It is hardly a secret that, lately. I have been increasingly critical of the Scottish Government’s whole approach to the constitutional issue. In particular, the absolute commitment to the Section 30 process and the concomitant ruling out of all other options; but also the insistence that the Yes campaign in a new independence referendum – should such ever transpire – must replicate that of the 2014 referendum and the implied failure to learn any lessons from that earlier campaign.
Nobody, either in the SNP or in the wider independence movement has responded meaningfully to my detailed criticisms of the approach adopted by the Scottish Government and the SNP group at Westminster. Instead, I have been denounced in ways that range from the infantile to the defamatory, but always woefully ill-informed and ill-thought. Or I have simply been ignored. None of the substantive points raised has been addressed. None of the questions asked has been answered. None of the conclusions reached has been challenged by rational argument.
(I will note at this juncture that I am far from being alone in expressing concerns about the SNP’s strategy. But I do not presume to speak for others.)
As well as denunciation, there has been much in the way of diversion; a favourite form of which is to ask what I would do, or what I reckon should be done. The evasion is obvious. I am merely a commentator. I am not empowered to do anything. The question is not what would I do but whether what is being done by those who do have power is adequate and appropriate.
Having said that, and in no way contradicting the observation that asking what I would do is evasive, it is fair to say that if it is claimed that a given course of action is wrong then there is a necessary corollary that an alternative course of action exists which would be right. It is perfectly legitimate to ask what that alternative course of action might be. It is not legitimate to put this as if it were a meaningful response to criticism of the course of action being followed. It is an entirely separate question and not a reasoned response to the concerns being expressed.
It is also perfectly legitimate to express concerns about a particular course of action without offering an alternative. Consideration of an alternative course of action must always be subsequent – and, perhaps, subordinate – to the identification of defects and/or deficiencies in the current approach. It is perfectly sensible when a number of different routes present themselves, to vociferously condemn taking the one leading to a precipice without offering any advice as to which route should be followed instead. Were there a rule that said one could only urge against driving towards a cliff-edge when and if one had worked out a detailed alternative route, then there would be a lot more driving off cliffs.
If those who demand to know my alternative in attempt to divert from my criticism of the SNP’s approach to the independence issue had bothered to do a little research they would be aware that this question has already been answered. I had intended to restate and clarify the preferred alternative course of action so as to have something to which people could be referred when they ask what I would do instead. But I find that I cannot do better than start by repeating the relevant portion of that previous article.
What people actually mean when they refer to UDI; what they mistakenly identify as UDI, is a process in which a declaration of intent to change Scotland’s constitutional status precedes a plebiscite to ratify that proposed change.
The closest analogy may be the dissolution of the political union between Norway and Sweden. A union which was, in some significant respects, similar to that between Scotland and England. Certainly, it was the cause of the same kind of tensions between the two nations.
With all the usual caveats about the dangers of simplification, the story starts, as all such stories must, with the nation that wishes to dissolve the union breaking the rules which bind it together. Norway declared its intention to set up its own consular service thus breaching the terms of the political union which reserved foreign policy to Sweden. Sweden refused to recognise the legislation passed by the Norwegian parliament and the Norwegian government resigned; provoking a constitutional crisis when it proved impossible to form a new government.
To resolve the issue of Norway’s constitutional status, the Storting (Norwegian parliament) voted unanimously to dissolve the political union with Sweden. This was on 7 June 1905. Crucially, in order to seize total control of the process, Norway avoided the offer of a negotiated settlement which would have allowed Sweden a measure of influence. Instead, the Storting immediately scheduled a referendum for 13 August – around nine weeks after the vote to dissolve the union.
That referendum resulted in a ‘Yes’ vote of 99.5%.
It shouldn’t be difficult to work out from this how Scotland should proceed. And it has absolutely nothing to do with UDI.
