WHEN is the best time to make a life-changing decision? When you are in possession of all your means, your freedom, enough information and the mental space to weigh the pros and cons? Or when you are battling with immediate matters of life and death that put you in a position of constraint and fear?
I suspect most people want to be empowered to make the best decision for them in their lives, to be able to reach an enlightened view that they are not going to regret in a few years’ time. A good choice, especially on important matters, needs to be made when one is materially and mentally free and equipped to make it. Otherwise, can it really be called consent?
I believe the same rule applies for independence: should a second independence referendum take place while Scotland is still fighting against a deadly virus, or should it happen when the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is behind us and we can start planning ahead?
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that she would like to see indyref2 in the first half of the next parliamentary term, but not if the country is still grappling with Covid. But according to reports in the Sunday Times, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is being urged to rush an independence referendum if pro-independence parties win a majority, because this would maximise the chances of Scots rejecting independence once again.
Holding this position, whether you are for or against independence, does little else than betray a lack of confidence in your argument, and a lack of trust in citizens’ ability to decide.
What I hear is: let’s do this before people change their minds or have an actual proper think about these complex issues! It feels weak, and it feels disrespectful to think that voters can be infantilised.
Why not bet on reason and calm instead of fear and chaos?
I get the sense of impatience. I understand that everyone is eager to see this issue settled once and for all: Unionists want this debate to be over and done with, and Yes supporters, sick and tired of the constitutional deadlock, want a say, at last.
However, that cannot be achieved at the expense of the general public, who are undoubtedly going to feel their intelligence is insulted if they are forced to make up their mind on such an important matter as independence without a proper campaign, when a better time comes. We can only hope this better time is not too far ahead.
The question of how much time a campaign for a major vote should last has been raised in France too by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who declared in November 2020 that he would be running for the third time to be Head of State in next year’s presidential election, 17 months before we are called to the polls.
These words, written on his blog, should give food for thought to politicians on this side of the Channel: “We will be permanently overwhelmed by the media’s emotional flow. That’s why we believe in the virtues of a long campaign that strengthens support for a manifesto. Only that way we can reduce the impact of last-minute sensationalism and the now usual stink-bombs.
“Therefore, we shouldn’t lose sight of the conditions in which the crucial vote ahead of us will take place. Because it will be critical for the country given what we are going through. This is the last chance saloon.”