That ‘special’ sovereignty

If Neale Hanvey thinks that demanding a Section 30 order is a way to “assert Scotland’s right to determine its own future” then I can only say that he urgently needs to revise his thinking. He needs to have a serious talk with somebody about sovereignty and what it means. How the hell is asking permission to do something in any way similar to asserting your right to do that thing? Asserting is telling, not asking!

I’m sure Neale Hanvey would agree with me that the people of Scotland are sovereign. So would Nicola Sturgeon. So would Alex Salmond. So would just about everybody who favours the restoration of Scotland’ independence. For me and I’m sure most other independence campaigners, the assertion that the people of Scotland are sovereign is complete in itself. There is no ‘but’ or ‘if’ at the end of that statement. No ‘excepting only’. No ‘on condition that’. The people of Scotland are sovereign! That’s it!

The problem is that for far too many people in the Yes movement, that statement is conditional. It is qualified. It is not complete until they add that the sovereignty they have in mind is a special kind of sovereignty. A sovereignty that somehow manages to be in the gift of an external power. A sovereignty that needs to be validated by this external power. A very British notion of sovereignty which regards it as a boon to be dispensed at the pleasure of the British ruling elite.

The worst of the problem is that the category of people who think of sovereignty as a conditional thing includes pretty much all Scottish politicians. It may be difficult to tell which of them think of the sovereignty of Scotland’s people in this conditional way because, being politicians, they are adept at putting on the face they suppose the voters want to see. They will talk the talk of Scottish sovereignty while walking the walk of that ‘special’ British idea of sovereignty. One sure way to spot them is if they mention Section 30 of the Scotland Act in any way other than to repudiate it.

If you are asking for validation of Scotland’s right of self-determination – whether by way of a Ten-Minute Rule Bill or by way of a pleading letter on the First Minister’s stationery – you are compromising the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. You are denying that the people of Scotland are sovereign no matter what rhetoric you deploy to deceive the electorate. To seek a Section 30 order is to validate the sovereignty of Westminster. A request for a Section 30 order is an acknowledgement that the British parliament is superior to the people of Scotland in all things. It is to offer the sovereignty of Scotland’s people in a trade for empty promises of British cooperation in a process that might end their ‘precious’ Union.

Learn this, Mr Haney! The British will never honestly and honourably participate in any process that might put the Union in jeopardy.

Which is not to say that they won’t grant your ‘demand’ for permission to exercise the right of self-determination that is inextricably bound up with the sovereignty of the Scottish people. They might well grant a Section 30 order. Why would they not grant a request that acknowledges the sovereignty of their parliament over the people of Scotland and thus denies the sovereignty of the people of Scotland because the two principles of parliamentary and popular sovereignty are totally incompatible and irreconcilable? But the granting of a Section 30 order would be the ultimate confirmation that the restoration of Scotland’s independence cannot ensue from a referendum held under the terms of a Section 30 order. The British will ONLY grant a Section 30 order if they are absolutely persuaded that doing so does not put their ‘precious’ Union at risk.

Those of us who who append no ‘but’ to the statement that the people of Scotland are sovereign need no such confirmation. We already know what the granting of a Section 30 order portends. We need no further proof. Inescapable logic tells us all we need to know. The Union is of existential importance to the British state, just as the restoration of independence is an existential matter for Scotland. There is absolutely no benefit to Scotland’s cause from obtaining a Section 30 order.

There is great harm in seeking a Section 30 order – as has been explained. There is nothing to be gained by obtaining a Section 30 order. There is much to be lost by seeking one. The notion that we have to be seen to have jumped through all the hoops the British state might devise in order to qualify to exercise our right of self-determination is itself an admission that we do not have the right of self-determination until and unless the British say we do. The argument that there’s no harm in asking because the anticipated refusal confirms something that is already known is nonsensical.

If Neale Hanvey wants to demonstrate that he and Alba Party adhere to the principle of unconditional popular sovereignty, then he must withdraw his Ten-Minute Rule Bill on the grounds that a Section 30 order is both redundant and objectionable. Likewise, Nicola Sturgeon must repudiate her commitment to the Section 30 process in order that the SNP can become once again the ‘party of independence’.

