If you know where you want to go but need to figure out how to get there then you also need to know where you are. Only when you know the starting point and the end point can you begin to plot a course from one to the other. I say “begin” because identifying the start and end points is only part of the task. Arguably, the easiest part. Because plotting a course between the two requires that you take account of all the points that lie on your proposed course. You need to know where all the obstacles and potential bottlenecks are. You need to know as much as possible about everything that you may encounter on your journey.
Of course, if there is a long, straight road in good condition with no tolls and guaranteed ideal weather, your task is easy. But even then there may be unforeseen impediments such as breakdowns and pile-ups. You have to be prepared to deal with these.
Most of you will have realised by now that I’m not talking about an excursion from Perth to the beach at Aberdour. I’m talking about the journey from Scotland’s present situation to the restoration of our nation’s independence.
We have a pretty good idea of the destination. In fact, we have a plethora of such ideas. Everybody in Scotland’s independence movement may be broadly in agreement about where we want to be when we arrive, but there is considerable difference of opinion about what this place looks like. Not that it is necessary to know what it looks like in order to travel there. But if descriptions differ too much then people will come to think they are headed for a different place altogether. This is what I mean when I say that ‘independence’ is a disputed concept.
It is not possible to build an effective single-issue political campaign around a disputed concept. Such a campaign requires unity, focus and discipline. It can have none of these while there is disagreement about the campaign’s objective. Even a relatively small disagreement will impair focus and fracture unity and lead to indiscipline. Where the disagreement is significant, the campaign will effectively become two or more campaigns competing amongst themselves and failing to adequately engage with the opposition.
That’s what happened in the 2014 referendum campaign. The diversity of the Yes movement became division within the campaign. There was a failure to properly identify and clearly define the common aim. The campaign had nothing around which to coalesce – other than the disputed concept of ‘independence’. As a consequence, the Yes campaign tended to be diffuse, diluted and depleted. It may be argued that the effect was slight. But when an issue is as finely balanced as the constitutional question, small errors can have an impact disproportionate to their size.
The common factor in all visions of independence is the dissolution of the Union. No matter how you envisage independence dissolving the Union is a prerequisite.
Since the first Scottish independence referendum I have been mostly concerned with process – the route by which we reach our destination. I very quickly came to some conclusions. I came to realise that there is no route to independence which abides by the rules set down by the British government. And that there is no route to independence that doesn’t involve confrontation with the British establishment.
Annexation, a formal act whereby a state proclaims its sovereignty over territory hitherto outside its domain. Unlike cession, whereby territory is given or sold through treaty, annexation is a unilateral act made effective by actual possession and legitimized by general recognition.
Annexation is frequently preceded by conquest and military occupation of the conquered territory.Encyclopaedia Britannica
We were told, and most believed, that Scotland had a democratic route to independence by way of a referendum sanctioned by the UK Government. This is the Section 30 process which was followed for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. But there is a major problem with this in that the Section 30 process can only work with the full and willing and honest cooperation of the British state. And there is less than no reason to believe that such cooperation might ever be forthcoming.
England-as-Britain not only won’t allow Scotland to restore its independence, it can’t. It is politically impossible for England-as-Britain to permit the dissolution of the Union because, without Scotland, England-as-Britain becomes just England. Without Scotland, the Britain which is the conceit of the ruling elites ceases to exist. Without the Union, the structures of power, privilege and patronage which maintain established power will be weakened to the point of disintegration. The Union is the keystone of those structures. Scotland is a supporting pillar.
So long as there was a democratic route to independence, however questionable, the pretence of a “Union of equals” could be maintained. Many – and one suspects Nicola Sturgeon to be among them – believed, and continue to believe as Michael Fry does. This from his column in The National.
Outrageous as it may be for Boris to deny that the result of the UK General Election makes any difference, there is, legally and constitutionally, no alternative to waiting till he changes his mind. So we will get no new referendum in 2020. We’ll just have to wait and see if outright SNP victory in the Holyrood election of 2021 causes a political rethink in Downing Street. Not only the Scottish government but also various respected independent commentators have been saying it would surely need to.This is why ‘DIY’ indyref2 won’t be able to deliver independence
Depressing as this description of the situation may be, it accurately reflects Scotland’s true predicament in all respects other than the implied hope that something might make Boris Johnson change his mind and grant a Section 30 order. Or the variation on this hope which supposes that a change of attitude may come with a change of government at Westminster. Both are forlorn hopes. There will be no change of heart; no change of mind; no rethink. No British Prime Minister will ever sanction any process which places the Union in jeopardy. Even if they were minded to do so, they would be prevented.
The Section 30 process is, as I have long maintained, nothing more than a device by which the pretence of democracy could be maintained. A way of keeping alive the hope and belief that Scotland has a democratic route out of the Union. The Section 30 process is a lie.
Why then, you may ask, do we have the likes of Gordon “Intervention Man” Brown striding out of the shadows and onto the stage to warn in doom-lade tones that London rule may ‘soon be over’? There are a number of reasons. Rallying the forces of British Nationalism would be one. Ensuring that the Tories get the blame for putting the Union at risk another. Brown being a pompous, self-regarding, attention-seeking prick who craves the status of a senior statesman that he cannot earn might have something to do with it. But the most important reason, and the one most people may not recognise, is the need to maintain the illusion of the Union being under threat. The illusion that Scotland has a way of dissolving the Union.
Without this pretence, only one conclusion is possible. That there is no democratic route to independence. Or, at least, that there is no democratic route which is both guaranteed and accessible. That is to say, a process which exists and cannot be unilaterally altered. A process which is entirely internal to Scotland. A process which can be initiated and followed by the democratically elected representatives of Scotland’s people without interference or hindrance from any external power.
That is the reality of Scotland’s predicament. It has been the clearly recognisable reality for several years. It is the reality behind the concerns I have expressed about the Section 30 process. It is the reality which I preferred not to explicitly acknowledge whilst it was still possible to pretend that the Section 30 process is what it purports to be.
Without a process such as I have described by which Scotland’s constitutional status can be normalised according to the will of Scotland’s people our present constitutional status cannot be what we have long believed it to be. The starting point on our journey to independence is not what we thought it was. We are not in the place we imagined we were. And this has massive implications for the independence movement and for the Scottish Government.
Without a process by which Scotland can get out of the Union at will it can no longer be maintained that Scotland remains in the Union by consent. Consent that cannot be withdrawn as readily as it is given isn’t consent at all.
Without an accessible process by which consent can be freely withdrawn Scotland’s status cannot be that of a party to a political union freely entered into and continued. Rather, Scotland must be regarded as annexed territory. Scotland must be regarded as having been annexed by England by stealth over the period since the Union was first imposed on us. Either the Treaty of Union was, in reality, a Declaration of Annexation, or the terms of that treaty have been unilaterally altered by or on behalf of England over the last 313 years.
The question facing Scotland, therefore, is not whether we wish to become independent – that choice is not available to us – but whether we are prepared to tolerate the annexation of our country. And if not, what are we to do about it. Particularly as such a large proportion of Scotland’s people appear eager or content to accept Scotland’s status as a shackled nation.
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