8th May 2021
During the Brexit political process – and especially during the (much-missed) hung parliament of 2017-2019 – one of the arguments for Brexit to take place without a further referendum was that if one added together the votes for the Conservatives and the United Kingdom Independence Party and the Democratic Unionist Party (or added up the parliamentary seats for the Conservatives and the DUP), one had a majority for Brexit without any further referendum.
In essence: it did not matter whether the Conservatives were a minority either in terms of the popular vote or parliamentary seats, there was still a mandate if you added parties together.
Now, as the Scottish National Party appears not to have an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament, there are those who contend that the lack of that majority means that there is no mandate for an independence referendum.
However: adding the SNP and Scottish Green seats together will give a majority, as both parties campaigned expressly for an independence referendum.
And, of course, had the anti-referendum parties formed a majority in the Scottish Parliament then those opposed to an independence referendum would have averred that this was a mandate for no referendum.
Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, as someone once said, but it appears to me that if one accepts that the 2017-19 hung parliament was entitled to proceed with Brexit without a further referendum, even though no party had an overall majority of either seats or the popular vote, then the SNP and Scottish Greens together are entitled to do the same with an independence referendum.
There are legal issues – including (adopting a Wednesday Addams smile) the prospect of a hard-fought constitutional case at the supreme court.
And there are practical policy issues, as the demands of the ongoing pandemic mean that there are more urgent policy proposals than an independence referendum.
But on the issue of mandate, it does not matter that the mandate for an independence referendum is formed by an aggregate of parties, just as it did not for Brexit in 2017-19.
The political argument now should be on the merits of independence, rather than on the issue of a mandate for a referendum.
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