The UK Government should stop gambling with its territorial, economic, cultural and social integrity.
A couple of weeks ago, Alister Jack, the Secretary of State for Scotland, said that Scots could have a second ‘independence’ referendum if polls showed a consistent majority of 60% of Scots in favour of it. Gambling your country’s future on the basis of opinion polls is certainly an interesting strategy, but, as I was getting ready to publish this article, the UK Government finally pushed back on Jack’s comments, saying, ‘We’ve never set a position on that. We haven’t said any sort of target. Our view, as set out, is that now is simply not the time to be dealing with this.’
While it’s good to see Jack’s gambit sidelined, why is breaking up the UK a matter for a later time? Why has no-one mentioned that 48% of No voters and 62% of Conservatives think there should never be another referendum again? Why is every headline written as ‘the Union is in peril!’ when polls are now consistently against separation?
Because, those in power and in the media consistently appease separatism, by letting separatists define the narrative, the terms of engagement and where the battle is fought.
Consider the questions: ‘Are you in favour of Scottish independence?’ and ‘Are you in favour of the break up of the UK?’ These are the same thing, yet we are always asked the former, rather than the latter. The first appeals to emotion (who doesn’t want to be ‘free’?) while the second requires much deeper thought. What does the break up of the UK mean – territorially, economically, culturally and socially?
But, reframing the question doesn’t just change the answers; it changes the scope of who is asked. The break up of the UK isn’t a question just for Scots; it becomes a question for all citizens of the UK.
When the question is reframed, it becomes obvious that even if Scottish Nationalists achieved Alister Jack’s 60% support in polls, the UK shouldn’t risk being broken up by just 6% of its population. No country would, or should, allow itself to be broken up by the whim of a tiny minority of separatists.
Nationalist narratives are so pervasive that it might come as a surprise that the devolved administrations were not actually set up as ‘motorways to independence without any exits’ (as Tam Dalyell famously said), but were actually set up to – get this – improve the quality of services for the people of those regions.
Yet, today, like every other day, we hear Nicola Sturgeon use her platform as the leader of the devolved Scottish administration, to agitate for a second referendum. In the recent Holyrood elections she even said that a vote for her was not a vote for a second referendum, only to turn around the day after the election and claim it was.
But a vote for any party in the Scottish elections cannot be claimed as a vote for a referendum because The Scotland Act is clear that the Scottish devolved administration does not have the authority to call such a referendum. The power to hold referendums on the constitution, indeed the power to hold a referendum on Breaking Up The UK, is one rightly held by the UK Government alone.
Because the UK Government is not willing to stand up for the UK and the majority of Scots who voted to remain in the UK in 2014 (the only part of the UK that has actually voted to stay in it), Scotland finds itself in a constant state of ‘Neverendum’, which has two major costs. Firstly, political uncertainty kills inward investment. Who is going to invest in a devolved region, if they don’t know what its currency, borders and economy is going to look like in five years? Secondly, it gives cover to the SNP and their co-conspirators, The Scottish Greens, to avoid scrutiny. Take their recent power-sharing announcement, which didn’t focus on green issues or health, jobs or economy, but focussed almost exclusively on a ‘mandate’ for a second referendum. A mandate that is meaningless, because the devolved administration has no authority to hold a referendum on constitutional issues.
Remove the threat of a second referendum and the SNP and Greens would not be able to hide behind false promises while Scotland’s services sink ever lower. They would have to work with Westminster, instead of constantly agitating against it.
There has been talk of implementing a Canada-style ‘Clarity Act’ which would set out the conditions through which a future referendum could occur. But again, this is still playing the separatists’ game. Arguing about the details of such an Act will let separatists manufacture grievances on every point. And why become a hostage to fortune? If a poll of Londoners said that 60% of the city wanted to leave the UK, should they be given a referendum to leave? Should any region? Of course not, so why should Scots get extra constitutional gifts?
We act decisively against those who would destroy our country from outside, so let’s stop giving free reign to those who would destroy it from the inside. The UK Government should use its 80-seat majority to ban secession now. Any party that advocates for secession or that misuses funds on activities related to secession, be it in the devolved administrations or in the UK Parliament, should have its UK funding stopped.
Banning secession, like many other countries do, would allow devolution to actually work, instead of being a vehicle for weak and incompetent politicians to push grievance and separation. It would stop the Neverendum and create a stable environment for investment. It would force politicians to be accountable for providing services. It would stop the UK constantly being held hostage by a minority of separatists. It would strengthen devolution and strengthen the UK.
Separatists were foolishly given their chance to destroy the UK in 2014. Thankfully, they lost. Now it’s time to stop them creating further constitutional uncertainty once and for all. The UK government should assert its primacy, stop gambling with its territorial, economic, cultural and social integrity, and protect the UK. We are one country.
No more talk of setting conditions based on random percentages and no more indulgence of separatist narratives like the length of a generation or weasel words like ‘now is not the right time’ or ‘perhaps after the pandemic’ that imply there’s still a chance. No more appeasement. The answer should always be not simply ‘No’, but ‘That’s impossible, we don’t give up on our country’.
Mark Devlin is the publisher of The Majority. Follow The Majority on Twitter @themajorityscot