Beware the Bravado of the 'Bring it On' Brigade: 18 Reasons to be CarefulTweet
We're thankful to Theresa May for effectively ruling out a second referendum prior to Brexit. That is her right, duty and responsibility as the Prime Minister tasked with holding the United Kingdom together on behalf of all British citizens.
In this article Alistair McConnachie says that we should not imagine that a referendum post-Brexit would be easy to win. It could be lost, and he cautions against the bravado of the 'Bring it On' Brigade.
Our primary strategy must continue to be to prevent such a second referendum ever happening.
Posted on this site on 16 March 2017.
"Bring it On, and we'll win it and put this to bed for a generation." We see this theme a lot on Social Media, but it's wrong and dangerous language. It lacks a sense of 'the political balance of power'.
In this article we're going to outline important considerations which are obscured under such 'Bring it On' Bravado.
We've organised the points into The Obvious Points; Media Power; Money; Message Discipline Breakdown; Wider Political Scene; Voter Apathy; The Black Art of Opinion Polling; The Franchise and Related Matters.
This is not intended to be gloomy. It is not intended to be demoralising. We are realistically and forthrightly outlining weakness which the 'Bring it On' Brigade is not acknowledging. These weaknesses can be overcome, but that takes a lot of work. It would be irresponsible not to flag up these weaknesses!
At the end of this article we explain the best course of action right now.
Firstly, let's look at the three main reasons why some pro-UK people want a second referendum.
Reason 1: "If we Win it will Put it to Bed for a Generation"
Actually, no it won't! Think it through. Consider the scenarios...
Say there is a referendum in Autumn 2019. Let's say the result is exactly the same or a little better for the Separatists. Say 46 to 54%. All that shows is that we are not gaining, and indeed losing support. It won't stop the separatists behaving exactly as they are behaving at the moment.
Say it is more than that; anything from 47 to 53%, or very close, 49.5 v 50.5%.
You think that's not an immediate indication for 'IndyRef3'? You think the SNP won't be talking about a third one...from the minute it lost the second one?
Indeed, it would be a massive sign to the Nationalists that 'one last push' would do it.
Consequently, the entire 7 and a half month build-up from a September 2019 referendum, to the May 2020 General Election, and then the succeeding 12-month build-up from that to the May 2021 Scottish Election would be dominated by talk of a third referendum – just as it was from September 2014 to the May 2015 General Election, to the May 2016 Scottish Election.
It would be like that movie Groundhog Day where the same process of events keeps happening over and over.
Say the SNP wins in 2021 and is able to gain a majority, or a coalition with the Greens. You think these parties are going to stop talking about 'independence'? You think they won't constantly hype up another referendum?
In that sense, a win for us would also be a sort of defeat for us.
We have nothing to gain from such a result.
We have nothing to gain from risking a second referendum.
The only way a second referendum might – might – 'put the matter to bed', at least for a little while, is if we won by a greater majority than last time.
For that we need the momentum to be on our side. We need polls to be consistently showing that we are dominating the scene to the point where the separatist tendency is being pushed back into its box.
For that to happen, polls right now need to be showing our support rising from 55% to 60% to 65% and beyond. But polls are not showing that. They are showing, at best, that the situation is static, or that the momentum is with the separatists!
The SNP originally said that it wouldn't contemplate another one unless polls were showing a consistent 65% for them. Similarly, we should not even be contemplating it either unless polls were at least 65% and rising for us.
By the way, pushing the separatist vote down 10% to 35%, and ours up to 65% is one of the long-term Goals of A Force For Good and should be the general short-term goal for the entire pro-UK movement.
There seems to be an assumption by some unionists that the 45% is unassailable and that there is nothing that can be done about it, or even nothing to be tried! That's defeatist thinking. We can change our language, arguments, optics and policies.
Above all, we can be forthright in our belief in the value of the United Kingdom to everyone in it; not just 'the value to Scotland alone' – an argument which entirely excludes the rest of the UK from involvement and engagement.
If there is a next time, we will only win with the help of the rest of the UK – financially and physically.
