Thursday 7 January 2021

The SNP are no better than the Trump mob


While Nicola Sturgeon condemns violence in Washington and Trump supporters invading the Capitol, it is worth remembering that while democracy is not under threat in the USA, it is under threat in Scotland by her supporters and her MPs and MSPs.

The United States has become more divided this year than at any time since 1860. Protestors on the Left have taken over areas of American cities and have vandalised statues and other property. Protestors on the Right have responded in kind. But neither is an immediate threat to American democracy. Within a short time, there will be a new President. Free and fair elections will continue to take place across America.

Trump has many faults and some insights. I thought he was right about China and right about some aspects of the American economy. He was right too not to involve America in any foreign wars. But he was wrong not to accept defeat. If you are going to challenge a result, then you have to put forward credible evidence that convinces neutrals and opponents. To suppose that Trump won the election is to suppose that the whole American judiciary, media and vast numbers of ordinary Americans conspired against him. This is a conspiracy theory too far.

By his continual failure to accept defeat Trump has damaged the Republican Party and is in part responsible for the violence in Washington, but it has not damaged democracy, because Trump will be gone in a few days and Government of the people, by the people and for the people will not have perished, it will have defeated the mob.

But in Scotland we still face the mob. We still have people who think that marching and demonstrating is the way to bring about their goals. We still have people who want to subvert the democratic rules if those rules hinder them.

At some point this year there will probably be an election to the Scottish Parliament, though it may be delayed. If Scottish nationalists win a majority it is likely that the British Government will refuse a second independence referendum on the grounds that we had such a referendum in 2014 and the issue has been decided decisively and cannot be revisited for some time perhaps until 2055.

There is no question that the British Government would be acting democratically and legally. The American Government would respond in the same way if a part of the United States asked for a referendum on secession. If Trump supporters waving Confederate flags argued once that they voted for Trump and got Biden and used this to justify the independence of South Carolina or any other state, American democracy would once more defeat the illegitimate mob so that Government of the people (Lincoln meant the whole people) would prevail.

But democracy and following due legal process is not enough for Scottish nationalists. Since 2014 they have become just as fanatical and cranky as Trump supporters. They are still unwilling to accept that they lost decisively in 2014.

How do Scottish nationalists wish to respond to a refusal on the part of the British Government to give them what they want? The most fanatical wish to turn the Scottish Parliament election into a de facto referendum on Scottish independence. They argue that if independence supporting parties win a majority, then the Scottish Parliament should simply declare itself to be independent.

This would be illegitimate democratically because the Scottish Parliament is a devolved assembly which lacks the legal power over matters reserved to the British Parliament, which include foreign relations and the constitution. The act of declaring itself independent would therefore be an act of rebellion, no different logically from when the Confederacy declared itself independent from the United States.

What consequences would such an act of rebellion have in Scotland? The immediate consequence would be that Scotland would be independent straight away. There could be no transition period following such an illegal act. There could be no divorce negotiations. From the moment the Scottish Parliament declared itself to be independent, there would be no more money from the British Treasury, so there would be no furlough and no more support for Scottish businesses. There would be no vaccine, because that has been bought for the United Kingdom, not for a breakaway Scotland.

We would immediately find ourselves both outside the UK and the EU, with no trade deals with anyone. We would lack the means to raise taxes and pay benefits. Worse because we had broken the rule of law, we would have no means of even entering into negotiations with the EU, because adherence to the rule of law is an entry requirement. The Scottish economy would crash, and I strongly suspect there would be a mass exodus leaving only the fanatics.

It is staggering that a significant number of independence supporters have become so fanatical that they would entertain such a scheme. They have lost all connection not merely with legality and democracy but with reality itself.

There is just as big a divide in Scotland as in the United States. We are more than at any time since the 1640s when Covenanters took on Royalists. There is a dangerous lack of consensus in Scotland and if anything, it is getting worse.

Other only slightly less fanatical SNP MPs and MSPs favour finding different ways to subvert the law if the British Government blocks a second independence referendum. They have various schemes of holding an advisory referendum or trying to find ways to make British democracy unworkable. But each of the means they suggest amounts to an act of rebellion against the rules which were established when the Scottish Parliament was set up.

It is perfectly legitimate both democratically and legally for the British Government to refuse a referendum on independence. There is hardly a country in the world that would fail to support such a decision, because it corresponds to the norms of international law. A part of a nation state (whether it calls itself a country or not), simply does not have either the democratic or legal right to secede.

This means that large numbers of SNP MPs and MSPs are advocating rebellion against democracy and legality if they don’t get what they want. But this is no different to what Trump supporters are trying to do by storming the Capitol. SNP MSPs who attempt to subvert British democracy by whatever means would be storming the Scottish Parliament waving metaphorical Confederate flags while stating that they wished to Make Scotland Great Again. They and their supporters would be a mere mob and it would be the duty of all supporters of British democracy to thwart them.

If the Scottish Parliament elections are postponed, the SNP will have no mandate. It will have expired. There are three sensible options. Either there should be a caretaker Government with high level representation from all the main parties, or there should be rule by civil servants, or there should be a return to direct rule until the Covid crisis is over.

At this point it should be made clear that the Scottish Parliament will only ever reopen when it declares itself to be willing to operate within the rules of the devolution settlement, which make it clear that independence is not the business of the Scottish Parliament and gives up all fantasies of rebellion.

We can no more allow a mob of Scottish nationalists to subvert democracy than America can allow Trump supporters to take the law into their own hands. It is the same principle at stake in Scotland and in the USA.