James McEnaney: Yes, we’re all exhausted, but Sturgeon was right to call #ScotRef


Commonspace columnist James McEnaney reflects on Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to seek a second independence referendum

I’ll be honest: I really can’t be bothered with another referendum. 

After the first vote in 2014, followed by the general election, and then the Holyrood election, and then the EU referendum, I just don’t know if I have the energy for another round. What’s more, I know that I’m not alone in feeling that way – people on both sides of Scotland’s constitutional fault-line are exhausted. 

As I’ve said several times in recent months, I’m also fed up with every single policy issue in Scotland being analysed through the prism of independence. I’m bored of being asked which ‘side’ I’m on, or accused of being a ‘yoon’, or told to ‘wheesht for indy’ when I highlight the SNP’s poor record in areas like tax reform, transparency and, most of all, education. I’ve had enough of seeing every criticism of the Scottish Government used as a stick with which to beat the very idea of independence.

I also, on principle, dislike set-piece, high-stakes referendums. I am averse to imposed, highly-charged dichotomies and eternally frustrated by the stubborn absence of nuance in all political discourse.

Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose.

For a whole variety of reasons, then, I don’t want another independence referendum right now, but none of that changes the fact that Nicola Sturgeon is right to pursue one. 

The cold, hard truth is that the first minister, and indeed the country, had only two options – call a referendum sooner, and under much more difficult circumstances, than anyone on either side would like, or sit quietly at the back of the bus while a cabal of braying Brexiteers drives us all off a cliff.

Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose. In moving Scotland towards a second independence referendum the first minister has made the only decision she could. 

Why? Because the terms of the deal that Scotland made in 2014 have been changed not just without our consent, but in direct contravention of our expressed wishes.

The material change in circumstances outlined in the SNP manifesto has occurred, and the make-up of the Scottish Parliament, in which a majority of MSPs are in favour of independence, means that Nicola Sturgeon is in a position to deliver on that campaign promise. Both the mandate and the means are undoubtedly secure.

There is no question that protecting Scotland’s status in the EU was a central plank of the anti-independence campaign three years ago. Ruth Davidson’s ‘yes means out, no means in’ rhetoric is a matter of public record. Even if the claims that No campaigners made were true at that point, they have now been proven false. 

Put simply, the UK that Scotland voted to remain a part of has ceased to exist. 

For many voters, that shifting ground will not alter their response to the question of Scottish independence. There is every chance that the No campaign, even allowing for the obvious lack of a credible and effective standard-bearer, will once again be victorious. 
Big questions – around Scotland’s deficit and future currency, for example – still need conclusive answers and large numbers of voters will understandably hold their position until the hard economics swing clearly in what they regard as a positive direction. Many Scots will also, quite reasonably, wish to protect a British identity which means a great deal to them.  
For others, however, the social and political landscape now stretching out before them has changed to such a degree that support for Scottish independence, once unlikely or even unthinkable, might offer the clearest and brightest path into an unavoidably difficult future.
Put simply, the UK that Scotland voted to remain a part of has ceased to exist. 

What remains will, as ever, get what England wants, an inevitable consequence of this anachronistic union of unequals. This time that means a hard, angry, xenophobic Brexit, fueled by a vicious cocktail of resurgent British nationalism and an English identity crisis.

Instead of a shouting match, or even a debate, could we please have a conversation?

The EU referendum campaign was never about taking back control, it was about taking back England. That is the reality and, independence or not, there is absolutely nothing that Scotland can do about it.

The Brexiteers, ensconced in their own stupidity, are increasingly bound to dreams of royal yachts ruling the waves and the glorious birth of Empire 2.0. They will pursue policies, like the abandonment of refugees and the demolition of workers’ rights, that should be anathema to right-thinking people, regardless of their political allegiances.

England is, of course, perfectly entitled to pickle itself in ridiculous delusions and tattered nostalgia but Scotland should not be obliged to immerse itself alongside. We are entitled to choose a different path.

A second referendum is happening and we will all soon be drenched to the bone regardless of the outcome. We now have two years to decide what sort of country we wish to be, two years to make an informed, and very likely final, choice about our future.

I have just one request: instead of a shouting match, or even a debate, could we please have a conversation?

Picture courtesy of Scottish Government

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