Over the past few days, I have been the target of a stream of abuse on Twitter. Some of this abuse is of the ‘passive-aggressive’ variety. Much of it is just aggressive. Some I can’t comment on as it’s from people who have blocked me. People such as Gareth Wardell (@Grouse_Beater), who blocked me some time ago because he was unable to address my criticisms of Alba Party. So he’s effectively talking about me behind my back because he can’t refute the points I’ve made about how Alba sought to deceive voters in the 2021 election campaign.
So far, so bog standard for Twitter. If I am at all troubled by such playground antics it is only because it is an irksome diversion from the matter I was trying to discuss. Perhaps the most important and urgent matter Scotland’s independence movement needs to deal with – although you’d never guess it from the ‘contributions’ illustrated above. I refer to the issue of how Scotland’s independence might be restored. Remarkable as it may seem, the process by which we dissolve the Union and reinstate Scotland’s rightful constitutional status has not yet been defined. Prior to the 2014 referendum, there was a rather vague – and as it turns out, foolishly hopeful – idea that following a Yes vote we would move straight to negotiating the post-independence settlement, transitional arrangement etc with the rUK government. This sufficed ten years ago. It is far from adequate now. The entire situation has changed.
Not the least of the changes that have taken place over the decade since the start of the first referendum campaign is that we have learned a great deal about the attitude of the British state which will inform its reaction to a Yes vote. Or should I say that among the myriad lessons available to be learned from the first referendum is the fact that we can anticipate only fierce, desperate resistance from a British ruling elite which rightly regards this as an existential battle? This has very significant implications for the process that would be triggered by a Yes vote. Despite this, Nicola Sturgeon proceeds as if nothing has changed. And as if not a single lesson has been learned. She proceeds as if we need only do a ‘Groundhog Day’ rerun of the 2014 referendum and accompanying Yes campaign with the odd tweak here and there in the hope of achieving a better outcome. This is little short of madness, in my view. A view which seems to be shared by an increasing number of people. Although this is no more than an impression I get from social media, BTL comments and the like.
In an effort to promote debate on the matter of process, I have made a few purposefully provocative contributions. Most significant – and probably also most provocative among these – is the statement that the process by which Scotland’s independence is restored must at some early stage involve the Scottish Parliament asserting its primacy. By which I mean that the Scottish Parliament declares itself the one true parliament of Scotland on the basis of the democratic legitimacy it derives by being elected by the sovereign people of Scotland. The Scottish Parliament must take the powers that rightfully rest with the sole democratically legitimate parliament in Scotland but which have been usurped by the parliament of England-as-Britain.
After long and careful consideration, I have reached the conclusion that there is no process that can be effective without the Scottish Parliament having status and authority which it can only have by assuming that status and authority – in much the same way as Westminster only has authority in Scotland because it asserts that authority and is not adequately challenged. I throw this conclusion out to those involved in the fight to restore independence for the purpose of having it tested in debate. Unfortunately, some people simply don’t understand how debate works.
This is tiresome stuff. I never publish anything that I am not prepared to defend. Defending my publicly expressed views is an essential part of the process of developing those views. But this requires that the views are challenged in a rational and reasoned manner. The above response is just inane clutter that hinders and detracts from whatever rational and reasoned debate might arise.
Others fail to comprehend the view I have published.
Some folk fail to comprehend because they are just plain stupid. Others fail to comprehend because they have read my statement in a prejudiced way and/or respond to it without due thought. The above was written by someone who I have no reason to suppose fits into the first category. But the second category looks to be entirely appropriate. For a start, to regard the Scottish Parliament as no more than “the Scottish executive arm of Westminster” is to adopt and affirm the Unionist perspective. That is the derogatory and demeaning assessment of the Scottish Parliament as it is perceived by those whose imperative is the preservation of the Union It is a response drawn from a colonised mind.
