A Wake Up Call to Unionism

November 2, 2016




As unionists, we won every right to feel confident, secure and indeed triumphant following our victory in the 2014 referendum. We endured an often traumatic two years of aggressive nationalist campaigning, only for the silent majority to pull through on September 18h and ensure that the country we all love so dearly will stay together.


Constitutionally speaking, the matter ought to be settled; indeed, the unity of our country ought never to have been put to a referendum at all. Unionist social media has been awash with comments and graphics pointing out that only the UK Government can launch a second referendum and the SNP, no matter how much they desire one, have no legal grounding whatsoever to launch ‘IndyRef2’. The Union is, of course, a reserved matter, and as such lies outwith the competencies of the SNP government at Holyrood.


All well and good. But if you are one of those unionists who take comfort in this legal point, ask yourself this: on what legal or constitutional basis did the first referendum take place? The answer is none at all. The entire referendum process was entirely ad hoc and arbitrary for the simple reason that there is no constitutional mechanism for breaking up the country; the very foundational document that created the UK is of course the Act of Union!


Holyrood regularly acts on all sorts of issues well outwith its powers, from Trident to international diplomacy. We live in a time of such constitutional breakdown and intra-governmental conflict between Westminster and the devolved administrations that we are essentially devolving into arbitrary government with no legal or constitutional basis. Populism and political pressure entirely trump the rule of law, and there is no recourse to be had by retreating into legal technicalities. A second independence referendum need have no more legal grounding than the first one.


The next pearl of wisdom to soothe our fears was that even if the SNP could initiate the political mechanisms for a second referendum, they wouldn’t do so as they would be too scared of losing. As if the party that runs the Scottish ‘Government’, won 56 out of 59 seats at Westminster and slashed the lead of their opposition by almost thirty percentage points over the course of the last referendum might not somehow fancy their chances second time round when starting from an all but level footing in terms of popular support (not to mention many other factors now greatly more in their favour, from likely Labour neutrality to the media meltdown over Brexit).


We must not become like the nationalists, retreating into our own little bubble and seeing only what we want to see through our very selective news feeds on social media. There are many pro-Union pages and organisations that do a fantastic job, but relying upon them can breed an undue sense of complacency because they naturally only post news which attacks the SNP. Our own wishes aside, there is no disputing the fact that the SNP are in a vastly stronger position than any other party in Scotland, or indeed the three main ‘unionist’ parties combined.


This is not talking the SNP up, nor talking unionism down. The SNP have a wretched record in government and are brutally destructive to the country; all this is entirely separate from the fact that they have a very slick PR machine and know how to win the popular vote. Little wonder then that, despite the warnings of people like myself being met with derision, the SNP are indeed pushing a second referendum through Holyrood.


So, having scoffed that the SNP Holyrood government can’t initiate the process for a second referendum (they have) and that they wouldn’t dare to do it (they did), the latest retreat of those who consider themselves to be the cool-heads in unionism has been to assure us that the UK Government has the power to block a second referendum, that it will do so and that we have nothing to fear. They are correct on the first point, in that the UK Government does indeed have the power to block a second referendum, and the Unionist Party calls upon them (most likely in vain) to do just that. The error lies in believing that the UK Government will block it, and there is a wealth of indisputable evidence on this point. A section of this article is therefore devoted to it below.




The Conservatives make a great deal of noise about opposing a second referendum, and made their recent gains at Holyrood on that platform. To their credit, they also do a good job of highlighting the SNP’s manifold failings in government in a way that no other party does (the Lib Dems do come close, whereas Dugdale’s Labour seem at times almost to cosy up to the SNP). What more they do than this, or what they actually do to promote the Union they themselves believe in, we’re left far less sure of.


However, the real issue with the Conservative Party’s stance on the Union is the fact that they have been very clear in stating that they will not block a second referendum. They shout about not wanting one, but when push comes to shove they have been clear in stating that they will launch one at the request of Nicola Sturgeon acting in her capacity as First Minister. This rather makes a mockery of their so-called opposition and indeed their talk about “no more referendums”.


This claim will shock those who have bought into the Conservative Party’s unchallenged rhetoric, so it will be justified by the words of the leading Conservative figures of the day. Just last month, Ruth Davidson, Adam Tomkins and unidentified senior Conservatives at Whitehall all stated in their own words that they will not block another referendum. Ruth Davidson herself has been saying this for years. Below is a quote from an article from April 2015 [1]:


But the Scots Tory leader suggested a future Conservative government would respect a Holyrood vote for a second referendum.


