Sunday 9 May 2021

Sturgeon's Grand Tour


Nicola Sturgeon is planning to go on her travels again. After the Brexit referendum she went on a Grand Tour of Europe trying to win support for Scotland staying in the EU. She gained some sympathy and her unauthorised diplomacy caused some trouble for the Brexit negotiators, but she failed not least because Scotland was never an EU member state. It could not be forced against its will to leave the EU, because it never joined in the first place. Sturgeon found out that constitutional matters and international relations were indeed reserved and that she was merely a pretender rather than the actual Queen of Scotland.

Sturgeon will go seeking international support for a second independence referendum. She may indeed find sympathy from some of Britain’s enemies. Iran for instance will endorse her desire for secession, even though Iran limits rather severely the democratic rights of its own people and would under no circumstance allow an independence referendum in its own territory.

Sturgeon will receive some support in Ireland. No doubt if she visits the Dáil she will get another standing ovation for standing up to the Brits. The Taoiseach, the Irish President and Sinn Féin will give Sturgeon their support, because they would hope that the breakup of the UK would make it more likely that Northern Ireland would unite with Ireland. But it is worth remembering that no part of Ireland at present would be granted a referendum on secession and if a united Ireland were ever achieved Northern Ireland would never be allowed to vote to leave.

As she continues her tour of the EU there will no doubt be EU officials and leaders of member states who want to take revenge on Britain for leaving the EU. What better than for the UK to be punished by being broken up. But although Sturgeon may get some words of support, they will be qualified. There isn’t a single EU members state that would allow a legal referendum on independence for one of its parts.

France will not give Corsica a referendum on independence though it was conquered by France in 1770.

Germany will not give Saxony a referendum on independence though it became part of a United Germany only because it lost the Battle of Königgrätz in 1866. It was independent until then.

The Netherlands will not give neither North or South Holland a referendum on secession nor any other province.

Belgium will not allow Flanders to separate from Wallonia, even though they speak different languages.

Spain will not allow Catalonia to separate from Spain even though it is called an autonomous nationality.

I could continue through each of the 27 member states, but the point has been made. If the EU encourages Sturgeon, it does so hypocritically.

Sturgeon will no doubt get support from Vladimir Putin. He would be delighted if one of the strongest members of NATO ceased to exist and if the British Army was destroyed not by another army but by the SNP. But no part of the Russian Federation would be allowed to secede and Putin went to war against Chechnya to prevent it leaving.

Ukraine does not recognise the secession of Crimea even though it is likely the vast majority of Crimeans prefer to be part of Russia. An illegal referendum unauthorised by Ukraine led to de facto secession, but almost no one recognises it. Crimea is still legally part of Ukraine. It has no right to leave.

Sturgeon may go to the United States to find support for Scottish independence. President Biden if he is wearing his Irish hat may be sympathetic. But President Biden would fight a war to prevent Hawaii leaving the USA even though it was annexed in 1898. He would also prevent New Mexico leaving to rejoin Old Mexico even though it was annexed by the United States in 1848. It’s OK to prevent Mexican reunification by force but not OK for Northern Ireland to be separate from Ireland.

In her desperation to find a country that allows secession and legal independence referendums Sturgeon may go as far as China. But she will discover that not merely does Hong Kong have no right to leave China, neither does Taiwan, which is de facto independent, but China would certainly go to war if it declared itself to be independent and might do so anyway.

On her tour of the world Sturgeon might point finally to Canada where Quebec was given not one but two referendums on secession. But since narrowly losing a vote to leave Canada, the Canadian Parliament passed a Clarity Act setting out the conditions for secession. It also argued that unilateral secession was not possible in international law and that it was a matter for the whole of Canada not merely Quebec. The effect of this Clarity Act was that the secession movement in Quebec has lost popularity and there is no prospect now of a third referendum.

All around the world and especially in Europe there are countries made up of formally independent states. Many of these states were independent long after Scotland merged with England to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. The merger of kingdoms was how Europe moved from the Middle Ages to modernity. There is nothing special about Scotland historically, there are the equivalents of Scotland all across the EU. It is for this reason that Sturgeon will struggle to find anyone who wishes to set a precedent.

If Scotland can leave the UK and not pay any debts, why can’t Veneto? It only became part of Italy in 1866 because Austria lost the Austro Prussian war in 1866. The boundaries of Europe are arbitrary and the people and languages are mixed. EU member states may hypocritically support Sturgeon, but they will not allow an independence referendum in their own countries, because if they did there would be secession movements all across Europe and the EU would descend into chaos and war.

Scotland has no more right to secede that Crimea or Hawaii. If there is an international law granting the right to secession why do the permanent members of the Security Council not allow it in their own countries? Only the UK allowed such a referendum once. We are not required to grant another because a devolved parliament wants one, even if the SNP won all of the seats. If the SNP can have a mandate for secession so too can South Carolina, Saxony or Corsica? No one thinks the USA, Germany or France is held together by force.

Let Sturgeon go on her travels, she will get nowhere because no one wants their own country to be broken up. But let us work on our own Clarity Act and devise it in such a way that it similarly leads to a fall in support for the SNP.