I tend to react very negatively to commentators speculating or pontificating about Scotland being independent while disregarding all but totally the not so very small matter of Scotland becoming independent. The headline over Gerry Hassan’s column – “UK establishment’s contemplating life after indy, Scotland must do the same” – was always going to irk me. But the article is more relevant than the headline would suggest.
In one sense, restoring Scotland’s independence – for this is how we should rightly think of it – is a trivially simple matter. The people of Scotland need only make that choice, and it is done. None can legitimately gainsay that choice. Scotland’s right of self-determination is absolute, inalienable and not in question. It goes without saying that the process by which this choice is made must be impeccably democratic, and this introduces some procedural and practical complications. But otherwise, it is a straightforward choice.
How the process is made impeccably democratic is almost as obvious as the fact that it must be so. The criteria which must be satisfied derive from fundamental democratic principles as set down in the Charter of the United Nations and various international laws and conventions. We need only note at this juncture that these principles can’t be superseded by or subordinated to local laws – especially where these local laws are devised to or have the effect of denying or constraining the right of self-determination.
In this limited sense, becoming independent is a very simple matter. So it is difficult to comprehend why the SNP and leading figures in the independence movement are so neglectful of the process by which Scotland becomes once more an independent nation, preferring to talk endlessly about various ‘visions’ of Scotland AS an independent nation. Surely it makes sense that people should have a clear idea of this process and be assured of its democratic legitimacy. If there is a subject that the SNP and the Yes movement have largely failed to address it is this matter of the matter of becoming independent. Starting with the process by which the choice is made.
Gerry Hassan’s column in The National does not seek to correct this failure. But neither is it yet another piece painting appealing pictures of life in Scotland with our rightful constitutional status duly restored. Rather, it concerns the implications of the choice. Not the promise of what might be, but the reality of the wider impact of that simple choice. The implications not just for Scotland but for the remaining part of what was the UK and the world beyond these islands.
That those implications are so profound and significant is a measure of how important Scotland really is. It is essential that people understand this. Not least because so much of the propaganda emanating from the British state’s propaganda apparatus is designed to demean and disparage Scotland. The ‘Too wee! Too poor! Too stupid!’ message may not be stated in quite such bald terms, but it is insinuated by almost everything said by and done to Scotland by and on behalf of the British establishment.
Scotland’s importance in global terms is presented by Unionists and British Nationalists as a reason why decisions about how our clout and resources should be deployed must remain under the control of the British political elite. Remarkably, given developments over the last 30 years never mind the last 300, many people both in Scotland and furth of our borders continue to believe that the British political elite must be better qualified to make use of that clout and those resources than any government elected by the people of Scotland. Needless to say, I disagree.
I have previously described the challenge to Scotland’s distinct identity posed by the latest iteration of the ‘Greater England’ project in the form of a new and more aggressive British Nationalism as an existential battle.
In British Nationalist ideology the fight to preserve the Union is existential. We must understand that the fight to restore Scotland’s independence is also and equally existential. Because in the name of preserving their ‘precious’ Union the British ruling elites will happily destroy everything that we think of as Scotland.
The question is not whether restoring Scotland’s independence will destabilise (or add to the instability of) the existing order, but whether this is to be considered a good or a bad thing. Personally, I see it as a good thing. Because the existing order is rotten. So rotten that what emerges from the considerable but bloodless turmoil of breaking the old order must almost inevitably be better by whatever standard one cares to apply. But let us be under no illusions about the weight of responsibility that will fall on Scotland’s shoulders in relation to the shaping of the new order.
The message I take from Gerry Hassan’s column is that Scotland should prepare not merely to be an independent nation once again, but to be a leading player in global affairs. We should also be prepared to fight a British establishment that will do everything in its power to maintain jealous Britannia’s grip on Scotland. And realise that in this contest the British establishment will acknowledge no ethical, moral or legal constraint.
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