Scottish independence is not separatism

The spectacle of David Cameron and Ed Milliband mutually congratulating each other on their unionist credentials in Parliament yesterday is unlikely to have any effect at all in Scotland; it will merely reinforce the fear felt by people in England concerning what the end of the United Kingdom could bring. Again and again, the word ‘separatism’ has been invoked, by the government and by Labour, to describe the SNP. However, independence and separatism are not the same thing, and someone who is in favour of Scottish independence need not advocate the separation of Scotland and England. The independence debate is a debate about Scotland’s rightful constitutional status within the British Isles, not a debate about whether Scotland should ‘go it alone’ economically and politically.

I do not believe that Scotland’s relationship with England will be radically changed by independence. I am passionately in favour of ‘union’ with a small ‘u'; England and Scotland’s shared history makes anything else ridiculous. However, the Act of Union of 1707 and the legal incorporation and subjection of Scotland is a dirty mark on both countries’ history. At present, several small countries that are not part of the United Kingdom exist in an informal union with it and share institutions with the UK on an agreed and conventional rather than legally binding basis – I speak, of course, of the Bailiwicks of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark and the Isle of Man. No Act of Union has ever incorporated these tiny nations into the United Kingdom and yet, by convention, they co-exist with the UK in much the same way as its Dependent Territories. A key institution that makes such co-existence possible is the Privy Council, which has the power to make certain Statutes relating to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. The Privy Council’s role derives from the fact that it is not an institution dependent on Parliament but dependent on the Sovereign, who is Queen ‘in right of the United Kingdom’ but also Queen ‘in right of the Isle of Man’ and Duke of Normandy. Orders in Council are, in theory, an exercise of the Royal Prerogative. For this reason, the authority of the Privy Council exceeds the boundaries of the United Kingdom because the Queen is the Sovereign of other countries as well – thus the Privy Council acts as a final ‘court of appeal’ for some Commonwealth Countries of which the Queen is Head of State.

A shared monarchy, as the SNP proposes, is a far more profound guarantee of unity between England and Scotland than the coercive and mechanical Act of Union. The Queen, as Queen ‘in right of Scotland’, would in theory appoint the ministers of state of an independent Scotland and it would be appropriate for these ministers to be sworn as members of the Privy Council, which could meet alternately in London and Edinburgh and be attended by both English and Scottish ministers on each occasion. The Privy Council could thus provide a point of contact between the ministers of the two nations around the centre of unity, the Sovereign, a little like the ‘North/South Ministerial Council’ in Ireland, albeit hopefully more effective. England and Scotland would, like the UK and Ireland, operate a principle of shared citizenship. A wise First Minister of a newly independent Scotland would follow the precedent of Ireland by permitting Scottish citizens to enlist in the British Army, meaning that the Scottish regiments would remain part of the British Army. In return, he would expect the removal of all nuclear weapons from Scottish soil. Scotland could then enter into a defence agreement with England just as the Isle and Man and the Channel Islands have done, so that England will agree to defend Scotland. Do we live in a world imaginative enough for the British Army to be run jointly by the Defence Ministers of England and Scotland? That would surely be an ideal solution to the military problem.

Scotland will not cease to be British as a consequence of being again an independent country; Scotland became British in 1603 when King James VI took the title ‘King of Great Britain’, not in 1707 when Scotland was effectively abolished. Thus there is no reason why, in principle, ‘British’ institutions such as the BBC and the NHS may not continue in Scotland once it is independent. The difference will be that decisions regarding the governance of such bodies will have to be reached in agreement between London and Edinburgh. In effect, Scottish independence will mean an equal vote for Edinburgh in matters concerning the whole of Britain that, up to now, London has exclusively controlled. It will require courage, imagination and a more creative attitude to the boundaries of what is usually considered the business of a nation-state, but it is not impossible. Independence will restore Scotland’s just rights but it will not divide England and Scotland; the only thing that can create animosity between the two nations is the refusal of Westminster to allow Scotland to determine its own destiny.

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Filed under constitutional matters, jacobitism

9 responses to “Scottish independence is not separatism

  1. Excellent piece and it has given me food for thought. Even though I am all for independence I still want to remain British but didn’t have the background knowledge to be able to maintain my ‘Britishness’.