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47 thoughts on “That ‘special’ sovereignty

  1. Post I made recently elsewhere … Sovereignty?

    To write the “Declaration of a Sovereign Scot” I had to think through some complex issues, but it had to start with that title and a document that could be signed by any individual Sovereign Scot who chose to do so, because unless and until it was recognised, both domestically and internationally, that there was evidence that the people were sovereign, and declared themselves to be so, little else would be achieved.

    My thinking – unless and until WE the People physically declared our Sovereignty and added our signatures as individuals to such a document we lacked the physical evidence that we would need.

    Part of my thinking: To be recognised and perform as either an MP or an MSP, an oath of allegiance has to be given. It is not given to the Sovereign people, that in my thinking was what had to change, and I wrote this as a paragraph in the Declaration:

    “I do not consent to the terms of, nor the continuation of, the Scotland Act 1998, and all subsequent relevant Acts of like nature and purpose, and demand that any Oath of Allegiance to be sought from, and given by, a potential Member of the Scottish Parliament recognises the Sovereignty of the Scottish People in the following terms: “By this oath, I acknowledge that IF elected as a Member of the Scottish Parliament, it will be as a result of votes cast by Sovereign Scots, and I do solemnly swear and affirm that my allegiance is, and will remain, to the Sovereign people of Scotland.”

    It establishes the relationship between the Sovereign people and those they choose to elect, but is wholly conditional in advance of them being elected, it retains that conditionality and it serves as an acknowledgment by any MSP of the superiority of Sovereign Scots as they serve within the Scottish Parliament.

    It establishes where power emanates from and continues to remain namely in the hands of the people who are sovereign. It asks, before any appointment as an MSP, for an acknowlegement of where their true allegiance lies, and if not to the sovereign people of Scotland, it will then be open to the sovereign people to decide whether they should be chosen to act in their name.

    Those comments address only part of my thinking, the Declaration also includes this equally important element as part of the wording used:

    “I recognise the sole democratic legitimacy of the Scottish Parliament, and assert its primacy and permanence to act singularly on behalf of the Sovereign Scots whose votes alone establish and maintain its existence.”

    The initiative is being established in Stages, Stage 1 has involved gaining individual signatures from all across Scotland and lodging the Declarations with the UN. Stage 1 will continue, and later Stages will appear this year.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Requesting a section 30 order? If that in any fashion might constitute the litmus test for credibility in securing Scotland’s Independence then ALBA will have invited abject failure on behalf of our Nation.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. If a majority of the Sovereign people of Scotland want to remain in the Union should that wish prevail, or should it be overridden by a minority who wish for independence? Devil’s advocate asking.


      1. The question makes perfect sense. ‘The idea’ may be your idea and my idea, but in the absence of a majority of Sovereign Scottish people having the same idea, an idea it will remain and no more.

        If the Sovereign will of a majority of the Scottish people is to remain in the Union, then by your argument that will should prevail..(‘The people are Sovereign, that’s it’).

        What is needed is a way of convincing more people that your idea (which is also my idea) is the right idea. At the moment, too many people don’t want to save Scotland’s democracy – they seem content to subjugate it to the Union, possibly because of how Holyrood has performed over the last few years, and the last few weeks in particular.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. My point is that Pete Wishart-style ‘gentle persuasion’ isn’t working and won’t work. What is needed is not soft, hesitant, cautious herding of people towards independence but leading people to a place they won’t go until they are led there. The day the SNP repudiates Section 30, support for Yes jumps five points in the polls. The day the Scottish Parliament asserts its competence in matters relation to the constitution, another five points. The day the Scottish Government proposes to dissolve the Union subject to a confirmatory referendum, another five points. Short campaign. Referendum entirely made and managed under the auspices of the Scottish Parliament that serves as the exercise of our right of self-determination ─ job done!

          An oversimplification, of course. But enough to give a flavour of what is meant by leading.


