In May last year the people of Scotland decided that they wanted the choice of independence when the immediate Covid crisis was over. They did so by electing a clear majority of MSPs who made that commitment. Indeed, while the constituency vote shares of Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems decreased, the SNP recorded the highest vote share of any party in the history of devolution.
Despite that resounding victory, we are now seeing a bizarre situation unfold in Scotland – with opposition parties desperately trying to argue that the SNP and the Scottish Greens should not deliver on a clear manifesto commitment that was at the heart of last year’s Scottish Parliament election. These attempts to rewrite the basic rules of democracy and redefine what constitutes an election mandate will not hold and, at some point, opposition parties will have to start engaging in the substance of the debate on Scotland’s future.
Holding a referendum of course does not mean that Scotland will automatically become independent. That will be a choice for the people of Scotland.
The SNP will always ensure that any such vote respects democracy and respects the law. That puts us in pretty stark contrast with the UK government. There is simply no democratic justification for a prime minister, or anyone, seeking to block the right of the people of Scotland to decide their own future.
Ironically, the UK government’s anti-democratic actions are helping make the case for Scottish independence. Indeed, four days after I made my announcement on 28 June, stating our intention to hold a second independence referendum on 19 October 2023, a poll for the Sunday Times put “Yes” narrowly ahead. No wonder Westminster is running scared of this debate.
The question of whether the Scottish Parliament can legislate for a referendum has now been referred to the UK Supreme Court. While we await the outcome, you would have thought that the Westminster parties would want to focus on making the positive case for continued control over Scotland. Instead, they continue to deny democracy.
Keir Starmer has put Labour firmly alongside the Tories in backing a hard Brexit. And there has even been a strange suggestion from Labour’s leader north of the border that what Scotland really needs is a reformed House of Lords.
When it comes to offering any kind of alternative to independence, people have not forgotten the promises made by the Westminster parties during the last referendum – these promises were broken and the Scottish people will be even more sceptical this time around.
Safe access to abortion services
Although some opposition politicians would claim that governments can only concentrate on one issue at a time, I convened a summit on abortion care in Scotland on 27 June. It brought together national and local politicians, staff from the NHS, charities and campaigners to discuss the establishment of safe-access zones around health clinics here.
Currently – particularly in Edinburgh and Glasgow – anti-abortion “protesters” are regularly gathering outside health clinics and hospitals that provide abortion services. The upset, distress and fear that they cause for women can be profound.
The right to protest is fundamental in any democracy, but those seeking to do so over abortion should come to parliament, where the laws are made, and not subject women to additional stress.
There are many issues to address on the way to a solution. But it was particularly interesting to hear from representatives of Ealing council, the first council in the UK to create such safe-access zones and ban anti-abortion protesters from approaching women entering an abortion clinic.
Just across the road from the Scottish Parliament, at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, I had the opportunity to meet the Queen on 29 June – for the first time since she celebrated her Platinum Jubilee.
Of course, the content of such conversations is rightly private and confidential – but it’s fair to say these are conversations that I deeply value. Indeed, they are one of the great privileges of being First Minister.
The opportunities to benefit from the Queen’s knowledge, and her unique perspective on modern history, are special experiences that I will always cherish.
This article appears in the 06 Jul 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Last Days of Boris Johnson