Below is a video clip of Angus Brendan MacNeil grilling Boris Johnson on the matter of a Section 30 order. I haven’t counted the number of times Johnson refers to there having been an agreement between the UK and Scottish Governments that the 2014 referendum would be a “once in a generation” event. However many it was that number must be added to the many hundreds – indeed thousands o occasions on which British Nationalists have promoted the same lie.
Below that is the text of the Edinburgh Agreement which set out the terms agreed between Alex Salmond and David Cameron, then First Minister of Scotland and British Prime Minister respectively. Accompanying the text is a link to the the official record of the Edinburgh Agreement and attached memorandum.
If anybody can find the phrase “once in a generation” anywhere in the Edinburgh Agreement or in any other legal document relating to the 2014 referendum, I will close down this blog and abandon the independence campaign forever.
Of course, everybody by now knows that Johnson’s claim is an outright lie. Everybody including those who still peddle this puerile falsehood. The lie has been exposed and the claim rebutted countless times. So why am I doing so again?
I’m revisiting this topic because almost the entire debate around this has been concerned with whether there ever was such an undertaking by the Scottish Government – there wasn’t! – and the question of how long a generation is – it doesn’t matter! The argument about how many years constitute a generation is totally pointless in this context for the same reason as the argument about whether there was such an undertaking is irrelevant.
Even if Alex Salmond had promised that there would not be another referendum for a generation, that promise would have been utterly meaningless. Because no politician has the authority to place limits, constraints or conditions on the right of self-determination. The people decide when there must be a referendum. Referendums happen when the people demand them. So it doesn’t mater a toss whether the undertaking was made or whether a generation is four years or forty. If the people insist on a referendum then it bloody well better happen or the government is in serious trouble – as Nicola Sturgeon is discovering.
This matter was brought to mind yesterday when I heard a speaker at the AUOB Rally at Pacific Quay refer to the Good Friday Agreement and the fact that it defines the minimum period between referendums as seven years – although there is no mention of “a generation”. But let’s take a look at what it actually says.
The Secretary of State shall not make an order under paragraph 1 earlier than seven years after the holding of a previous poll under this Schedule.The Agreement
That reads to me as the Secretary of State promising to refuse an Order in Council exactly as Boris Johnson and his predecessor resort(ed) to Section 30 as a ploy to obstruct a democratic process which by rights should be entirely controlled in Scotland. There’s a bit of text missing. It should read,
The Secretary of State shall not make an order under paragraph 1 earlier than seven years after the holding of a previous poll under this Schedule regardless of what the people want.
Whatever the speaker in question imagines, the text of the Good Friday mean agreement does not relate to Scotland’s right of self-determination; does not define a political generation any more than Alex Salmond did when subsequently quizzed about it; and can no more impose a restriction on the right of self-determination than any other politicians’ utterance. The people decide! we decide!
The role of the First Minister in all of this is to make a judgement as to when demand is sufficient. This will vary according to the issue. But it is important to recognise that evidence of majority support is not a prerequisite. Opinion polls may inform political decisions. But they do not make those decisions. In principle, Nicola Sturgeon would have been perfectly justified in calling a referendum at any time in the past six years. It might well be argued that under cover of successive snubs from the British Prime Minister of the day, she has been resisting public demand for a referendum. What is certain is that, at any time when there is significant demand, it is for the First Minister to explain why she is not calling a referendum. When ‘significant’ becomes ‘majority’ she better have a bloody good excuse for not honouring the will of the people.
Agreement between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government on a referendum on independence for Scotland.
The United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government have agreed to work together to ensure that a referendum on Scottish independence can take place.
The governments have agreed that the referendum should:
- have a clear legal base;
- be legislated for by the Scottish Parliament:
- be conducted so as to command the confidence of parliaments, government and people; and
- deliver a fair test and decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect.
The governments have agreed to promote an Order in Council under Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 in the United Kingdom and Scottish Parliaments to allow a single question referendum on Scottish independence to be held before the end of 2014. The Order will put beyond doubt that the Scottish Parliament can legislate for the referendum.
It will then be for the Scottish Government to promote legislation in the Scottish Parliament for a referendum on independence. The governments are agreed that the referendum should meet the highest standards of fairness, transparency and propriety, informed by consultation and independent expert advice. The referendum legislation will set out:
- the date of the referendum;the franchise;
- the wording of the question;
- rules on campaign financing; and
- other rules for the conduct of the referendum.
The details of the agreement between the governments are set out in the following memorandum and draft Order, which forms part of this agreement.
The Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP Prime Minister
The Rt. Hon. Alex Salmond MSP First Minister of Scotland
The Rt. Hon. Michael Moore MP Secretary of State for Scotland
Nicola Sturgeon MSP Deputy First Minister of Scotland
Edinburgh, 15 October 2012