Irreversible Independence?

The ‘No’ campaign is now wheeling out its big guns – washed-up former leaders who happen to be Scottish, like Gordon Brown. I wonder who’s next – Charles Kennedy, perhaps? Or maybe the ‘No’ campaign will make its last attempt to woo Scottish voters by getting Tony Blair to reminisce about his time at Fettes College in Edinburgh. In his speech yesterday, Gordon Brown argued that independence is ‘irreversible’, and that the new powers that Labour would like to give the Scottish Parliament would bring Scotland and England’s relationship close to something like a federal arrangement. The problem with both of these statements is that a federal state can only truly work when its constituent members enter into partnership from a position of equality. Devolution will never prove universally popular in Scotland because it involves the Westminster Parliament magnanimously granting powers to the Scottish Parliament, while remaining sovereign over that Parliament. Federation would imply a treaty signed between two equal nations to create a common, overarching structure. Personally, I should very much like to see an independent Scotland enter into some sort of federation with the remainder of the UK, but only as an equal partner. That is why independence is necessary: to disrupt and challenge the London-centric nature of Britain. Scottish independence, insofar as it will destroy the old UK, is certainly irreversible: but the idea of a new ‘UK’, constituted from scratch by means of treaty between independent states, is altogether less fanciful. All this reveals is that unionist politicians are hidebound by the past (which, I know, sounds rich coming from someone who would restore the pre-1688 constitution).

‘Separation’ and ‘union’, as they have been presented by the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns, are a false dichotomy. The real question is how Scotland’s aspirations should best be recognised, constitutionally, within Great Britain (not the United Kingdom, but the island of Great Britain). Independence is the only way that Scotland can aspire to equality with the rest of the UK in any future ‘federal’ union. If the unionist parties are serious about Gordon Brown’s ‘federalist’ language, they would admit this. However, the ‘Yes’ campaign continues to present independence as a more radical change than it would really be, and the ‘No’ campaign continues to scaremonger. The very question to be posed to Scottish voters on 18th September, ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ is itself misconceived. The question should be ‘Should Scotland be an independent state?’ The country of Great Britain, as a cultural unity that has existed since 1603, will not magically pop out of existence on 19th September if Scots vote ‘Yes’. Independence is a legal process, and the only thing that can change legally is Scotland acquiring the status of a sovereign state under international law. That will not make Scotland a different country.

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An independent Scotland will need a healthy opposition

Yesterday’s poll suggesting that the ‘Yes’ campaign is edging ahead of the ‘Nos’ has probably been blown out of proportion by the media, and I remain unconvinced that the polls reflect what will happen on the day (one should never underestimate the power of apathy and fear). However, it is becoming very evident that people in England are far more frightened now by the prospect of Scottish independence than people in Scotland are. Let us suppose for a moment that the ‘Yes’ campaign does succeed – in that case, my principal worry would be that Scotland’s political system will not be fit-for-purpose for an independent state. The SNP’s vision of Scotland’s future constitution must be challenged by other political parties, which means that Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives must get over their post-referendum hangovers as quickly as possible and engage in a robust debate on the future of an independent Scotland. Given the intransigence of the unionists, I cannot see this happening: I anticipate that the unionist parties will end up in denial about the reality of independence, and will try to sabotage the transition process by various legal and constitutional means.

The trouble with this is that the SNP will then enjoy free-rein to impose its particular vision of independence on Scotland. Immediately after a pro-independence vote, the unionist parties must reconstitute themselves as parties distinct from their Westminster counterparts, offering a distinct vision for Scotland. I am deeply concerned that the SNP thinks that the present Scottish Parliament can simply step into the role of a sovereign legislature, something it was not designed to be. I am even more troubled by the idea that the present collection of MSPs, elected to the devolved Scottish Parliament, will simply become the legislators of a sovereign state. Inevitably, in spite of the extensive powers already devolved to the Scottish Parliament, Scottish electors still take elections to that Parliament less seriously than they take a General Election. After independence, a new Scottish Parliament needs to be created from scratch – preferably a bicameral one with some sort of Senate. Opposition parties will need to challenge the idea that Scotland needs a separate armed forces and civil service. Most importantly, they will need to challenge the premise of the SNP’s draft constitution that the people of Scotland, and not the Crown, is sovereign.

