I started to write an article today, only to find that I’d already written it ─ more than two years ago. (Our nation! Our rules!) The piece I had in mind was prompted by something Richard Walker wrote in his National column today. I was thinking in terms of starting my article with something about how politics is the management of power relationships and how asserted political authority over the people that does not derive from the people will evaporate when challenged by the people. Governments have no more rightful authority over the people than the people are prepared to recognise. If the people decline to recognise political authority on the grounds the entity exercising that authority has no mandate from the people, then that political authority evaporates. It ceases to exist.
This idea of politicians only having the power we grant them and/or the power that we accede to when it is asserted is captured in the hashtag #DefianceNotCompliance. If Scotland’s independence is to be restored this can only happen if we defy the asserted authority of rather than comply with the rules by which the authority is asserted. Perhaps surprisingly, Richard Walker comes very close to expressing the spirit of that hashtag.
Why should our economic system be dictated by a neighbouring country with different needs and priorities and a political culture which most Scots don’t share?
We do, however, have the chance to change that situation by first challenging Westminster’s power to block our democratically expressed will and then by voting for independence. By telling either Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak that we do not recognise their power to stop us having our say.We must tell the next PM that we do not recognise their power to stop us having a say on our future
I knew I had previously touched on the point about politics being the management of power relationships so I thought I’d check to see what I said about the matter. That’s when I found the article referred to above. It’s quite long. But I urge you to take a look. I suspect other bloggers will understand that I am not exhibiting an unbecoming lack of modesty when I acknowledge the fact that I occasionally read stuff that I wrote a while ago and like what the author has to say. I tend to be my own most severe critic. I try to see my writing from the reader’s perspective. This is made easier when the aging process starts wearing away your memory. If you have no more than a vague recollection of an article you wrote years, months or sometimes only days ago, then returning to it is like reading it for the first time ─ as a reader would. Mostly, I see the errors of spelling or grammar or structure etc. that I failed to spot at the time of writing. But very occasionally I actually enjoy reading what I wrote. Occasionally, I feel that I’ve said something important and done so quite effectively. The piece I mentioned earlier is like that.
I don’t suppose there’s any point in writing the same article again. Although the earlier one does need to be brought up to date. It was written with the 2021 Holyrood election in mind. That is now past, of course. But the central point of the piece is still very relevant. A few excerpts will show what I mean. First, recognising the threat.
It was known as long ago as 2007 that the British were coming to burn down our Parliament and enfold all of Scotland once and for all into the chill embrace of Greater England. It is absolutely no surprise to discover that the British state has found in Boris Johnson a British Prime Minister who will facilitate the re-annexation of Scotland. It comes as no shock at all to witness the British government taking an ever-harder line in its dealings with Scotland. It was only to be expected that the advantage afforded British Nationalists by the Union would be exploited with increasingly explicit rigour. That’s just politics!
Then looking to what was then the future.
We have to move on. Because, like it or not and regardless of whatever else may be going on in the world, we are caught in a time-frame from which we cannot escape. Everything that has happened since 2007 has been building up – at an accelerating pace – to developments that will unfold over the coming six months or so. Brexit at the end of this year is destined to be a defining moment in Scotland’s history every bit as much as the SNP landslide of 2011. At that point, the true nature and purpose of the Union will be made abundantly clear to all. The advantage afforded England-as-Britain will manifest as naked domination rather than the disrespect, disregard and clumsily subtle delegitimisation we’ve seen up to now. Unless we do something about it. And do it now!
What we do about it is precisely what Richard Walker hints at. We simply cease to accept the political authority being asserted by the British state. That authority does not derive from the people of Scotland. It derives from a doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty that is alien to Scotland. It is authority without the substance of a mandate. It is illegitimate authority. It only exists because we don’t challenge it. So, we need to challenge it. As Canon Kenyon Wright put it,
What if that other voice we all know so well responds by saying, ‘We say no, and we are the state’? Well, we say yes ─ and we are the people.Canon Kenyon Wright (Scottish Constitutional Convention, 1989)
But defiant words alone are not enough. They need to be backed by defiant action. It is pathetically pointless to constantly complain that the British state has no right to do this or that if you then do nothing to prevent or counter whatever it is you’re objecting to. Whether or not they have the right to do it the British will do whatever they want so long as we accept the authority that they assert. As soon as we reject that authority, it ceases to exist, because it lacks the substance only afforded by the people’s imprimatur. Rejecting that authority with words while accepting it in deed merely makes us appear weak. To date, the present Scottish Government has been great with the soundbites of defiance ─ see any of the three speeches Ian Blackford gives whenever Scotland faces some new iniquity imposed by the British state, the one objecting to the proposal; the one opposing in debate; and the one protesting the implementation. Nothing is ever done to actually prevent the iniquity being imposed.
It is all very well to repeat endlessly that the Scottish Government has a mandate for holding an independence referendum. But unless you actually act to honour the will of the people; unless you act to defy the asserted authority of the British state by facilitating the exercise by the people of Scotland of our right of self-determination, that asserted authority may be illegitimate but it is as effective as you allow it to be. And before anybody starts claiming that the Scottish Government is doing precisely as I insist it should with the proposed 2023 referendum, it most certainly is not! The proposed referendum is not a formal exercise of our right of self-determination. It is a glorified opinion poll. It is not what we voted for. It has been downgraded by Nicola Sturgeon to a mere “consultative and non-self-executing” poll because this allows her to look as if she is defying the authority of the British state while still complying with its prohibition against a proper constitutional referendum. There is no bold defiance in the proposal. There is only meek compliance.
There is no mystery about the action that must be taken in order to actually be defiant rather than merely talking defiantly. The Scottish Parliament, at the behest of the Scottish Government, must assert its competence in all matters relating to Scotland’s constitutional settlement. Scotland’s principal democratic institutions must assert the rightful authority vested in them by the people of Scotland in defiance of the British state’s illegitimate political authority.
I sincerely hope this is the kind of thing Richard Walker means when he speaks of “challenging Westminster’s power to block our democratically expressed will”. I would regard that as a hopeful sign such as I have been unable to find for the past several years. I may be reading too much into his words. But I choose to take them as indicating a shift in thinking of mainstream pro-independence commentators towards a realisation that there is no ‘legal’ route to independence Restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status demands action. It demands bold action. Action that steps outside the bounds of local British law while remaining strictly within the bounds of international law and democratic principles. Defiance! Not compliance!
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