Wednesday 23 November 2022

What part of No don't you understand?


It is no surprise that the Supreme Court has ruled that the Scottish Parliament cannot hold even an advisory referendum on independence without permission. If it could have done so now, why didn’t it do so in 2014 or at any time previously.

The mandate for setting up the Scottish Parliament in the first place was based on there being devolved and reserved issues. This is what devolution means. The UK is not a federation let alone a confederation. We do not have rival parliaments with equal status. Rather when Scots voted for devolution, they accepted that it would only deal with certain issues. One of the issues that it would not deal with was the constitution.

Nicola Sturgeon has thus spent millions of taxpayer’s money to establish in law what we all knew already. The Scottish Parliament cannot rule on reserved issues. But this ruling has some important consequences.

The SNP claim to have a mandate for an independence referendum based on its support at the last Scottish Parliament election. But the Supreme Court has legally ruled that despite that support it does not have mandate to hold the referendum.

But if the SNP does not have a mandate now because of its votes at a Scottish Parliament Election, it cannot either have a mandate if it wins a majority or indeed all the seats at a General Election.

For a party to have a mandate from a General Election it needs to win a majority of seats in the House of Commons. But the SNP could not achieve this even if it won all the seats and all the votes in Scotland.

So, the SNP cannot have a mandate for its devolved parliament because independence is outside of the control of the parliament, and it cannot have a mandate at Westminster either because it cannot win enough seats. So, it cannot have a mandate period.

But if the SNP cannot have a mandate for independence, it cannot achieve independence democratically, not because someone is acting in an undemocratic manner towards Scotland, but because there is no legal right to secession in a modern European democracy. This is what the Supreme Court is saying.

What options are left for Scottish nationalists? They can go on demonstrations or engage in acts of civil disobedience. But none of these will change the fact that support for Scottish independence hovers between 45 and 50%. Demonstrations and civil disobedience only work if you have overwhelming support for your cause. If you don’t, they are as likely to harm the cause rather like Extinction Rebellion. So long as no one overreacts to demonstrations or civil disobedience (c.f. Easter 1916 for what not to do), they can safely be ignored.

The Scottish Parliament or the SNP could go down the unilateral route. But if support for independence is around half on the assumption that it would take place with cooperation after a legal vote, my guess is that it would fall considerably if we were confronted with UDI. There would be no EU membership. There would be limited recognition from other states and not much cooperation either. Good luck with that.

The final alternative is revolution. If the American could win independence that way, then Scotland could do so likewise. No one is going to fight to stop it. But the problem with revolution is much the same as with UDI. Scotland is a reasonably prosperous part of the UK anything like UDI or revolution that would undermine that prosperity is going to have tiny support.

Sturgeon may or may not decide that the next General Election will be a de facto referendum on independence. But even if the SNP plus fellow travellers won 50% of the vote there is nothing in the constitution to suppose that this would give them a mandate to negotiate independence. If the UK Government refused to meet the SNP delegation, Sturgeon would be left with UDI and revolution once more.

The UK Government can now legally refuse a second independence referendum forever. Whether it would do so is a different matter. This is no longer a legal issue but a political one. If support for independence were high enough for a sustained period, then I don’t think the UK Government would refuse.

We don’t know what might constitute enough support for independence. But if support were consistently over 60% for a few years, then the UK Government might grant a referendum not because it had to, but because it thought it was politically the right thing to do.

Scottish nationalists may make all sorts of statements about the UK being undemocratic, but this is obviously untrue. Even if 100% of Glaswegians voted for Glasgow’s independence it would not give Glasgow the right to leave Scotland. To say that Glasgow is not a country is to assume what you are trying to prove. Scotland is called a country, but it is not an independent sovereign nation state and cannot suppose that it has the rights of one.

The UK is a unitary state with devolution it has the same right to territorial integrity as Scotland would have if it were independent. The fact that the parts of the UK are called countries and play international football is quite immaterial.

For the same reason as South Carolina cannot declare independence, nor Bavaria nor Lombardy, so too it is perfectly just and democratic for the UK Government to block Scottish secession. This is what the judges have told us.

But because most people in the UK have an identity strongly connected with one of its parts there may be a political reason to allow referendums on secession which do not apply in other countries.

For the moment Scottish nationalists would be best advised to change the timescale of their goal. Scottish independence if it is to happen will require decades of work and a significant change in attitude. Let us give up this division as it helps neither side.

The task for both Pro UK people and Scottish nationalists is to improve Scotland. Let’s make the economy better and let’s work on making Scotland a more pleasant place to live. Accept that you probably won’t see Scottish independence in your lifetime. Then we can move on to healing some of the wounds and together make Scotland better for all of us.