Three things about the independence referendum scrap
First: let’s get one thing straight. Nations have a right to self determination in international law. David Cameron may quibble about the devolved powers of the Holyrood Parliament under the Scotland Act. He may even, if it came to a battle in the international court, win. In my experience the arc of judicial rulings bend towards power. But the principle remains. It is up to the people of Scotland if we wish to be independent. And it is up to us to decide how we make that decision.
And however we plan to vote in the coming referendum, I suspect there is one poll question to which the vast majority of Scots would answer with a firm “yes”:
“should David Cameron fuck off, shut up, and stop telling us what we can and can’t do?”
At some point soon there will be a referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future. Whether it’s the three options proposed by Salmond, or the two by Cameron, we will be asked about independence. And, as I’ve written before, those who look at polls today and write off a yes vote are too hasty.
One of the many reasons for this is the characters involved. In the blue corner, we have Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney. I am not fond of much of their economic program or many of their policies. But they are three of the most wily political operators in the UK today. Salmond alone is by a head and shoulders Britain’s most impressive politician. They have just won a supposedly impossible majority under the Additional Member System and they are in the fight of their lives: the campaign they have prepared for since they were children.
In the red, white and blue corner, we have, erm, David Cameron? The man who couldn’t beat Gordon Brown. Only this time, he’s in Scotland, where no one even liked him in 2005. Or perhaps, the Scottish Labour party. Which, post its 2011 routing, is about as comic a proposition as this: maybe the “no” campaign will be led by the Scottish Secretary – a Lib Dem no one’s heard of.
And if you’re Alex Salmond, how would you want to start this campaign? Perhaps, maybe, you’d like the people of Scotland shouting with one breath: “David Cameron: fuck off, shut up, and stop telling us what we can and can’t do”.
So, round one to the blue corner. Ding ding.
Second: the spilt between Cameron and Salmond is significant. Cameron is trying to exclude maxi-devolution from the referendum. The vast majority of Scots want maxi-devolution. Cameron, and Miliband, are picking a fight on Scotland’s constitutional future not just with Alex Salmond, but with maybe two thirds of the Scottish people. These people may not care much now. But as the referendum approaches, these differences will start to matter.
Other than democracy there are three good reasons that those of us who support independence should support a maxi-devolution option in the referendum – and therefore that unionists shouldn’t. The first is obvious. We’d almost certainly win at least that. We might as well take what powers we can. The second is that this situation is intrinsically unstable. Once we have fiscal powers and control benefits – once the only decisions made in London are about when and for what the Blackwatch should be sent to kill and die, whether William Hague gets to represent us at global summits and what interest rates our currency should have, it will take little more than a couple of foolish foreign adventures to find the final answer to the West Lothian Question.
The third reason is perhaps more contentious. When the independence debate is about national identity, it isn’t clear who wins. If it’s a simple yes/no, then this is the staid conversation we risk having: harking back to either 1314, 1745 and Auld Lang Syne or Queen Victoria, the Beatles, and “We will fight them on the beaches”. If the independence debate is about powers – about who should make which decisions on our behalf, it will perhaps be a different story.
The referendum will take place just at the point that Cameron is auctioning the final powers of the British state to his mates in the city – just as the economic union of these isles collapses, just as the death throws of social democracy slash the main remaining tie many have with Westminster – their tax credits, their giro. Some might like British Bulldogs, but who will back Ango Saxon British Government at its zenith of brutality? And a second question herds the debate in that direction. It forces discussion of the difference between maxi-devolution and independence, and so pushes conversations into questions of powers. Ultimately it helps make independence about who we trust to make specific decisions for the Scottish people. It will mean the question is this: do we trust ourselves. In any election, you want to be asking the public to vote for themselves. That’s rule one.
So, Cameron is perhaps right to try to exclude such an option. ‘Right’ in the sense that any crook is ‘right’ to fear democracy.
