It is clear from the comments on this article (Corbyn to be quizzed over next indyref as he begins whirlwind Scottish tour) that I am far from being the only one who is utterly baffled by Nicola Sturgeon’s position. She concedes that the UK Government has the authority to disallow an independence referendum, but demands that they refrain from exercising that authority. Instead of maintaining that the requirement for a Section 30 order is illegal and unconstitutional, she insists that it is, in fact, the only ‘legal and constitutional’ process, but claims that it would be undemocratic for the UK Government to utilise the authority that the process affords it.
I just don’t get it! I’ve tried a dozen ways of putting into words what the First Minister’s position is, and there is no way that it makes any sense. It is certainly possible for something to be both lawful and undemocratic. But to say that something is constitutionally legitimate but undemocratic seems like an obvious contradiction in terms.
How can authority be democratic, but exercise of that authority not? Surely if acting on the authority is contrary to the principles of democracy, then the authority itself must be likewise.
Ruth Wishart wrote recently about how she has come to abhor the word “allow” precisely because of its use in the context of a new independence referendum. I suspect she will be as offended as I am at being told that “Jeremy Corbyn will be under pressure to say when exactly he will allow a second independence referendum”. Not, you will note, under pressure to explain what makes him suppose he has the authority to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination. Not under pressure to explain why the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination should require his consent. Merely under pressure to say when he might give that gracious consent.
Of course, were he asked to justify his presumption, Corbyn need only refer to the words of Scotland’s First Minister, who has repeatedly conceded that authority. It’s hard to imagine anyone in the Scottish Government or the Scottish media putting him under any kind of pressure to justify, in terms of democratic principles rather than Nicola Sturgeon’s stated position, how anybody might have the power of veto over a nation’s right of self-determination.
Scotland’s political leaders evidently lack the grit and the gmption to challenge the asserted authority of the British state. And, of course, it suits the media to paddle in the shallow waters of trivial questions about when something might happen rather than venture into the deeps of why it is being allowed to happen at all. Why risk the dangerous currents of political controversy when it’s so easy to create a simple but titillating drama out of timing whilst remaining close to the shore of mass entertainment?
It would come as a tremendous shock to all if Corbyn were to specify when he would grant permission for the people of Scotland to exercise our right of self-determination – were he ever in a position to do so. That’s not how the game is played at all. He has to pretend that there is actually a likelihood of him being the British Prime Minister. He has to pretend that he would respect the right of Scotland’s people to decide the constitutional status of our nation. The Media and the politicians have to go along with this pretence. Everybody knows that it’s a sham. Everybody knows that, in the unlikely event of there being a British Labour government after the election, Corbyn will be every bit as bound by the imperative to preserve the Union as Boris Johnson or anyone else who might be a candidate for the role of British Prime Minister.
In terms of Scotland’s cause, it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever what the outcome of this election is. That outcome will be a British government and a British Prime Minister. And no British government or British Prime Minister is ever going to allow the Union to be put in jeopardy.
Which is why it makes no sense to concede that the British state has the rightful authority to disallow a referendum. Or to allow it only under conditions determined by the British political elite. If you accept that the British state has this authority, and that the authority is ‘legal and constitutional’, what possible grounds can there be to complain when that authority is used?
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