Chris McEleny is, of course, perfectly correct when he says that “what the SNP’s independence strategy should be at this May’s election is not a matter for Scottish Government ministers to instruct SNP members upon, but rather a matter for party members to determine”. That is, or should be beyond argument. If it is not, then the SNP is not the party I joined any more than the UK today is the UK the people of Scotland chose to stick with by voting No in 2014.
Where I part company with Chris is when he says that SNP members should be limited to a choice between “the 11 point plan set out last month or the independence Plan B of using the election as a mandate to enter straight into independence negotiations with the UK Government”. Why?
If the SNP’s independence strategy at this May’s election is not a matter for Scottish Government ministers to decide then neither is it for Chris McEleny and Angus Brendan MacNeil to limit choices in the matter of the party’s approach to the constitutional issue.
As I have argued elsewhere, both Mike Russell’s slightly modified Plan A – the so-called 11-point plan – and the Plan B proposed by messrs McEleny and MacNeil are fatally flawed by their insistence on adhering to the Section 30 process. Again, the reasons for abandoning any commitment to the British state’s “gold standard” device for thwarting the will of Scotland’s people have been set out elsewhere.
If the intention is that the people of Scotland should exercise our right of self-determination – a right not in itself disputed by the British state but held to be subject to an effective veto by the British Prime Minister – then the process by which this is done must be transparently democratic. It must be a free and fair referendum. The reasons that it must be a referendum and not a plebiscitary election have also been set out elsewhere (links are not permitted) but can be summarised as, this being a binary choice it is most fitting that it be decided by a binary vote.
To meet the need for a free and fair democratic process the referendum by which the people of Scotland exercise our right of self-determination must be devised and conducted wholly in Scotland and solely under the auspices of the Scottish Parliament and such other institutions or organisations as Parliament shall approve. There must be no participation in or interference from any external agency or power. It is Scotland’s right of self-determination and Scotland’s alone. It must be seen to be exercised as such in order to have democratic validity.
The question of whether the Scottish Parliament has the legitimate authority to sanction and oversee a process by which the people of Scotland exercise our right of self-determination is deemed to be moot. It has yet to be decided. Or demonstrated. Some maintain that this is a question for the courts. I would not disagree. But I take issue with those who maintain that it is for the people of Scotland to seek a court ruling on this matter. If it is maintained that the people of Scotland are sovereign; and if it is accepted that we have the right of self-determination; and if it is recognised that the Scottish Parliament alone has the democratic legitimacy that derives from the mandate afforded by the sovereign people of Scotland, then it must be assumed that the Scottish Parliament alone possesses the rightful authority to facilitate the exercise of our right of self-determination.
That assumption may be challenged in court. But if the defense to that challenge is that the Scottish Parliament must be assumed on the bases of popular sovereignty and democratic legitimacy to have the rightful authority to sanction the exercise of our right of self-determination then it makes no sense for Scotland to seek confirmation of this by the courts. It is not for us to prove our ownership of something to which we claim to have an inalienable right. If it is inalienable then it is not something any court can rule on.
All of this is to lay the basis for a further alternative approach to the constitutional issue in addition to those proposed by Mike Russell (endorsed by Nicola Sturgeon) and McEleny & MacNeil. I suppose it will have to be called ‘Plan C’.
Plan C proposes that, having repudiated the Section 30 process as an affront to democracy, the SNP should include in the party’s manifesto for the coming Holyrood elections a commitment that if elected an SNP Scottish Government will immediately assert the exclusive competence of the Scottish Parliament in all constitutional matters preparatory to proposing the dissolution of the Union subject to a referendum that shall be entirely made and managed in Scotland.
It may be noted here that the proposal in Plan B and now in Plan A (2) to hold a referendum regardless of the British Prime Minister’s response to yet another pointless Section 30 request implies this assertion of the primacy of the Scottish Parliament. Otherwise how might the Scottish Parliament sanction such a referendum? So all Plan C does is propose that this be made explicit.
A further manifesto commitment should be made to withdraw all Scottish MP’s from Westminster to sit with other nationally elected representatives and such others as shall be deemed appropriate in a National Convention convened by the Scottish Parliament primarily for the purpose of overseeing the drafting of a Scottish Constitution, the key points and/or basic principles of which should be ready to lay before the people of Scotland prior to the referendum.
The SNP Spring Conference should function as a review of the party’s entire approach to the constitutional issue, such review possibly continuing subsequent to the Conference and conducted by a body appointed by Conference. This review to examine options for reframing the constitutional issue such that it is addressed by Scotland from the perspective of a nation with the status enjoyed by all independent nations. The review committee to be charged with publishing a preliminary report prior to the May 6 election.
Let the SNP adopt this Manifesto for Independence. Then let the Yes movement help win a mandate for this Manifesto such as will brook no denial by the British state. And no procrastination by the Scottish Government.