In that regard, here is an excellent piece of Unionist Attitude from the Prime Minister at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday 15 March 2017 (in response to Angus Robertson SNP MP): "But when the Right Honourable Gentleman looks at the issue of membership of the European Union and his view of Scotland not being a member of the United Kingdom, I say this to him. He is comparing membership of an organisation that we've been a member of for 40 years...with our country. We have been one country for over 300 years. We have fought together. We have worked together. We have achieved together. And constitutional game-playing must not be allowed to break the deep bonds of our shared history and our future together."
Reason 2: "Sturgeon would Step Down" (but Salmond would Step Back Up)
Another reason that some pro-UK people will cite for 'bringing it on' is the idea that we could 'get rid of Sturgeon'.
Yes, if she lost, she would likely step down, but who is going to replace her? Obviously, the other half of her double act Alex Salmond would step back up again!
Groundhog Day indeed!
Reason 3: "The Economic Circumstances have Changed for the Worst, so we'll Win Easily"
If those circumstances are conclusive, then why have the 'Opinion' Polls barely shifted in our direction? That's all we're saying on that...
So a second referendum will not put the matter to bed – unless we win by a majority which is significantly greater than last time – and either way, Sturgeon will only be replaced by Salmond.
And of course, we could lose!
Now let's look at the dangers for us.
THE OBVIOUS POINTS
1. Separatists Starting from Higher Ground
This time around, support for separation is starting from almost level pegging.
Last time it rose from (depends who you consult) 25 or 27, or 28 to 45%. That is, it rose by anything from 17-20%. A recent poll put it on 50%. Well, we don't want to be adding any numbers to that percentage this time around!
Again, momentum has to be on our side.
2. Our Big Hitters are Gone
We have no big hitters left. In 2015, we had the Jim Murphys, Gordon Browns, Alistair Darlings and Douglas Alexanders. All gone. Who has Labour got now? Who is going to travel around the towns and cities of Scotland making the pro-UK case?
3. We've already Lost some of our Major Arguments
For example, in 2014 a shared British Income Tax system was a powerful argument. It was something which was easy to understand and worked for us. Post-Scotland Act 2016, we no longer have a shared Income Tax system!
The cost of setting up a new tax system for Scotland – another powerful argument – has also gone. A new tax system is being set up anyway, and the cost of it, ironically, is presently being absorbed by the Great British Taxpayer – thanks to the 'unionist' parties, the Smith Commission and the Scotland Act 2016.
4. Most MSPs will be Compromised on the EU Issue
Membership of the EU for Scotland might become a major issue at a post-Brexit referendum.
Most MSPs are compromised on this issue. For example, witness the Scottish Labour Party and Lib Dems voting against triggering Article 50 in Holyrood on 7 Feb 2017. Only 3 Labour MSPs joined with the 31 Tories to vote for it. (1)
The party leaders Kezia Dugdale (Labour) and Willie Rennie (Lib Dems) even voted to reject triggering Article 50.
This means that much of this pro-UK voice at Holyrood will be highly compromised when attempting to defend the UK during a referendum where joining the EU could be a central issue!
5. Some Newspapers could turn Separatist
Last time, the Daily Record played a significant role in confusing the pro-UK message and corrupting the British Constitution when it created its so-called 'Vow'. Where does it have to go, if there is a next time around? Even more 'devolution'? Or would it support separation? We have to consider the serious possibility! Such a move would be disastrous for the pro-UK cause.
The Glasgow Herald would certainly be pushing 'federalism', as it is at present; that is, if it doesn't make the full leap and join its sisters, The National and the Sunday Herald.
6. We have no Mainstream Media Activist Journalists on our Side
The Scottish Nationalists have many more sympathetic journalists embedded in large mainstream media organisations – who are daily trotted out in the papers and on TV and radio – than the Unionists.
Many of these are 'Activist Journalists' – people whose professional intention is to write and speak in order to develop and promote a particular separatist agenda; for example, Iain MacWhirter, Lesley Riddoch and many more. These people are very virulent about their beliefs and seem to inform SNP strategy. They often get Book Deals, host events, are feted in the national press, and are published throughout Social Media. We have no equivalents.
