We all know the mantra that the tories like to put out there about “Once in a generation” with respect to independence referendums. We also know it is a crock of ****.
The actual quotation wasn’t “once in a generation”, it was actually: “once in a generation, opportunity“. There’s a reason they leave the word “opportunity” off the end. For a start, it changes the entire meaning of the phrase from being a promise that would put us into constitutional purgatory. However, there’s a bigger reason. The word “opportunity” is literally defined in the dictionary as “a time or set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something”. That means that the word “opportunity” was a post-facing qualifier. That is to say, everything said before the word “opportunity” is qualified by the word “opportunity”. So, if the word “opportunity” is a “time or set of circumstances” that makes it possible to do something, if the “time” or the “circumstances” prevailing at that time, change, then the opportunity arises again.
So that makes the phrase “once in a generation, opportunity” a warning! Do right by Scotland, because if you don’t the time and the circumstances having changed (from what was expected – namely them failing to deliver on their promises), opens the door to a second referendum.
But let’s just say that it was just “once in a generation”, well then it was only said by a handful of politicians, and the people of Scotland being sovereign, No politician can bind an entire nation to constitutional purgatory. Period! That’s called dictatorship, not democracy. So we can immediately chuck that assertion right in the nearest bin.
But let’s just say that it was “a generation” and was somehow binding. Well, that would mean we’d have to find precedent for what actually constitutes “a generation” in political terms. Ironically! That precedent does actually exist.
There are no legal limits in Britain on how many times the people can be consulted on an issue, and the constitution has shown itself to be flexible to change when required. The context of Northern Ireland with the ending of the Troubles then raises an interesting point. Northern Ireland has, under British law, a guarantee that the Secretary of State will consider any fresh referendum on Irish unity 7 years after an initial referendum.
Legislation in respect to Northern Ireland clearly states on the issue of sovereignty and Irish unity:
“1 The Secretary of State may by order direct the holding of a poll for the purposes of section 1 on a date specified in the order.
2 Subject to paragraph 3, the Secretary of State shall exercise the power under paragraph 1 if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.
3 The Secretary of State shall not make an order under paragraph 1 earlier than seven years after the holding of a previous poll under this Schedule.”
– Northern Ireland Act 1998, Schedule 1
So! In otherwords, the UK Government agreed to, and enshrined in UK law, that after a first referendum, a second can occur 7 years later! In otherwords, a political generation for the purposes of a referendum which will change the constitutional makeup of the UK, i.e. End it! Is 7 years!
I’m looking at my calendar, and guess what? The 7 year mark is only 2 months away!