We are told that Boris Johnson will respond to Nicola Sturgeon’s Section 30 order demand/request “in due course”. What does that mean?
Nicola Sturgeon last made a Section 30 order request at the end of March 2017, when she sent a letter to then British Prime Minister Theresa May. On 7 June 2019 May resigned without ever having made a formal response to Sturgeon’s letter. As far as Theresa May was concerned “due course meant never.
It is now approaching three years since the First Minister sent that letter. It still has not been answered. It was sent to Theresa May in her capacity as British Prime Minister. Boris Johnson took over that role, and responsibility for answering the letter, in late July 2019. He simply continued to disregard it as his predecessor had done.
If a formal request to the British Prime Minister for a Section 30 order from the First Minister of Scotland can be ignored for three years, it can be ignored for four. Or eight. Or indefinitely.
What did Nicola Sturgeon do about her letter being contemptuously ignored? Nothing! Because there was nothing she could do. She must have been aware that she had neither the power nor the political leverage to force a response. That is the nature of the Section 30 process to which she has committed. That is the nature of the relationship between Scotland and England-as-Britain. That is the nature of the Union.
On 19 December 2019, having been given yet another mandate by the people of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon finally gave up hope of receiving a response to her first letter and sent a new one to Boris Johnson. She did so knowing that nothing had changed in the 30 months since the first letter was sent. She knew that this new letter could be ignored just as its predecessor was. But she sent it anyway.
Along with this second letter the First Minister sent a 38-page document outlining her arguments for the granting of powers which rightfully belong with the Scottish Parliament. Boris Johnson was not unaware of these arguments. Or, at least, the people who advise him were fully acquainted and able to inform him. Theresa May was also aware of these arguments. The arguments carried no weight with her. They carry no weight with Johnson. Nicola Sturgeon is aware of this also.
The curious thing about the case for a Section 30 order being granted is that, if the arguments are sound, there should be no need for the Section 30 order. If Scotland is incontestably entitled to a Section 30 order, as Nicola Sturgeon asserts, then Scotland is unarguably entitled to hold a constitutional referendum.
Once it is accepted that consent is required, it follows that it is accepted that consent may be refused. The argument that something which absolutely cannot be refused absolutely must be requested sounds like something out of Alice in Wonderland.
By committing to the Section 30 process the First Minister has accepted that she can simply be ignored. Something she didn’t mention even when acknowledging that she expected her demand/request to be refused. She stressed that refusal would not be the end of the matter. But she gave no clue as to what that meant.
We only have clues to what “in due course” means and how Nicola Sturgeon deals with being ignored. Those clues suggest “in due course” means whatever the British Prime Minister wants it to mean up to and including never. We also know what action Nicola Sturgeon takes in response to being ignored – none! Because there is no action she can take.
The ‘gold standard’ Section 30 process gives all the power to the British political elite. Boris Johnson can ignore a Section 30 request for as long as he wishes because there is nothing in law that says he must respond at all, never mind within a specified period. Neither does the ‘gold standard’ Section 30 process offer the First Minister any redress. Having embraced this process as necessary and ideal, she has no alternative but to accept the fact that this means giving all the power to the British Prime Minister.
The Section 30 process only works to the extent that the British Prime Minister is prepared to play along. The Section 30 process can only lead to a free and fair referendum if the British state cooperates. There are countless ways in which the Section 30 process can fail to or be prevented from bringing about a properly democratic referendum. There is only one way that it can succeed in doing so. And that way is entirely conditional on the goodwill, good grace and good faith of the British political elite.
And the British Nationalists are loving it! Expect to see more gleeful headlines like this from The Daily Express Monday 6 January.
Boris Johnson ignores Nicola Sturgeon’s second independence referendum demands
As you read such headlines bear in mind that they are not just gloating over Nicola Sturgeon’s powerlessness and Scotland’s humiliation, they are applauding Boris Johnson. Those who imagine that he might somehow be forced by public option to grant a Section 30 order are as deluded as any who thought he might feel obliged to do so due democratic principles weighing on his mind.
Johnson needn’t even feel obliged to offer the courtesy of a response. And the more he treats Scotland with high-handed contempt the more the voters he cares about will cheer him on.
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