          1. How bizarre. You ‘lead’ ( by which you mean drive) the people to a place where they don’t want to be, and expect that to result in a 15% increase in favour of independence. It could just as well lead to a 15% decrease in support, and where would we be then when another ‘No’ is the result.

            I have no time at all for Wishart or his ideas.

            But neither do I think you can bully people into doing something they have not signed up to. We have to get people on board somehow and that will be an uphill struggle with the antics of the ‘politicians’ in Holyrood, who seem to be doing their best to put people off the idea of independence.


            1. I stopped reading at your first lie. Nowhere did I say anything about “a place where they don’t want to be”. If you can’t be honest could you at least fuck off.


            2. It’s pointless Ding Dong. The second you raise an issue over Peter’s Plan (praise be) he instantly reaches for his offensive pedantry response. If you continue to question Peter’s Plan (praise be), you will be the recipient of further offensive pedantry while having your intelligence questioned and being accused of saying things you haven’t …. all with Peter’s signature “robust” vocabulary. What you will never get is an acknowledgement your concerns are either valid or been addressed.


  4. Can anyone explain why the people of Scotland are sovereign? I frequently hear it said but I’ve never seen any actual basis or evidence for it – if anything, the contrary is the case. I fear it may be a myth.


      1. In strictly legal and international terms, UK citizens. I wish it were otherwise. But you have of course avoided my question. You’re not alone in that – it’s a question to which I’ve never had a remotely convincing answer which all goes to suggest that it is indeed nothing more than a myth

        The “people” of Scotland is useful inasmuch as the UN supports the right of “people” to self determination.


          1. To answer your first point, if as I suggest the concept of “sovereign Scots” is merely a myth and does not actually exist in reality, then the question of preclusion does not arise. I’ve read what Sara Salyers and Salvo have to say. It’s very attractive on the surface, but if you happen to do a bit of research of your own and manage to maintain an open mind, you’ll find that there is little evidence to support most of their contentions and, indeed, quite a lot to contradict them. I certainly find them most unconvincing.

            But again you’re dodging the question – can you explain why the people of Scotland have this unique sovereignty? Or is it just something you’re happy to accept without any evidence?


            1. Present your evidence. Put it in an article and I will publish it hear. I state with confidence that Sara Salyers and her colleagues at SSRG will be delighted to consider your contribution.

              Who said popular sovereignty was unique to Scotland? It is a well-established constitutional concept. You seem to know very little whereof you presume to speak.



              1. Sara and her colleagues have not been delighted so far. I have posted most of my contentions on Iain Lawson’s blog where they have been met with, shall we say, some disapproval or even hostility, but the points I raised there were seldom if ever properly answered. I really don’t have time for a full article, but if you want to put forward one of Salvo’s contentions I’ll try to explain why it’s incorrect (unless, of course, it’s one of the few that are correct).

                Popular sovereignty is indeed a well established concept. To a certain extent it applies to the UK – while parliament here is sovereign, its members are elected by the people at set intervals on the basis of popular sovereignty. Well, that’s the theory – in practice it’s far from the case. However, the phrase “sovereignty of the people” appears to be regarded in a different way and those who support it seem to be of the view that each and every Scot is personally sovereign, a concept which I find not only unlikely but which would also be unworkable. If it is no more than popular sovereignty then we’ve already got it in the universal franchise.

                What do you think “sovereignty of the people” means?


                1. If you can’t be bothered putting your case in writing you’ve a bloody cheek expecting me to do half the work for you.

                  If you imagine popular sovereignty can be “to some extent” then you clearly don’t understand the concept of sovereignty. So, you’re really just wasting my time here.

                  FFS! Each and every person on the planet is a sovereign individual. Democracy is the pooling individual sovereignty so as to create a functioning society. You simply have no grasp whatever of this topic.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. I could equally well say that you’ve got a bloody cheek expecting me to write an article for you to publish on your blog. Half the work? As you are apparently au fait with the works of Salvo and as you seemed to want me to provide some evidence for my contentions I didn’t think it would be too difficult for you to put forward one of their ideas on which I could then provide some evidence. Seems I was wrong.