Sure, there are some who appear 'pro-UK' to an extent, but they rarely manage to take their personal point of view onto radio and TV, and if they do, they sometimes lack conviction. Not one of them is an ideologist; in the sense of those on the Nationalist side (or those of us who write for A Force For Good).
The mainstream media will even give house room to many separatist fringe journalists and bloggers in the way that it won't touch (hitherto?) us on the unionist side.
Furthermore, some prominent journalists who were 'pro-UK' are no longer on our side, as a consequence of Brexit.
As for journalists based in England, some of them don't have a clue about the Union, the UK, or what Britain even is. As a consequence, they only manage to add a load of nonsense which only poisons the overall atmosphere – appealing often to 'English Nationalism'.
7. SNP has a Bottomless Pit of Money
Remember the Weirs. They're still around. They still have endless millions to spend. The Unionist side does not have anybody (yet?) who can match that sort of funding. Furthermore ScotNat 'True Believers' donate seriously to their cause.
We've been campaigning for 5 years now, and in that time we've developed a feel for the extent to which 'unionists' part with their money! Our conclusion? In all probability – even though we are trying to save the entire United Kingdom and should in theory have a much bigger pot to tap into – we could be facing the very likely possibility of being massively outspent by the Nationalist movement.
We must involve and energise the rest of the United Kingdom if we are to win a second referendum – something that we singularly failed to do last time.
In that regard, we've assembled 20 Lessons Learned from the Official and Unofficial NO Campaigns here.
MESSAGE DISCIPLINE BREAKDOWN
8. No Cross-Party 'Better Together' style Organisation – No Single Pro-UK Message
There will not be any formal 'Better Together' style cross-party operation next time. Some people will say that this will be a strength. That might be so, but it remains to be seen.
The danger is that it leads to less strength on the ground. We can expect the Nationalists to come together as one – even though this will be largely SNP along with the Greens and other assorted Republicans.
Three different parties could be putting out 3 different versions of the UK and the Union. Again, whether this is good or bad remains to be seen.
9. Scottish Labour (and Lib Dems, and Tories) will Confuse their Messages
Presuming that each political party maintains its own campaign then it might be harder for the Daily Record and Herald stables to inveigle the politicians into another so-called 'Vow'. That would at least be good.
Nevertheless, it is possible that Labour in Scotland will complicate its Stronger Together message with some sort of confused bletheration about 'Federalism' or 'Home Rule' as an alternative to separation. Federalism is already Lib Dem policy. The Tories might even join them, having a prominent federalist – Prof Adam Tomkins as one of its MSPs.
Therefore, the Message will be that the UK is a good thing and we should be part of it...but it is not good enough so we need to change the British Constitution even further! This will be seen, quite rightly, as contradictory.
Moreover, such constitutional complexity will be far too confusing on the doorsteps – both to explain, and understand – to the point where it will end up rendering any 'pro-UK' message incoherent.
This would be a disaster for the pro-UK side. In the face of the SNP's crystal clear, 'Brits Out' policy, Scottish Labour (and possibly Lib Dems and Tories) would be responding with a complicated and incoherent discourse which was highly debatable in itself and which would not be effective in persuading anyone about the merits of the United Kingdom.
As with 'the Vow' last time, it will do nothing to help our vote and it will lay out the ground – post-referendum (if we win) – with a nice comfy bed for the ScotNats to bounce back in 2020 and 2021; just like 'the Vow' enabled the SNP to bounce back stronger than ever in 2015, and 2016.
In the face of the SNP's strong 'Brits Out' message, we have to factor in the likelihood that the 'pro-UK' message is going to be all over the place.
Activists on the streets would be at a loss to know what it is they are meant to be defending or campaigning for.
Any pro-UK Message Discipline would just disintegrate in a fog of constitutional confusion!
