London Will Never Give Independence – We Must Take It 797

Yesterday the Scottish Government published “Scotland’s Right to Choose“, its long heralded paper on the path to a new Independence referendum. It is a document riven by a basic intellectual flaw. It sets out in detail, and with helpful annexes, that Scotland is a historic nation with the absolute and inalienable right of self-determination, and that sovereignty lies not in the Westminster parliament but with the Scottish people.

It then contradicts all of this truth by affirming, at length, in detail, and entirely without reservation, that Scotland can only hold a legitimate Independence referendum if the Westminster Parliament devolves the power to do so under Section 30.

Both propositions cannot be true. Scotland cannot be a nation with the right of self-determination, and at the same time require the permission of somebody else to exercise that self-determination.

I was trying to find the right words to discuss the document. One possibility was “schizophrenic”. The first half appears to be written by somebody with a fundamental belief in Scottish Independence, and contains this passage:

The United Kingdom is best understood as a voluntary association of nations, in keeping with the principles of democracy and self‑determination.

For the place of Scotland in the United Kingdom to be based on the people of Scotland’s consent, Scotland must be able to choose whether and when it should make a decision about its future.

The decision whether the time is right for the people who live in Scotland again to make a choice about their constitutional future is for the Scottish Parliament, as the democratic voice of Scotland, to make.

Yet the rest of the paper completely negates this proposition and instead argues that the necessary powers must be granted by the Westminster Parliament:

The Scottish Government is committed to agreeing a process for giving effect to its mandate for a further independence referendum. When they make a decision about their future, the people of Scotland must do so in the knowledge that their decision will be heard and respected and given effect to: not just by the government in Scotland, but also by the UK Government, by the European Union and by the international community.

For a referendum to have this legitimacy, it must have the confidence of all of those that it would effect. This means not just the UK Government acknowledging and respecting the Scottish Government’s mandate, but the Scottish Government and UK Government seeking to agree the proper lawful basis for the referendum to take place.

We call on the UK Government to enter discussions about the Scottish Government’s mandate for giving the people of Scotland a choice, and to agree legislation with the Scottish Government that would put beyond doubt the Scottish Parliament’s right to legislate for a referendum on independence.

I am frequently told that this paper is all just a cunning ploy, and that when the Tory Government rejects – as it will reject – this servile request to grant Scotland the powers to hold a referendum, the Scottish Government will go to court to say it has the right to a referendum.

If that really is the cunning plan, it is the most stupid cunning plan since Baldrick and his turnip. In what way does publishing an official Scottish Government paper which states explicitly that a referendum “must have” the agreement of the UK government to be legitimate, prepare the ground to go to court and argue the precise opposite? Plainly that is not the intent here.

Nicola Sturgeon’s speech presenting the paper made the acceptance of a veto from “the rest of the UK” on the holding of a second referendum even more explicit:

It is based on the solemn right of the people of Scotland to decide their own future.

The Scottish Government believes that right should be exercised free from the threat of legal challenge.

In line with our values, we acknowledge that a referendum must be legal and that it must be accepted as legitimate, here in Scotland and the rest of the UK as well as in the EU and the wider international community.

We are therefore today calling for the UK Government to negotiate and agree the transfer of power that would put beyond doubt the Scottish Parliament’s right to legislate for a referendum on independence.

And what does Ms Sturgeon plan to do when Boris Johnson just says no, as he assuredly will? To be fair to Nicola, she could not have been clearer about what she intends to do. Absolutely nothing different.

Of course, I anticipate that in the short term we will simply hear a restatement of the UK government’s opposition.

But they should be under no illusion that this will be an end of the matter.

We will continue to pursue the democratic case for Scotland’s right to choose.

We will do so in a reasonable and considered manner.

So this is the Sturgeon plan: in the short term, we accept Johnson can block Independence. Beyond the short term (how many years is that?) we do nothing except continue in democratic politics as the SNP already is, operating at Holyrood and putting before Scottish voters “the democratic case for Scotland’s right to choose”, while accepting Westminster’s veto. This will have the pleasant side effect of keeping Ms Sturgeon living very nicely indeed in Bute House, with her husband picking up a massive salary as CEO of the Party, and the SNP just like the last five years doing nothing whatsoever about Independence other than occasionally blether about it, “pursuing the democratic case”, while very explicitly accepting Westminster’s veto.

The truth is there is no route to a referendum by legal challenge in the UK courts. The UK Supreme Court has already ruled that Westminster, the “Crown in Parliament” is sovereign, that the Sewell Convention has no legal force and that any powers that the Scottish parliament has, and indeed the very existence of the Scottish Parliament, is entirely at the gift of Westminster. The clue is on the tin. It is the UK Supreme Court. To be fair the Scottish Government paper plainly does not anticipate any such pointless legal challenge, though it is not inconceivable that one may be futilely undertaken at some stage to keep the SNP’s pro-Independence activists happy, by pretending to do something and kicking Indy yet a few months further down the road.