As stated in that final paragraph, it shouldn’t be necessary to expand on how this historic example relates to Scotland’s current predicament. Anyone with a modicum of intellectual acumen and a little understanding of the situation should be able to work out what all of this implies in terms of an alternative approach to resolving the issue of Scotland’s constitutional status. But I strongly suspect that those ill-equipped to think it through for themselves may be vastly outnumbered by those ill-disposed towards doing so. Inducing the latter group to open their minds is, by far, the greatest challenge. They will always find a way to rationalise clinging to their entrenched viewpoint.
It is first necessary to accept that there is no route to the restoration of Scotland’s independence which adheres to the laws, regulations, rules and procedures imposed by the British state for the purpose of preserving the Union and perpetuating established structures of power, privilege and patronage. At some point, the rules must be broken just as Norway breached the rules by declaring the intention to set up its own consular service.
Neither is there a route to the restoration of Scotland’s independence which does not pass through a point at which there is direct and almost certainly acrimonious confrontation with the British state. To attempt to avoid this confrontation is to diverge from the path which leads to the restoration of independence and risk being unable to regain that path.
It is further necessary to accept that Scotland’s independence cannot and shall not be restored via Westminster. Independence can only be restored by Scotland’s First Minister leading the Scottish Government under the auspices of the Scottish Parliament and with the support of the Scottish people. For independence to be restored, the authority of the Scottish Parliament must be asserted on the basis of its democratic legitimacy.
Basically, the Scottish Parliament is a subordinate annexe of the British parliament because the British parliament says that it is. It will remain so, either until the British parliament says differently or until the Scottish Parliament itself says differently. Given that Westminster is never going to relinquish its asserted superiority, nothing will change until Scotland challenges the established order and defies the British state to do something about it. Just as Norway defied Sweden to hold its referendum on dissolving the Union.
Power is not given, it is only taken. The established order does not change unless and until action is taken to change it.
Finally, it is necessary to recognise that the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination derives its legal validity from a body of international laws and conventions and its democratic legitimacy from the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. That is all! Westminster has no legally necessary (or even permissible?) role, and certainly no democratically legitimate authority, in the process. As established power elsewhere has discovered, it is no match for the determined defiance of the people.
Putting all of this together, we come to a clear conclusion as to how Scotland’s independence might be restored, given the improbability of the current approach being successful. I say “improbability” because it is just about conceivable that the SNP’s strategy might succeed. It may turn out that the Scottish Government proves to have been right in relying on the goodwill, good grace and good faith of the British political elite. Or it might be that the strategy succeeds simply because the British political elite fails to take advantage of the many opportunities inherent in the strategy to ensure that it fails.
We cannot entirely rule out the British establishment cooperating with the process of ending the Union, despite this being counter to its most fundamental imperatives. Nor can we completely dismiss the possibility that the British political elite might be so incompetent as to let the SNP strategy succeed despite the ease with which it could be thwarted.
Alternatively, we could rely on our own competence and do away with any need for the cooperation of the British establishment.
Norway chose to confront Sweden on the issue of overseas representation. In principle, it doesn’t matter what the issue is. But it is essential that the Scottish Government select the issue and that it be something which is critical to the integrity of the Union. I choose to illustrate the point using what may be considered the ultimate such issue. With a little imagination, others might substitute different issues which have the same effect. I also choose to state the process very simply and starkly, recognising that this is a thinking exercise intended to challenge an existing mindset rather than a detailed political strategy.
It begins with the First Minister declaring the Scottish Government’s intention to ask the Scottish Parliament to approve a proposal to dissolve the Union between Scotland and England subject to endorsement by the Scottish people in a referendum.
This referendum, being the exercise of the right of self-determination guaranteed by international law, to be conducted entirely under the auspices of the Scottish Parliament and such independent agencies as the Parliament may appoint, and in accordance with legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament..