But the real failure of comprehension is the perplexing notion that asserting the primacy of the Scottish Parliament doesn’t alter its status in any way. Ms Salyers seems to suppose that to whatever extent her insulting opinion of the Scottish Parliament might be accurate, it somehow remains “the Scottish executive arm of Westminster” even after it becomes – by the only means possible – a fully-fledged national parliament If this view is correct then one wonders why Ms Salyers is supposedly seeking the restoration of Scotland’s independence when according to what she says above it would leave the Scottish Parliament subordinate to Westminster.
This one’s a bit strange. Ms Salyers here states that she has never seen the “plan” that I have proposed – albeit without ever claiming it was a fully-formed “plan” at all. Yet this is the very thing she is rejecting out of hand. How can she be so critical/dismissive of something she now says she knows nothing about? Besides which, the thing she refers to as my “plan” is not hard to find or an onerous read. It is summarised in the #ManifestoForIndependence that I published prior to the 2021 election in the vain hope that the Yes movement would unite in forcing the SNP to adopt it.
But Ms Salyers gets one thing right. This is tantamount to a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI). The image at the top of this page illustrates the general reaction to any mention of UDI. While I never reacted in quite such an extreme way, my views on UDI have changed. They have developed through such reasoned and rational debate as I have been able to find among the clutter of inanities mentioned earlier. I used to shy away from the idea of UDI. But then I realised that I was only wary of it because of the way I’d been ‘conditioned’ to regard it. I was dubious about it as having potential for Scotland’s cause because of all the negative associations and connotations that had been hung on the term UDI by British propaganda – Rhodesia, racism, etc. But when you strip away all the propaganda crap what is left is not much more than a statement of the obvious.
Assuming we all know what is meant by independence, there obviously has to be a declaration otherwise how would anybody know that independence has happened? The declaration simply formalises and proclaims the fact. And all such declarations are unilateral. If you think about it, they must be. Who other than the nation declaring its independence has the authority to declare it independent?
So, yes! I am talking about UDI. Just not as this is generally perceived. I’m talking about Scottish UDI. Not Rhodesian UDI. They have only as much in common as we choose. UDI is not a tightly defined thing. It is what it is made. We make it as we want. We develop and implement a form of UDI that works for us. That is the core of my “plan”, as Sara Salyers would call it.
As I said, it was my hope that this suggestion would work as an incentive for an open-minded discussion of the process by which we restore Scotland’s independence. To say that this has not been entirely successful would be an understatement. To call it an understatement would be an even greater understatement – as the few sample comments illustrated above serve to testify.
Not that there isn’t discussion going on. The problem is that there are numerous discussions all taking place within various organisations and groups each of which is to a greater or lesser extent closed to input from outwith its own confines. Lots of discussions going on in lots of bubbles with no cross-pollination and, more importantly, very little critical scrutiny. and no reasoned response to whatever critical scrutiny there is. Just as with Alba and the SNP, even the mildest and most constructive criticism is regarded as an ‘attack’ and repulsed accordingly without any consideration of the content of the criticism.
So it is that when this or that group or organisation or party or individual claims to have a ‘cunning plan’ for restoring independence and somebody points to a flaw in that plan instead of examining what is identified as a flaw and modifying the plan as appropriate, the person pointing to the flaw is treated as ‘the enemy’ who must be destroyed. It appears to matter not at all whether the flaw is real and threatens the cunning plan, the real problem is the person speaking about the flaw.
So it is that when I, in the interest of promoting debate, state that all of these cunning plans at some stage must require Scottish UDI, I become the target of puerile abuse and condescending vacuousness – which is a great deal worse than the abuse.
Consider this. Ms Salyers claims that within her wee bubble – grandly named the Scottish Sovereignty Research Group (SSRG) – they have developed no fewer than six routes to independence. A member of her fan club states that “SSRG has the game changer [sic] available”. One would think that if I’ve got it wrong about the absolute necessity of the Scottish Parliament asserting its primacy then the easiest way to demonstrate this would be to describe the process by which independence is restored without the Scottish Parliament having competencies which it can only have by taking them. But nobody does this. We have to wonder why.