Third, on dates – Cameron wants an earlier vote. Salmond a later one. Every Holyrood election ever has seen Labour explain the case against independence* – to the extent that they are much more UK nationalists than the SNP are Scottish nationalists. The SNP used these elections to talk about what they would do with the powers Holyrood had. The result is case for independence is yet to be made for a generation. The more time to now make it, the better. ‘Better to rush it now, whilst the polls say no’, thinks Cameron. It’s a gamble. 18 months is still a long time. If Salmond calls his bluff, The Maximum Eck could still win. He turned the Holyrood vote around in the space of a few weeks. And if he does, the week Cameron becomes the last PM of the UK will surely be one of his last in office. Tory grandees won’t much like a PM who’s lost a swaith of his country. But I suppose that was the risk he took when he announced in May that a referendum could take place.
Former Scottish Labour Leader Wendy Alexander lost her career over three words: “bring it on”. Will Cameron’s attempt to adopt the same strategy end the UK and, incidentally, his career? Let’s hope so.
*this point is stolen from Bright Green co-editor Peter McColl
update – I’ve now written another three things about these shenanigans.
Are you joking??? You must either be a yank or have a rotting brain, of course Scottland is a country. It should be cut off anyway. Fucking Scottish bastards.
@Sorry “I am proud of being Scottish, but I am British first and I wish to remain that way.”
The nice thing about your personal definitions of identity is that they are totally independent of the ruling power structures where you live. In the same way that many, if not most, Scots currently self-define as ‘Scottish’ first and ‘British’ second, you are perfectly free to do the opposite, even following a ‘yes’ result in an independence referendum — gaining full independence will not, after all, detach Scotland from the island of Great Britain.
Well give us in England a vote and you’ll get your independance. Wish you would hurry up and sod off to be honest.
Adam, that was a most thoughtful and well-balanced article. Thank you.
As fer yon ‘Sorry’ sayin wir nae a nation! He’d better tak tent he disna wander doon a close some dark nicht, an get a dirk in his wame!
Did any of you listen to what Professor Robert Hazell of the Constitution Unit of UCL had to say on the subject on the BBC? I don’t think he discussed this exact question (is Scotland a nation, a people, a country – incidentally I agree with Adam that it is – beyond doubt – all three) – but on the right to devolution he said that Westminster has to grant independence to Scotland, Or is it agree the terms of independence with Scotland. (I presume within the terms of the Act of Union) so Scotland can only hold a referendum on the matter of initiating negotiations with Westminster towards independence. He says Westminster is within its rights, and quite right in his view, to ask for a clarity – ie a referendum that gives a non ambiguous answer, but that he doesn’t think it is necessarily appropriate for Westminster to try to dictate when the referendum should take place. The other thing is that he says it is totally revolutionary and entirely unexpected for Cameron to have jumped the gun by saying that any result would be implemented immediately. While I think Adam is right that Scotland is a nation, I don’t think we can have a one way divorce. After such a long marriage there is a quite lot to discuss. It could be a legal harvest.
Since you’re going into it, the right in international law to self determination (which some say is among the strongest rules of international law) is held by “peoples”. The definition of that is shady but can include the population of a country, the population of a colony or groups of individuals linked by a common language, ethnicity, race etc.
It has considered to apply to nomadic tribes in the Western Sahara, racial or ethnic groups in the Balkans and Kurds in the middle east amongst others – not just people who make up the population of a state. I think people in Scotland would probably qualify since democratic rights are a foundation of the principle of self determination.
The extent of the right itself is debatable. Self Determination is both a political principle and a legal concept. As a legal concept it was mainly intended to apply to situations of decolonisation.It can mean anything from the establishment of an independent state, free association or integration with an independent state, or the emergence into any other political status freely determined by the people
The political principle is broader and even less clearly defined but is likely to include possibilities of the above options. As I said, the right is broadly connected to the UN’s commitment to democracy, and therefore when such a question is raised, I would argue that the “peoples” of Scotland have a right to be consulted. Not necessarily a legally enforceable right but since the UK constitution is such that, if desired, it could “legally” turn into a dictatorship overnight, there’s not much scope for looking at legal enforceability at this level.
