Tuesday 12 April 2022

The Scottish revolutionaries


When revolutionaries stormed the Bastille on 14th July 1789, they famously only found seven prisoners, four forgers, an assassin a pervert and a lunatic. When those same revolutionaries gathered in Dunfermline, they only found Douglas Chapman SNP MP, Robin McAlpine and Alex Salmond.

Our secessionist friends have reached the desperate stage. Their small gathering was little noticed even in Dunfermline. The number of spectators hardly exceeded the number of prisoners, McAlpine fell asleep, Chapman plotted to leave the SNP for Alba and then didn’t, while Salmond entertained the crowd with a game of footsie worthy of Jim Baxter. Fortunately, the game of handsie was reserved for the drive home.

Our gallant conspirators propose that there needs to be a Plan B. They are indeed as much imprisoned by Plan B that whatever alternative they come up with is called Plan B and the Plan B they describe repeats on us like a Haggis that has been left too long after Burns Day.

Plan A is that the Scottish Parliament passes a resolution to hold an independence referendum, Nicola Sturgeon goes to London to ask Boris Johnson for permission and he says you can have your referendum when you want one. The Scottish Government tells us that the Parliament vote will happen soon and the referendum will happen next year, but rather fewer Scots than prisoners of the Bastille believe this. The problem is that still fewer believe that Plan B will happen.

Plan B as described by Salmond and friends is that at the next General Election secessionist candidates should stand on a manifesto stating that if they won a majority, it would trigger a path to independence. Let’s look at how this might work.

A General Election elects MPs to the UK Parliament. Simple arithmetic tells us that in order to have a majority in that parliament you need 326 seats. But Scotland elects only 59 MPs so even if all of them were in favour of secession it would not give them a majority in Westminster.

It must be that Salmond thinks that it would be necessary only to have a majority of Scottish MPs. This means that he thinks that Scotland can leave the UK if 30 Scottish MPs win seats on a secession manifesto. Well, the SNP won 45 seats in 2019 with a 45% of the vote. It would be able to win 30 seats with considerably less. Salmond and friends therefore appear to think that Scotland could leave the UK if a mere third of voters pick independence supporting candidates. On this version of democracy, you get what you want even when two thirds oppose you.

Salmond is assuming what he is trying to prove.  He treats Scotland as if it were already independent and tots up the number of MPs needed to make it independent. But even if all 59 MPs voted to annex Berwick it wouldn’t give them a legal right to do so, nor could those 59 MPs decide to declare war on the Faeroe Islands or join the EU. 59 Scottish MPs do not an independent country make, they have no more rights than 59 MPs from the East Midlands.

If Scotland wants to leave the UK legally there is only one way for this to be achieved. A majority of MPs at Westminster have to vote for it. We discovered after the EU referendum in 2016 that even a referendum does not mean that a policy voted for need happen. Westminster MPs could say No despite the Leave result. It was only a majority of MPs after the General Election in 2019 that made leaving possible.

If Westminster could theoretically ignore the result of the 2016 EU referendum, it could certainly ignore 30 secessionist MPs or even the result of an independence referendum. The SNP and independence supporters in general could hardly complain because they were part of the campaign to ignore the Leave vote. They campaigned for a “people’s vote”, so if ever they won either a General Election or an independence referendum Westminster could either ignore or argue for a “people’s vote” in Scotland. In fact, logically you could continue to argue for “people’s votes” until you got the result you wanted.

It is of course possible for Scotland to leave the UK without a legal referendum. The United States merely declared independence. There was no referendum beforehand. Scottish MPs elected on a secession manifesto might gather in Dunfermline and declare that Scotland has left the UK. But declaring something and that something being true are quite different things. This is the issue that Lorna Slater fails to grasp.

If there were huge support for Scottish independence then Plan B might have a chance of success. If 70% of the Scottish electorate voted for independence it would probably happen, not least because the UK Government would have no desire to hold on to territory under those circumstances. But if that were the case there would be no need for Plan B, Scotland would get a second referendum and the result would be respected.

But most Scots don’t want an independence referendum next year, nor indeed any time soon. We have better things to be concerned about including the cost of living, the war in Ukraine and the aftermath of Covid.

If most Scots don’t want a legal referendum next year with the result respected by both sides and independence if it were to happen taking place with cooperation and good will, then it is preposterous to suppose that there is anything close to a majority for independence to happen without the UK Government’s consent.

Politicians in Scotland either in Holyrood or in a small room in Dunfermline could simply declare independence. Lots of countries have begun in this way. But it would be to leave without cooperation and Scotland couldn’t expect to get much help either from the former UK or other countries scared of their own secession movements. That’s what Plan B amounts to, no matter the variant.

For Salmond and other desperate independence supporters Scotland is a prison trapped inside the UK. He has spent his whole life tunnelling out. He thought he was nearly there in 2014, but found that he had reached a dead end. Since then, his reputation has collapsed and has collapsed still further by his taking money from Russia.

But Salmond is a prisoner in a different sense. His obsession with independence has consumed him and made every other goal subordinate. It traps him to the extent that he can think of nothing else. Sturgeon is the same. Her government can achieve nothing because it is imprisoned by every year needing to pretend that next year, we will be free.

If Scotland had a leader like George Washington, we might just be able to declare independence unilaterally, but Salmond’s delusion is to suppose that he is even the Salmond of 2014, while Sturgeon spends her life pretending something will happen which she knows will not. Such leaders are indeed imprisoned with each other not least because the moment has passed for each of them. They are left merely with dull bare walls to stare at and the sounds of a storm that passed over some time ago.