                    Sovereignty means the possession of supreme authority. Every person on this planet is an individual with limited powers. Very few of them have any sovereignty as an individual. Popular sovereignty is getting enough people together to wield sufficient authority. As should be apparent from this answer I do not believe in self-ownership or libertarianism. We are all of us subject to forces which we cannot control but which control us.

                    However, I shan’t bother wasting your time any more as, frankly, it’s a waste of mine as well.


                    1. I didn’t ‘expect’ you to write an article. I offered you a platform on which to publish the evidence that forms the basis for your peculiar notions about popular sovereignty. You declined, using the excuse that you didn’t have time. Yet here we have three consecutive posts from you totalling around 700 words ─ or the low end of what would count as a medium-length blog post.

                      The rest is just you confirming that the concept of sovereignty remains a mystery to you. Here’s a clue! It does NOT equate to ‘power’. Sovereignty exists independently of power. In principle, it is possible to be sovereign yet have no power at all. Power is the exercise of sovereignty. One of the ways that power can be used is to deny another the full and proper exercise of their power.

                      Liked by 3 people

        1. Because we say so, because sovereignty is about recognising no authority above your own. Rather than go through the whole rigmorole we’ve been through umpteen times with you and your pals, why not, just for change you explain to us how a parliament that wasn’t sovereign before the union bestowed this ‘ mythical ‘ sovereignty on the union Parliament, itself a devolved parliament, without either statute, mention in the Bill of Rights of even in the Articles agreeing the Treaty of Union.


          1. But we do recognise an authority above our own, and have done so for the last 316 years. Even before that there as no such thing in Scotland, or indeed anywhere else in Europe, as “sovereignty of the people” – the whole concept of power to the people was barely known and certainly not practised. Such power as there was rested with the monarch and the Establishment which also of course ran the parliament.


            1. So you can’t explain how a parliament that wasn’t sovereign, which dared not claim sovereignty in front of William of Orange, bestowed sovereignty on a devolved legislature created by the Treaty of Union.
              Both principals of Parliamentary sovereignty and of the people have a common root, the need to curb despotism. One developed in English common law, and one in Scots, both predate the union and neither have potency outside their respective legal jurisdiction with one exception, the union parliament which is subject to both.
              If there were ever a need to curb despostism, it’s now, I pity the English.


              1. I suggest that you have a look at England’s Bill of Rights. It limited the powers of the monarch, established a constitutional requirement for the Crown to seek the consent of the people as represented in Parliament, and set out a number of basic civil rights. That was 19 years before the union. In fact the English parliament had asserted its rights vis-a-vis the crown on a number of occasions – ever heard of Oliver Cromwell?

                Have you any evidence at all as to the people exerising sovereignty in Scotland prior to the Union? As far as I can see, the only thing that came near it was the Claim of Right, passed shortly after England’s Bill of Rights, although of course that reflected what the presbyterian Scottish Establishment wanted. Set against that the Act of Union, which was passed by the Scottish parliament clearly against the wishes of the people. So much for their sovereignty.


                1. I have viewed both the Bill of Rights and the Claim of Right, to claim that one differs from the other is farcical since the content is so similar in their list of grievances and abuses against laws and rights within their respective kingdoms down to and including the oaths required from the monarch, both explicity refer to the religious dogma of the day, indeed so similar they might have been written by the same hand. In neither document does the word sovereignty appear. Your clearly at a loss how to argue your position, again you use the clearly disingenuous point regarding the limitations of the voting franchise, were the English people asked?
                  I’m still waiting to read your explanation on how a parliament that never claimed to be sovereign managed to pass parliamentary sovereignty to a parliament created by a Treaty without referencing it in the said treaty, while supposedly being just one of the signatories, which they were not. Queen Anne in her capicity as Queen of Scots and Queen of England signed both the Scots and English copies of the Treaty, before the Acts of Union were ratified by the respective Parliaments.