What subsequently happens depends largely on how the British government responds to this challenge to its asserted authority. The ways in which it might respond are, however, limited and hence largely predictable. They can be dealt with. If we are not confident that Scotland can deal with these challenges then we invite questions as to our fitness to function as a normal independent nation.
Assuming we stand firm and overcome these challenges, we proceed to a referendum which, it goes without saying, must be unimpeachably democratic in all its aspects. Leaving only the matter of how we conduct the campaign to secure a decisive vote in favour of the proposition to dissolve the Union. But that is a matter for another article.
I fully recognise that what is being proposed is not a lawyerly solution. I suggest that few things might better serve to commend it. For what our nation needs at this time is, not the tremulous timidity of lawyers cramped by caution, but the bold assertiveness of political leaders inspired by the justice of Scotland’s cause.
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21 thoughts on “How to restore independence”
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You have summed it up very clearly Peter.
First we assert our authority by allowing our parliament to declare our intention to dissolve the union. We then proceed on this basis and agree a date for a confirmatory referendum.
It’s subtly different from the ask first Section 30 referendum idea. The latter only confirms our intention to ask a question. Your way is positive action , and then a final agreement comes from the people after the act has been committed.
Now if only Nicola had thought of that…………..
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It is entirely different from the Section 30 process. It is not remotely similar to the Section 30 process. It has absolutely nothing in common with the Section 30 process. It is as close to being the opposite of the Section 30 process as might be imagined. It is most assuredly NOT “subtly different” from the Section 30 process.
The Section 30 process gives the British state significant influence over the way the terms under which the referendum is conducted. The process I am suggesting excludes the British state completely. And I’m not even sure that is the most important of many distinctly unsubtle differences.
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The time for your proposal is coming soon , when Westminster are unshackled by the EU , there will follow some unpalatable things to Scotland which will undermine our Holyrood parliament..Whatever issue they use to set this process off should not be their current hobbyhorses of saving Westminster from itself and gender rights.
Control of immigration might be the issue that would work , simple refusals to enact UK law on immigrants would be a popular and just beginning to this , Choosing who can stay with us is pretty fundamental to a society.
I would like to see more friction between the two , instead of accepting the “grievance monkey” label we should be labelling them “grief makers” at every opportunity.
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Ok point taken Peter!
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It sound good, however we are not Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe thousands of miles away from London we are right next door. What if the international community doesn’t recognise our independence in this manner?, we have no armed forces England does, what then?
Why would the international community not recognise independence restored by entirely democratic means. The British don’t get to define what is and isn’t democratic. That is a matter which can be objectively assessed.
IF only our leaders knew how to be bold and BRAVE instead of weak and subservient
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I have said previously, and repeat it again, there was a very, very simple way, the UK Govt could have been challenged by Edinburgh… and it had nothing to do with the Constitution as such, but would surely have lead to a Constitutional Crisis and onto Independence, had the Scottish “Government” and Parliament had the politicians with even a bit of gumption, and true leadership qualities.
Let us take DWP benefits sanctions, as one such case.
The Scottish Parliament could rule these to be illegal in this country.
Dare any DWP staffer to go against such a ruling, they would be arrested, and prosecuted..
What say the UK Govt?
They could claim this was Reserved, But if Scotland stood its ground, something would have to give.
It has been disappointing the way the politicians here, have been so timid on such things.
I am also fairly astonished, the reaction of some SNP supports, to these questions you voice, regards Independence.Te Wings blog founder, is likewise getting much criticism, for raising these same concerns.
SNP seem to competent administrators,,as things stand, but seem not to have too much in way of devoid of real vision!
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You thought. You listened. You have written wise words. I hope someone is listening that understands.
Peter, I differ from you on some of the details, but you propose a valid and acceptable method of gaining Scotland’s Sovereignty in fact as well as in theory. Thank You!
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Reblogged this on Ramblings of a 50+ Female.
