Independent Scotland: An Alternative Vision

After much consideration, I have concluded that the best way I can respond to the Scottish Government’s white paper Scotland’s Future is to produce a brief paper of my own setting out an alternative vision for an independent Scotland, entitled One Country Two Kingdoms. I am uploading it here in PDF as well as in the body of this post.

Flag ScotlandFlag England

1. The Scottish Government’s model of independence

The approach to independence adopted by the current Scottish Government, in its white paper Scotland’s Future (November 2013), envisages an independent Scotland as a Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State. On this model of independence, Scotland would leave a rump ‘United Kingdom’ behind, establishing sovereignty on a novel basis (the sovereignty of the people of Scotland rather than the sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament). An independent Scotland would have its own institutions: a Scottish armed forces, a Scottish civil service, a Scottish intelligence service, a Scottish broadcasting service to replace the BBC, and so on. Whilst the Scottish Government proposes retaining the monarchy, the status of a post-independence Scotland would be akin to a Commonwealth Realm, like Canada or Australia, where the Queen is head of state but has no actual role in the legislative process.

2. The basis of independence

The Scottish Parliament that voted itself out of existence in 1707 was unrepresentative of the Scottish people and dominated by Whigs sympathetic to the idea of full constitutional unity with England. The fact that the Act of Union did not represent the collective will of the people of Scotland was borne out by the subsequent Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1745, which were not simply attempts to restore the Stuart dynasty but also attempts by the Scottish people to assert Scotland’s independence in arms. The Act of Union was an injustice to Scotland, and the importance of the 2014 Independence Referendum is that it gives Scotland an opportunity to redress that injustice. An independent Scotland would not be a new state, but an ancient one. Independence for Scotland is not a financial, fiscal or economic solution, but rather the basic right of a nation state whose destiny was cut short by England in 1707.

3. One country, two kingdoms

The Jacobite Intelligencer’s proposal for an alternative model for an independent Scotland is based on the constitutional situation that developed in Great Britain between 1603 and 1707. In 1603 King James VI of Scotland became King of England (as well as King of Ireland), thereby bringing the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland into personal union. Each of these kingdoms retained its own parliament and laws. The three kingdoms were each sovereign, insofar as the sovereignty of each one was vested in its monarch, but since the monarch happened to be the same man in all three kingdoms, a situation of shared sovereignty was created.

Furthermore, from 1603 onwards the term ‘Great Britain’ began to be used to refer collectively to the Kingdoms of England and Scotland, in other words the territories on the island of Britain under the rule of King James I and VI. From 1606 a single flag (the original ‘Union Flag’) designated the united kingdoms of England and Scotland. English and Scottish soldiers fought together under the same flag, for the same monarch.

International law recognises nation states as its subjects, but the state is not necessarily coextensive with the ‘the nation’ and ‘the country’. This is already the case in the UK, where Scotland and Wales are referred to as ‘nations’, but ‘the country’ is taken to refer to the UK as a whole (a similar position arises in Ireland, where ‘the country of Ireland’ consists of the territory of two separate states). In the case of Great Britain, ‘the country’ arguably refers to more territory than the state (the UK) actually consists of under international law. Most inhabitants of the UK would regard the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands as part of ‘the country’ of Great Britain, even though under international law, and according to the UK’s constitution, neither the Isle of Man nor the Channel Islands are part of the UK. However, these territories share a monarch with the UK and, under agreements with their governments, the UK government provides them with defence, policing and many other services.

The Jacobite Intelligencer proposes that, in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum on Scottish independence, the usage of ‘the country of Great Britain’ would be extended to cover an independent Scotland, just as today it covers a legally (if not practically) independent Isle of Man and the Channel Island Bailiwicks. After Scottish independence a single country, Great Britain, would continue to exist, made up of a number of sovereign entities including an independent Scotland. This would be more than a ‘federal UK’, but less divisive than the separatist model currently proposed by the Scottish Government, and it would preserve as far as possible the constitutional situation in these islands as it existed before 1707.

