Imagine I had the power to decree that your vote only counts if I agree with it. Imagine I had the power to stipulate all that your democratic choices are always conditional on my approval. Imagine I told you this stipulation would be enshrined in the constitution. Would you,
- Laugh in my face
- Spit in my face
- Punch me in the face
While the last of these would surely be considered excessive, and the second socially unacceptable, none of these adverse reactions would be deemed irrational. Generally speaking, it would be considered quite natural that you should forcefully reject such an anti-democratic proposal.
And yet this is precisely the situation that British Nationalists insist we accept. As a voter in Scotland, you are expected to meekly accept that your vote only counts on those occasions when it coincides with the vote of your counterpart in England. We are told we must accept, without demur, a constitutional arrangement whereby one voter in England can effectively cancel every vote cast by a citizen of Scotland.
Let’s say there are 4,000,000 voters in Scotland. Suppose all of them vote in a binary poll for ‘White’. In England, the corresponding 4,000,000 voters also vote ‘White’. So far, so good. But the 4,000,001st voter in England votes ‘Black’. Instantly, the votes of every single one of Scotland’s citizens are totally discounted. They are rendered meaningless.
Some will respond that this is just the way democracy works. The majority wins. But it is not democracy when the voters in one country can be outvoted by the voters in another.
The 2016 EU referendum was a particularly egregious example of this happening in the real world rather than in the realm of the hypothetical. It was far from the first instance. As far as UK Governments are concerned, Scotland only rarely gets what it votes for. But, because it was as binary as our hypothetical illustration, the EU referendum brought this grotesque constitutional anomaly into stark relief.
This anomaly is very much enshrined in the British constitution. It is often pointed out that the UK doesn’t have a written constitution. It would be more correct to say that the UK lacks a formal, coherent constitution. The constitution, such as it is, will be found scattered throughout a huge body of statutes, treaties, conventions and precedents. The Acts of Union are an important – I would contend crucial – component of that dispersed, vague, ambiguous and highly ‘elastic’ constitution.
It is the Union which gives effect to the situation described at the start of this article. It is the Union which creates the circumstances in which Scottish votes only count to the extent that they concur with at least the same number of English votes.
Unionists and British Nationalists will argue that this is no more than democracy in action. The majority wins. The minority is left to suck it up. In the British political system, it’s winner-take-all. If you’re not first past the post, you’re nowhere. But this argument absolutely requires that those making it are able and willing to completely deny Scotland’s status as a nation, as well as the observable reality of Scotland’s distinctive political culture. The grotesque constitutional anomaly embedded in the Union can only be rationalised by regarding Scotland as but a ‘region’ of a ‘One Nation’ British state. Or ‘Greater England’, as it is often called.
By accepting the Union one accepts that Scotland is no more distinct from England than any one of that nation’s counties. One is also accepting that there are (at least) two classes of voter; and that the lesser of these is the Scottish voter. The Union truly is a constitutional device by which the people of Scotland are denied the full and effective exercise of their sovereignty. The Union is a denial of that sovereignty in favour of the sovereignty of a divinely-ordained monarch whose powers are administered by an executive which, to the limited extent that it can be described as having been elected, is the choice of England’s electorate only. Said executive operating under the auspices of a parliament which is massively dominated by England’s elected representatives.
Needless to say, I do not accept any of this. I do not accept the denial of popular sovereignty. I do not accept the sovereignty of ‘the crown in parliament’. I do not accept the democratic legitimacy of a parliament which is neither elected by nor accountable to the people of Scotland. I utterly reject the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.
One would expect that, while she would doubtless wish to express the foregoing in her own way, the leader of the Scottish National Party would be in pretty much full accord with these sentiments. But I’m not so sure.
Nicola Sturgeon describes a so-called ‘people’s vote’ as “the only option, within the UK, that would allow Scotland’s democratic wish to remain in Europe to be respected.” She might well have added, “So long as England’s voters agree!”
Why would we want a second EU referendum? Scotland voted Remain. Decisively! Who in Scotland is clamouring for a chance to change their mind? A second EU membership referendum has only one purpose – to afford the people of England a chance to change their collective mind. Why does our vote only count if voters in England ‘ratify’ it?
Why aren’t Scotland’s voters worthy of respect in their own right?
I would be delighted if our First Minister were to explicitly acknowledge the subordinate status of Scotland and its people withing this benighted Union. But I am perplexed and concerned that, by actively supporting the idea of a new EU referendum, she appears to be accepting all the things that I, as a lifelong advocate of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status, categorically reject.
Seeking England’s endorsement of our democratic choice to remain in the EU should not be an option at all for those who wish Scotland to be a normal independent nation once again. If that is the only option “within the UK”, then remaining within the UK cannot be an option. It is time to #DissolveTheUnion.
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