown.

But, whatever the pros and cons of this debate, as important as they are, everyone in Scotland needs to remember that we are all, as the saying goes, “Jock Tamson’s bairns”, whether we are nationalists or unionists, Scottish, English or any other nationality. We are all brothers and sisters in the great human family.

Siblings do sometimes fight, but when this happens the adults in the room step in to make sure things don’t get out of hand and that good relations are restored.

There are hotheads in both camps but they do not represent the vast majority in either and it is important not to use their existence to demonise the other side. Instead, nationalist and unionist leaders need to stress the importance of basic levels of respect and civility because a commitment to the idea of resolving disputes in a peaceful, democratic way is fundamentally more important than any of the issues at stake.

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