On 18 September 2014 Scotland had its Independence referendum. In many ways it was a stunning result with 45% voting to leave the 307 year-old political union. Which meant 55% supported to remain, so the status quo survived.
Much has changed since then. We’ve had five Conservative prime ministers (two of which were unelected), a new monarch and, consequently, Brexit.
There is certainly a case that this constitutes a change in material circumstances which would justify a new vote. At present there is no foreseeable way one will be held, despite Scotland having an elected government which promised IndyRef2 in its manifesto.
Felled by a unanimous ruling
The Scotland Act 1998, which created the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, is an unusual piece of legislation. The Act defines what powers the new Scottish Parliament has as well as the UK Government’s “reserved matters.” Chief message is, no messing with the Union, which autocratically has the power to grant a Section 30 Order that will allow another independence vote.
The Scottish government took their case to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (SCUK). They had a cunning argument. Holyrood wasn’t asking for a binding referendum, as in 2014. The Scottish Government was only seeking an opportunity to gauge public opinion. It didn’t breach the Section 30 rules because it wasn’t “self-activating”. However the court’s unanimous ruling was that Scotland cannot unilaterally hold a second referendum, binding or not.
The result of any official referendum, advisory or otherwise, would have had a huge impact on the political debate surrounding the constitution. So, perhaps that’s why it was barred? Also the unionist parties announced they would call on their supporters to boycott such a vote, robbing it of any democratic legitimacy.
UK General election an IndyRef2 reboot?
On 24 June 2023 First Minister Humza Yousaf said that if the SNP won the majority of Scottish seats in Westminster at the next general election, it would be a mandate for him to approach Westminster to negotiate a new independence vote. Even if this happens there would likely be the shortest negotiations in political history.
“Can we have a referendum?”
“No, the door is over there.”
Westminster, be it the current Tory or a future Labour government, neither has the desire to re-run the 2014 near death experience so, for now, IndyRef2 is stalemated.
There is still an independence movement which on a good day can rally 10 to 20 thousand for marches. Respectable, but nothing near the level of protest prior to the 2003 Iraq war, which drew a crowd of approximately 150 thousand in London on 27 September 2002.
Talk of civil disobedience has also gone nowhere and Alex Salmond’s Alba party has made little impact.
Are the hearts of olden glory withering?
What is most interesting is how little passion the opportunity for IndyRef2 appears to generate. Around half the country would support a new plebiscite or referendum, especially younger people who were not old enough in 2014. The BBC reported, “Polls suggest Scots aged under 24 are more likely to back independence than the average person”.
But Westminster won’t grant a Section 30 Order and SCUK ruled against Scotland calling a vote on its own. No matter how you would have voted, that’s the end of the matter. Most surprising of all, many Scots appeared to just shrug it off and move on.
There were many slogans during the 2014 independence referendum. One stood out; “The Dream shall never die.”
It may not be dead, but for now it appears to be fast asleep.