"There is an absolute precedent that has been set down and I do not deviate from that precedent."

Asked if she would advise David Cameron to block another referendum, she said: "Absolutely not.


This was reiterated in July this year [2]:


Ruth Davidson has said that she would advise the next Prime Minister not to block a request by Nicola Sturgeon for a second independence referendum in the wake of the vote for Brexit.

She said: "I have never said it should be denied, I didn't say it the last time either.


This was repeated once again very clearly last month in October 2016, amidst the publication of SNP plans to initiate a second vote from Holyrood [3]:


Ruth Davidson has warned the UK Government not to issue a "blanket refusal" to a second independence referendum if the First Minister calls for one.


So if you are one of those unionists who have taken comfort in the legal details of Westminster’s right to block Holyrood’s demands for a second referendum, be fully aware that if we are to believe the words of the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, her party have no intention of using their powers to block a second vote.


She is backed up on this point by Adam Tomkins, a fellow MSP widely regarded as the Scottish Conservative’s “constitutional expert”, who was one of their two representatives on the Smith Commission which brought about the biggest transfer of powers to the Scottish parliament in its history through the 2016 Scotland Act. A committed republican and former member of the very unpleasant left-wing group Republic, he previously shared a stage with then-Scottish Socialist Party members Colin Fox and Tommy Sheridan at a 2004 rally organised in support for an “independent Scottish republic” where he shouted “down with the crown”.


When the media picked up on this, he tried to put this down to some sort of misguided youthful rebelliousness of his long-gone past, despite one very ill-tempered piece on his blog from as recently as July 2013 which describes supporters of the monarchy as “animalistic” and “foolish chumps” whose “sycophancy” he finds to be “downright nauseating” [4]. He’s a regional MSP for Glasgow by the way, so if you are a Glasgow unionist who supports the monarchy, that is what your Tory MSP thinks of you.


Last month arch-republican Tomkins joined Davidson in stating as plain as day that the UK Conservative Government will not block a second referendum [5]:


Tory constitutional spokesman Adam Tomkins… told the Sunday Times the party will not block a second independence poll.


And crucially, the leaders of Scottish Conservatism who have stated categorically that IndyRef2 should go ahead if Sturgeon asks for it, are joined by their Conservative fellows in the corridors of power at Whitehall who seem to suggest that thoughts are now turning towards granting a second vote [6].


But a senior Whitehall source explained how consideration was now being given to granting approval “in principle” for a so-called Section 30 Order, the parliamentary device to grant Holyrood power to hold a referendum…


So, what does Ruth Davidson mean when she says she will oppose a second referendum? Apparently only that Conservative MSPs will vote against it at Holyrood, a rather tokenistic form of opposition given that they know full well that the combined pro-referendum vote of the SNP and Greens will render this opposition irrelevant. It is in their capacity as the party of the UK Government that the Conservatives have total power to block a second referendum, and it is clear as day that they will not do so. They are chancing their arm with their anti-referendum rhetoric, and it may well come back to bite them when they sell out unionists by launching IndyRef2 at the behest of Nicola Sturgeon. All the precedents from the first referendum and all the statements from leading Conservative figures indicate that this is what is going to happen.


It is, after all, in the interests of the Conservative Party to hold a second referendum which, in the event of likely Labour and Lib Dem neutrality, will force unionists to rally behind them and cement their place as the second party in Scotland. They benefited greatly from the first one which of course they themselves, and not the SNP, launched.


This article is intended as a wake-up call to those unionists who think that a second referendum is not going to happen, and especially that the UK Conservative Government will block it. It is, and they will not. As all major parties jump on the referendum bandwagon, we must now give thought to how we as committed unionists respond to this worrying situation, and our next party article will lay out those plans. Unionism needs an anti-referendum and truly pro-Union, pro-UK party more than ever.





[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/03/ruth-davidson-next-pm-should-not-block-scottish-independence-ref/

[3] http://stv.tv/news/politics/1368857-davidson-there-should-not-be-a-blanket-refusal-to-indyref2/

[4] https://notesfromnorthbritain.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/the-irrelevance-of-monarchy/

[5] http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/sturgeon-tories-plan-to-stitch-up-referendum-k80rbh6ng?shareToken=4c066d75a79a6b2a5c7c262c41cb9ac3


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