Jim Sillars puts words in my mouth when he says that I am suggesting UDI. This is a term I choose not to use, in part because of its negative historical associations and also because it is profoundly silly.
What does the term ‘unilateral declaration of independence’ mean? Isn’t independence always declared? If it wasn’t declared, how would people know that it has happened? And aren’t all such declarations ‘unilateral’? Who else could declare independence on our behalf?
More to the point, whose agreement do we need? If restoring Scotland’s independence mustn’t be a unilateral act by the people of Scotland, our Government and our Parliament then this implies it must be at least a bilateral act. Why would we expect some other party or external agency to restore our independence for us?
Even further to the point, why would we suppose our independence cannot be restored other than with the consent and cooperation of a ‘foreign’ government which has declared itself implacably opposed to the restoration of Scotland’s independence?
The term UDI is used by the British state to imply that the act of restoring Scotland’s independence is somehow improper if it is done without their approval. It is easy to understand why the British political elite would wish to promulgate such a belief. It is impossible to understand why the people of Scotland would accept such curtailment of our right of self-determination.
Nothing I wrote in the letter to which Jim Sillars has responded implies that I favour UDI. I favour the restoration of Scotland’s independence. That is all. And I see absolutely no reason why a government and parliament furth of Scotland should have any role in the process of restoring Scotland’s independence. It is a decision for Scotland alone. Only Scotland should be involved in the process.
I do not accept that this process requires the imprimatur of a British Prime Minister in order to be legal and constitutional. I maintain, rather, that the process derives legal validity from the body of international laws and conventions guaranteeing the right of self-determination; and its constitutional legitimacy from the sovereignty of Scotland’s people.
I do not accept that the process of becoming independent must necessarily be undemocratic, and be perceived as such by the international community if it eschews the involvement of and disallows external interference by the government of England-as-Britain. I maintain, rather, that Scotland is perfectly capable of ensuring an impeccably democratic process absent any outside ‘assistance’.
The ‘self’ in self-determination is Scotland. Nobody else!
The process by which Scotland’s independence is restored must be founded on the informed consent of the people of Scotland. There must always be a plebiscite in order to determine that consent. The term UDI is commonly used to imply a process that doesn’t involve a referendum. I would never suggest such a thing.
But neither am I inclined to be a slave to the polls. We campaign to move the polls. Not because the polls have moved. Jim Sillars seems to belong to that faction of the independence movement which pleads for patience on the grounds that the polls have not moved sufficiently in our favour while insisting that we stick rigidly to the campaigning methods which have failed to move the polls sufficiently in our favour.
My own thinking on the matter is that it makes little sense to depend entirely on campaign tactics which have proven ineffective. My assessment of the situation is that the required support for independence already exists, it just needs to be motivated. What the polls tell us is, not that the support for independence isn’t there, but that people are not being inspired by a mix of doorstep chats with clipboard-wielding activists and platitudinous rhetoric from complacent politicians.
Something needs to happen! Something designed to provoke anger at the way the Union affects Scotland and propel people towards the obvious solution of restoring Scotland’s independence. Less craven compliance and more determined defiance!
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23 thoughts on “It’s Scotland’s decision!”
I was on the point yesterday of writing (again) to The National pointing out that (again) your words are being (wilfully) misread. Actually I found it difficult to get beyond the first sentence of the letter in which Sillars sets you up as an advocate of UDI. If there is one thing that emerges loudly and clearly from your work it is your opposition to UDI.
Not so much opposition to UDI as dislike of the term. For Scotland to become independent there must be a declaration. And that declaration can only be unilateral for the simple reason that nobody else can declare independence on our behalf. So why use a term such as UDI? Why not just say becoming independence. Or, better still, restoring independence.
We don’t have to look far for the reason. The term UDI is pejorative. It has negative associations – most particularly with the white supremacists of Rhodesia. It is used to make the process of becoming independent without the British state’s consent appear illegitimate. When, in fact, it is the requirement for that consent which is illegitimate.
