Rory Steel

Rory Steel

On the ‘People’s Vote’

Reading Time: 5 minutes

With the Conservatives’ incompetent handling of Brexit becoming more terrifying by the day, many on the left have become increasingly sympathetic to calls for a final vote on the Brexit deal between the UK and European Union. But Rory Steel of SNP Socialists says socialists, particularly on the pro-independence left, must reject the People’s Vote campaign’s demands for several reasons…

The chaos caused by the Tories’ complete mishandling of Brexit has led to groups across the UK seeking a solution to soften or even stop Brexit altogether. One such idea is the ‘People’s Vote’ (PV). At a recent PV rally in Edinburgh, one speaker even stated: “We love the EU because we love the UK”. Naturally, such a sentiment went down like a lead balloon in a country where the case for independence and EU membership has become intermingled in many people’s minds. But, despite later backtracking, the speaker’s comments are broadly representative of the constitutional stance of those behind the campaign – one that is firmly in favour of preserving the UK.

Let’s be blunt: the campaign for a PV on the final Brexit deal is spearheaded by the political centre that advocates the constitutional and economic status quo and is ignorant to the circumstances that saw the UK vote to leave the EU. For independence campaigners and the SNP to support it would deviate us from the ultimate goal of independence, undermine our mandate for a second independence referendum and set a dangerous precedent if it’s won.

Labour and Tory centrists are seeking to disrupt Brexit within their respective parties. Regardless of your view on membership of the EU, the ideological positions of these MPs and campaigns they affiliate with also highlights their desire to maintain the economic and constitutional status quo. This status quo that has resulted in economic crashes, wealth inequality, austerity, and disempowerment of working people in favour of corporate dominance. Their agenda for government isn’t just based on a Milquetoast liberal vision for the future; it’s profoundly antithetical to our envisioned independent Scotland.

Regardless, though, the case for a PV is weak. The only party to run on that platform in the General Election last year was the Lib Dems, who have almost been obliterated as a force in British politics. Labour might have avoided running on this brazenly pro-EU platform, but so did the SNP and the Tories. Given the 2017’s snap election was largely on who would negotiate Brexit, there’s currently no Parliamentary majority or legitimacy for such a vote to proceed and neither of the main parties back a second referendum. The only major backers for such a vote are those who uphold a political class and ideology which has rapidly become redundant in a landscape where the far right and radical left are ascendant.

The long term practicalities of a PV are also completely unworkable – deliberately so. If a PV was to proceed, the vote itself would be on the final deal rather than a rerun of the EU referendum. But there’s no explanation as to what the next step would be if the deal was rejected by the electorate and it’s unlikely any final deal will be able to secure an absolute majority. This could be attributed to how hard or soft the final deal is rather than a rejection of Brexit altogether. However, that is the PV campaign’s aim: to force the UK into an endless cycle of PVs where the final deal is constantly rejected in order to disrupt the Brexit process altogether and return us to the constitutional and economic status quo.

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The idea of halting a Tory-led Brexit may seem appealing to many pro-remain independence supporters. However, supporting a PV would set a future precedent in the event Scotland does have a second independence referendum and it’s won. Negotiations will not go as smoothly as some expect. It will still require expert diplomacy and compromise to negotiate Scotland’s independence from a 300 year old union, where London will be seeking to protect its interests and punish Scotland just as the EU is doing with the UK now. This of course doesn’t mean we should avoid the task. Nothing worth achieving has ever been easily won. But people must ask themselves, would we be willing to postpone or give up independence altogether through the process of a PV on an independence final deal, just as the PV campaign is attempting to with Brexit now, because the process proved difficult? Or would we rather the democratic wishes of the people were carried out?

While the PV campaign seeks a mandate, we already have ours. Brexit should not be the reason for Scotland to be independent, but it will certainly be a trigger for a second opportunity. The PV campaign’s calls for democracy are selective and dependent on when it suits their interests. These same people would deny Scotland a second vote on independence despite a majority being in favour of it in the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish government was elected on a mandate to call a second referendum if there was a material change in circumstances, which it’s easy to forget has since largely been realised. The case for a second independence referendum has been triple-locked by the Scottish electorate in two elections, referendum and in the Parliament. A PV, or any edging towards it, would destroy the current mandate for a second referendum.

To capitulate to the PV campaign’s demands and the centrist ideology it represents would be and to discard the very reason for independence – to break up the British state and transform Scotland into a radically different country. Pro-independence Leave voters, who don’t desire a return to the neo-liberal economic consensus that got us in this mess, would feel even more alienated from the wider independence campaign.

PV is a solution for a English centre that’s crisis-ridden because their own policies have made their ideology redundant – it’s their battle, not ours. When they talk about being united against Brexit across the UK, what they mean is trotting in behind a southern establishment which has never understood or cared about the needs and aspirations of Scotland. As shown in 2014, the very same figures scoffed at us and repeatedly ridiculed the idea that Scotland would be capable of being independent. We are expected to stay in the UK to save them from themselves under a false guise of solidarity which runs north to south but not south to north. We shouldn’t allow our movement to be misled by people and groups who seek our friendship to serve their own purposes and would seek to deny us our right to self-determination under any circumstance.

Independence is our fight and we should move forwards towards it now we have the opportunity. Our time can’t be spent on an unwinnable campaign for an unworkable non-solution that would return us to be constitutional and economic status quo we’re seeking to escape. We have to demonstrate conviction in our arguments and trust in our vision for Scotland where social and economic justice can be secured and workers and communities are empowered under the banner of independence.


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