THE First Minister’s announcement that she will seek the Scottish Parliament’s agreement to hold a new referendum on our future marks the start of an important further chapter in our country’s story.
New arguments will be marshalled, plans drafted and alliances sought. We have a busy period in front of us in the weeks and months to come.
But before we embark upon this new campaign, we should take time to reflect on the series of events that has led us to this historic moment. When Nicola Sturgeon took her place at the podium to address the assembled media in Bute House on Monday morning, her speech was the result of a path that was chosen not by those of us who believe in independence for Scotland, but those who claim to stand for our increasingly disunited kingdom.
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On September 19, 2014, the independence movement dusted itself down and took stock of a result that was not of our choosing.
We had not achieved a majority of Yes votes at the ballot box, but we were proud of the positive case we’d made for building a new Scotland, and we knew that while our hopes had been dashed, our dream would never die.
At that point, none of us would have imagined that we’d be back in this position again today.
Only a fundamental change in the nature of the UK could precipitate a new independence poll. At that point another referendum was highly unlikely, but the arrogance, ineptitude and intransigence of a series of Westminster politicians has left us where we are today.
David Cameron’s arrogant belief that he could win an unnecessary EU referendum must go down as one of the most calamitous misjudgments in modern political history. While I stood with the SNP group at Westminster against this unnecessary act, he took no heed, and his plan to silence the Tory Party’s right-wing Eurosceptics failed in a spectacular and disastrous fashion when the Remain campaign was unable to convince the voting public in England and Wales of the benefits of staying in the largest single market in the world today.
The decision to hold the European referendum without the quadruple lock proposed by the SNP, which would have ensured the consent of all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom was required to trigger the Brexit process, also proved to be a devastating mistake that would come back to haunt the Tory Government.
Despite the result, and the prospect of Scotland being dragged from the EU – against the wishes of the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament and most importantly the people of Scotland – Theresa May’s initial language upon her elevation to Prime Minister gave some hope that Scotland’s voice would be heard and that sense would prevail.
In an interview to mark her first visit to Scotland as PM, Mrs May could not have been clearer.
Article 50, the process by which the UK would seek to leave the EU, would not be triggered without agreement from Scotland. She said “I won’t be triggering Article 50 until I think that we have a UK approach and objectives for negotiations. I think it is important that we establish that before we trigger Article 50.”
But the actions of the Prime Minister and her government since that day have not reflected this early promise.
The UK Secretary of State for Exiting the EU set up a ministerial hotline for Scottish Brexit Minister Mike Russell to call if he had any urgent issues to discuss with his Whitehall counterpart. David Davis took 36 hours to return the first call. So much for urgency. SNP MPs made 50 separate proposals on how the legislation required for the UK to leave the EU could be amended to secure Scotland’s interests. Each and every one was rejected out of hand by the Tories who trooped through the Westminster lobbies in opposition.
The Scottish Government itself proposed a massive compromise to its position when it published Scotland’s Place in Europe in December. The document, a compromise in itself, was the most comprehensive plan to deal with Brexit by any government in the UK. It set out how Scotland could stay in both the EU and the UK if the UK Government would agree to seek a differentiated deal for Scotland within its overall Brexit negotiations. Since then, nothing.
No substantive discussion of Scotland’s proposals. No reciprocal compromise from the UK Government. The phones have gone silent.
In a response to a question I asked yesterday, the Prime Minister even confirmed that she has no plans to tell our First Minster when she expects to invoke the Article 50 process. This is not the end of the beginning, it’s the beginning of the end for the UK.
The SNP did not agitate for this outcome, instead we sought every avenue for a compromise deal.
But now this opportunity is upon us, we’ll take it with both hands.
Here’s to the future.