Holyrood 2016 needs mandate for second indyref

Photo: Craig Maclean-final yes saturday buchanan street crowd

Indyref #2: assuming that the Yes campaign can be re-started, the nature of the mandate asked of the voters need not, and should not, have a time scale affixed to it. (Photo: Craig Maclean)

by Jim Sillars To know why the Scottish Parliament, after the 2016 election, must command a majority for a second independence mandate, look not only at the present but at the 2020 Westminster election and the certainty of another Tory government able to go further in dismantling the welfare state, intensifying attacks on the working class, shackling the trade unions and hammering the poor, whose crime is to be poor. With their majority in the present Parliament, the Tories plan to guarantee they will win the 2020 election, by legislating to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600 in the next one, and bringing in boundary redistribution by 2018, all calculated to give them an extra 20-25 seats.

No matter who wins the leadership vote, Labour cannot overcome that handicap. We are not contemplating a few more years of a Tory government Scotland despises but one that will last until 2025, and probably beyond that.

As that political nightmare descends on Scotland, with austerity forced on the Scottish Parliament, there will be no escape to independence without a mandate for a referendum.

Whatever emerges from any review of the Scotland Bill, there is one incontrovertible fact: a big chunk of the Holyrood Parliament’s budget will still come from Westminster, and that will be cut.

The idea that limited Income Tax powers can be used to make up that shortfall is risible. Scotland is a low income country, with far too narrow an income tax base to be able to generate the cash needed to substitute for bloc grant cuts. The next Scottish Parliament faces the agony of not whether to cut but what to cut.

There is little being said now about the consequences of the Scotland Bill and the financial constraints imposed by a Tory government austerity regime of substantial cuts in public services but that is the reality all MSPs will face as they take their seats after the 2016 election.

If there is no mandate for a second referendum, what is to be done? Yell, scream, denounce the Tory government, demonstrate, march? Might as well wring our hands at home because without that mandate, we in Scotland will have no power to change our circumstances, and the Tories will know it, and ignore us.

Opponents of seeking the mandate in 2016 say we would lose an early referendum. They are right. The reason they are right is the old ‘cart before the horse’ example. No one wins an independence referendum without first engaging in a successful nationwide independence campaign. That is the ‘horse,’ the ‘cart’ is the referendum.

There is no such campaign now. What exists are arguments about devolution, and how much the Scotland Bill differs from the Smith Commission. Scottish political thinking and energy has been cleverly diverted down a dead end.

It is imperative to get back on the independence track. The SNP argument, that a referendum will be held only when the Scottish people want one, is either a piece of sophistry or the product of muddled thinking.

For the people to give a mandate, a political party, or a group of parties, have to ask for it from the electorate. There is no other way the people can decide on the issue. No ask, no mandate, no matter what the opinion polls may say over the next four years.

Assuming that the Yes campaign can be re-started, the nature of the mandate asked of the voters need not, and should not, have a time scale affixed to it.

If we turn our minds back to the SNP manifesto four years ago, there was no time given for the referendum; the timing came from a statement by Alex Salmond in a debate. In the Parliament previous to that, again there was no time given, and it never happened because the SNP did not have the necessary majority to hold one.

So, in practice, a manifesto that seeks the principle of a referendum but not the timing is not new. The important thing is that it enables those holding that mandate to judge when and if to use it. When and if will depend on the success of an independence campaign, which must precede everything else.

What I suggest is a manifesto statement along the lines of “It is our view that only a Scottish Government invested with the range of powers that come with independence, can our nation’s abundant resources be used to end austerity by rebuilding our economy, ensure a fair distribution of wealth, and bring an end to gross inequality in our society.

“We therefore ask the people for a mandate to hold a referendum when, and only if, events and circumstances are right for such a mandate to be exercised.”

That would give us the power, following a successful independence campaign, to choose our moment sure of victory.

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