WIDER POLITICAL SCENE
10. Jeremy Corbyn: A Labour Leader with Nothing Good to Say about the UK
In 2014 we had a Labour Leader who was able to articulate a defence of the United Kingdom per se and who at least seemed to believe in the general concept, regardless of how well he articulated it. We also had a strong cohort of experienced Labour MPs from Scotland who could talk a good game.
This time, we have Jeremy Corbyn, and only 1 Labour MP from Scotland. Corbyn is a lifelong 'anti-imperialist' and Irish Nationalist. He has no love for the United Kingdom as a political construction. He did nothing to defend it in 2014 and he can be expected to do nothing again.
11. We've Lost Control of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee
Last time, the Westminster Scottish Affairs Select Committee, chaired by the Labour MP, Ian Davidson, produced some excellent analysis for our pro-UK cause. This time the Scottish Affairs committee is chaired by the SNP MP Pete Wishart! At present it also includes the pro-EU fanatic Anne Soubry! There remains a 'unionist' majority, but the Committee cannot be guaranteed to be as sympathetic as the last one.
12. Edinburgh-based British Civil Service Working on SNP's Side...Again
As per last time – and if no action is taken to prevent it happening again – Holyrood is likely to exploit the British Civil Service based in Edinburgh for its own ends. It would enlist it to continue to pump out taxpayer-funded White Papers such as the Scotland's Future document.
13. Voter Cynicism – "What's the Point. We're Going to be Ignored Again"
This could kick in with some who think "Our vote is going to be ignored again anyway, so what's the point in voting?"
Some might be saying, "It's going to happen anyway so let's just get it over with." There will be no such apathy on the ScotNat side.
14. Voter Fatigue – "Please Make this go Away and Just End"
People are tired. Most of us don't take strong positions one way or the other. Many of us experience the referendum debate as mentally exhausting. It beats us down. Many of us just want it to go away and some may think it will go away faster "if separation just happens and we can get it over with".
THE BLACK ART of OPINION POLLING
15. We could Drown Under a Constant Slew of 'Opinion' Polls
'Opinion' Polls are used deliberately to lead as much as to reflect, public 'opinion'. They are a tool of political activism – if you have the money. That's why we put 'Opinion' in inverted commas.
The deliberate political use of 'Opinion' Polls can change public 'opinion' in the way that the group or person asking the question wants the public's 'opinion' to move. It is an entire science of public control – a form of political black magic.
It is about setting new premises of debate, which are deliberately created to shift the boundaries of acceptable thought and opinion; to force people to make decisions on grounds they don't want to be standing on in the first place; to create leading questions to take us in directions we don't want to go but now find ourselves travelling down. And they can be used deliberately to sap morale and make people feel that circumstances are oppressive and hopeless. It is about Manufacturing Consent to quote a title of a Noam Chomsky book.
We, as unionists, will be under a constant barrage of these 'Opinion' Polls. Many of them will be constructed deliberately to move 'opinion' towards separatism, and/or sap our morale – often on a daily basis.
We, as unionists, do not have the money for these endless 'Opinion' Polls. However, the SNP has an endless pot of money to draw on, as do many of the newspaper and media channels who use these 'Opinion' Polls deliberately as fodder for their daily news reports and programmes.
16. 'Opinion' Polls might Demonstrate Separatist Momentum
A worst case scenario is that these 'Opinion' Polls start to show the separatists as winning. This could start an unstoppable momentum.
A perceived sense that unionists are on the losing side would cause a proportion of casual pro-UK or unionist people to get caught up in 'all the excitement'. They would desert us for what could be perceived to be 'the winning side'. They would want to appear to be 'in with the in-crowd'...in order that they will be able to 'tell my children I was on the winning side'.
In short, worst case scenario, 'Opinion' Polling could lead to things going south for us very quickly!
There was an element of that in 2014. People who were 'No' became 'Yes' only because they perceived it as the winner, and because all their friends were doing the same.
FRANCHISE and RELATED MATTERS
17. EU Citizens Allowed to Vote
At the 2014 referendum, the franchise was the Scottish Parliament Franchise, which allows EU citizens to vote. The British Parliament Franchise – used at Westminster elections – forbids (quite rightly) EU citizens to vote.