This latter point is crucial, because if the SNP’s constitutional proposal is accepted, Scotland will be profoundly separated from the common constitutional doctrine that binds together the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the other realms, where the Queen is sovereign in her own right. If the SNP manages to assert the sovereignty of the Scottish people, the concept of the ‘British Crown’, which long pre-dates the Union of 1707, will be broken. Alex Salmond is regularly described pejoratively by the ‘No’ campaign as a ‘separatist’ – and he is, but not because he wants an independent Scotland. Independence is no more than what Scotland deserves, but the separation of Scotland from the British Crown by the assertion of a novel notion of sovereignty is an existential threat to the Union of Crowns and the concept of monarchy itself. The notion that Salmond is advocating was never accepted by James VI and his legitimate successors, who asserted the Crown’s undoubted and unqualified sovereignty over the Three Kingdoms – and all right-thinking people in Scotland must now assert it again.


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Better Together – in Europe

As the Scottish referendum campaigns enter their final phase, I remain astonished by the failure of the ‘No’ campaign to say anything positive. I am not altogether surprised that the ‘Yes’ campaign is gaining in the polls, although I am not so optimistic as to think that the ‘Yes’ campaign will actually win. The only thing that the ‘No’ campaign has on its side is fear – which is, of course, one of the most potent forces in politics. The ‘Yes’ campaign stands for progress and optimism, although as readers of this blog will be well aware, I am far from agreeing with the SNP’s vision for the nature of an independent Scotland’s future relationship with the rest of the island of Great Britain. However, I am pleased to see that in his recent speeches, Alex Salmond has been downplaying the radical nature of the independence proposal. I have long been arguing that the SNP shot the campaign in the foot early on by making independence seem too scary; the argument that they should have made, from the very beginning, is that independence is a constitutional arrangement that better reflects the reality of Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the island. The point is that government from Westminster, grounded as it is in a Hanoverian imperialist vision of England’s role within the British Isles, is outdated and broken. That is true, not just for Scotland, but also for other parts of the British Isles and even the English regions.

If we step back from the immediate arguments in the independence debate and look at Britain and Europe in a wider historical perspective, the age of the nation state is over. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was the beginning of the end of the nation state, which emerged in the sixteenth century and reached its apogee in the eighteenth century. The Act of Union of 1707 was part of the process of creating a centralised nation state in the British Isles, which culminated in the Act of Union in 1801. Centralised nation states have no future, because the nature of the threats we face demand a unified response based on the shared values of a civilisation rather than the fragmented foreign policies of tiny states. The nations of Europe must unite in a single political structure and aspire to the status of a superpower, to confront Russia and China and set aside the dependence of European nations on America. Westminster was largely responsible for frustrating that process in the 1990s, because politicians were blinkered by narrow British interests. The dissolution of the United Kingdom is a far less frightening prospect than the failure of the European Union to cohere as a meaningful political unit.

I spent much of this summer in Jersey and Guernsey, two tiny island nations which survive perfectly effectively without government from Westminster. Yet the inhabitants of the Channel Islands emphatically think of themselves as British, for the simple reason that the Bailiwicks are united to the British Crown. The British Crown will remain the anchor of an independent Scotland to the rest of the British Isles, and people in England and Scotland will one day look back askance at the coercive legislation that once held the two nations together in an unequal partnership. I do not personally think that the ‘Yes’ campaign will win this referendum, but I do think that the result will be close. Whatever their present rhetoric, Westminster politicians will be forced to conciliate the Scottish people and the resulting process will lead, ultimately, to equality between England and Scotland. The Act of Union will one day be repealed, but only after there is a wider base of support for independence in Scotland, and independence has ceased to be the party-political issue it is today.


