Can the Conservatives continue to block another Scottish referendum after the people of Scotland have listened to their arguments against it and decided to vote to have one anyway?

First published in March 2021.

Because I must have masochistic streak a mile wide, last night I watched what the BBC served up to us with the grandiose title of a leaders’ debate. Or rather, I tried to watch it but then halfway through lost the will to live and switched over to another channel, which proves two things: firstly that I can only have a masochistic streak that’s half a mile wide, and secondly that the BBC is an active participant in the campaign to prevent Scottish independence and intends to keep Scotland firmly under Westminster rule by dint of not taking independence seriously and boring us all into submission.

You can’t help but wonder if in between having discussions with Conservative politicians about just how many union flags ought to decorate the cover of the BBC’s annual report, the Corporation’s management had a strategy meeting in which they decided that the best way for a thoroughly British broadcaster to cover Scottish independence was to make it so dull and uninspiring that after thirty minutes viewers would be begging the BBC to make it stop and promising to resign themselves to Conservative rule from Westminster for all eternity just as long as they could watch Bargain Hunt instead. Which is terribly convenient for the British establishment because pinning all your hopes on being able to turn a profit from an over-priced broken down piece of tat that you’ve found at a car boot sale is the next reform to the social security system that the Tories have got in mind.

Not that Douglas Ross was at all keen to talk about the policies of his Westminster masters during last night’s, ahem, debate, but that didn’t prevent him from constantly trying to speak over the top of everyone else. Douglas was terribly keen to talk about one thing and one thing only. Here’s your handy summary of all that the Scottish Conservatives have to offer the people of Scotland in this election and for the next five years to come, badreferendumbadreferendumbadreferendumbadreferendum. That was all that Dross, who is rapidly living down to his nickname, could manage, even as he accused Nicola Sturgeon of being obsessed about a referendum. No matter the subject of the question, and there were plenty of soft balls being lobbed Dross’s way by a virtual audience who had clearly been selected by the same people who are in charge of picking the audience for an episode of BBC Question Time coming to you from a Brexity part of Essex which regularly elects a right wing hang ’em and flog ’em Tory MP. Although to be fair the BBC thinks that’s also a description that applies to Dundee.

Despite the fact that the issue of independence and a second independence referendum is central in this election campaign, the debate was constructed according to the BBC’s usual idea of balance. So we had two politicians who support another referendum up against three who oppose it. Alex Salmond and his new Alba party were noticeable only by their absence, presumably as a brand new party without any representation in Holyrood, and moreover one which would not even have been in existence when the BBC’s planning and organisation for last night’s debate was being carried out , the Corporation felt that it was more appropriate not to invite them at the very last minute after the audience panel and their questions had already been selected and vetted.

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Supporters of different parties will no doubt have different opinions about whether or not the BBC was correct to do that. However what cannot be disputed is that the BBC knew by last weekend that there are now three significant pro-independence parties contesting this election, and while it’s possible to understand why the Corporation did not change its plans at the last minute to take account of this new political reality, it’s far less possible to understand why, knowing as they did that supporters of independence were outnumbered three to two on the panel, the organisers selected three questions in a row which were hostile to independence out of the pre-approved questions which had been submitted well in advance by the virtual audience.

It’s very difficult to escape the conclusion that the BBC has learned absolutely nothing from the justified criticism it came in for for its heavily slanted coverage of the last independence referendum campaign.

Apart from the BBC, the big loser was Douglas Ross, for all that the virtual audience seemed to be disproportionately comprised of nodding heads who only nodded even more enthusiastically whenever Douglas appeared on screen to tell us that he didn’t want another referendum. He came across as childish and entitled, both in the manner in which he tried to talk over the top of the other speakers but also in his assertion that he would not work with an SNP government if that’s what the people of Scotland elected. But then we shouldn’t have been surprised by that, given that the entire platform of the Scottish Conservatives consists of ignoring the democratic will of the people of Scotland as expressed through the ballot box.

Of course the BBC won’t be keen to highlight the fundamentally anti-democratic position of the Scottish Conservatives. The party is of course perfectly entitled to argue against independence and to oppose holding another independence referendum, that’s their right in a democracy. However what they are not entitled to do is to continue to block another referendum after the people of Scotland have listened to their arguments and decided to vote to have one anyway. Neither do they have the democratic right to undermine and weaken the devolution settlement despite not possessing anything approaching a mandate from the people of Scotland giving their consent for them to do so. The fact that they are able to do just that using powers and authority which do not derive from the democratic choices of the people of Scotland is precisely the reason why it is imperative for Scotland to revisit the issue of independence.

It is a question about the very future of democracy itself in this country. But that is a question which neither the BBC nor the Conservatives are at all comfortable about confronting. 

Going Further:

Wee Ginger Dug, also known as Paul Kavanagh. Blogger.


[This piece was originally published in Wee Ginger Dug’s and re-published in PMP Magazine on 31 March 2021, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: BBC Scotland Leaders’ Debate. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)

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