There will never again be a route to Scottish Independence deemed legal by Westminster. 2014 will never be repeated. The UK will never willingly give up a third of its land, most of its fisheries, most of its mineral resources, its most marketable beef, soft fruit and whisky, most of its renewable energy potential, a vital part of its military including its primary nuclear base, its best universities in a number of key fields including life sciences, its ready pool of intellectual and professional talent. Johnson is for once honest when he says keeping the Union together is his top priority. It is the top priority of the entire British establishment.
David Cameron only agreed to the 2014 referendum because he thought the result would humiliate and kill off Scottish nationalism. Support for Independence was at 28% in the polls at the time he agreed. Westminster had the most enormous and horrible shock when support for Independence grew to 45% during the campaign as many people for the first time in their lives heard the real arguments. The Whitehall panic of the last week of the 2014 referendum campaign is not something the British Establishment ever intend to repeat.
There is a charmingly naive argument put forward by some that, if support for Independence can be grown to 60% in the opinion polls, Johnson and Westminster will have to “grant” a referendum. This is the opposite of the truth. If support for Independence is at 60%, the very last thing that the Tories will do is agree a referendum they will lose. Their resistance will be massively hardened. Remember, the Tories could have zero Tory MPs in Scotland and still have a majority of 73 in Westminster. There is no political damage for Johnson in unpopularity in Scotland. In England, his anti-Scots stance is very popular with their Cummings core support base of knuckle-dragging, ill-educated racists.
The “intellectual justification” for this stance was trailed by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on the Marr programme this morning. Irrespective of the wishes of the majority in Scotland, the UK has a duty to stop Scottish Independence, to prevent anarchic secessionist forces being unleashed across Europe; he named Italy, France and Spain.
Westminster will never agree another referendum, and the more we look like winning it, the less they will agree to it.
Nor is there a route to a “legal” referendum through the courts. If a court rules that a consultative referendum is legal under the current Scotland Act (which it might well be), then the Tories will simply pass new legislation at Westminster to make it illegal. They have already done this at Westminster to overturn Scottish parliament decisions, and the UK Supreme Court have already made clear that the Sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament cannot be challenged.
Scotland can become independent, but becoming independent is, without doubt, going to be illegal in terms of UK law – which is to say Westminster law. There will not be a route to Independence agreed with Westminster.
If you believe in Scottish Independence, you believe that the Scottish nation are a “people” within the meaning of the UN Charter, and thus have an inalienable right of self-determination. That means that Westminster has no right, by legislation or by any other means, to prevent the Scottish people from exercising their self-determination.
I am sorry, but this is the fact: If you believe Scotland should only move to Independence in a Westminster-approved process, you do not really believe in Scottish Independence at all.
Which brings us to Nicola Sturgeon. Her much-trumpeted speech on the way forward following Brexit was disgraceful in explicitly stating that any referendum must be held with Westminster agreement, and that any referendum held without Westminster agreement could be “illegal”. She used the words “illegal” and “wildcat” to denigrate the idea of Scotland acting without Westminster permission.
What Sturgeon said amounts to an explicit acknowledgement of UK sovereignty over the Scottish people as both legitimate and immutable. She is accepting that the Act of Union did permanently alienate the right of self-determination. Sturgeon should heed the tale of Toom Tabard as to what respect English rulers show to Scottish leaders who accept their authority. Her speech reinforced my view that she really is much too comfortable in her role of colonial governor.
When Sturgeon started talking about calling a Constitutional Convention I first scoffed thinking she was merely fulfilling my prediction that her “plan” would be to start yet another talking shop. But then I was astonished when she outlined the potential membership – the elected representatives of Scotland sitting together, constituting MSPs, MPs, (former) MEPs and council leaders.
I have explained at length over the last two years my proposal for a route to Independence that would lead to recognition by the international community. Donald Tusk today confirmed all I have been saying about the enormous sympathy there will be in the EU towards welcoming Scotland back, now the UK has switched status to third country state. [I knew Donald Tusk reasonably well when I was First Secretary of the British Embassy in Warsaw in the 1990s and he was an out of office politician the same age as me. I should like to think I had an effect!]
But the heart of what I was proposing is this, as I put it in December 2018
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.
Or as I put it again two weeks ago:
We should assemble all of Scotland’s MEP’s, MP’s and MSP’s in a National Assembly and declare Independence on the 700th Anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, thus emphasising the historical continuity of the Scottish state. The views and laws of London now being irrelevant, we should organise, as an Independent state, our referendum to confirm Independence, to be held in September 2020.
Please do read the articles linked if you have not already done so. They explain how Scotland can legitimately become an Independent nation without regard to UK domestic law.
Now, until Sturgeon’s speech, I had never seen anybody else but me put forward the proposal that the way forward is via an assembly of all MPs, MSPs and MEPs, giving the triple legitimacy of democratic election. Sturgeon has enhanced this by adding council leaders.
There is a huge difference between an assembly – or convention – of elected representatives, and an appointed one of the great and the good. This new assembly proposed by Sturgeon is very different indeed in that respect from the Convention of the same name that helped formulate devolution.
Now I do not think for one moment that Sturgeon has convened this Convention to declare Independence. But an assembly of Scotland’s MPs, MSPs, MEPs and council leaders will have a clear Independence majority numerically and a massive Independence majority intellectually. It will have an extremely strong claim to be a properly representative assembly whose members each have a democratic mandate. The French Revolution was of course similarly precipitated by constitutional innovation convening a National Assembly combining the different Estates, and that Assembly was swept along by fervour to take proto-revolutionary measures which went far beyond the initial positions of any of its members.
The dynamic of a new constitutional body whose members feel they command legitimacy, should not be underestimated. The convening of this body will be a real constitutional innovation. We need to make sure, that like that French National Assembly, they can clearly hear a huge mob outside their windows, demanding radical and speedy change.
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