Some reflections on the EU Referendum and a note on #indyref2

The UK has opted for Brexit, that much we know. There is still much that needs to happen before the UK extricates itself from the European Union. Domestic politics might yet intervene to stop Brexit. We shall see, but the current democratic situation is clear. 51.9% of voters wish to leave the EU.

I did not campaign in this referendum. I worked at the Aberdeen City count, so electoral law applied. Now that my duties are over, and in the interests of full disclosure for this blog post, I can safely share that I voted Remain.

There are many, many machinations of this vote to Leave. Here are a select few.

I look at Northern Ireland, which as a “region” voted to Remain, with more than a little concern. I have no particular expertise there so I will refrain from predictions of what will happen next for its people, other than a spike in their applications for passports issued by the Republic of Ireland.

There are machinations for higher education, as demonstrated by this statement by my employer.

There are machinations for law and legal research, as demonstrated by numerous conversations with Scots, English, Northern Irish, non-UK EU, and non-EU colleagues in the School of Law on the day after the vote. Dr. Kirsteen Shields of Dundee tweeted that she went to bed a human rights lawyer and woke up a historian. PhD students looking at aspects of EU law are probably thinking things less eloquent than WTF. There is also the matter of funding for research. (To stick to my own discipline, I understand law and legal studies gets 38.96% of its research income from the EU.)

There are machinations for the financial industry in the UK, and particularly London. Meanwhile, London’s position as a judicial centre for the the resolution of disputes is looking decidedly shoogly.

At a more human level, there are potentially unsavoury machinations for race relations in the UK. (I can offer one anecdote, which I hope a friend does not mind me sharing: she is of African descent and posted on her facebook that in the aftermath of the vote for Leave she now feels less able to shrug off any racist slurs thrown her way. The combination of racists being emboldened by the vote and people feeling less welcome really does not bear thinking about.)

The franchise for the vote itself even had implications, in terms of excluding many people who have made their lives in the UK from a decision that directly affects them. This point is explored thoroughly in a post by my colleague Heather Green.

And there are machinations for Scotland.

My introduction should make clear that the EU referendum result is about far more than Scotland. I don’t want to come across as parochial. What I do want to do is offer some thoughts on a topic I know a bit more about than Northern Ireland or the other things I have mentioned. As it happens, I have written about Scotland – and specifically Scottish independence – before.

What next for Scotland?

On 6 October 2014 I blogged about the Scottish independence referendum. Those of you who know me or know this blog will be aware I voted and indeed campaigned for Yes. Unless you have been living in a cave, you will also be aware Scotland voted No.

When you back the losing horse in a two-horse race, you tend not to be in a position to make any particular demands of those who backed the winner. As such, my post in the aftermath of the #indyref acknowledged the result, made a few observations, and quietly announced a hiatus from overtly political blogging. (Consider this post a suspension of that hiatus.)

In that post, I made a few observations about the Yes Alliance ticket that some people proposed should run at the 2015 UK general election. That did not come to pass. (What did happen was a thumping SNP performance as a de facto Yes Alliance, returning 56 out of 59 SNP candidates in the constituencies Scotland.) I did offer some thoughts about what might be next for the Scottish constitution, as follows.

Whatever the Smith Commission might come up with, independence is the one thing that is off the table. Sure, Salmond might not be the First Minister for much longer, but I think the SNP should assiduously stick to his line that the referendum would settle things for “a political generation”. Indeed, the only people who have it in their gift to change the independence timeline from a double digit to a single digit number of years are the parties who campaigned for the Union. Such a change is not likely to be deliberate. That is to say, it would take them contributing to a situation where somehow things change, perhaps by:

  1. the Scottish Parliament being abolished (very unlikely);

  2. the UK leaving the ECHR (unfortunately looking a bit more likely, but probably still erring on the unlikely side of things);

  3. the Smith Commission proposing absolutely nothing of note, notwithstanding “The Vow” and any subsequent petitions (pure speculation, the Commission needs to be given a chance); or

  4. the UK dragging Scotland out of the EU after a UK-wide referendum when Scotland voted to stay (unlikely, but what do I know?).

Fast forward to June 2016. Scenario 4 has just come to pass. Scenario 4 was explicitly mentioned as a cause for a new independence referendum in the SNP manifesto for the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections. The SNP may have recently lost its overall majority at Holyrood, but it forms the minority government and can probably call on six allies to carry the Chamber when it comes to a position on a new independence referendum in the form of the Scottish Green Party MSPs. #indyref2 beckons, it would seem, although First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has not quite explicitly called for it.

