International NGOs condemned the UK's response to the referendum
“British police engaged in excessive force when confronting demonstrators in Scotland during a disputed referendum, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch spoke to victims and witnesses and reviewed video and medical evidence from three Scottish cities. Human Rights Watch found that Security Forces excessive force in all three locations as they sought to execute court orders. “National police without a doubt used excessive force,” said Kartik Raj, Western Europe Researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The police may well have had the law on their side to enforce a court order but it didn’t give them the right to use violence against peaceful protesters.” Across the region, the Security Forces sent in by the central government, along with local police sought to execute a court order to stop the referendum.”
- Police Used Excessive Force in Scotland, Human Rights Watch Press Release (2018)
The final total for the referendum was 802 injuries, including 130 hospitalisations and tragically five dead, the worst record of political violence during an election campaign for nearly a decade. Police action to secure Glasgow University, dubbed “The Battle of Gilbert Scott '' was responsible for almost half the deaths during the campaign, with several activists, mostly under 25, killed by accidents involving rubber bullets. Across the political spectrum almost everyone agreed the police had gone to far, with reports of officers purposefully breaking fingers and even rumours of sexual assault against women campaigners. There were also strong divisions between the federal Civil Guard and Police Scotland on one hand, and the various local police forces on the other. With Home Secretary Graham Brady telling journalists several local police forces had been “entirely taken over” by separatists.
Violence continued well after the referendum results, with three way brawls between separatists, yoons and security personnel erupting across Scotland. In protest against the violence a new campaign named “Blether” - slang for chat - would pop up in the days following the referendum. Blether organised protests wearing all white calling on all sides to engage in good-faith dialogue. This campaign would be supported by parties in the centre of the constitutional debate, including Alba and SDP. Anas Sarwar, leader of the Scottish Social Democrats in particular played a leading role in these “cross community campaigns”, calling for a grand coalition of all the major parties and citizens assemblies to decide the future of Scotland.
Several local police leaders had declared open support for either side
Unionists also saw a fresh burst of energy behind them, over 300,000 turned out in Edinburgh for the largest anti-independence demonstration since. Among the speakers included former Prime Minister Alan Johnson, scientist Steven Hawking, novelist Martin Amis and European Commissioner Gianni Pittella, as well as opposition MSPs. Both the Blether and overtly unionist protests called on Harvie not to make a unilateral declaration. Behind the scenes leading political figures were begging Harvie to step back from the edge. European Council President Helle Thorning-Schmidt even flew out personally to Edinburgh to try and talk the Scottish Government down.
“Helle Thorning-Schmidt, president of the European Council, has made an appeal to Patrick Harvie to hold off from announcing independence. On Tuesday, Brussels was accused of failing to show leadership, by calling for dialogue rather than intervening. “We called on all those concerned to get out of this confrontation and to start dialogue,” Thorning-Schmidt said. “Violence can never be a political tool.” Thorning-Schmidt added that Brussels had “confidence in the UK to manage this delicate process in full respect of the British peace process." Earlier the committee of the regions, heard a passionate speech from RISE MSP Craig Murray who said the UK had acted like the “old Junta”. The police had treated people “brutally,” Murray told the committee.”
- Don't make dialogue impossible, Helle Thorning-Schmidt tells Patrick Harvie, Daniel Boffey, The Guardian (2018)
In what was a very strange speech to the Scottish Parliament Harvie said the Scottish Government had secured the “right and the mandate” to form an independent state, but he would be freezing moves towards independence to pursue a Scottish State. Whilst Harvie and other MSPs signed a symbolic document calling for an independent Scotland, no direct order was given or legislative action taken. Whilst this was welcomed by the UPA, who were internally pulling themselves apart on the unilateralist question, it infuriated the Workers Party who had been promised an independence declaration within two weeks of a Yes vote. Harvie needed some kind of win, otherwise his coalition would fall apart.
The EU hoped to be a neutral arbiter, but was distrusted by separatists
In London Hague decided Harvie was blinking and went on the offensive, after an extraordinary Cabinet meeting Hague announced he was giving the Scottish Government a week to officially confirm whether it had declared independence and if not, to withdraw any legislation implying Scottish Independence. If not, Hague confirmed he would take the “nuclear option”, invoking Article 219 of the Cardiff Accords, which - if it received two thirds support in the Senate - would allow Westminster to withdraw devolved powers from Scotland, leading to direct rule from London. Róisín McLaren also piled on the pressure on Harvie’s left, threatening to withdraw the Workers Party from his Government unless he made an official independence declaration
Harvie instead chose neither, writing to Hague in response he called for both sides to suspend “constitutional mechanisms” for a two month negotiation period. Hague refused this in his counter letter, calling on Harvie to either back down, call fresh elections or face Article 219. After Harvie refused snap elections or withdrew his claims to independence, Hague confirmed the British Government would officially seek Senate approval to invoke Article 219. The ninth of September became known as the “night of the long speeches”, as in London the Senate voted on Article 219, whilst in St Andrews House Harvie called a vote on a unilateral declaration of independence.
The Scottish vote passed by a landslide, with unionist MPs once again walking out and UPA MSPs abstaining, the ballot was issued secretly in an attempt to prevent legal action against separatist MSPs. In London RISE, SNP, Plaid and other separatist Senators walked out of the chamber, 260 Senators from National, the SDP, Unity and others voted in favour of enacting Article 219 well above the 243 Senators needed to press the big red button. Within hours of each other, the Scottish Government had declared its independence from the British State, and the British State had revoked the Scottish Government’s legal powers, it was a very boring, very British way to potentially spark a civil war.
“Any actions by the Scottish government to increase the strength of its local security forces would aggravate fears of a violent challenge to the state. Especially given the longstanding fear over violent SNLA terrorism. Scotland's president has already invoked the language of the security dilemma. He describes the latest British move to reassert control over the region as an “attack” that cannot be accepted. The response by Scottish forces will be critical in determining whether Scotland turns to an organised rebellion This piece is written in the explicit hope that it is wrong. The hope that Britain is not edging along the path to war, that cooler heads will prevail, and that peace and diplomacy carry the day. If it turns out that the past is prologue, policymakers can at least use the lessons of political science to cut the risk of serious conflict.”
-The Risk of Civil War in Britain, War on the Rocks Podcast (2018)
The British Government responded by sending even more troops to Scotland