Should Scotland hold a second independence referendum. Members of St Andrews University Students for Independence Harry Stage (Convener) and Duncan Cooper (Vice-Convener) argue for the pro and Treasurer of St Andrews University Labour Society Paul Tiplady argues for the con.
Yes – Duncan Cooper and Harry Stage – 53%
Scotland should hold a second independence referendum. Since 2014, support for a different political path for Scotland has increased, for example, every Scottish council area voted to remain in the EU in 2016. Despite this, Scotland has been dragged out of the EU against its will. A core component of the NO campaign’s mantra was ‘vote no to protect Scotland’s place in Europe’, leading to many in Scotland voting to remain in the UK. The lifetime of Scottish politics when the answer was to be part of a United Kingdom in Europe is dead; Scotland’s political landscape has been radically altered by Brexit and the assured stability of Union membership has proven to be almost farcical.
Post-referendum, SNP policy has been to hold another referendum should Scotland be taken out of the EU against its will; this has been endorsed by the Scottish people in one Holyrood, one European, and three Westminster Elections. These victories, alongside 21 consecutive positive polls for independence, shows that there is a mandate for a second independence referendum. Whilst not being the primary argument for independence, EU membership has certainly become the driving force for a second referendum.
Scotland did not become the “equal partner”, as promised in The Vow by Cameron, Miliband and Clegg two days prior to the vote in September 2014. Instead, Westminster’s true face was quickly unmasked as any hope of further autonomy was quickly forgotten and the usual discriminatory rhetoric was flowing. As opposed to leading the UK, Scottish parliamentarians are heckled to “go home to Skye”. The Vow was a shameful last-minute intervention by the British political establishment to win over the Scottish people with the promises of further autonomy the day after the referendum, which transpired to be, unsurprisingly, half-baked and not as seamless a transition from policy to practice as the Union’s advocates contended.
The ‘architect of The Vow’, then Daily Record editor Murray Foote, has since resigned from his post and publicly supported independence citing Brexit and the “blatant contempt” for devolution throughout the withdrawal process as a key factor. Also arguing that the problems of an independent Scotland can be solved, the growing xenophobia of the Conservative party which leads the UK may not. The referendum of 2014 was one of the most democratically engaging periods of Scottish history, but the engagement did not stop upon Cameron’s declaration of victory for Britain. As Mr Foote’s testimony shows, politics in Scotland and the wider UK has changed in the last seven years and a true democracy would recognise and support the rights of its citizens to change their opinion on the question of self-determination.
Alongside individuals, organisations in Scotland realise that the material circumstances of political life in Scotland and rUK have changed since 2014. In February 2020 UNISON, Scotland’s largest trade union, came out in support of a second referendum in a vote backed by almost three quarters of its members. Whilst remaining neutral on the question of independence, this shows that an important working people’s organisation in our society recognises that the democratic and just option is to grant the people of Scotland a fresh opportunity to decide their political future.
Unionists contend that the Covid-19 pandemic should slow down talks about a second referendum, but the opposite is true. This pandemic has shown us that smaller, democratic countries were able to act decisively and properly tackle the Coronavirus. Furthermore, as we look beyond the pandemic, we believe economic and political sovereignty is essential to rebuilding our country.
Meanwhile, Westminster has cut Scotland’s budget and is forcing the Scottish taxpayer to fund extortionate military spending. The £13.9 billion that Scotland is forced to spend on Trident could instead pay for 289,000 new nurses, helping to address deep-rooted health and social concerns. Brexit, a decade of Conservatism, and coronavirus means many in Scotland are viewing the sovereignty question through a different lens.
Not only should we have another independence referendum, but Scotland should also vote YES in that referendum. The issues which created the grounds for the first independence referendum have not been resolved, in fact, they have been exacerbated since. Independence is the only way to fully address these issues and to create a fairer, more inclusive society.
No – Paul Tiplady – 47%
What should the priorities of Scotland be for the next five years? What are the people’s priorities, after this devastating pandemic having taken so much from so many – livelihoods, mental health and most importantly too many loved ones? I believe, and think the majority would agree, that the priorities are jobs, rebuilding our universal public services and ensuring that 230,000 or 25% of our children no longer live-in poverty (a figure destined to increase to 40% by 2030 without action (Child Poverty Action Group)). This is what we must focus on, not a narrow nationalist debate.
Saying that now is not the time for a referendum is not to say “never”, nor is it to say that Scotland is not a proud nation, your any less a patriotic Scot or driven to achieve progressive change across our country.
Scotland requires bold change and looking back at the Scottish parliament, we have already achieved so much within the UK: free tuition for all, prescriptions charges for none, and free period products for all a global first. The challenges ahead are repairing our public services. Like education which has suffered declining standards for decades and is so vital to our future. (New figures show long-term educational decline as Scotland falls behind, ITV, 2019). Yet power over education is fully in the writ of Hollywood not Westminster. Or drug deaths which have reached record highs across this nation and we must fight for the powers to treat those who suffer addiction with compassion and empathy rather than a cell. As Paul Sweeney former MP argued, expanding the work Glasgow has achieved with a similar approach to knife crime which has seen the once murder capital of Europe become one of its safer cities, a model for London. We must come together for Scotland and focus on the challenges we all face, building on what we have already achieved, not plunge ourselves into another all-or nothing-campaign, splitting ourselves in two. This is when both “sides” agree on so much, rooted fundamentally in the same values of social justice, tolerance, and internationalism. When there is a clear progressive coalition in Scotland.
The next five years must be about using, expanding the powers of Holyrood to chart a path, make our values real and felt in communities from Glasgow to Inverness to Irvine. Some may say this is skipping the hard questions, that saying we should avoid a referendum is the easy way out. But that’s forgetting the hardest thing is governing, improving lives, finding the innovative modern ideas and fighting to implement them, make them work for the country, making government work for people and using our collective power to empower each other. Is that not the point of politics?
Brexit has taught us referenda aren’t only divisive during the campaign, but also that they are only the beginning of a long process. Ending a decades’ old union is hard, let alone one century’s old. Dealing with finding new trade arrangements with rupUK (our largest trading partner) moving away from EU alignment while trying to join it, creating a currency which is both trusted and in our control so it works for our needs, and managing a spending deficit which is amongst the largest in EU (£2000 per person) preventing investment and far outside EU requirements. It would consume time, monumental political capital and brainpower diverted from other issues. Issues which must be addressed with all our attention. We cannot afford to be distracted from building the Scotland of which the progressive majority dreams – with jobs, opportunity, and most importantly dignity for all after the pandemic.