It would have been good to set aside the debate about the Section 30 process for the duration of the election campaign. But that is rather difficult to do when independence is, at least nominally, at the heart of the SNP campaign, and while Nicola Sturgeon continues to talk and Tweet on the topic. Every mention of the Section 30 process serves to remind us of the concerns that have never been addressed and the questions which remain unanswered.
Mention of the Section 30 process can also prompt fresh thinking about it – at least in minds that are not already closed to any thinking at all. When I wrote the original material for the iScot Magazine article. Section 30 is not Scotland’s salvation, I said nothing of my worry that too strong a commitment to this process would rule out other options. In part this was because, at the time the material was written, the First Minister had not yet, to my knowledge, described the Section 30 process as the only ‘legal and constitutional’ way to hold a referendum. I only became fully aware of this new language at the SNP Conference in October when it seemed to be the mot du jour for all SNP ministers, elected representatives and spokespeople.
With this change in language, my worst fears were realised. Not only had the SNP leadership committed to a process which is questionable at best, they had effectively declared any and all possible alternatives ‘illegal and unconstitutional’. Such squandering of options I find incomprehensible. Especially so as there was absolutely no need to do it. The Section 30 process could have been presented as the preferred option. Instead, it has been pronounced the only option. Nobody has yet explained why.
Another thought concerning the Section 30 process occurred to me just recently. Which only proves that, no matter how long and hard you’ve thought about a matter, it’s always possible that there will be something you hadn’t considered. No subject should ever be closed. Your mind should always be open to new thinking on a topic. You’re never done thinking things through. There is always another question to be asked.
Just such a question occurred to me when I was reading some things Nicola Sturgeon had said about refusing her ‘demand’ for a Section 30 order being undemocratic. My habit and practice with any statement from a politician is to figure out where they are trying to point you, and look elsewhere. In this instance, it was obvious that the words were intended to direct us to ponder the democratic legitimacy of a British Prime Minister blocking a referendum for which there is evident public demand and an incontestable mandate. Instead, I chose to reflect on Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘demand’ and the nature of the authority behind it. A question quickly formed in my mind.
What is the difference between the power to demand a Section 30 order and the power to demand recognition of a referendum?
If the First Minister can claim that the mandate she has from the Scottish people and the Scottish Parliament is sufficient authority to demand a Section 30 order and to render refusal of that demand a breach of fundamental democratic principles, why can’t that same authority be sufficient to demand recognition of referendum regardless of a Section 30 order?
It’s the same authority in both cases. The democratic principles and political reality which justify and give weight to the demand for a Section 30 order are precisely the same as the democratic principles and political reality which justify and give weight to the demand that a referendum be recognised.
Where there is both an electoral and a Parliamentary mandate together with significant public demand, a Section 30 order is redundant. Under these circumstances, on condition only that the vote is impeccably democratic, recognition of the referendum’s legitimacy is every bit as obligatory as the granting of a Section 30 order.
It seems that the more one examines the Section 30 process the less satisfactory it becomes. Concerns keep growing even as they are pointedly ignored.
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