Because the truth is, that is the purpose of the current Scottish Government paper. The reason it is schizophrenic is that it is a deeply dishonest document. All the stuff at the beginning, about Scotland’s ancient right as a nation and the sovereignty residing in the Scottish people, is no more and no less than window dressing to keep Scottish Independence activists happy. The actual meat of the paper, that Indyref2 “must have” Westminster agreement or it is not legitimate, sits there like a great steaming turd whose stink cannot be disguised no matter how much the SNP leadership has tried to conceal it under flowers.

I have to say, I am astonished how many very decent people in the SNP have fallen for the trick.

The Scottish Government position is fundamentally incorrect. The Independence of a nation is a matter of international law, not of domestic legislation. The UN Charter enshrines the right of self-determination of peoples, and nobody has argued that the Scots are not a people in the encapsulated sense.

It is perfectly normal for States to become Independent without the permission of the state from which they are seceding. The UK Government itself argued precisely this position before the International Court of Justice over Kosovo. I here repeat a post I wrote almost exactly one year ago setting out the legal position:


The London Supreme Court last week not only confirmed that the Westminster Parliament could overrule at will any Scottish Government legislation, irrespective of the Scotland Act and the Sewell Convention, but it also ruled that Westminster had already successfully done so, by retrospectively passing provisions in the EU (Withdrawal) Act that overruled the Bill on the same subject, within the competence of the Scottish Parliament, that had already been passed by Holyrood.

Not content with that, the London Supreme Court confirmed that London ministers may, by secondary legislation, under the Scotland Act decree laws for Scotland that are not even passed through the Westminster parliament.

Which leaves Scotland in this extraordinary situation. English MPs or English ministers in their London Parliament can, at any time, impose any legislation they choose on Scotland, overriding Scotland’s parliament and Scotland’s representation in the London parliament. Yet, under the English Votes for English Laws rules of the London Parliament introduced by the Tories in 2015, Scottish MPs cannot vote at all on matters solely affecting England.

That is plainly a situation of colonial subservience.

I am firmly of the view that the Scottish government should now move to withdraw from the Treaty of Union. Scotland’s right to self determination is inalienable. It cannot be signed away forever or restricted by past decisions.

The Independence of a country is not a matter of domestic law it is a matter of international law. The right of the Scottish Parliament to declare Independence may not be restricted by UK domestic law or by purported limitations on the powers of the Scottish Parliament. The legal position is set out very clearly here:

5.5 Consistent with this general approach, international law has not treated the legality of
the act of secession under the internal law of the predecessor State as determining the effect
of that act on the international plane. In most cases of secession, of course, the predecessor
State‟s law will not have been complied with: that is true almost as a matter of definition.

5.6 Nor is compliance with the law of the predecessor State a condition for the declaration
of independence to be recognised by third States, if other conditions for recognition are
fulfilled. The conditions do not include compliance with the internal legal requirements of
the predecessor State. Otherwise the international legality of a secession would be
predetermined by the very system of internal law called in question by the circumstances in
which the secession is occurring.

5.7 For the same reason, the constitutional authority of the seceding entity to proclaim
independence within the predecessor State is not determinative as a matter of international
law. In most if not all cases, provincial or regional authorities will lack the constitutional
authority to secede. The act of secession is not thereby excluded. Moreover, representative
institutions may legitimately act, and seek to reflect the views of their constituents, beyond
the scope of already conferred power.

That is a commendably concise and accurate description of the legal position. Of major relevance, it is the legal opinion of the Government of the United Kingdom, as submitted to the International Court of Justice in the Kosovo case. The International Court of Justice endorsed this view, so it is both established law and the opinion of the British Government that the Scottish Government has the right to declare Independence without the agreement or permission of London and completely irrespective of the London Supreme Court.

I have continually explained on this site that the legality of a Declaration of Independence is in no sense determined by the law of the metropolitan state, but is purely a matter of recognition by other countries and thus acceptance into the United Nations. The UK Government set this out plainly in response to a question from a judge in the Kosovo case:

2. As the United Kingdom stated in oral argument, international law contains no
prohibition against declarations of independence as such. 1 Whether a declaration of
independence leads to the creation of a new State by separation or secession depends
not on the fact of the declaration but on subsequent developments, notably recognition
by other States. As a general matter, an act not prohibited by international law needs
no authorization. This position holds with respect to States. It holds also with respect
to acts of individuals or groups, for international law prohibits conduct of non-State
entities only exceptionally and where expressly indicated.

