This article started as a reply to a question asked in the comments on an earlier piece. In an effort to provide a comprehensive answer I went on a bit. Like I do.
What happens after the FM renounces Section 30 as a means to independence and wins another election on a mandate for independence? Legal action? UDI? What’s the plan?
Let me start by saying that UDI isn’t a ‘thing’. The term ‘unilateral declaration of independence’ doesn’t refer to a single well-defined process. It’s basically just a legalistic way of saying ‘becoming independent’. It’s the term powerful imperialist nations deploy when the less powerful nations they’ve annexed seek to restore their rightful status. It’s supposed to make that attempt to restore constitutional normality sound illegal. And it fools all too many people. Especially on account of the term’s close association with what went on in Rhodesia in the mid-1960s.
The term UDI is intended to convey the idea that any attempt by an annexed territory/people to restore independence without the approval and consent of the annexing nation is unlawful. It’s how powerful imperialist nations hope to get around all those inconvenient international laws and conventions that they were obliged to sign up to in order to… well… that’s another story. Or another chapter of the same story. Let’s just say that while international laws and conventions guarantee the right of self-determination to all territories and peoples, local legal and constitutional frameworks may be contrived to create impediments to the exercise of the right of self-determination.
Ultimately, none of these impediments can stand in the face of those international laws and conventions. But they may just make it difficult enough to deter any attempt to exercise the right of self-determination. Especially if the ‘natives’ can be convinced that the impediments are real and substantive.
Meet modern Scotland!
Impediments such as the idea of UDI being horribly illegal, will evaporate if challenged. It may be necessary in certain circumstances to apply a lot of heat in order to bring about this evaporation. But a strong and tenacious challenge must ultimately succeed. The trick, as far as the powerful imperialist nation is concerned, is to make the ‘natives’ reluctant to mount that challenge in the first place. Or, if the challenge is mounted by others, to support it.
Meet modern Scotland!
There is no one ‘thing’ called UDI. Circumstances and conditions are different for every nation or people trying to break the shackles of imperialist annexation. Each instance is unique. But it is important to understand that just because Scotland’s precise circumstances are not identical to those of the colonies and other territories which previously broke those shackles doesn’t mean that the shackles binding Scotland to the British state aren’t just as real as any that bound other victims of imperialist avarice and fear. The Union was imposed as means of ensuring that Scotland was always subordinate to England. The Union hasn’t changed. It’s purpose hasn’t changed, even if the circumstances in which the purpose plays out are seemingly very different. It’s about power. It has always been about power. No matter how much the circumstances change, it is always about power. Politics is the management of power relationships. The Union is a device by which England sought to ensure that it always had an advantage over Scotland in managing the power relationships between the two. Essentially because that advantage bestows other advantages in the management of other power relationships.
Like all relationships. it’s complicated!
The thing to bear in mind is that all those international laws and conventions brought in to end the old imperialism apply to Scotland just as much as they applied to any of the other nations which chose to challenge the remnants of old imperialist power. Scotland is not a colony! In a way, we are in a worse position. We are more akin to informally annexed territory. But we still enjoy the protections and guarantees of those international laws and conventions. They still apply. Any challenge to the remnants of British imperialist ambition must succeed. If that challenge is strong enough and tenacious enough.
It should be obvious, however, that no such challenge can possibly be mounted within the legal and constitutional framework set up by the imperialist power for the purpose of preventing – or at lease deterring and impeding – any challenge. If a challenge is to be mounted it must step outside that legal and constitutional framework. That’s where UDI comes in. As soon as the annexed nation (Scotland) steps outside that legal and constitutional framework, the imperialist power (England-as-Britain) starts screaming “UDI!!!” in the hope of scaring the ‘natives’ back into their submissive boxes. In Scotland we call this tendency to remain in or return to those submissive boxes The Cringe. Scotland is not, strictly speaking, a colony of England-as-Britain. But one of the ways in which the old imperialism allowed relatively small nations to hold sway over massive territories and huge populations was the fact that they didn’t have to colonise the entire territory or ‘subdue’ the entire population. All they had to do was colonise enough minds.
There is no route to the restoration of Scotland’s independence which does not require that we step outside the legal and constitutional framework devised and maintained by England/England-as-Britain. There is, therefore, no way to avoid being ‘accused’ of perpetrating an ‘illegal’ unilateral declaration of independence. I propose, therefore, that we take ownership of the term, call it #ScottishUDI and make it mean what we want it to mean.
Specifically, I propose that we step outside the legal and constitutional framework of the Union by asserting the exclusive competence of the Scottish Parliament in all matters constitutional. This is effectively a declaration of independence. But, crucially, it doesn’t sound like it. So when the Brits start screaming “UDI!!!” they’re going to sound a bit ridiculous. Or more ridiculous than is commonly the case. Asserting the competence of the Scottish Parliament sounds ‘reasonable’. And that is what matters. It sounds reasonable because it is reasonable. Who can argue that the Scottish Parliament doesn’t have democratic legitimacy in Scotland?
Asserting (actually reasserting) the Scottish Parliament’s powers over the constitution on the basis of this democratic legitimacy allied to the sovereignty of Scotland’s people is only going to be considered unreasonable by those who seek to deny the democratic legitimacy of the Parliament that the Scottish people actually elect and the sovereignty that is ours by absolute right. People who want to claim that a parliament we do not elect has greater democratic legitimacy than the one that we do elect. People who want to argue, furthermore, that this parliament that we don’t elect has sovereignty over Scotland’s people! That is the very definition of an unreasonable argument. So we force the Brits into a situation where that is the only argument they can deploy.
It cannot be stressed enough that this is a political process. It is a matter of politics, not law. It is about altering the power relationship between Scotland and England-as-Britain to put an end to the advantage the latter gains by way of the Union. It is a matter of normalising that power relationship. That is politics! Not law! The lawyers come along later to tidy up the paperwork. But the process starts and is pursued in the Scottish Parliament by the Scottish Government with a mandate from the Scottish people. Or it doesn’t happen at all.
We win by being reasonable. But also by being bold and assertive and tenacious in our determination to restore Scotland’s independence.
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