Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Referendum the second

The Scottish parliament yesterday voted for a second independence referendum by a margin of 69-59, after a debate stretching over two days.  I watched some of the final day of the debate and was struck by the tone of the debate coming from the Unionist side.  From Ruth Davidson's 'Sit Down!' directed at the First Minister to so-called jokes about the Greens' 'vegan diets' there was a complete disrespect for fellow MSPs, not to mention an implication that the Unionists were entitled to tell independistas what to do.

The vote shows how the battle lines are now drawn, with the SNP and Greens on one side and the Tories/Labour/LibDems on the other.  It was also interesting to note that the parties on the Unionist side voted against allowing 16- and 17-year olds the vote, presumably because they are likely to vote for independence.  You could argue that the independence-supporting parties wanted them in the electorate for that very reason, but there is another aspect, which is that 16- and 17-years olds are the ones who will have to live longest with the decision, so deserve to have a say.  And before anyone says 'why not 15-year olds then', the answer is that at 16 you can join the army, get married and pay taxes, so that would seem to be a fair cut-off point.

More interesting was the swift response from David Mundell, who said that
We won’t be entering into any negotiations at all until the Brexit process is complete. Now is the time for the Scottish government to come together with the UK government, work together to get the best possible deal for the UK, and that will mean for Scotland as we leave the EU.
He also indicated that the matter would not be considered until any transitional arrangements are also complete, which could push the date back even further.  This is, of course, an attempt to kick the whole thing into the long grass, to say 'no' without actually saying 'no'.   However, in a leaked copy of a European parliament resolution it appears that any transitional arrangements will not be allowed to last longer than three years, which would mean a date of 2022 for the second referendum.

The Tories will, however, be playing the odds that a lot can happen in five years.  One thing that should worry us is the Great Repeal Bill, which is due this week.  This will convert all laws based on EU law to British law.  One thing that has been mooted is that Theresa May will want to have so-called Henry 8th powers included in order to allow ministers to amend with these laws without having to go through parliament.  It does not take much imagination to think that it might be used to get rid of the devolved governments, returning all countries to direct rule from Westminster.  This would allow Westminster to squash any thought of another referendum on Scottish independence.  I hope I'm wrong on this, but the Tories have always been against the devolution settlement and would relish the chance to sweep them away.  Now that really would lead to interesting times.

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