As I have stressed, the SNP should now be making a massive effort to prepare other countries, especially in the EU and in the developing world, to recognise Scotland when the moment comes. There is no task more important. There is a worrying lack of activity in this area. It may currently not be possible to spend government money on sending out envoys for this task, but if personal envoys were endorsed by the First Minister they would get access and could easily be crowd funded by the Independence Movement. I am one of a number of former senior British diplomats who would happily undertake this work without pay. We should be lobbying not just the EU but every country in Africa, Asia and South America.

My preferred route to Independence is this. The Scottish Parliament should immediately legislate for a new Independence referendum. The London Government will attempt to block it. The Scottish Parliament should then convene a National Assembly of all nationally elected Scottish representatives – MSPs, MPs and MEPs. That National Assembly should declare Independence, appeal to other countries for recognition, reach agreements with the rump UK and organise a confirmatory plebiscite. That is legal, democratic and consistent with normal international practice.

There will never be a better time than now for Scotland to become an Independent, normal, nation once again. It is no time for faint hearts or haverers; we must seize the moment.


Events since I wrote that have made the case still stronger. With the UK now leaving the European Union, EU states will be extremely eager to recognise Scottish Independence and get Scotland and its resources back inside the EU, while sending out a strong message that leaving the EU can have severe consequences. At the UN, the UK’s repudiation of the International Court of Justice ruling and overwhelming General Assembly mandate over the Chagos Islands has made the UK even more of a pariah state, while senior statesmen in the developing world see Scottish Independence as a wedge issue to open the question of the UK’s ridiculous permanent membership of the UN Security Council.

The claim that to proceed to Independence without Westminster consent is illegal and illegitimate lies at the heart of this truly disgraceful Scottish Government paper. That claim is wrong at every level.

You cannot both believe that the Scots are a people with the right of self-determination, and believe that Westminster has a right to veto that self-determination.

This paper by the Scottish Government is nothing more and nothing less than proof that the gradualists who sadly head the SNP are perfectly happy operating within the devolution system and have no intention of ever paying any more than lip service to Independence.


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797 thoughts on “London Will Never Give Independence – We Must Take It

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  • remember kronstadt

    The price of freedom is an Amex card but the cost of flag change, regardless of regime change, is unaffordable. Has anyone in whitehall costed the deconstruction of the ‘union jack’? Back to the crusades is it and a genoese rent a rag while the cobbers and kiwis et al flag change? England could adopt the rainbow flag but more likely a skull and crossbones. Will Scotland have a competition for the new flag?

  • N_

    According to the Sun, passengers in the aircraft that crashed in Almaty in Kazakhstan reached for their smartphones and posted to “social media” (presumably meaning VK and Facebook) to “plead for help to be freed”.

    A case of…”oh no, this plane has crashed, I can see lots of dismembered corpses but some of us are still alive – I’d better update my VK and Facebook”, twitch twitch. Didn’t these d*ckheads know that aircraft have electronic communications systems [1]? Can they wipe their bottoms without keeping “social media” updated? You would have hoped that being involved in a plane crash would be seen as IMPORTANT REAL-LIFE STUFF, not as one more event in a lifetime of c*ck chronicled on their smartphone.

    Seriously…imagine you’re in a plane crash…loads of people have been killed but some are still alive, and the idiots next to you start picking their smartphones!


    (1) Even the Israeli planes flown by pilots who specialise in “organ-gatheringrelief flights to disaster zones” that fly dark over Britain still have such systems available.)

    • remember kronstadt

      I always find it reassuring to see the pilots and first-class passengers seated at the front of the plane when flying.

    • Mary

      The BBC were implying earlier that internal flights in Russia were not very safe since the union collapsed in 1991. The loquacious Simon Calder was there to say that the plane, made in Holland, was 23 years old but, with proper maintenance, that should not have affected the safety of the aircraft.

      ‘….amazingly, there were survivors’ we heard. Of course no planes ever crash or come to harm in the USofA or in any of their satellites.

      Plane crash deaths jump sharply in 2018 – but fatalities ‘still rare’
      Analysis shows that 500 people died in major accidents last year compared with none in 2017

      It was Russia wot dunnit.

      • Tatyana

        Alma-Ata is in Kazakhstan, it is not Russia. People from there speak russian and often post in our social media. They say there’s great difference between Northern Kazakhstan, civilized and developing, and Southern part of the country, with medieval mentality. The latter still exploit ‘kelinka’ (younger daughter-in-law) as slave for all family members, including females.

      • Andyoldlabour


        A Death is a death, what makes a major crash different to a smaller crash? In 2017 399 people died in 101 crashes. In 2018 1040 died in 113 crashes.
        Our press should be a lot more critical of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft and the bad working practices used in the design and manufacture of that aircraft.

      • Mary

        I was saying that the BBC (aka the state broadcaster) were putting out more of the UK’s anti-Russian propaganda.

        I know that Kazakhstan is not in Russia but how many of the viewers would know the distinction.