Great post, Peter. “It is first necessary to accept that there is no route to the restoration of Scotland’s independence which adheres to the laws, regulations, rules and procedures imposed by the British state for the purpose of preserving the Union and perpetuating established structures of power, privilege and patronage. At some point, the rules must be broken just as Norway breached the rules by declaring the intention to set up its own consular service.
Neither is there a route to the restoration of Scotland’s independence which does not pass through a point at which there is direct and almost certainly acrimonious confrontation with the British state. To attempt to avoid this confrontation is to diverge from the path which leads to the restoration of independence and risk being unable to regain that path.”
Thank you especially for the clarity in these two paragraphs .
Mr Blackford has said repeatedly that Scotland will not be dragged out of the EU against its will. Surely, this is the issue which could kick-start the action by the Scottish Parliament to dissolve the Union?
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The Sottish Govenment, the Snp, will not even contemplate opening drug user facilities, ie “safe rooms” because Westminster has told them not to. And it’s reserved. So we cannae.
What would Westminster do if they went ahead, jail them ?.
We know they save lives, cut down crime to obtain money for a fix, maybe wean some off the stuff, cut off the flow of money to criminals. 500 + lives lost already this year.
When do we get off our knees. Not under the present leadershipe, it seems. What I don’t understand is why these 3 lost years doing nothing for their primary purpose.
I read somewhere that Ms. Sturgeon had the same single-track policy when she practiced law.
Which could have not been for long.
Keep going Peter, it’s important that people hear an alternative narrative.
The easy assertions on, for example the BBC, about ‘permission’ etc need to be questioned.
My experience is that people often think in silos, but once they glimpse some alternative or have just one thought outside the orthodoxy, there is no going back. ‘We canny dae it’ becomes ‘Why can we no dae it’.
No need for me to tell you that real power cannot be given, it can only be taken. That’s not even a radical statement, its just in the nature of the thing. A moment’s reflection shows why it is so. The penny is dropping slowly, across the country. Not quickly enough for you or me, but its happening & we will win.
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Excellent article Peter. We need a range of options to complement and indeed strengthen the Plan A option by their very existence. SNP and YES movement need an efficient way of generating and evaluating these options without any accusations of disloyalty or worse. We cannot portray ourselves as a democratic and inclusive movement while jumping down the throat of anyone who questions the effectiveness of the current official route ti independence.
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I can put up with folk jumping down my throat, Geoff. I just wish the bastards would wipe their feet first.
Don’t you think that knowing that you would have around 100% of voters behind you would make a difference? Just asking.
Public support is the big game-changer. So long as there is some remaining vestige of democracy, voters can effect change. That they so rarely do is a testament to established power’s capacity for manipulating public perception. Occasionally, control fails, and the voters do something unexpected and massively significant.
The Scottish Parliament election in 2011 is a good example. Emboldened by the 2007 result which resulted in an SNP minority administration, and given confidence by five years of competent government, the voters broke the system to do what was supposed to be impossible. They elected an SNP majority government.
That transformed Scottish – and UK – politics. It shows what can be done.
And next year Peter following this (no doubt continuing) Westminster Brex*hit debacle and with the SNP Independence prospectus going out to every home, the WBB going out to a million households, Ginger Dug’s book, Gordon McIntyre-Kemp’s data and so on we should see support rising through overturning the “manipulation of public perception.”
You, yourself, say that, “Public support is the big game changer” and yet the vast majority of your articles veer towards undermining the only people capable of dissolving this Union. I can’t figure that one out. How is that going to help us? I don’t agree with everything that the SNP do, but resolving lesser issues can surely wait until we get our Independence?
All we need now is a majority of sovereign Scots to support Independence and a Section 30 Order. Nicola Sturgeon will officially request the latter before the end of the year. IF it’s refused I can see it being resolved in Court (National and / or International) and as we’ve seen recently can be dealt with fairly quickly. Indyref2 will be held next year and if we all focus on promoting the SNP we’ll win it.