Decide on our own destiny? We did that back in 2014…

By Graham Grant

FOR those with masochistic tendencies, BBC Scotland is airing a documentary series exploring the 2014 independence referendum.

Depending which side you were on, this was either a joyous and indeed civic festival of democracy, or a deeply toxic affair best consigned to history.

There’s a moment when Green MSP Ross Greer complains that Scotland was referred to as ‘she’ in the early discussions about the vote, which he found offensive.

‘Gender binaries’, he explained, were best avoided – ‘they’ would be more appropriate than ‘she’, which he argued would be politically (if not grammatically) correct.

Former Chancellor Alistair Darling is among the central characters to be interviewed; he is no longer involved in frontline politics, and frankly looks all the better for it.

Nicola Sturgeon, sitting in front of a Bute House fireplace, seemed rather less at ease in the opening episode, and for all her candour appears a much-diminished figure.

And no wonder: since 2014, when she replaced her former mentor Alex Salmond, she has walked a tight-rope, facing demands from activists to press for a new poll, while knowing that public support for separatism hasn’t really budged.

Indeed our exclusive opinion poll today shows 60 per cent of Scots are opposed to another referendum within five years.

And yet the First Minister remains committed to an announcement in the coming weeks on a re-run of ‘indyref’, though the odds are that she will simply put the idea on the back-burner.

Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Commons leader, is tabling an amendment lobbying for the power to hold another referendum, if the UK leaves the EU, as planned, at the end of this month.

He argues the people of Scotland should be able to ‘determine their own destiny’ on the basis that the country voted to remain part of the EU; the SNP also claims, almost on a daily basis, to have a ‘mandate’ for a second indyref.

We did ‘determine our destiny’ back in 2014, of course, and the UK – rather than its constituent parts – was the signatory to EU membership – while the mandate the SNP boasts about is sheer fiction.

In May 2016, Miss Sturgeon lost the SNP’s overall majority at Holyrood, and the Unionist parties won 52.4 per cent of the constituency vote.

At the snap General Election in 2017, the SNP lost 21 of its Commons seats – a punishment for failing to scrap its preoccupation with unwanted constitutional change.

In the same year, MSPs voted in favour of a Scottish Government motion seeking support to call for Westminster permission for a second referendum, made possible by the backing of the pro-independence Green Party.

But the Greens didn’t include a call for a repeat of the 2014 poll in their 2016 manifesto, instead recommending a mere petition – so that alleged ‘mandate’ is built on exceedingly shaky foundations.

Nicola Sturgeon: walking a constitutional tightrope

No wonder there is such negligible public appetite for ‘indyrefnew’, as some optimists on social media have nicknamed a second referendum (it would be a new vote, but still based on the same desperately tired old grievances).

The SNP’s Brexit Minister Mike Russell is fond of branding high-profile ‘hard Brexit’ supporters as ‘extremists’ – and yet take a look at the SNP’s plans for currency in an independent Scotland, if you dare, and it’s clear who the real extremists are.

Last year the Nationalists’ ‘growth commission’ published a long-awaited report which was expected to iron out all of those inconvenient flaws in the original independence plan, but it proved highly divisive.

Within the restive ranks of the separatist grassroots, itching for an immediate rebirth of the Yes movement, its report was seen as not sufficiently Left-wing or radical, as it advocated the possibly indefinite use of Sterling after independence.

Various tests would have to be met before the introduction of our own currency, and this could well be a prelude to the adoption of the euro – assuming Scotland had managed to re-gain its EU membership.

Former SNP MP George Kerevan is among those in favour of a much tougher approach, which would mean the instant introduction of a home-grown currency, but his barmy plan carries a nasty sting.

Deposits in Scottish bank accounts would be converted into the new unit of currency, but if (when?) it depreciated against Sterling, the value of those deposits, including life savings, would plummet.

Unsurprisingly, the hierarchy of the party are keen to distance themselves from this gung-ho strategy; mind you, their own idea – retaining the pound – is also stratospherically expensive, and fraught with danger.

It’s clear the UK Government would not allow the government of a breakaway Scotland to keep Sterling, so we would have to use it without consent – Panama-style ‘dollarisation’ – something of a difficult ‘sell’ on the doorstep.

Scotland would have no central bank and no official currency, and would have no control over interest rates or monetary policy, which means £40billion of foreign exchange reserves would be required.

Internecine conflict over the minutiae of such fundamental issues – which for many years before the SNP came to power were strictly the preserve of pub bores – only serves to underline the ongoing intellectual stasis within the party for the last five years.

The growth commission proposals backed by SNP bosses would also necessitate years of acute austerity – much worse than anything their Tory nemeses could have dreamt up, and infinitely more destructive.

Reinventing the wheel is the SNP’s stock-in-trade: it’s all about trying to show that if we dismantled an existing system and tried to rebuild it, at huge cost, it would do much the same job, and – what’s more – we, as Scots, would be in complete control.

But as our poll shows today, most of us don’t much care about the kind of structural overhaul Mr Kerevan and his colleagues espouse – we don’t see the point, and we believe it to be stupid and reckless.

Brexit has been the catalyst for the reanimation of indyref (if it hadn’t been Brexit, it would have been something else).

Yet, historically, the SNP was a Eurosceptic party, and about a third of its voters back EU withdrawal, including, it’s said, some Nationalist MSPs.

Around a million Scots also voted to leave the EU, yet Miss Sturgeon and her ministers claim to represent the whole of Scotland when they call for another attempt at splitting apart the UK: the voice of a fifth of the population is ignored.

While the internal division about imaginary currencies deepens, the problems pile up for the SNP’s disaster-strewn policy agenda: a series of botched reforms and hectoring nanny statism, from Named Person to the proposed smacking ban.

The planned Education Bill, aimed at fulfilling Miss Sturgeon’s increasingly hollow promise to prioritise educational change, has been shelved because it would only gain parliamentary approval with the help of the Tories – an unpalatable prospect for the tribal SNP.

Just as unpalatable for the vast majority of Scots, however, is the lingering threat of another needless bid to dismantle one of the world’s most successful economic unions – and Miss Sturgeon should drop it now, or prepare her party for electoral oblivion.

*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on March 12, 2019.