Having said all that, I find that the term, UDI, has crept into general usage and become quite ubiquitous. It has even entered the lexicon of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Usage alters meaning. Just as the word ‘chairman’ has come to refer to any person, male or female, who conducts a formal meeting, so ‘UDI’ is now used to refer to the end-point of a process of becoming independent which doesn’t involve any external agency which cannot legitimately be involved anyway. Therefore, I am not as intolerant of the term as I once was. I still consider it inappropriate and misleading. But I’ll put up with it so long as it is clearly understood to insinuate anything negative.
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Indeed. It was the pejorative implications that I would have recalled. And also that it has become such a common phrase that it is not always meaningful, while in essence being what at some point must happen.
As I understand your position you favour a referendum with a question of the form: “should the Union be dissolved?” Which is very different from the immediate connotation of UDI, namely to declare independence and expect that to be that.
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You are broadly correct about what I would like to have happen. As I have stated repeatedly, there has to be a referendum. The problem we have at the moment is that due to lack of imagination, the SNP is stuck in a rut of thinking the referendum must be the start of the process. And that we have to comply with the British state’s asserted authority to veto our right to hold that referendum. What is in question is, not the referendum itself, but the process leading up to it. And the form of the referendum itself.
The SNP maintains that the whole process begins and ends at Westminster, with the British executive closely involved at all stages. I not only don’t see how this can possibly lead to a satisfactory outcome, given the British state’s desperate need to preserve the Union, but I cannot understand why what is effectively a foreign government should have any role whatsoever in the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination.
To my way of thinking, it’s Scotland’s referendum and it must be made and managed in Scotland. It all begins and ends, not in the parliament of England-as-Britain, but in the Scottish Parliament.
In practical terms, there are several ways this could go. But the simplest way of thinking about it is that the Scottish Parliament approves a proposal to dissolve the Union subject to a confirmatory referendum to be held on a specified date and in accordance with the relevant legislation, the Referendums Scotland Act 2018 and such additional legislation as may be passed in relation to this referendum.
The ballot paper would state a brief summary of the proposal to dissolve the Union and ask “Do you agree with this proposal. Yes/No”.
The referendum campaign would be contested between the official organisations representing each side of the question. This would be the pro- and anti-Union factions in Scotland. The British government and the British political parties would be prohibited from direct participation in or funding of the campaign. Only parties and organisations registered and headquartered in Scotland would be permitted to take part in the campaign.
Special measures would be required to negate or reduce the influence of the British media. Perhaps newspapers might be required to display their allegiance on the masthead. Broadcast media would be more problematic. But the Scottish electorate would have to be assured that everything possible was being done to ensure a level playing field in the campaign.
It is not just the consent of the people which is required, but the informed consent. Anything resembling ‘Project Fear’ could not be permitted.
But these are details. Of which there will be many. But the fundamental principle remains. The question of Scotland’s constitutional status is a matter for the people of Scotland alone. Our referendum has nothing to do with Westminster and Westminster must have nothing to do with our referendum.
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This seems to me to be an eminently sensible strategy. Thank you the exposition. Perhaps Mr Sillars would do well to examine the above before he rants in The National about what you believe.
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Framing the question as “Should the Union be dissolved” certainly starts the process off on the right foot. After all Scotland entered the Union(s) willingly, it wasn’t conquered or colonised, at least not legally afaik. There’s probably a technical legal discussion to be had as to whether that makes Scottish Indy without England’s consent easier or harder?
There is no legal discussion to be had. Our independence will not be restored by the courts. Our independence will only be restored by political action. Let those who would obstruct us resort to the courts.
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How then, if not by reference to law and international convention, will third countries and all the various international bodies decide whether to recognise an independent Scotland. Surely such outside recognition is essential if Scotland is to take her place in the world?
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The propaganda has it that international recognition for Scotland is problematic. That the approval of the UK is essential. Few stop to ask themselves whether this even makes sense. Why would other countries allow the UK government a veto over a decision that is for them alone?