What that meant was that, in 2014, 10s of thousands of people who were not even British Citizens were allowed to determine the future of Britain. That is like us going to France and being allowed to vote on whether France should be torn apart!
According to this Research Briefing (2) there were 181,000 EU Nationals in Scotland in 2015 (p.5), of which 17% were under 16 (p.9). That means 132,130 of potential voting age – say 132,000.
This includes citizens of the Irish Republic who would, however, be eligible to vote under a British Parliament franchise.
According to this Document (3) there are 16,000 claiming Irish Republic nationality (to end of December 2015). If we say a similar 17% are under 16, that leaves 11,680 of potential voting age – say 12,000.
So, very approximately, we are looking at 132,000-12,000 to give (around) 120,000 EU citizens who could vote in a possible second referendum held under a Scottish Parliament Franchise, and who could not vote under a British Parliament Franchise (perhaps slightly less since the 16 and 17 year olds would be excluded).
The SNP will lie to these voters that the 'evil Tory' 'far right' British government is going to 'deport them'. How is that going to work out for us unionists! Virtually all of these EU citizens might be persuaded to prefer the fanciful 'safe haven' of an independent Scotland.
Even in a referendum held after Brexit, we cannot be assured that the British government would insist on using the British Parliament Franchise. Many of these Europeans would still be living here and might still be regarded as EU citizens for various legal purposes. That could mean they might still be allowed to vote under a Scottish Parliament Franchise.
Alex Salmond has stated that he believes 90% of them would now vote for separation. (4) That would be around 108,000. That's certainly enough to swing the vote considerably!
We must figure all this in! The bravado of the 'Bring it On' Brigade forgets all this important stuff.
18. The British Government may Not set the Timing, Franchise or Question; nor set a Threshold
We would like to think that it would. It should! We would be lobbying it to do so. But would it?
For example, we would lobby it:
a. To ensure that the main Nation – the United Kingdom – is featured on the question.
The 2014 question did not even mention the pre-eminent, fundamental Nation-State which was to be broken up. The question was "Should Scotland be an independent country?" There was no recognition of the United Kingdom. It was pushed out the picture! It was all about Scotland. Should it be "independent" or not?
The little matter of the integrity, cohesion, stability and maintenance of the UK itself was deemed of no significance. Contrast that with the question on the EU Referendum ballot which mentioned both the Nation-State of the UK, and the State which was at issue...twice: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?"
b. To ensure the positive answer is with our side – or at the very least, a neutral question is posed.
For example, the Northern Ireland referendum in 1973 avoided 'Yes' and 'No' by making it a matter of neutral tick boxes. The electorate was asked to indicate:
"Do you want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom?"
"Do you want Northern Ireland to be joined with the Republic of Ireland outside the United Kingdom?"
c.To ensure that the British Parliamentary Franchise is used – that is, 18 year olds and no EU citizens.
It is essential that EU citizens are not allowed to vote on the potential break-up of a country of which they are not even citizens!
d. There should be a Threshold of a certain percentage of the electorate to vote for separation before it could be considered worth debating.
50% of the voters on the day, plus 1 is not good enough. We've written about Thresholds before.
For example, the Constitution of the SNP (see pic), requires a two-thirds majority if it is to be changed. However, the party thinks it perfectly sufficient for the British Constitution to be changed by the votes of 50% of the voters on the day, plus 1.
e. The Referendum result should not be considered Decisive.
Referendums are merely large Opinion Polls and it is not necessary for them to be followed by the Government of the day. We have written about that little mentioned fact of the British Constitution here.
The SNP has already set a very strong precedent that referendum results can be ignored.
They except to be able to ignore a result if they don't like it, but we on the unionist side are not allowed to ignore it.
They don't respect the result, but we're meant to respect it!
They don't accept the result, but we're meant to accept it!
They 'only need to win once' but we have to keep winning every time? That's not very democratic, is it!
f. Timing should be set for an optimal pro-UK vote (if that is possible).