Personally, I’d be delighted if somebody has discovered or devised a process which avoids the necessity of Scottish UDI. I’m well aware of the difficulties which are implied by the Scottish Parliament asserting its primacy. But I am grown-up enough to recognise that there will be difficulties whatever process is followed. The purpose of debate, as I see it, is to identify the potential problems and find possible solutions. Anybody who imagines they’ve got the magic bullet that will get the job done is a fool. The refusal to engage in rational debate and angry intolerance of critical scrutiny is a recipe for error and defeat.
To give an idea of what rational debate and constructive criticism look like I shall finish by reproducing my response to a regular commenter on this blog who also has what I cheekily call a ‘cunning plan’ but who is prepared to have that plan examined and dismantled and criticised. Her name is Lorna and her comments on my articles are always worth looking at. But it is not here part of the exchange I republish here. Because what I want to demonstrate is how critical scrutiny works within the context of a rational debate. I tear into Lorna’s ‘cunning plan’ knowing that she will not take this as an attack. Knowing that she will take my criticisms and give them due consideration. Knowing that she will if she deems it appropriate, modify her proposal in the light of such criticism as she might find justified.
The British state will just buy all the “absolute best constitutional lawyers in the country”. Mostly, those lawyers will be focused on dragging proceedings out for as long as possible and then more so as to maximise their earnings. Could be anything between 5 and 50 years. And no guarantee that England wouldn’t end up with the “lion’s share” anyway. Let’s bear in mind, too, that the clock doesn’t start running on this timeframe until those proceedings commence. It’s anybody’s guess how long it will be before that happens given that there has been no movement at all to date.
Whatever way you look at it, taking the constitutional issue out of the realm of democratic politics and handing it to lawyers rules out any possibility of independence in my lifetime. And quite possibly in the lifetime of my children. Of course, the British state would not be idle during this period. It would continue to work towards locking Scotland into a unitary British state. So those lawyers would be fighting on shifting ground, further increasing the time required for the proceedings. There is always the chance that the British politicians will succeed while Scotland’s politicians have been withdrawn from the fight. In which case, the legal proceedings become redundant.
This cunning plan might stand a chance of working if it was only the (Scottish?) courts that could amend the terms of the treaty. But as we are – or should be – aware, the British state has assumed the power to alter the term of the Union at will. Effectively, you are suggesting we negotiate changes to the treaty with a party that can change the treaty unilaterally while we can only change it with the negotiated agreement of the party that can make changes absent our agreement and over our objections. Which, when you think about it, pretty much describes the situation we’re in now. The main (only?) difference being that as things stand we have political options. Options we’d forfeit if the issue was abandoned to the devices of lawyers and the whim of the courts.
There is no route to the restoration of Scotland’s independence through the razor-wire entanglements of the legal and constitutional framework devised by the British state – whose imperative is the preservation of the Union. Even if there was, the British would simply close it before we could get through. Or given their ability to waive the rules for themselves, after we’d passed through but with retrospective effect.
Sturgeon-style lawyerliness is no solution to Scotland’s predicament. This is a matter for democratic politics. The role of the lawyers will be to tidy up after the people have done what is necessary. The British state has usurped Scotland’s agency. We have to take it back. The British state has the power over Scotland that it has because it took that power. We will only regain it by taking it with a similar disregard for the legal niceties.
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6 thoughts on “Knowing how?”
“… This sufficed ten years ago. It is far from adequate now. The entire situation has changed… ”
I cannot agree, however, with the statement that the law has no part to play. Politics always takes second place to the law, Peter. I’m not saying that politics should not be the primary means of achieving independence, because I rather think it has to be, but it is the law that underwrites the authority to act on the political will and decision. Furthermore the Treaty cannot be dissolved unilaterally or without recourse to international law because there are two original partners to it and England as the UK would make the very best of that, and because it remains an international treaty, as well as the foundational authority document for the existence of the UK. Even if we pull out of the Union, the Treaty remains to be negotiated, and we had better be on our tippy toes at that point, as the late Professor David Walker warned.