                  1. We appear to be in some agreement. Yes, the two documents are very similar. The English one came first; it contained a lot of sensible stuff so it was not surprising that the Scots document contained much of the same. It also perhaps reflects the fact that the Scots convention of 1689 very much wanted union with England. It’s just a pity about the awful religious rants in the Claim of Right.

                    So what we had were two parliaments flexing their muscles and asserting their authority. Each agreed that future monarchs would have to obey the law and, to a large extent, do what parliament told them to do. Basically, in 1689 the powers asserted by the parliaments were very similar in England and Scotland. So I fail to understand your question as to “how a parliament that never claimed to be sovereign managed to pass parliamentary sovereignty to a parliament created by a Treaty without referencing it in the said treaty”. What parliament are you referring to? As I see it, both parliaments had claimed and exercised a considerable degree of sovereignty. As for the new nation of Great Britain, it would have its own sovereignty which continues to the present day.


                    1. Well since you won’t answer the first question maybe you’ll answer this one.
                      How does a parliament created by Treaty and therefore subject to the Articles of union contained within the Treaty, subject to the laws transferred under Treaty get to claim absolute sovereignty when Scots and English law, limits it’s jurisdiction and makes it absolutely clear that neither the crown or Parliament are above the law.
                      Neither the English or Scots Parliament claimed sovereignty.


        2. Sarah Salyers and Salvo have done background historical research to unearth Scotland’s ancient constitution showing that the Scottish people are sovreign. Which then conflicts with Westminster parliamentary Sovreignty


          1. Yes, I’ve looked pretty closely at Salvo’s work and their conclusions. Unfortunately I find it largely flawed. As far as I know they haven’t unearthed any ancient constitution (apart from anything else there were no written constitutions in those days) and I find their arguments as to the sovereignty of the Scottish people unconvincing. Don’t just take my (or their) word for it – do some research yourself – you may be surprised at what you do or don’t find. Oh, and if the Scottish parliament’s passing of the Act of Union in 1707 wasn’t an assertion of Scottish parliamentary sovereignty I don’t know what else you could call it.


    1. Boris was prevented from proroguing parliament by the Court of Session in Scotland. This was legally possible because the people are sovereign in Scotland and not subject to the Parliamentary Sovereignty of the UK


      1. Not so – I suggest you read the Court of Session judgment. Merely one quote – Lord Carloway specifically stated that the decision flowed from the common law (the traditional law as developed by judges’ decisions in individual cases) and not “any speciality of Scots constitutional law”. And in any event, the final decision was made by the Supreme Court. The decision had nothing whatever to dio with the supposed sovereignty of the Scottish people.


  5. I am a wee bit concerned about the use of the term The People of Scotland, this terminology is getting ingrained into us by media types and politicians. In my opinion you cannot come and park your arse in Scotland and magically become a soveriegn Scot no matter how long you have been here.
    The referendum in 2014 showed us that conclusively the vast majority of people who had moved to Scotland for economic advantage voted against us to continue their advantage over the indigenous people we therefore have to protect ourselves.
    I am fully aware the every country benefits from non native people but its time to to put ourselves first.
    The Scottish people are Soveriegn. Not the people of Scotland.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Postcolonial theory is quite explicit on the importance of ethnicity in any independence movement:

        “Being oppressed as a group, the colonized must necessarily adopt a national and ethnic form of liberation from which he (the colonizer) cannot but be excluded” (Albert Memmi).

        In regard to ‘civic nationalism’, such ideals remain premature in a colonial society where the first priority is for the native population to reclaim their sovereignty.


          1. The term “citizen” is neutral in terms of holding power. But the way you used it seems to imply that being a British citizen is somehow different from being a British subject. Subject, that is, to the superior power of the Sovereign via Parliament. So perhaps it is your non-sequitur that needs amplification.

            Liked by 1 person

  6. daveytee19 asks ” Have you any evidence at all as to the people exerising sovereignty in Scotland prior to the Union?”

    May I suggest you cannot ignore the Declaration of Arbroath, or would you? May I use these comments from Lord Sumption: (Source and requisite attribution below.)