While we would campaign for the above, we also have to consider the possibility that the British Government will ignore everything we say!
HOW TO STOP A SECOND REFERENDUM
Instead of saying 'Bring it On', this is what we need to be doing.
1. Prime Minister must say, "Not on my Watch"
We were very thankful to Mrs May on 16 March 2017 when she, essentially, ruled out a referendum prior to Brexit. However, as we have written, she must now be careful to ensure her words are not twisted by the ScotMedia into some sort of 'promise' to hold one post-Brexit. As we have warned here the ScotMedia will attempt to move Events and Expectations to the point where a second referendum in Autumn 2019 is seen as 'inevitable'. She must be careful not to be suckered into holding one.
For our part, we should not talk as if a second referendum is inevitable.
We should plan for one, but our best hope lies in the British Government and Parliament holding strong to its mandate to speak for all the people of Britain; to keep the United Kingdom together; and to not allow anything which could destroy the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister has only to say, "No referendum while I am Prime Minister", to settle the matter for the lifetime of this British Parliament to 2020.
That will introduce stability into the Scottish economy, reassert the proper British Constitutional relationship among its parts – where such massive constitutional matters should remain the remit of the British Parliament alone – and allow us all to get on with our lives.
If she is still the PM at the 2020 General Election then she can seek a cast-iron mandate to keep the UK together – which will also involve no more referendums. That would also see an increase in her vote throughout Scotland.
2. Vote Against the SNP, Greens, and assorted Republican fringe parties at the Local Elections
In that regard, the next battle is the Local Elections on Thursday 4th May 2017. It is clear that the SNP is going to be going into them with a second referendum policy, and the expectation that a good showing, and winning new Councils – especially Glasgow City – will add further momentum to its cause.
At the Local Elections, voting is numerically for your favourite candidates in order, ie 1, 2, 3 etc. The Wards are multi-member, 3 or 4 member Wards. Vote for the best placed 'pro-UK' candidates. You can vote for as many as you want, but you do not have to vote for every candidate. Therefore, do not vote for the SNP or for the separatist and republican Scottish Green Party, or any other fringe Republican parties.
3. Challenge the Legitimacy of the Referendum Mechanism as a Governing Method
Generally speaking, we should not put our faith in 'winning' endless, damaging, dangerous referendums.
We should not accept the premise that referendums are a suitable way to govern – and potentially destroy – a Nation in the first place.
To accept this is essentially to accept that the SNP has a right to hold a referendum every 5 years – every time it wins, or forms a coalition at a Holyrood election! Is that really a way to govern Scotland and Britain!
The acceptance of referendums as morally legitimate and constitutionally legal forms of 'government' must be challenged. We must question the damaging, socially destabilising concept of government by referendum.
We also have to consider the extent to which the SNP's clear lack of respect and acceptance of the 2014 referendum result sets a precedent for unionists to refuse to accept the result of any referendum which went against us.
Here's a unique and refreshing article on that very subject from The Unionist Party – a new group which is standing candidates at the Local Elections: A Separation Vote in IndyRef2 has no Legitimacy (14 March 2017).
In conclusion: That's been a quick round-up of some of the obvious problems which we could be facing, if there were to be a second referendum. It is surely enough to demonstrate that any 'Bring in On' bravado is sorely misplaced.
It is also surely enough to demonstrate to the British Government that it was absolutely correct to park any second referendum prior to Brexit. Now it needs to keep it in the garage, under lock and key, for the lifetime of this Parliament!
(4) Reported in Ewen MacAskill, "Scotland is moving inexorably to a second independence referendum. Brexit has changed the debate, but is a Yes vote more likely now?", The Observer, 12-3-17, pp26-27 at 27.
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Recommended Reading on Referendums:
A Separation Vote in IndyRef2 has no Legitimacy
Keep Calm and Just Say No to a Second Referendum
Time to Shut the Door on a Second Referendum
4 Reasons Why Sturgeon has No Legal Right to "Call" Referendum
The Nature of Political Authority in the United Kingdom
A Wake Up Call to Unionism