  2. Stephen Jury

    Again, this would probably all work out if the SNP was a party with conservative principles and convictions but it is not. It is a social democratic party. Plus many in the SNO favour a Scottish Republic that uses the Euro. So whilst you outline a way in which I could support independence, I know that it won’t happen that way so I can’t support it. Alex Salmond and his ilk are awful people that believe in Keynesian social liberalism. I could never bring myself to back that.

    • I believe that a belief in Scottish independence, and therefore Scottish Nationalism, is fundamental to what it means to be a Jacobite. Jacobitism is a doctrine of royal sovereignty different from that espoused by British governments since the 1688 Revolution. For Jacobites, sovereignty resides with the King and not with Parliament or the King in Parliament. Consequently, the existence of separate English and Scottish Parliaments does not represent a significant constitutional change. England and Scotland were united because the Scots could not be trusted to support a monarchy that was, effectively, elective (or about to become so). In other words the union imposed a framework of sovereignty on Scotland and the whole ‘United Kingdom’ alien to Jacobitism or, indeed, pre-1688 Toryism. I support the SNP because they are working towards Scottish independence and I am not particularly concerned with other aspects of their ideology; constitutional matters stand outside party-political ideology, and I am sure there would be a Conservative Party in an independent Scotland. However, I am not sure that left-wing social democracy is necessarily alien to a Jacobite spirit. Jacobitism has always been linked to political radicalism; James II proposed universal religious toleration and was opposed by his own Tories, James III was attracted to Gallicanism and radical Enlightenment figures such as the Chevalier Ramsay were associated with the Jacobite cause. It is not an accident, I believe, that Irish Jacobitism transformed itself into support for the United Irishmen – and let us not forget that it was the Tory party that, under Pitt, turned against Catholic Emancipation and Ireland and became a bulwark of England’s revolutionary constitution. I am not myself a social democrat and I am a natural Tory by instinct, but I respect the SNP’s political alignment as one strand of a tradition of revolt against the centralised power established in London after 1688.

    • It seems to me that Jacobitism, being a commitment to certain constitutional principles, takes precedence over particular economic or social policies. If one shies away from some of the implications of Jacobitism because (say) an independent Scotland would have a higher level of public spending, it seems to me that that makes one a fiscal conservative with some antiquarian ideas about the constitution rather than a Jacobite in the full sense.

  3. The position of the Crown dependencies is an interesting one.

    It might be disputed that they exist in an “informal union” with the UK which is “agreed and conventional rather than legally binding”. While it is accepted that they are not parts of the United Kingdom, the UK Parliament claims the legal right to legislate for them (albeit this right is subject to some debate within the dependencies themselves).

    I’d respectfully suggest that it is misleading to say that the Privy Council has “the power to make certain Statutes” for the dependencies. The primary legislation of the dependencies emanates either from their domestic legislatures or from the UK Parliament. While Royal Assent is required, and the Privy Council could hence notionally advise Her Majesty to deny Assent to domestic legislation of the dependencies, it is by no means clear that it would be constitutionally proper for it to do so (Dawes, in his “Laws of Guernsey”, discusses the hypothetical example of the Guernsey legislature passing a law legalising euthanasia).

    As far as I can tell, it is a disputed legal point whether Her Majesty holds the Channel Islands in right of the Duchy of Normandy or by virtue of a separate title.

    On another point, I believe that Alderney (but not Sark) is part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey rather than being a territory in its own right. At this point, however, we reach the outer limits of my anorakdom.

    I’ve blogged a bit on the Crown dependencies here:

    • I would add that there have been fairly serious independence proposals mooted int he Channel Islands (part of the context being fears that London will weaken the islands’ tax haven status).

  4. You are so interesting! I don’t think I’ve read through anything like that before. So nice to find another person with some genuine thoughts on this topic. Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up. This site is something that’s needed on the web, someone with some originality!|

  5. As far as I am concerned the Windsors are not the English Royal family either and should the Stuart line be restored in a post independent Scotland I as an Englishman will look to Edinburgh and not Buckingham Palace for my monarch

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