    “The identity of the Scottish state became a major issue concerning England, Scotland and France during the Hundred Years’ War. Much of the diplomatic effort of Scottish governments throughout the Anglo–Scottish wars was directed to obtaining international recognition of their existence as an autonomous state with international rights.

    They naturally denied the English claims to the homage of their kings. But, more fundamentally, they refused to accept that the identity of Scotland as a state equal in law to England could depend on whatever personal arrangements their king might make with the king of England.

    The Declaration of Arbroath was one of the most celebrated patriotic statements of the late Middle Ages. It was addressed not to the English but to the papacy. It was a direct response to the refusal of two successive popes, Clement V and John XXII, to recognise Robert Bruce as king of Scotland.

    The lords who subscribed it asserted that if any king of Scotland were to accept the English claims, he was likely to be replaced by another who would not.

    The Declaration of Arbroath is not couched as a statement of law. But it is an unmistakable assertion, on the part of the thirty-nine Scottish noblemen who put their seals to it, of a collective Scottish national existence, independent of the identity or status of its king, which a supranational body like the papacy ought to recognise.”

    Attribution: This is a publication of The Stair Society. This publication is licensed by Jonathan Sumption and The Stair Society under Creative Commons license CC-BY-NC-ND and may be freely shared for non-commercial purposes so long as the creators are credited.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Declaration of Arbroath appears to be the document which many say affirms the sovereignty of the Scottish people. It was a letter written by the Chancellor of Scotland to the Pope in the hope that he would recognise Robert as king which he is “by divine providence, his right of succession according to or laws and customs which we shall maintain to the death, and the due consent and assent of us all have made our prince and king”. It goes on to say that if Robert was to “agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy”. It also contained a lot of extremely doubtful history and was not intended to be a constitutional document, rather a letter to impress the pope, and in that it worked to some extent.

      But I really don’t think that a document signed 700 years ago by nearly 50 earls and barons can properly be construed as declaring that the Scottish people as a whole were sovereign, particularly as they clearly weren’t. The common people in those days were of minimal importance and played no real part in the governance of the state and the earls and barons would not for a moment have considered that the “us” included the common people. It didn’t even include all the earls and barons. Moreover, getting rid of kings was not uncommon – the English were particularly adept at it and I don’t think that their efforts in that regard could possibly be regarded as people power. Even by 1707, less than 1% of the Scottish population had the vote and the country was ruled by the Upper echelons of society, the Establishment (some might suggest that things don’t seem to have changed much since then).

      But one of the biggest arguments against the concept of the sovereignty of the Scottish people is that it was never exercised. I’m not even sure that it was ever seriously mentioned back in those pre-union days. Even as late as the 16th and 17th centuries the Stuart kings were asserting that their authority derived solely from God and that it was to him and him alone that they were answerable. And of course there was the Act of Union, the passing of which completely ignored the will of the Scottish people.


      1. We do not need to dwell on differing perspectives of history in order to clarify the reality of the situation today. All we require ‘is a reasoned analysis of colonial society’. What we find from this is that a colonized people are not a sovereign people, and; that only once an oppressed people become independent (i.e. liberated) do they reclaim their sovereignty.


  7. Again your question the validity of Scotland’s claim to popular sovereignty using the rather hypocritical notion that a limited voting franchise somehow makes the Claim spurious. How many seals and signatures are there on the Magna Carta from blacksmiths and fisherfolk, did the commoners get a vote on the Bill of rights, how often have the people of England been asked whether they want the Parliament of England to be sovereign or not. Where the Magna Carta required consent by way of a Royal proclamation, the Declaration of Arbroath didn’t, it was an act that in any other state would have been treated as treason, nor was it the first, Arbroath was rehash of the bIshops Declaration of 1310, neither received or required royal approval nor were they were they ever withdrawn.
    We have no idea how Scotland’s constitution would developed if the union hadn’t taken place, what we do know is that Scotland’s Constitution was ignored though not forgotten.
    The union parliament was meant to use and develop Scotland’s Constitution, instead they buried it, that will in the end be the union’s downfall.

    Liked by 4 people

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