Things haven’t been going terribly well for Nicola Sturgeon in recent weeks. Her one-time Covid elimination strategy looks still more foolish now when even New Zealand has had to abandon it. If the saintly Jacinda Arden cannot manage to keep Covid from spreading in a country two and half thousand miles from anywhere else how was Sturgeon supposed to emulate her heroine with Scotland joined to England and reliant on lorries and trains connecting us to the continent. If only we had been independent, we could have been like New Zealand looks even more foolish when both New Zealand and Australia have merely delayed the pandemic, have fewer people vaccinated than the UK and are pretty much where we were in March 2020 at the beginning rather than reaching the end.
There was a little flurry of excitement at the SNP conference as Sturgeon brought on stage a figure who would take the campaign for independence to the next level. Unfortunately, no matter how much she tried to flog it, no one but the most committed were buying and it turned out that the rather comatose new Scottish nationalist hero was Robert the Bruce’s horse, which was not sleeping, but rather dead and it would not rise again no matter how many times Sturgeon hit it.
The same SNP strategy of giving it a good bash as proved less than successful in keeping the engines of Cal Mac ferries going and unfortunately destroyed the computers that were needed for the vaccine passport ap to work. Sturgeon’s determination to do better than England no matter how inconvenient for Scots suffers also from the problem that Covid is spreading freely in Scotland, in schools and in homes and indeed where two and three are gathered together not merely in nightclubs and football stadiums. If vaccine uptake in Scotland had been low, then the SNP could have argued that the vaccine passport was encouraging those who had yet to come forward, but the present rate of vaccination is 93% for the first dose and 84% for the second. Pretty much anyone who wants a vaccine has had it. Those who don’t want it will do without seeing Cowdenbeath playing Stirling Albion.
Despite Sturgeon being on the TV with her Covid briefings only two things actually made a difference and she was in control of neither. We were able to stay at home because the Chancellor funded furlough and kept businesses going. The rates of death and serious illness came down because the British Government invested in vaccine research and bought enough to vaccine the whole population. Sturgeon wasn’t able to stop Covid spreading. Her decision to send old people back from hospital killed more than any other decision she made. Having a different policy to England on this or that saved no lives, but might instead have cost them owing to confusion.
The bounce in support for independence that she hoped would occur by monopolising the airwaves hasn’t happened. Meanwhile thoughtful Scots have noted how dependent we were during the pandemic on Treasury money and Britain’s ability to borrow at low rates and how it’s rather useful to have the British Army organise things and drive ambulances. It would be rather a pity to destroy something that has from time to time proved so necessary.
But a decision by the Supreme Court may prove to be the worst news of all for Sturgeon. Ever since the SNP came to power, it has been determined to turn the Scottish Parliament into something that it isn’t. Firstly, it renamed itself the Scottish Government, then it decided to have departments and ministers for areas it did not control, in the end we had Sturgeon treating the Prime Minister as a visiting dignitary as she went on her travels trying to develop a separate foreign policy. The SNP kept pushing the boundaries of devolution with Sturgeon acting as if we had voted for independence in 2014, when in fact she lost rather badly.
The latest ruse on the part of the SNP was to attempt to pass two laws that were outside the remit of the Scottish Parliament. These were the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill and the European Charter of Local Self-Government (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill. The Supreme Court has agreed that the Scottish Parliament cannot legislate for areas outside its competence because this is contrary to what the electorate voted for and contrary to the 1998 act that set up the Scottish Parliament in the first place.
This might seem an obscure point of law, but it has an important consequence. If the Scottish Parliament cannot pass a law which is outside its remit, it cannot logically have a mandate to do so. But constitutional matters are reserved, which means a bill for an independence referendum cannot be legally passed by the Scottish Parliament (without permission). But logically this means that the Scottish Parliament cannot have a mandate to pass such a bill. It cannot say the majority of MSPs support this bill therefore we should pass it. The consequence of this is that even if the SNP had all of the MSPs it still could not pass a law regarding constitutional matters (e.g., independence) because to do so would be outside its scope and illegal.
But this has a rather devastating consequence for the SNP. If constitutional matters are reserved, then they have nothing whatsoever to do with the Scottish Parliament. The SNP cannot claim a mandate for an independence referendum based on an election to Holyrood, because Holyrood does not deal with this issue. For the same reason it cannot pass a law to join the United Nations or a law to annex Berwick. It could claim a mandate for independence in a General Election, but only if it won the majority of seats in Westminster. The arithmetical difficulty for the SNP is that even if it won all of the seats in Scotland it would not have enough to form a government. Winning even 100% of the vote in Scotland would not give the SNP a mandate for an independence referendum, any more than if the Conservatives won 59 seats in the whole of the UK would give them a mandate.
The only way in which 59 seats gives you a mandate is to treat Scotland as already separate, but this is to assume what you are trying to prove, that Scotland ought to be separate. If on the other hand Scotland is a part of the UK (we voted for this in 2014), then winning 59 seats no more gives you a mandate than winning 59 seats anywhere else in the UK.
The only route to a legal independence referendum is for the SNP to persuade enough MPs in Westminster to vote for an independence referendum. It could do this by forming a coalition with Labour. So long as the SNP wins most of the seats in Scotland, Labour’s only route to power is to have some sort of deal with the SNP. It would be almost impossible given the current parliamentary arithmetic for Labour to form a government by winning enough seats only in England and Wales.
The result of the Supreme Court decision is that a Conservative Government can logically, morally and democratically block the SNP for ever, because the SNP will never have a democratic mandate for independence unless it starts standing in the whole of the UK and wins a majority of the seats. The only danger is if Labour thinking of short-term power decides to risk the future of the UK on a deal with Sturgeon. Labour would of course, because it would have no choice.
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2021/10/the-snp-have-just-been-badly-defeated.html