4. The name of the country

The Scottish Government currently proposes the creation of a new nation state, to be regarded as a distinct country as well as a distinct nation, called ‘Scotland’. Scotland would be distinct from the United Kingdom of England (including Wales) and Northern Ireland. It is likely, therefore, that the ‘rump state’ of the UK would alter its own name in the event of Scottish independence and the implementation of the Scottish Government’s model of sovereignty. However, such a situation would be inconsistent with the constitutional situation that existed before 1707, and if Scottish independence is to be regarded as a reversion to the constitutional situation of 1707, a more appropriate approach would be to re-name the country that consists of the sovereign states of England and Scotland.

The simplest way to do this would be to alter one letter of the current name of the sovereign state known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. A name change to the United Kingdoms of Great Britain and Northern Ireland would preserve the personal union between England and Scotland (‘united’) and the sovereignty of each of the nation states (England and Scotland) composing the new country.

5. Institutions of unity

The primary institution of unity in a Great Britain defined as ‘one country, two kingdoms’ would be the monarchy. The person of the monarch held Great Britain together as one country in personal union between 1603 and 1707 and would continue to do so after Scottish independence. On a practical level, the monarch’s role as the country’s centre of unity could be exercised primarily through the institution of the Privy Council. At present, the Privy Council consists primarily of ministers of the Crown, and this would continue after a Scottish independence vote, with the difference that the ministers would be members of two separate governments: the English Government and the Scottish Government. Rather than holding its meetings almost exclusively in England, the Privy Council would convene alternately in London and Edinburgh.

In addition to a single monarch and a single Privy Council, the two kingdoms of Great Britain would share a single armed forces, a single intelligence service, a single BBC, a single NHS, a single currency and a single civil service; indeed, Scotland would share everything with England apart from its Parliament, its ministers, and its judicial system (the Supreme Court could no longer have jurisdiction over an independent Scotland). Unless Scottish sovereignty and independence requires as a matter of constitutional necessity the creation of a separate institution, all current UK institutions should remain institutions of the country of Great Britain.

6. A solution for Scotland and England

The model of independence proposed above represents a solution to resolving the constitutional status of Scotland that is neither the separatism of the SNP nor the scaremongering of the British Government over the ‘dissolution’ of the United Kingdom. Under these proposals, the Act of Union would be repealed, but the personal union between England and Scotland would remain and would have meaningful constitutional implications for both states. The SNP’s view that an independent Scotland would go its own way is only ever destined to appeal to a minority of Scots, and for that reason the Scottish Government is unlikely to win a ‘Yes’ vote in the 2014 Referendum with its current plans. Furthermore, the SNP’s approach to independence, and its desire to sever virtually all institutional ties with the rest of the UK, is frightening to many people in England and creates the anxiety that Great Britain would lose status on the international stage as a result of Scottish independence. The plan here proposed would keep the disruption caused by independence to a minimum, retaining the significance of ‘Great Britain’ whilst returning Scotland’s rightful independence and sovereignty.

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1 Comment

Filed under constitutional matters, jacobitism

One response to “Independent Scotland: An Alternative Vision

  1. Christopher

    While sympathizing with your general views, I have a few issues with this post. Firstly, I don’t think the SNP can really be accused of pursuing a maximally separatist strategy; on the contrary, they seem to be trying to keep as many shared institutions (monarchy, currency etc.) as possible. Secondly, being from the Isle of Man, I certainly do not regard my country as part of the country of ‘Great Britain’. Our country and nation is the Isle of Man and we are Manx. The people who live in what we call the ‘adjacent isle’ or ‘across’ are British and that island (and perhaps country, if you are so inclined) is Britain.Thirdly, my understanding is that Scotland had a separate Privy Council until 1707. Fourthly, Scotland’s NHS is entirely separate from the English NHS and has been since their foundation, so why would they become one NHS upon independence? Finally, I am not sure how your model one country, two kingdoms would work. For better or for worse, statehood these days is a fairly black and white affair. If you are recognized by most other states as independent and are a member of the UN, then you are regarded as a separate country. The last state/states to attempt (at least ostensibly) something on the lines of what you are proposing was the USSR which I think tried to have its constituent republics join the League of Nations or the UN (I forget which) as separate members while being a single institution at the same time. It didn’t work.

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