Alister Jack was interviewed by Gordon Brewer for Politics Scotland on 12 January. Jack’s attitude was more reminiscent of a Colonial Governor General than of a Secretary of State.
Brewer: Quotes Jack from Nov2019: A Section 30 Order is a matter for 2021 and we’ll wait and see whether or not the Scottish National Party get a majority then. Do you stand by that?
Jack: I was quoting Ruth Davidson when I said that. I made it clear the it was a once in a lifetime, once in a generation vote that we had and I did feel and said in future interviews that I didn’t feel a generation had passed.
Brewer: So a Section 30 Order isn’t a matter for 2021?
Jack: I think .. 2021 is a campaign .. to press as hard as we can for the Union. We stand up for the people who voted for the Union, in the general election we just had 55% of the votes were for Unionist parties.
Brewer: Are you now saying that, even ignoring other pro-independence parties, even if the SNP in their own right win a majority in 2021 having clearly stated that a vote for them was a vote for another referendum and they then claim a mandate for another referendum, you would say no?
Jack: So I know they would claim that but I’ve always said that a generation has passed (sic). In 2014 55% voted for Union. That hasn’t changed in 2019. And it’s also worth remembering that 27 of the 32 local authorities voted to remind in the UK.
Me: So first of all Jack says it’s only by voting SNP that Scots can express a wish for independence. Anyone who votes for Scottish Greens won’t have their vote count for that. And secondly, under the voting system for Holyrood an outright majority for any one party is very unlikely. It’s designed to produce alliance / coalitions cross party. Ironic that, in Mr Jack’s thinking, anti-independence cross party alliances are valid but pro-independence alliances are not.
Brewer: Sure but there’s an issue of basic democracy here. If a party stands on a clear policy and wins the election, SNP win an outright majority, how could the British Government turn round and say you’re not entitled to that, you said it was a once in generation referendum. Because the people of Scotland would have spoken.
Jack: Because referendums are based on a straight result, it’s not about a first past the post system, so I still equate numbers voting for Unionist parties and I don’t think that number has changed over the last five years.
Me: He’s comparing two different things. In a referendum there is one question. In a general election there is not one question, there are multiple parties with multiple policies. There is no way that anyone can know that a vote in Scotland for a Unionist party in a general election is a vote for the Union, any more than it’s a vote for Brexit, for nationalisation of the railways, for a zero carbon economy, etc. But we do know from his own party’s research that a vote for Brexit in England is not a vote for the Union. A majority of Tory Party members said they would be happy for Scotland to become independent if that was the price of Brexit.
Brewer: So just to be clear, if the SNP win an outright majority the Biritsh Government will still say you can’t have a Section 30 Order.
Jack: … we are standing up for the people who voted for Unionist parties…
Brewer: and it doesn’t matter what the results of the election are?
Jack: well I genuinely think that it’s a once in a generation and once in a lifetime, that’s what people voted for. We’ve had ten years where Scotland is in discussion or having referendums, it hasn’t done our economy any good, it’s slower than the English economy, its not good for jobs..
Me: Once in a generation is not what people voted for. It’s not in the 2014 Edinburgh Agreement. It’s not in the 2015 Smith Commission Agreement.
Alec Salmond said this in 2015: “
“For many years I had assumed that a constitutional referendum in Scotland was a once-in-a-political-generation event, citing the 18-year period between the two devolution polls of 1979 and 1997 and expressed that opinion often enough,” Mr Salmond wrote in his column for The Courier newspaper. “However, that view is being overtaken by events.”
He added that three key factors had contributed to his change of heart: the Government’s watering down of the range of new powers set to be devolved to Scotland; the SNP’s dramatic victory over Labour at the general election; and the policy of “austerity to the max” being pursued by the Tory Government.
“All of these influences are bringing another referendum much closer and much faster,” he wrote. “That much is now known. The real issue for this now energised and politicised nation is how we handle that debate and mould our future.”
Brewer: So your answer is even if the SNP win the 2021 election, the Johnson Government will refuse to give the Scottish Parliament a Section 30 Order?
Jack: Constitutionally we are coming out of the EU, we think its right to have a period where we settle down, we come out of the hated Common Fisheries Policy, we rebuild our coastal communities, get the benefits of trade deals
Brewer: So on Section 30 the answer is no.
Jack: We don’t think 2021 is the time to start having more referendums, referendums are very divisive for society and I think the target now is for all of us to pull together as one United Kingdom, go forward and take on the benefits that exist.
Brewer: What would the SNP have to do to get a mandate for another referendum?
Jack: Let’s see the benefits of Brexit, they’ve talked it down as a disaster, let’s see if the world is still spinning on 1st of February
Me: SNP haven’t “talked down Brexit as a disaster”. They have used the conclusions from many economic analyses, including the British Government’s own analyses, to warn of the economic risks of leaving the EU under any deal. As have the Labour Party, the LibDems, & the Greens. As did many Tory MPs.
Brewer: Your message to Nicola Sturgeon is you’re going to have to wait until possibly your successor.
Jack: Yeah, until a generation has passed. Let’s see what the benefits of Brexit are to the UK before embarking on more constitutional uncertainty.
Brewer: The obvious point to make about mandates is that you say well over 50% of the electorate voted against SNP in the election. Over 50% of the British electorate voted for parties which either didn’t want Brexit or wanted another referendum, but your political opponents accept that Johnson has a mandate for Brexit. So why doesn’t the SNP’s result and their possible result in 2021 give them a mandate?
Jack: the reason that Boris Johnson has a mandate is that 52% of the UK voted to leave the EU. It came from a referendum. And this is why we have a mandate to say no to a second independence referendum because the Edinburgh Agreement was signed in 2012 by Nicola Sturgeon, Alex Salmond, David Cameron and the Sec of State for Scotland at the time and both parties said that they would uphold the result of the referendum. They haven’t respected the result fo the 2014 referendum and they haven’t respected the result of the 2016 one either.
Me: SNP haven’t declared UDI, they send their MPs to Westminster. Westminster on the other hand have not respected the promises made during the 2014 referendum.
Brewer: There is the subtler point that Nicola Sturgeon has asked for the Scottish Parliament to have the right to hold referendums in the future…. that, presumably, is absolutely unacceptable to the British Government.
Jack: That is unacceptable…. constitutional matters are reserved, they must remain with the UK Parliament, the same way defence must remain, foreign policy must remain. It would be wrong to give Scottish Parliament the right.. for the simple reason that Scotland would be plunged into never-endums.
Me: Jack referred to ‘never-endums’ in his interview with GMS and in Scottish Questions in the Commons and gain here. He clearly thinks it’s catchy. What he implies by it is clear: that SNP would hold repeated independence votes until they got what they wanted. There is no evidence for this at all. The calls for a second referendum emerge from the English vote for Brexit and the failure of promises made to Scots in 2014.
Brewer: and that is what the PM will telling Nicola Sturgeon this week.
Jack: Well Nicola Sturgeon has herself said that she fully expects a rebuttal from the PM. My advice to him is to say that.
Me: there’s a lot more that could be said about this. I haven’t the energy to persist. Perhaps more later…..