The reality is that recognition is the default position. If only because everything is less complicated that way, Countries would need a very good reason to withhold recognition. And that reason simply doesn’t exist. The fact that the British political elite isn’t happy about wouldn’t be a factor for most countries. It might be seen as a bonus by some.
It is not satisfying local laws that is the principal criterion. It is satisfying the requirements of democracy. So long as it is clear that the people have consented to the restoration of Scotland’s independence, the international community would have no cause to question the validity of the result.
People have been fooled again. Too many fall for it every time – the idea of British (English) supremacy. They fret endlessly about he legality of what we do, and never think to question the legality of what they do. It never occurs to them that it might be the effort to prevent our independence being restored that is unlawful in the eyes of the world.
Less compliance , more defiance is a great rallying call for the SNP cadre of Westminster MPs . There is no strong prospect that international law will provide a case for Scotland’s secession , despite the relatively recent precedent of Kosovo. No amount of legal fancy footwork will produce a clinical and painless route to self determination , as Professor Aileen McHarg and Andrew Tickell have said . They have both scoured the growing body of legal opinion and found it at best ambiguous on the point of a clear right to secession except in the case of colonies .The principle of territorial integrity points the other way and with ever increasing evidence of Scotland’s net contribution to the UK economy , it’s unlikely that Boris will roll over and give us Indy on a plate . Logic and natural justice will not take him by the throat and force him to do the right thing . That leaves little option but noncompliance and defiance , the tactic of Parnell in the pursuit of Home Rule for Ireland .
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Sorry! But this use of the word “Secession” regards Scotland leaving the Union with England, is unacceptable.
We “secede” from nothing!
Scotland, The Kingdom of Scotland, has entered into a political alliance (The Union), with The Kingdom of England.
Presently, these two Kingdoms, share both the same Monarchy, and Parliament. But both are still very different, and separate entities. That is the Legal situation. The unfortunate thing being, the London Parliament, and its supporters, have gotten the idea, that these two countries, these two Kingdoms, are now, and forever, one! We saw a glaring example of that, when the Queen of England, was named “Elizabeth First, for Scotland, which was quite an insult!
That concept, embedded by the history of the Union, and the BBC manipulation, etc, has been so very destructive.
And also, and it must be said, the Labour Party, has itself, played a huge role in this, in that they kept the Union going, and while they disliked all that the Thatcher and Major regime did to this country, they didn’t ever dare challenge its right to do as it pleased, as this would have called into question, the Union itself, which for Labor comes before all else, and if that means the tories being there most destructive, then so be it!
As has been pointed out,this is a political choice, made by politicians in Scotland.
If Scottish politicians (the greater majority of them) simply reject the Union, then it is over.
We need such political figures now in Scotland, who will do just that..
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If we don’t choose a legal route out of the Union, we are no different than Johnson and his No Deal Brexit which will rebound against the UK in international circles. Scotland, no more and no less than any other country is bound by its international agreements, some, granted, made for us by the UK. We have the Treaty. The Treaty is still extant. The Treaty is an internationally binding contract between two sovereign, independent nation states (when it was signed up to). That places obligations on us, as it does on England. Having witnessed over 300 years of how the Union operates entirely in England-as-the-UK’s favour, we can be very sure that the Treaty will be raised by England-as-the-UK whenever we dare to lift our heads for real, but, especially in any negotiations that would arise after independence – and arise they would. You cannot break any contract without resort to the law or you become a pariah. Even a marriage cannot become null and void without a divorce and a negotiated settlement. Even if we hold a referendum and win it – which, itself, it certainly not a foregone conclusion – we will still have to negotiate on the Treaty after independence. This can be avoided only if England decides to waive all its rights – rights that it has courtesy of the Union and the Treaty.
There is no such thing as an illegal route out of the Union. The exercise of a nation’s right of self-determination can never be illegal. We really need to rid ourselves of the pernicious notion that the British state has the rightful authority to decree that a democratic right is outlawed.
