There is a truly inspiring article in The National today by a long-time acquaintance of mine, Jim Fairlie. The headline pretty much says it all, if in the rather clumsy way that headlines tend to. Scotland must reassert sovereignty to decide constitutional future. That is precisely the point. It is the point which I have been trying to convey for what seems like decades. I cannot overstate how gratifying and encouraging it is to have this crucial message conveyed by a man of Jim’s standing. Could his column mark a turning point for our beleaguered nation?
We in Scotland, and in particular the SNP, are now, politically, legally and morally in a position to right that mistake and to reassert our sovereign rights over our constitutional future.
Aye, Jim! But will we? In particular, will the SNP? Will Nicola Sturgeon prove herself to be something more than the competent, charismatic leader she has been? Can she now abandon her commitment to the Section 30 process? Will she listen to Jim Fairlie and heed his advice?
What can we do to help her in this? As Jim quite rightly points out, the responsibility to act rests not only on the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon, but on all of us – all the people of Scotland. He could just as appositely have said,
We in Scotland, and in particular the SNP, are politically, legally and morally obliged to right that mistake and to reassert our sovereign rights over our constitutional future.
The constitutional status of our nation is our responsibility. The responsibility comes with the right of self-determination. We, the people of Scotland, not only have the right to determine the constitutional status of the nation, we have a responsibility to do so. We not only have the right to choose the form of government which best serves our needs, priorities, obligations and aspirations, we have a solemn duty to do so. A duty to future generations. A duty, no less importantly, to our own conception of ourselves; our self-respect.
In a speech I gave in Dundee during the 2014 referendum campaign I suggested that the kind of nation Scotland is depends on what kind of people we are. As it is for all other nations, so it is for Scotland. Or so it should be. But among the deleterious effects of the Union is the disconnect between the kind of people we are and the kind of nation we are allowed to be. With your indulgence I shall reproduce part of that speech here.
“We want independence, not because we regard ourselves as superior, but because we refuse to accept that we are inferior. We refuse to accept that we are less than the people of other nations who take their independence for granted.
So, if the kind of nation we are depends on the kind of people we are, what kind of people are we? In a very real sense, that is what will be determined by this referendum and the campaign leading up to the vote. How that campaign is conducted will say a lot about who we are. Which is why I so deeply resent the way that the British parties in Scotland are behaving. But that is a whole other topic.
Let’s consider instead what the vote says about us. Think about the question we are being asked.
Should Scotland be an independent country?
Can you imagine that question being asked in any other country? Can you conceive of the people of any other nation even considering the possibility of answering No to that question?
The fact that we are asking this question of ourselves tells us what kind of people we have been. People who have, for too long, been meekly content to accept a subordinate status within a Union that was contrived in a different age for purposes that were never relevant to us. A union that we, the people, had no part in creating or sanctioning. An anachronistic, dysfunctional, corrupt union which serves none of the people off these islands well.
A union which was always intended to serve the purposes of the ruling elites. A union which, in that regard if no other, has not changed one iota in the last three centuries.
A union that sucks the human and material resources out of our nation and in return gives us government by parties that we have emphatically rejected at the polls.
A union that imposes policies which are anathema to our people. Policies which have been rejected by our democratically elected representatives.
A union which, were we being given that option now, not one of us would vote to join – but which we are nonetheless being asked to vote to remain in.
All of this and more is what we have accepted in the past. And our acceptance of all this has defined us in the eyes of our neighbours, the world, aye! and ourselves.
Ladies and gentlemen, I put it to you that the fact that we are asking ourselves this question says nothing very flattering about who we have been in the past.“
The fact that we are still asking that question says nothing very flattering about who we are now. The fact that we, as a nation, voted to take the power we held in our hands for 15 glorious hours on Thursday 18 September and hand it to a British political elite which treats Scotland only with cold, callous, casual contempt says nothing at all flattering about us. What began as as a glorious exercise in democracy ended as an ignominious retreat into subordination. On that day we shirked our responsibility. We failed in our duty. We made ourselves less than we might be and in the process made Scotland less than it might be.
But the responsibility still rests on our shoulders. We are still bound by the duty we owe to Scotland, to future generations, to democracy and to ourselves. We are responsible. We have a duty to rectify the mistake we made in 2014. A mistake which compounded all the earlier mistakes noted by Jim Fairlie and laid the groundwork for all the mistakes that have been made since.
We can rectify the aggregate of all those mistakes. As Jim Fairlie says,
There is a road through this impasse however. It is bold. It is forthright, and it answers only to the people of Scotland.
What is it we are demanding of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP and the Scottish Greens and all those who hold the potential to connect the strength of Scotland’s people with the effective political power of the Scottish Parliament – the only Parliament which can lay claim to democratic legitimacy in Scotland? The only Parliament which has a rightful claim to speak and act for Scotland’s people. The Parliament which is actually elected by Scotland’s people and accountable to them. Our Parliament! What do we want?
Jim Fairlie expresses it well.
The SNP Government, the Greens and any other party of independence should make a manifesto pledge that if a majority of SNP and pro-independence MSPs are returned to Holyrood in 2021, they will bring forward a bill “to assume the responsibility for constitutional affairs as directed by the people of Scotland”.
Where Jim says “should” I say “must”. Our elected representatives all must commit to bold, decisive action in the early years of the next parliament which asserts the primacy of the Scottish Parliament in all constitutional matters. Effectively, a declaration of independence. Because two parliaments cannot hold primacy in one nation. All the more so when one of them has absolutely no claim to be the guardian of Scotland’s interests and in which neither Scotland’s interests nor Scotland’s people are meaningfully represented. (I’m sorry Mr Blackford! But them’s the hard facts. You and your colleagues should know better than anyone that the Union does not allow Scotland to be duly represented in the British parliament.)
I would go further than Jim Fairlie in another regard. I would insist that the “manifesto pledge” of which he speaks should not be left to the parties. The action to which the SNP and others must commit needs to be spelled out. It needs to be formalised as a Manifesto for Independence drafted by the people of Scotland. This is the aim, purpose and ambition of White Rose Rising.
We need an entirely new approach to the constitutional issue. We must, if I might presume to paraphrase the late Alasdair Gray, conduct ourselves as if we are already in the early days of a better nation; a nation with its independence restored’ a nation with its pride restored. We need to approach the constitutional issue with a different mindset. The mindset of the people we aspire to be. The mindset of a sovereign people. The mindset of a man like Jim Fairlie. Only then will be be a nation again.
If you find these articles interesting please consider a small donation to help support this site and my other activities on behalf of Scotland’s independence movement.