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10 Reasons why Queen Anne was pretty awesome

Queen Anne Seal

Exactly 300 years ago today, at 7.45am on 1st August 1714, Anne Stuart, Queen of Great Britain, France and Ireland, died. Queen Anne is perhaps the most consistently underrated of all English monarchs, and here are ten reasons why she was pretty awesome:

1. She wasn’t a Hanoverian (she could even speak English)

2. She was James II’s daughter

3. She was the last Stuart monarch to rule Britain

4. She was the last monarch to chair meetings of her own cabinet

5. She was the last monarch to withhold the royal assent to a parliamentary bill (the 1708 Scottish Militia Bill)

6. She hated William of Orange

7. She never endorsed the Hanoverian succession

8. She presided over England’s last true Tory government in 1710-14

9. She set up Queen Anne’s Bounty to support poor clergymen (it still exists)

10. She built churches – lots of them – and presided over the completion of St Paul’s Cathedral in 1710

Yes, I know she also presided over the Act of Union, but she did nothing to prevent her brother James III and VIII from succeeding her (it was his refusal to convert to Protestantism that clinched that). Her reign represented the final Indian summer of Toryism, when many Jacobites were still members of the government and held high office in church and state; and she cherished the Church of England at the last period when genuine holiness and spirituality existed within that church.

1st August 1714 marked the beginning of a dark age of Whiggery, secularisation, foreign rule in England and oppression and genocide in Scotland. The only day that was darker was 30 January 1649.



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The SNP’s absurd ‘Draft Constitution’ for Scotland

Earlier this month the Scottish Government published its draft bill for an interim constitution for Scotland in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote for independence. Sadly, it shows once again that the SNP is determined to advance a particular ideology of sovereignty as part of the independence campaign. Articles 3.1-4 advocate the direct ‘sovereignty of the people’ and make no mention of the monarch. However, article 9.3 declares that ‘Her Majesty, and Her successors to the Crown, continue to enjoy all the rights, powers and privileges which, according to law, attached to the Crown in Scotland immediately before Independence Day’. Since the rights, powers and privileges enjoyed by the Crown in Scotland are based on the concept of royal and parliamentary sovereignty which currently applies in the whole of the UK, article 9.3 directly contradicts article 3. The draft constitution attempts to avoid this by making article 9.3 subject to the constitution and acts of the Scottish Parliament – in other words, by annulling article 9.3, which is inconsistent with the Buchananesque ‘popular sovereignty’ that the SNP insists on. The continuation of the monarchy in Scotland in this draft constitution is, in other words, an empty assertion that has no rationale. Given that the SNP envisages the provisional constitution being replaced by a permanent constitution after a constitutional convention, one is left wondering whether the vacuity of references to the monarchy is a deliberate attempt to ensure that the final, permanent constitution excludes the monarchy altogether. The monarch would remain ‘Head of State’ in an independent Scotland but has no defined constitutional duties. In particular, the monarch has no role in signing bills into law. Although the SNP claims that Scotland would enjoy the same relationship with the monarchy as other Commonwealth Dominions after independence, this would in fact not be so, since nations such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand have ‘Westminster’ style legislatures and a concept of the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament.

The suggestion that both the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament will continue to govern Scotland, as presently constituted, even after Scotland’s independence day (articles 10 and 11) is disturbing. The SNP envisages independence as an enhancement of its current position in Scotland, rather than a profoundly transforming event for the nation that will allow Scots to determine their own destiny. Article 34’s provision that laws in force in Scotland should remain in force unless explicitly repealed is a sensible one, but just because laws from a previous era should remain in force after independence, this does not mean that the same legislature should remain in place, much less the same government. In the event of independence, Scots must be given the opportunity to discard both the institutions of devolved power and the SNP, should they so choose; there is no prima facie reason why an independent Scotland should simply ‘convert’ existing institutions into those of the new state. The SNP’s proposed constitution offers the worst of both worlds – the vast and unnecessary expense of setting up separate institutions like a Scottish civil service, but also the continuation of the Scottish Parliament and Government in its present form. I am particularly disturbed by the fact that the SNP considers a unicameral legislature composed of equal elected representatives sufficient for an independent Scotland; no attempt has been made to revive the Thrie Estaitis as they existed before 1690. Perhaps the greatest absurdity of all in the draft constitution is the provision (article 34.3) that ‘prerogative instruments’ in force prior to independence would remain in force thereafter – in spite of the fact that the very concept of a prerogative instrument, founded as it is on royal sovereignty, would have been abolished in the new Scotland.

