Indyref merry-go-round is the real 'disaster' of Scottish devolution – Brian Wilson

Scottish Tories might have concluded this week that there is no bad situation which Boris Johnson cannot make worse.

The Château Frontenac looks over Quebec City where passions once hit fever pitch over the idea of independence from Canada (Picture: Alice Chiche/AFP via Getty Images)
The Château Frontenac looks over Quebec City where passions once hit fever pitch over the idea of independence from Canada (Picture: Alice Chiche/AFP via Getty Images)

His capacity for saying daft things proves that Zoom has its downsides.

The paradox, of course, is that the noisiest indignation in response to him calling Scottish devolution a “disaster” has emanated from those whose sole political mission is to destroy Scottish devolution.

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The legitimately aggrieved within Scotland are those who actually believe in devolution as a destination rather than a curse or a staging-post. That was always going to be the problem and anyone who did not recognise it 20-odd years ago was, in Gordon Brown’s word, “naïve”.

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However, to get the history right, devolution was not “Tony Blair’s mistake” but an inescapable consequence of the Thatcher-Major years. The resultant mood demanded a bulwark against the same happening again – ie, a sustained period of inimical, ideological government.

Thereafter, the trap should have been easy to recognise even though difficult to avoid. The probability – as Gordon put it – of Holyrood becoming “a megaphone for intensifying resentment” was always high. Anyone who thought otherwise was delusional.

Having created asymmetric devolution, on the basis of Scotland being a nation within a state, it was always going to be hard to draw lines. So it has proven. There is no certainty about the destination but the perpetual grievance-driven wrangle was inevitable.

Ultimately, Scotland’s place within the UK must rest on a majority wanting it to be there. As simple as that. Separatists have always purported to speak for Scotland without a shred of democratic evidence. When put to the test in 2014, the falseness of that pretension was confirmed.

If at some point, there is sustained evidence to the contrary, then so be it. Those of us who believe separation would be a “disastrously” wrong choice should not be manoeuvred into a position which this side of the argument has never occupied – ie, appearing to frustrate, rather than uphold, the majority will.

Regarding a second referendum, I remain unenthused by the “once in a generation” mantra which I classify as desperate campaign rhetoric from Salmond and Sturgeon, rather than a binding pledge. Their lie about “the likely price of oil” – which sought to dupe people into putting pensions and living standards at risk – was much, much worse.

If there is a Holyrood majority for another referendum – which I hope there will not be – then they should have one. Some might think it ironic that I uphold the principle that votes in the Scottish Parliament should be respected while Sturgeon and co treat votes they lose in the Scottish Parliament as if they didn’t exist. But then, I am a democrat.

But what of timing? The week’s most contemptible remarks came not from the Prime Minister but the bombastic Mr Blackford who demanded that a referendum “must take place in 2021”. So much for the cant about not playing politics in the middle of a pandemic!

The Nationalists are currently favoured by a cocktail of circumstances – Johnson, Brexit uncertainty, debilitated Labour, unprecedented control of the airwaves… It is hardly surprising they are in a hurry but these are also precisely the reasons why “this is not the time” for all of these will pass.

Then, by all means, have the debate. About borders. About living standards. About currency. About the ties that bind… It is not a patriot who demands a referendum in the hope a spasm induced by a pandemic will carry him over the line, but a scoundrel.

I am pretty sure the result would be much the same as last time. And I am certain the caterwauling would immediately begin for “Indyref 3”. The nearest parallel (for there is none in Europe) is with Quebec where the separatists peaked at 50 per cent, lost three referendums and now stand at 17 per cent.

The lesson is that eventually most people get sick of it and look to government for action, not division and uncertainty. No wonder Mr Blackford is in a hurry.

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