Friday 25 November 2022

Silly assumptions and silly celebrations


Unionists are celebrating their supposed ‘victory’ in the Supreme Court earlier this week, with a ruling which establishes very clearly that, under UK law, there is no legal route for Scotland (and the same would obviously apply to Wales) to determine its own future which does not involve being granted permission by the UK Government, and that there is no requirement for that government to give – or even have – any reason other than they don’t want a particular outcome. Scotland is, it seems, trapped in a curious version of Catch 22: the country has an absolute right to leave a ‘voluntary’ union of ‘partners’ if it chooses, there is just no legal way of exercising that right. Asked the question, specifically, one of the unionists in chief, ‘Keith’ Starmer said that it wasn’t for him to explain how Scotland could exercise that right, it was for those seeking independence to set out how they intend to proceed. They have, of course, done so, several times, even complying fulsomely with the route set out by Thatcher decades ago (who said that, if a majority of Scottish MPs were elected on an independence platform, Scotland would become independent). It’s just that, every time they set out a route, Labour-Tory politicians – backed up by the courts which are bound by the principle that absolute power stems from the Crown and resides in the UK parliament, whatever the acts of union might have said – conspire together to change the unwritten rules.

Whether their celebration is justified or not is another proposition entirely: it looks more like another example of the short-termism which dominates UK politics, and is based on the assumption that support for independence (and the SNP) is a temporary phenomenon which will go away if denied loudly enough for long enough. After all, every promise and policy they themselves put forward is regarded as nothing more than a short-term fix to get elected, and many do not survive election day, let alone detailed parliamentary scrutiny. Why would they expect the SNP to be any different? Perhaps they’re right; perhaps the desire for independence will fade away in the light of stubborn refusals to countenance it. The evidence to date suggests otherwise, though. And trying to present the whole debate as nothing more than some sort of personal campaign by Nicola Sturgeon contains more than a hint of traditional imperialist misogyny, to say nothing of contempt for the mass of the Scottish population.

They are right, of course, in legal terms (and in terms of normal English politics) to say that the SNP (and other pro-independence parties) cannot simply turn the next general election into a plebiscite on independence. But normal English politics has ceased applying in Scotland, where a different political reality rules. Have the unionists really thought through what happens if (and I’ll accept it’s a big ‘if’, although within the range of currently credible outcomes) 60% of the electorate votes for parties who have declared that their only policy for that election is independence, and every MP from Scotland belongs to a pro-independence party? They seem, instead (the Tories as much as Labour), to be putting their hands over their eyes and ears and clinging to the assumption that people will be so keen to get rid of the Tories and replace them with a Labour government in London that the SNP will be defeated electorally and replaced by Labour MPs. And they’re betting the house on that outcome.

There are those independentistas in Scotland who have been critical of Nicola Sturgeon, suggesting that she has been too slow, too cautious. It’s a difficult call, but I suspect that she’s as aware as anyone that moving too fast and losing would be the biggest setback of all. The issue really would be off the table for a generation. Indeed, one of the surprising things to me has been the unwillingness of the unionists to allow a referendum at the point at which they had their best chance of winning it. Looking at the support for independence across the age demographic, the simple fact is that young independentistas are entering the electorate and older unionists are leaving it. A Scottish parliament along with a Scottish contingent in Westminster, both filled with independentistas, and enjoying overwhelming electoral support (the only bit of the puzzle still missing) should be the unionists’ worst nightmare, yet they seem determined to bring it about. The unionists can and always will win the legal arguments, because the absolute sovereignty of the Crown trumps all else. But all the Supreme Court decision has really done is to emphasise that it’s a political issue, first and foremost – and it will ultimately be determined by the voters of Scotland. The assumption that a territory and its people can be held in a union indefinitely against the clear will of those people because the monarch's ancestors declared themselves absolute rulers is a very silly basis for celebration.


Gav said...

Surely Ms Sturgeon will have been in no doubt that this would be the outcome, and factored this into her plans. She seems to be one of a very few modern politicians who are able to think strategically, about some things at least.

She'll also be well aware of the demographics. There is indeed evidence that Brexit leavers are dying off at a faster rate than remainers, not necessarily because they voted leave of course but because they tend to be older, and that this is part of the reason most people across the UK now think Brexit was and is a REALLY BAD IDEA. It's quite possible the same applies to unionists in Scotland although I've not seen any figures on this.

Anonymous said...

Demographics! The census will show that less than 80% of people in Scotland were born there. Time is running ot. Less than 70% in Wales.

John Dixon said...


Really not sure what point you're trying to make here. Are you really suggesting that only people born in Scotland / Wales are likely to vote for independence?

Spirit of BME said...

Could I put forward a case that Wales does stand apart from the court decision. Below is a comment on the judgement given.
“…. the Supreme Court’s ruling is perhaps more interesting than its (expected) verdict. Unusually, the SNP was granted permission to join the case as a ‘third party.’ Its lawyers tried to argue that Scotland – as a nation – has a right to self-determination under international law. The SNP’s lawyers cited a case involving Quebec to make the point. The 1988 ‘Claim of Right’ and other documents have stated a political case for self-determination: one accepted by Thatcher and Major.

But Lord Reed ruled that, whatever the politics, Scotland has no judicial right to self-determination under international law as this only applies to ‘former colonies or places that are under ‘foreign military occupation.’ ‘That is not the position in Scotland,’ he said.”
As Wales has no signed Act of Union, and therefore no peace treaty, English rule operates on the fact that Wales was annexed as were the colonies within the English Empire.
I recall Gwynfor stating that Wales was “England’s first colony,” and the law enforcement agents of the Crown are deemed to be a “foreign military occupation.” This was the very point made in Ireland over a hundred years ago.
Perhaps a government in Caerdydd should pursue a legal case against the Crown.