Scotland voted 62%-38% to Remain in the EU. Every local authority area voted to Remain. The vote in Edinburgh was resounding. The vote in Moray less so – it sneaked home by just over 100 votes. (Another friend, who lives in Moray, noted quite correctly that the map that shows Scotland as a glorious homogeneous polity fails to show that this was a vote that cut across geographical, cultural and economic lines.) The result in Moray means I should couch my remarks carefully, but it does seem fair to say Scotland (and Northern Ireland) voted one way and England and Wales another. English votes are bouncing Scotland out of the EU.

Does this mean all the Yes voters in 2014 get to strut around with an “I told you so” swagger? Not quite. There are nuances here. Andrew Tickell blogged about his #indyref experience of a voter who backed Scottish independence specifically because she wanted out of the EU: I wonder how she is feeling just now? Plus, views can change over time for a whole manner of reasons.

Would the Scots go for independence now? “The 45” are probably secure, except for the occasional individual like the one mentioned above. As for “The 55” who voted to remain in the UK in 2014, the EU vote is something of a game-changer. It allows the independence question to be re-cast in a positive light, or perhaps as a choice between two unions.

I am conscious what I say doesn’t really matter. I was a Yes voter in 2014. I have maintained that persuasion and I would be poised to vote Yes again if and when the question is asked again, unless someone could demonstrate to me that it would be folly.

Of more interest are the views of people like JK Rowling or Chris Deerin: not because of who they are (although admittedly that gives them an audience), but rather because of how they voted in 2014. The case for an independent Scotland in the EU has been elegantly made by No voter Stephen O’Rourke, who also happens to be a very clever advocate. Cynics might wonder if he is an advocate trying to drum up business, but I don’t think he is. As noted above, the dispute resolution industry that exists in London could well go elsewhere, why not an independent Scotland?

All of a sudden a comprehensible and inclusive case for Scottish independence can be made, and no-one needs to mention oil. (In fact, my advice to any nascent indyref2 campaign would be to not mention oil at all, but that’s another matter…)

What next?

Scotland and the rest of the UK is heading for the EU exit door. There will need to be a lot of Scottish and indeed EU-level manoeuvring to avoid Scotland leaving at the same time.

It will be no surprise to anyone that I am up for being a part of such manoeuvring, although it will not be a simple dance.

As with any dance, timing is clearly important. (That Sturgeon has not instigated anything yet is both interesting and, in my view, correct.)

Voting fatigue – and specifically referendum fatigue – is important.

Being perceived as asking the same question again and again until you get the answer you want is never a good place to be.

That being the case, many of the machinations I set out above about leaving the EU, coupled with the reasons why I voted Yes back in 2014,  make me perfectly happy to leave my colours pinned to the mast of Scottish independence. I have absolutely no idea if or when I will be faced with a ballot paper asking “Should Scotland be an independent country” again, but I do know how I would vote in that situation. I suspect I will have some new friends voting that way too.

Finally, with this very public declaration it seems fair to say I won’t be working at any #indyref2 count. Electoral law and all that. I might see you on the campaign trail or via the odd strategic blog post though, whenever the occasion calls for it.

About basedrones

Bachelor of Laws. Scots lawyer working at the University of Aberdeen. English law qualified. Took far too long to write this bio. Blogs on legal issues, with occasional veering into other purportedly intellectual stuff from time to time. Tweets about legal issues, education, law clinics, fitba, music, rogue cell division and not at all about politics at @MalcolmCombe.
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4 Responses to Some reflections on the EU Referendum and a note on #indyref2

  1. Peter Watson says:

    It would be interesting to have your legal views on (1) Ms Sturgeon’s (the same as the Scottish Gov) unilateral powers to hold another referendum and lead Scotland to independence taking into account reserved powers and (2) the present legal status of Scotland within the EU and of any discussions with EU Institutions and their outcomes

    • basedrones says:

      On (2), Scotland is part of a member state with six MEPs, who seem to be getting a sympathetic ear in the European Parliament, and Nicola Sturgeon also seems to be getting something like a sympathetic ear. I would not read too much into that just yet though. On (1), some constitutional lawyers argued Scotland had authority to hold indyref1 without Westminster authorisation. In the end the point did not matter because it was never tested. It would not surprise me if it was not tested again, but we’ll see.

  2. Pingback: My 2016 in Review | basedrones

  3. Pingback: Brexit and #indyref2: what now? | basedrones

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