I suppose I mean, it’s fair enough for Adam to say that people in Scotland have a right to self determination. The extent of that right might be the right to answer ‘yes’ to a consultative referendum, but it is there.
The Scottish Parliament has the power to change law. That makes it a Parliament. There is a debate about whether it is a ‘government’ or an ‘executive’, but there is no debate about whether it is a Parliament.
The point isn’t whether people have the right to define as Scots, the point is whether they *do*. If significant numbers in Yorkshire define as from Yorkshire before the define as from England, then yes, it would be a nation (though they don’t have their own laws, their own education system, their own history as a seperate state, etc). My point is that nation has a very broad definition. It obviously includes Scotland. It may even include Yorkshire, yes. And nations have a right to self determination.
Scotland does not have its own parliament. It is an executive, exact definition of which I am unsure of. Having read the nation definitions myself, I see it is hazy, but in my opinion Scotland is not a nation. It is ruled by Westminster until they agree to otherwise.
By the given definition of nation, Scotland is as much a nation as Yorkshire of Lancashire. On most forms a scot cannot refer to themselves as Scottish, and we do not have a national anthem. I am proud of being Scottish, but I am British first and I wish to remain that way.
No. International law says that nations (well, actually, I think it says ‘a people’ but that means the same thing) have a right to self determination. It doesn’t define what it means by nations or by ‘a people’, but it does refer to them, as I understand it. Lots of terms in law aren’t defined until a judge rules on them, but Scotland is clearly by any dictionary definition, a nation, a people. EG, the OED says:
“nation: a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory”.
If the right to self determination applies to anywhere, then a geographically distinct region with its own legal and educational systems, its own languages, its own Parliament, its own sports teams, and to which many of its people primarily identify is certainly on the list.
I can accept that nation is arguable but there is no measure by which Scotland is a country. And, as you have already said, international law does not refer to nations but states and countries. Therefore, the first point of your post remains invalid.
No. In the actual definition you will find in any dictionary. When law doesn’t give a definition, the commonly used ones apply. Thus, by any measure, Scotland is a nation and a country.
Perhaps in commonly used terms but not in the actual definition, therefore my point stands and you cannot cite international law in that way.
well, Scotland is a country and a nation by almost any commonly used definition of those terms. But not a state.
If international law does not define a nation, and Scotland is certainly not a country, then you cannot cite international law in this case…
Sorry. You’re just wrong. Perhaps go read about the difference between a ‘nation’ and a
‘state’. The principle in international law does not, as I understand it, define a nation. But Scotland is a classic social science example of a nation without a state.
I hate to burst your little bubble, but Scotland is not a nation so I’m afraid your first point is invalid…
Sorry about that!
Wee Wendy lost her job not over the “bring it on” comment, but rather over her declared expenses. A small point, but accuracy is everything.
In the meantime, let’s get on with the poll you suggest on David Cameron.
I do feel really quite sorry for Wendy Alexander at this point. She got thrown under the bus for being ahead of the curve…
1. So, if Scotland votes for independence, declares itself indepent and Scots start paying taxes to SRC instead of HMRC all without Westminster’s permission, how exactly will the PM enforce the union treaty? Military clamp-down? That went well in various other countries, after all!
2. I would really like to see the result of a poll that asked Scots to *rank* the three options. Of those that rank “Devo-max/FFA” as most preferrable, how many rank “Full independence” as their second preference? Also, how many would rank “Status quo” as their least preferred option, irrespective of the order of the other two options?
3. I think the best comment on dates, which I read recently but cannot now find a link for, pointed out how ludicrous it was to be “focusing on the when rather than the why” of independence.