When Scotland voted on whether or not to secede from the United Kingdom in 2014, campaigners on both sides of the debate were very clear about one thing – this was a once-in-a-lifetime decision that would settle Scotland’s future for a generation. However, as last year’s EU referendum has proven, people are very good at changing their tune when such a vote doesn’t go their own way. Today, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced her intention to pursue a second independence referendum, which could occur as early as next year, meaning that what was once claimed to be the vote of a lifetime will be replayed after just four years.
This announcement from First Minister Sturgeon is nothing less than a complete broken promise. Back in 2014, just days before Scottish voters went to the polls to decide their country’s destiny, Sturgeon’s predecessor and political mentor Alex Salmond promised that there would be no second referendum within this ‘political generation’ if a majority opted to remain within the Union, a pledge which has today been torn up. Of course, Sturgeon claims that all previous statements are now null and void following the Brexit vote, something which the people of Scotland overwhelmingly opposed, but her argument that this legitimises another independence referendum is simply nonsensical. At no point during the 2014 campaign did Sturgeon, Salmond or anyone else in the pro-independence movement state that the result of that vote could be reversed by later constitutional changes.
By arguing that one referendum result can overrule another, Sturgeon places herself on very dodgy territory indeed. It is clear that her main goal has always been to pursue Scottish independence at any cost, and now she is also determined to disrupt the British government’s Brexit plans at the same time. The second referendum that she is demanding would be timed to coincide with the expected end of the withdrawal negotiations, and it is clear that Sturgeon is hoping to make this vote just as much about Scotland’s place within Europe in order to pick up popular support. After all, recent polls suggest that a majority of Scottish voters still oppose independence, and so for Sturgeon to be successful she will need to tap into pro-European sentiment by presenting secession as the only way for Scotland to remain within the EU, whilst simultaneously demonising ‘Brexit Britain’ at every possible opportunity.
Of course, First Minister Sturgeon cannot simply declare UDI and hold her own independence referendum. Any future vote would need to be mandated by Westminster, meaning that the ball is now in Theresa May’s court, leaving the Prime Minister in a very difficult position. On the one hand, she could refuse to grant permission for a second referendum, pointing out quite rightly that the 2014 vote was meant to settle the matter, but this risks inflaming the situation even more by feeding into the SNP’s narrative of Scottish oppression. However, by allowing the Scottish government to hold such a vote, Prime Minister May is left significantly weakened as she prepares to enter the Brexit negotiations. There is no easy answer, and the future of the nation’s unity hangs in the balance.
The Prime Minister has responded to Sturgeon’s demands by condemning the ‘uncertainty and division’ that a second independence referendum would provoke, accusing the First Minister of ‘playing politics with the future of our country.’ These words were echoed by the leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, who claimed that Sturgeon was being ‘utterly irresponsible’ and acting ‘purely for partisan political reasons.’ Her cynical attempt to hold the British government to ransom on the eve of the start of the Brexit process deserves to be blocked, and as such Theresa May should get ready to play hardball.
The next few years are going to test the resolve of the country as the government seeks to strike the best possible deal with the European Union, and by seeking to undermine this Nicola Sturgeon has demonstrated a despicable lack of patriotism, placing the interests of her party and her own leadership above those of Scotland and the rest of Britain. Just as last year’s vote to leave the EU should not be overturned, neither should the decision of the people of Scotland less than three years ago to reject independence, and Sturgeon’s attempts to frustrate both of these legitimate, once-in-a-lifetime results shows her absolute contempt for the democratic process. A second independence referendum cannot be justified, and Parliament should legislate to ensure that the results of all referenda are legally binding for a generation.