“Something needs to happen! Something designed to provoke anger at the way the Union affects Scotland and propel people towards the obvious solution of restoring Scotland’s independence.”
Did you watch John Pilger’s The Diirty War on the NHS, on STV last night? I think it’s available on the STV Player. It’s about the English NHS, but given Boris’s need to unite all the NHSs it’s relevant to Scotland. When people watch it and realise what the selling off of bits of the NHS to private Healthcare businesses, they may become angry enough to act.
If the people of Scotland don’t act soon to achieve independence, whether by forcing the SNP to act (how would one force?) or taking independence out of the hands of the SNP, then the SNHS will be lost as a universal healthcare SERVICE, and while retaining the label NHS be broken up into healthcare BUSINESSES, as is happening in England. Once that happens the NHS as we know it will be lost for ever, and the SNP will be to blame.
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Steelwires- That explains why the BBC have been on full SNHS attack mode for the last six months. They are greasing the tin for Boris to demand that the NHS is taken into WM hands and then sold to Trump.
Watch this space. Boris has already threatened to take control of the SNHS, if the SG don’t sort out the alleged mess. That new Scottish office in Holyrood is primed and ready for Jack and co to start taking back control.
We are now in def com 1 territory. That’s why they want indy ref in 5 years. 5 years will be ample time to sell most of Scotland off and claw back devolved areas.
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‘re. International recognition , there is no great legal problem . Provided the new state is committed to the rules and norms of international law , recognition is in effect automatic . The onus would be on any state withholding recognition to justify its decision in terms of international law .
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Secession is a term already commonly used by lawyers when considering the prospect of Scottish Independence . Assuming that RUK would be the continuing state and Scotland the new state , the term secession fits the case exactly .Too much is made of the analogy of divorce , as if Scotland might just unilaterally sue for an annulment of a union and the two parties go their separate ways on grounds of irretrievable breakdown. That is not the language of international jurists , a high standard of abuse /discrimination needs to be present for separation to be “legal”
We may not like the term secession with its connotations of religious schism , but it looks like we are stuck with it .
One may dispute the appropriateness of the term ‘secession’. But to argue that a treaty entered into voluntarily cannot be rescinded other than by proving “a high standard of abuse /discrimination” is just ridiculous. Only one thing needs to be ‘proved’. The will of Scotland’s people is all that’s needed.
It would be helpful to consider any precedents where a union freely into by both parties is dissolved at the instance of one party . The law moves at glacial speed based on precedent cases . The term ridiculous belongs to the category of boo/hurrah , like untenable , unsustainable etc . Legal reasoning either requires evoking statutes /rules , customary diplomatic usage , or applying principles derived from previous cases . There is a whole jurisprudence of internal and external self determination based on a growing case history .If you can narrow the focus to consider cases analogous to the Scottish case , you will be doing a great service to the cause of Indy . Ex cathedra ridicule will butter no parsnips .
I said ‘ridiculous’ because it was the most appropriate term. You’ve done nothing to change that.
We have just seen the UK want to leave the Treaty of Rome.
That is one example.
The term “Secession” for Scotland annulling the Treaty of Union, is never acceptable, and I don’t care what any Lawyer says of it.
It gives the impression, we in Scotland still need the permission of England.
Is England asking for Scotland’s permission to leave the EU?
No! They are going to leave, whether we want to or not.
And apart form that, it gives the impression, as a I say above, that the two countries are now one single entity.
That concept is to be condemned.
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Be grateful for your thoughts, Peter. Scotland entered a Union by way of a Treaty – without departing at all from the process you have outlined – is the phrase/action we adopt not best captured in and by – “Rescinding the Treaty.”?
Resile = Pull out from an agreement, contract, treaty, etc.
Rescind = Officially cancel
Revoke = Cancel officially
Repeal = Officially cancel
Vacate = Cancel officially
Abolish, withdraw, renounce, invalidate, foreswear, waive…
You know what I see here, Mike? I see a decade of lawyers arguing about which term is appropriate. Fuck that!