  • U Watt

    Perhaps they suspect Johnson is much more relaxed about Scottish independence than he would admit during the election campaign. It was Johnson after all who published that hilarious poem on the subject a few years ago:

    “It’s time Hadrian’s Wall was refortified

    To pen them in a ghetto on the other side.

    I would go further. The nation

    Deserves not merely isolation

    But comprehensive extermination.”

    That has been explained away since as just one more sparkling example of Etonian wit. But Sturgeon is worldly enough to know that every supremacist witicism of the English upper class is barely half in jest. She surely also noted how casually Johnson recently tossed loyal little Ulster under the bus and may intuite that he would not lose a minute’s sleep if Scotland went its own way. He is not somebody who is renowned for caring about anything other than himself and may calculate that there is much more certainty of being re-elected in five years’ time if 50-odd SNP MPs can be taken out of the equation.

    • Vivian O'Blivion

      This would be my interpretation also. The changing to the wording of the WB signaled a free trade deal with America as the end goal. Every deviation from EU rules and standards requires an incremental hardening of Customs at Belfast and Larne. Johnson has psychologically made peace with the concept that he will be the Conservative & Unionist leader that “looses” Northern Ireland. Now “loosing” Scotland would be an order of magnitude more serious, but the taboo is broken.
      At some point, the media will realise that EU, geographical protection of goods only works because of the collective might of the EU and American trade negotiators hate geographical protection. Trump hates that the EU stopped cheese makers from Wisconsin selling “Parmesan” cheese to Mexico. Of course, the biggest beneficiary of EU, geographical protection is Scotch whiskey and in January 2021, American distillers will start selling “Scotch” whiskey to China and India.

    • Andrew Paul Booth

      The witty Etonian recognises, as is only right, that Scotland is a nation.

      Status that, I understand, carries great weight in international law and convention.

    • Giyane

      Sorry, for something to be witty , it must contain a kernel of truth, not a kernel of Toty dogma, wind bag vocabulary and gratuitous racism. Why comprehensive instead of total?
      Why ghetto , with its insinuations of antisemitism?
      Johnson, fat on Russian oligarch cash, taketh the pith out of Anglo-Norman pomposity to deny our common cultural heritage of hundreds of years.

      In other words the scribble says ” I’m now aligned with Israel . The bonds of the Union can be chucked out the window like a jug of piss ‘
      That’s wit?

    • Kim Sanders-Fisher

      Boris has a healthy majority right now with or without the Scottish MPs in Westminster and unfortunately there is still a value to denying you your independence with or without a referendum. He still needs to conveniently park Trident in the back yard and he would not want a breakaway state to prosper just as England goes into a no deal recession that he must blame on the EU. In future he could potentially strip further powers away from all of the devolved governments or simply abolish them altogether.

      Be even more suspicious if the Tories reluctantly “allow” IndiRef2 to proceed; you cannot trust a Tory. Last time they cheated you with false promises, blasted you with propaganda and the validity of the vote itself was in serious question. Do you really trust that the voting will not be rigged so that Boris can claim yet another “will of the people” moment of glory. IndiRef2 could be a disastrous trap; if Scotland has demonstrated sufficient support for Independence in the democratically elected parliament at Holyrood you should just take it.

      Boris has secured untrammelled power to do exactly as he wants in an “Elective Dictatorship.” The new Tory MPs have sworn allegiance to their supreme master and we cannot anticipate conscientious debate or rebellion from their ranks. Prospects for the rest of us are looking very grim and we are not even guaranteed an election to rid us of this oppressive regime in five years time as the Tories intend to abolish the Fixed Term Parliament Act. The introduction of Voter ID will disenfranchise millions and gerrymandering the constituency boundaries will make any future elections purely cosmetic anyway.

      Boris has proven he has the will, and now he has the power, to run roughshod over parliamentary convention; he will abolish the “interference” of the Judiciary and decimate the Human Rights Act in short order. The right to strike will be severely curtailed, but our right to peaceful protest is in danger of being eroded as well. Boris has specifically targeted travellers, but the attack on “illegal encampments” could also be used to criminalize homeless people. American corporations will be more than happy to build us new US style for profit jails.

      Not what you voted for? Not what most of the people in the UK voted for either and it goes way beyond our flawed First Past The Post voting system. We let the Tories outsource the entire electoral process and over the past few years “handling” our votes has been increasingly manage by IDOX, a subsidiary of an Oil and Gas Company, with Tory MP Peter Lilley in a controlling role for much of that time. If you too think that the result of this last election defies logic and was probably rigged to secure a Tory landslide, please join the Discussion Forum on the Election Aftermath.

      • Allen

        When world leaders gather at global events this year, including the UN General Assembly in September, the global biodiversity summit in China in October and the climate summit in Glasgow next November, bold leadership from our own country and others will be needed, if we are to turn the tide over the next decade and beyond.

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