The fact that eminent Scots lawyers of the Unionist persuasion have been turning themselves inside out in various attempts to have it renegotiated as a domestic Act tell us this very clearly. If renegotiated into a domestic Act, bang goes the Treaty because the Unionists egged on by Westminster and the British State will certainly take control of it. They know they cannot simply ride roughshod over it precisely because it is rooted in international law. Yes, we all know that the Tories would happily tear up any treaty that gets in the way of rampant English Nationalism, as they are threatening to do with both the NI Protcol and the Good Friday Agreement, and boy, wouldn’t Sinn Fein just love them to try!
We know that the SNP has more or less ruled out any co-operation between them and the other independence factions – if you can still call the SNP an independence faction, of course, and that’s up for debate. Remaining in power and canonisation of Nicola seems to be the order of the day. We also know that we need all those SNP rank and file members, as well as the wider independence movement, to achieve independence – oh, and also women, which is routinely forgotten by so many of the male contingent. I very much agree with you that UDI – non Rhodesia-style – is very pertinent to the debate. I also agree with Sara that our constitutional tools should also be brought into play and that we should e using everything – literally everything – at our disposal to achieve our ends. A pre independence referendum – totally unnecessary and rather pointless – is not one of those constitutional tools because England as the UK will never agree either with holding it or with any chance of a positive result. In other words, it would be unwinnable now, deliberately so, ten years on from 2014, which was not the case in that year. It is this obsession with a pre independence referendum that is chaining us to the rock of the UK.
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Small correction, Lorna. I don’t think I said the law has no part to play. Only that the law as it stands serves to protect the Union and so cannot be expected to serve the cause of ending the Union. This is constitutional politics and constitutional law. In that context and in Scotland’s situation the process by which independence is restored cannot be triggered within the law. It is one of those very rare sets of circumstances where the law must be broken in order that it may be remade. It is necessary to step outside the legal and constitutional framework which protects the Union and actively prevents constitutional reform in order to bring about the desired reform.
Obviously, this is a dangerous concept. Which is why it can only be approved if the stepping outside of the law is subject to such constraints are needed to ensure it is done democratically and for a very particular purpose. Equally obviously, there is no place for the law at this stage. This is where the politicians are required to be bold and tenacious. Think of it as a form of civil disobedience on a grand scale.
The lawyers come along afterwards and formalise the constitutional change that has been triggered by the Scottish Parliament asserting its rightful status. (In this context, ‘rightful’ trumps’ lawful.)
It is worth stating that this is very much a one-off. It will never happen again in Scotland. Because we will have a written constitution which includes provisions for amending the constitution. Unlike in the UK, there will be a process for adopting amendments. There will be no need to step outside the law in order to find what is rightful because the law will encompass all that is rightful.
Take it on the chin Peter everyone knows that you support independence through and through, anyway I’m glad you’ve come over to the thought of UDI, returning to an independent nation is for Scots and Holyrood to decide Westminster has absolutely no say in it. Scots have been brainwashed to believe that somehow Westminster must have a say in it
Sadly we have an FM who has no interest in Scottish independence whatsoever, Sturgeon is now the longest serving FM and we haven’t moved one inch closer to dissolving the union.
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And if 50% of Scots don’t want Independence but want to remain in the Union, what then for UDI?
Do I need to explain to you how a referendum works?
There is a precedent for UDI. The Irish parliament, Dáil Éireann met for the first time in January 2919 and as the first order of business declared independence. The 1918 general election returned a landslide for Sinn Féin and it was based on this democratic voice of the Irish people that the resulting legislature declared what is now referred to as UDI. On the same day as the Dáil voted for independence the War of Independence started at Solihedbeg in Tipperary and continued until the two governments agreed a Truce in July 1921. The behavior of the colonial regime during the War disgraced the name of England before the world and forced them to agree a truce. This led to The Treaty of 6 December 1921 and imperfect as the result was, once we were shot of them we could dismantle the Treaty unilaterally. Getting rid of them is the first requirement.
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