A modest proposal

With the Referendums (Scotland) Bill now going through Parliament, we can be confident that the Scottish Government has a plan which will ensure that the people of Scotland are able to exercise our right of self-determination in accordance with the norms of democracy. There will be a referendum – with or without permission from Sajid Javid or any of the other anti-democratic British Nationalist ideologues vying to become the next Prime Minister of the disintegrating British state.

And that referendum will be soon. For reasons which I have outlined elsewhere, my money is on September of this year. Talk of the “latter half” of 2020 is, I believe, a diversion. And, even if it isn’t and this really is Nicola Sturgeon’s preferred time-frame, I reckon unfolding circumstances will force an earlier vote. I’m absolutely sure that she and Mike Russell have prepared for this. The option has certainly been kept open by the proposed legislation.

I am also persuaded that Nicola Sturgeon and Mike Russell have devised a way to satisfactorily address the concerns that I, and many others, have about requesting a Section 30 order. If the Referendums (Scotland) Bill doesn’t do that, then there is no point to it. But my reading of the Bill convinces me that those concerns can safely be set aside for the moment.

We know that there will be a referendum. We have to proceed on the assumption that it will be sooner rather than later. So we have to start thinking about the campaign.

Actually, many of us have been thinking about this for some years. Even in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 it was clear that the matter was not settled. That referendum produced a result, but not a decision. The issue was always going to have to be revisited. We’ve had well over four years to consider how we should campaign in the coming referendum. If the best we can come up with in that time is a repeat of the 2014 campaign with a new logo, than we clearly aren’t thinking hard enough.

As you would expect, I have my own thoughts on how the Yes movement should fight the #ScotRef2019 campaign. I’ve been writing and talking about this since October 2014. It is clear to me that, if we are to be confident of securing the additional 10 points required to win the new referendum, we have to approach the whole constitutional issue with a totally fresh mindset.

More on that later. For the moment I’d like to deal with something fundamental. Something that many in the Yes movement probably don’t think about very much, if at all. Because we’ve all moved beyond the first questions that must be asked of any proposal – such as the proposal to #DissolveTheUnion. There are three things that any proposal must have before it can really be considered a proposal.

  • A sufficient reason
  • A viable plan
  • A credible alternative

Let’s look at these in relation to the proposal to dissolve the Union, taking them in reverse order.

Is there a credible alternative to the Union?

The alternative, of course, is independence. And, independence being the normal, default status of nations, the question really should be “Is the Union a credible alternative to independence?”. Unless there is a powerfully persuasive argument that the Union is better than independence, then independence must be a credible alternative.

Asking if there is a credible alternative to not being independent is a bit like asking if there is a credible alternative to not breathing.

Is there a viable plan for dissolving the Union?

By which is meant, is there an evidently workable way of getting from the status quo to the status being proposed? Is there a way of implementing the proposal to dissolve the Union?

Again, it is clear that there must be a way for nations which are not independent to become independent. It has been done many, many times. It is not a novel thing. The broad principles governing the process are set out in the Charter of the United Nations. The practicalities are pretty much all covered by precedent and the various conventions which have been developed over the centuries.

Let’s talk!

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In Scotland’s case, much of the work has already been done – ore partly done. We already have much (most?) of the infrastructure and institutions of an independent nation. And we have people who have been planning for the dissolution of the Union for many years.

The Union is an artifice. It was created by politicians and lawyers and civil servants. It can be dismantled by politicians and lawyers and civil servants.

This is another question that really needs to be turned around. If there is some obstacle or impediment that makes the process of becoming independent unworkable, then let those claiming it can’t be done give their reasons. Let them describe those obstacles and impediments. And if the obstacles and impediments are of their making, let them explain their reasons.

Is there sufficient reason to dissolve the Union?

The Union shouldn’t exist. If a political union on these terms was to be mooted now, it would provoke more ridicule than anger. The Union is a constitutional device by which the people of Scotland are denied the full and effective exercise of their sovereignty. The Union is a denial of popular sovereignty. It imposes the alien concept of parliamentary sovereignty – a prettified version of absolute monarchy – along with a range of policies which are wilfully or incidentally contrary to Scotland’s interests.

The Union is a constitutional cage within which Scotland’s needs, priorities and aspirations are confined lest they conflict with the interests of the British state.

The Union, as has been noted, is anomalous. It is an aberration. And an abomination. Within the Union Scotland cannot even be a fully functioning democracy, never mind the progressive and prosperous nation we aspire to be. The Union simply will not allow it.

The difficulty isn’t finding sufficient reasons why the Union should be dissolved. The problem is explaining why it is allowed to persist.

In dealing with these basic requirement of a proposal, one thing has become clear. Restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status requires no justification. There is no need for a ‘positive case for independence’. It is the Union which must be justified. It is those who insist on preserving the Union who must explain why the people of Scotland should tolerate a constitutional arrangement which makes them second-class citizens in an increasingly intolerant and repressive British state, rather than normal citizens of a normal country.

It is for British Nationalists and hard-line Unionists to tell us what it is that Scotland gets from the Union which makes it worth the sacrifice of our democratic rights and our dignity. And, as they do, they better be aware that they cannot get away with the old lies.

Which neatly leads into the matter of how the coming referendum campaign should be fought. Let’s think about that.

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