I continue to maintain that, in the event of the Westminster Parliament repealing the Act of Union of 1707 (and this is the only Parliament with the authority to do so, notwithstanding article 35 of the proposed Scottish constitution), Scotland’s only legislature would be the old Scottish Parliament, which would thereby automatically come back into being – or, more precisely, it would come back into being when the monarch summoned it. Authority to establish a provisional Scottish Parliament lies solely and exclusively with the monarch; that Parliament would then have authority to establish a provisional government and call for a constitutional convention. However, an easier and more sensible solution would be for the monarch to summon a constitutional convention at the same time as appointing ministers directly to run Scotland as a provisional government. The question of who the monarch would be in the event of the repeal of the Act of Union is more difficult. Since the Scottish Parliament never voted for the Act of Settlement before 1707, there is good reason to believe that Franz von Wittelsbach might become, by default, King of Scots on the repeal of the Act of Union. For this very reason, I suspect that the Westminster Parliament would decline to repeal the Act, arguing that it was sufficient for a Scottish Parliament to do so. But I am not sure that Scotland would truly be an independent country unless Westminster did so.

I was interested to read of Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser’s suggestion of a federal UK, the closest that any Conservative has come to actually supporting independence. It is good to see that Scottish Tories are finally realising the futility of Unionism. However, I would argue that a federal Great Britain presupposes an independent Scotland, because states can only legitimately choose to federate with one another from a position of sovereignty. A federal Great Britain is not a bad idea, but it would require Scotland to become independent first, and then for the rest of the UK and Scotland to enter into negotiations regarding a federation of some sort.




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George Mudie and Barack Obama

The past 24 hours have seen US President Barack Obama arm-twisted by David Cameron into supporting Unionism, while Labour MP George Mudie has shown that Labour MPs are still capable of intelligent thought by declaring that he would vote for Scottish independence if he were able. Listening to Obama’s off-the-cuff remarks on Scotland, I felt rather sorry for him – he seemed to be trying to say something that pleased Cameron while not embarrassing himself, and I am not sure that he succeeded. Of course, it is in the US national interest for the United Kingdom to remain as it is, primarily on account of American military reliance on the British Army (of which Scottish troops form such a significant part). Perhaps the SNP’s policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament was on his mind. However, Obama has violated his own government’s claim to neutrality on the independence debate. I wonder what he would think if the British Prime Minister were to publicly endorse the secession of Texas from the Union? Obama risks alienating Scottish Americans with his comments, whilst doing nothing to acknowledge the contribution of Scots fleeing persecution at the hands of the Hanoverian government to the American colonies (of course, that might be because many of those Scots opposed the Rebellion of 1776).

On the other hand, George Mudie, the MP for Leeds East (whilst perhaps not so well-known a figure as Mr Obama) has shown that the Unionist consensus within the Labour Party is nothing more than a fragile performance in deference to Ed Milliband’s need to placate the voters of middle England. With any luck he will be the first of many Labour MPs and MSPs in both Scotland and England to come out in favour of independence, or at least to declare neutrality on the issue.

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King Juan Carlos has made the right choice

It is a sad indictment of the current state of constitutional monarchy in Europe that King Juan Carlos of Spain has probably made the right decision to abdicate today. He has become unpopular in Spain, and the continuation of his reign might well have undermined the monarchy to such an extent that Spain would have been in danger of drifting back into republicanism. He has thus shown the same selfless approach that he displayed in 1981 when he seized back control of Spain from a military coup, and then promptly reigned as a more or less powerless figurehead for the next 33 years. The King has abdicated while the stock of Crown Prince Felipe remains high, although banking on the fickleness of public opinion for the success of one’s monarchy seems a perilous strategy. However, it is important to note that Spain’s modern monarchy is a very young one, and Spain has experimented with republicanism in the not-so-distant past; there is no comparison to be made between Spain and Britain in this sense. The monarchy is immensely popular in Britain and the Commonwealth realms at present, owing to the effect of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George, but the popularity or otherwise of the British monarchy is still neither here nor there in Britain itself. The British have no recent historical experience of a republic and, frankly, most British people despise republican government and its foibles more than they love the monarchy. British pessimism and cynicism about an elected head of state will keep the monarchy in business for a good few decades yet.

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