Robert Hoskins urges the Scottish Labour leadership not to endorse a second independence referendum without at the very least requiring any final deal to be subject to a confirmatory vote.

So Christmas has come early for Scottish nationalists everywhere as the SNP’s dream scenario of a hard right Boris Johnson 5 year premiership plus a hard Brexit have at last become a long-hoped-for reality. To welcome in this joyous news the SNP have ratcheted up their grievance machine to warp factor 10.  Scotland is now apparently ‘imprisoned’ in the UK against our will, states the emboldened First Minister. The minor detail of only 45% of the electorate voting for the SNP has apparently escaped her attention. But the post-election kneejerk clamour for a second independence referendum has reached a crescendo of intensity thanks to a further endorsement which has come from unexpected non-SNP sources that previously were not supportive of it.

It is beyond belief to find leading lights in Scottish Labour aiding and abetting this hysteria less than a week since Scottish Labour lost 6 MPs in what can best be described as a gut-wrenching unmitigated disaster of a result for the party. It is one thing for Labour members to analyse what the hell has just happened and seek a solution, but it is quite another to unthinkingly endorse a replication of the one-vote-only 2014 independence referendum as a template for IndyRef2.  The First Minister must be cock-a-hoop to have prominent members of Scottish Labour already signed up unquestioningly to endorse her vision of a re-run of the 2014 referendum.

The SNP already have their gardening wing signed up for a rerun; they do not need a democratic socialist endorsement of it as well. It is astonishing that high profile Scottish Labour people are already appeasing the nationalists’ cry for another independence referendum by pressurising the leadership to change policy. Does Scottish Labour actually want to enable the SNP to frame the indy debate as Scotland v the Tories?  There will be no upticks in Scottish Labour’s horrendous opinion poll rating by endorsing a rerun of IndyRef because there is no majority support for it in the country. Make no mistake, like those unionists who voted for the SNP to stop Brexit and woke up on Friday 13th to find that their votes were now an endorsement for a referendum instead, Scottish Labour’s support of another referendum will be misused by the First Minister as an endorsement for independence.

I stand four square behind Richard Leonard’s apparent resistance to this position. Under no circumstances should he concede to the pressure from MSPs such as Monica Lennon who wants the Scottish Parliament if necessary to endorse a second independence referendum before the next Holyrood election. To be clear, I am not against having a second independence referendum. My endorsement of it however is qualified. Firstly there has to be an unequivocal commitment in the SNP manifesto and an SNP majority for it at the next Holyrood election. But that is nowhere near enough. The SNP should pay a price for an official Scottish Labour endorsement, and that price should be Richard Leonard signing Scottish Labour up to a confirmatory vote as a crucial part of IndyRef2.  

Regular readers of Labour Hame may be familiar with my recent articles on the crucial importance of including a confirmatory vote in any second independence referendum.  The whole point of a confirmatory vote of course is that it gives the electorate the final say on any deal signed off by both Westminster and Holyrood.  Most importantly, a confirmatory vote would force the SNP to produce a White Paper which would tell the electorate in advance of the vote by just how much our economy would have to shrink to pay for the economic consequences of voting for independence: the loss of the block grant; the current £12.6 billion fiscal deficit; the £120 billion population share of UK debt; the £5 billion in interest payments required to pay off that debt at £6 billion per annum over 20 years; the £1.5 billion start up costs necessary to create the institutions required to support a new country; the £40 billion of currency reserves necessary to fund our own currency which is the SNPs preferred option; and the capital flight of Scotland’s banking industry.

In short, a confirmatory vote enables the electorate to compare the final deal with the promises made before hand in the SNP White Paper and empowers them to give their final verdict on it.

It had irked me greatly that no political journalist (or politician for that matter) had challenged the First Minister on a confirmatory vote.  But take a bow SKY TV’s Sophie Ridge. Sophie has just become the first ever journalist to ask Nicola Sturgeon that very question.

For those of you who are already familiar with the above catastrophic economic consequences that would inevitably arise if there was a vote for independence, Sturgeon’s answer would come as no surprise to anybody as it was entirely predictable. She of course said that a confirmatory vote was not part of any plans because apparently people knew exactly what they were voting for because it was explained in such great detail in the accompanying White Paper, Scotland’s Future.  That answer takes chutzpah to a new level as what of course she failed to mention was that the White Paper calculated that the independence project would be paid for by the tax receipts raised from a barrel of oil being priced at $113.

The final deal sealed on ”Independence Day” on 24th March 2016 would have seen the Scottish economy falling off a cliff as the price of a barrel of oil had plummeted to $43. Is it any wonder that the First Minister does not want a confirmatory vote to be attached to any second independence referendum? Having watched how uncomfortable she was during that interview I suspect that the First Minister would rather endure a course of unanaesthetised root canal treatment  than ever concede to a confirmatory vote. 

I have always argued that a Confirmatory vote kills achieving independence by means of a referendum stone dead because the feeble economic case underpinning it would be brutally exposed and not be able to withstand public scrutiny. I find it fascinating that Blair McDougall – Head of Better Together – the 2014 Remain in the UK campaign, has recently revealed that his team had factored in a detailed response to the possibility of  Salmond throwing a confirmatory vote curved ball to the electorate which could have transformed the vote in favour of Independence, especially as two thirds of undecided voters stated that they would vote to leave the UK if they could be sure that their economic circumstances would not be adversely affected. Why then did he not offer it? The answer to that is obvious. That offer might have easily won him the first vote but he knew that vote would have been overturned had the electorate been exposed to all the negative economic consequences of independence which were not outlined in his White Paper.

Every day since the Brexit result the Scottish electorate has been subjected to the very real threat of Sturgeon detonating the IndyRef2 bomb. This threat has markedly intensified as a result of the general election. Could it be that a confirmatory vote is the only political device that exists which can successfully disarm an independence referendum time bomb and remove the perennial threat that a successful Leave UK vote poses to the Scottish economy once and for all?  Sophie’s interview has identified that there is no way on this earth that the First Minister would attach a confirmatory vote to any offer of IndyRef2, so Scottish Labour should now call her out on it.

Richard Leonard should seize this opportunity to reboot Labour’s faltering constitutional position by committing to a confirmatory vote being attached to any request made by the SNP to hold a second independence referendum if they ever acquire a majority mandate for it at the next Holyrood election. 

Signing  Labour up to a confirmatory vote not only endorses best practice as outlined by the Independent Commission on Referendums, it also completely transforms Labour’s position on the constitution from one of weakness to one of strength.  Signing up to a confirmatory vote opens up so many new attack lines for Richard Leonard to use which were not available to him previously. Sturgeon should now be told in no uncertain terms  – if she doesn’t agree to a confirmatory vote irrespective of how many majorities she gets at Holyrood for it there will never ever be a second independence referendum granted under a Labour Government.

Richard should also ask why the First Minister is so obviously petrified of a confirmatory vote? Could it be that she would be forced to reveal to the electorate in advance of the first vote what the disastrous economic consequences would be for their standard of living? Do not underestimate the power of the economic argument against independence to cut through to the electorate, especially as so few people are aware of it. A confirmatory vote would also allow Labour to attack the Tories and Lib Dems for not allowing the SNP another referendum if they win a majority of seats on a fresh mandate at the next Holyrood election.

Sturgeon’s response to Sophie Ridge’s confirmatory vote question has provided Labour with a potential game-changing weapon, one which enables it to out manoeuvre all the other unionist parties by being the only party that can now force the SNP to finally take IndyRef2 off the table once and for all and get on with the day job of running the country.