A test for British politicians

Cat Boyd’s analysis of the circumstances of the first Scottish independence referendum is characteristically flawed. It pretty much parrots the cosy consensus of the mainstream British media which, ludicrously, portrays David Cameron as the masterful political operator deftly outsmarting Alex Salmond. The only thing about this version of events which is remotely close to reality is the bit about the SNP being ‘forced’ to call the referendum in 2014. But the notion that this wrong-footed the party is nonsensical. The SNP had been readying for a referendum for years – if not decades. The suggestion that they were caught unprepared simply ignores this inconvenient fact.

No doubt Cameron did think the British state would easily see off the threat from the independence movement. But the idea that he cunningly set a “trap to destroy the SNP” gives him way too much credit. The circumstances which forced the SNP’s hand were no less a surprise to Cameron than they were to Salmond. But, while the SNP had been thinking about a referendum for years, the British establishment thought it would never happen. So the idea that Cameron was somehow better prepared than Salmond just doesn’t add up.

And the idea that Cameron must have agreed to ‘allow’ the referendum assumes that here were no other considerations. It fails to take into account that there were implications associated with refusing the Section 30 order. It fails to recognise that Salmond had options. He had a ‘plan B’. And Cameron, or his advisers would be well aware that some of those options could have created difficulties for the British establishment. Had Cameron not done an embarrassing U-turn on his previous determination to deny Scotland’s democratic right of self-determination the Scottish Government could, for example, have gone ahead with a consultative referendum to measure demand for a vote on independence. Or a consultation asking what powers the Scottish Parliament should have. Either of which would all but certainly have had outcomes that the British state wouldn’t like.

Cameron agreed to the referendum because he had no choice. It was, from his perspective, the least worst option.

From then on, Salmond was in total control. He danced Cameron into the Edinburgh Agreement; which gave the Scottish Government everything it wanted. The stuff about the SNP wanting a second question on the ballot but being thwarted by Cameron is another part of the myth created by the media. Not everybody swallowed that myth as completely as Cat Boyd has. Some thought to ask the awkward questions. Such as: why would the SNP want to split the Yes vote? Why would they want to include an option for more powers short of independence when, worst case scenario, a substantial but losing Yes vote would have assisted demands for more powers anyway?

What has been forgotten by those who have succumbed to the British state’s propaganda is that the SNP never asked for that second question. It was never proposed by the Scottish Government. All that happened was that Alex Salmond dropped a hint about it in a speech. he did so knowing exactly what the British government’s response would be. Remember that a ‘more powers’ option was very popular. There was a great deal of public support for such an option. The SNP didn’t want it on the ballot, for the reasons given. But they didn’t want to be the ones who vetoed something that the voters wanted. So Salmond manipulated Cameron into absolutely rejecting the idea. And he did so with ease.

There’s a picture of Cameron and Salmond taken just after they’d signed the Edinburgh Agreement. That picture is worth way more than a thousand words. Salmond is looking smugly satisfied as only he can. Cameron looks like somebody who has just realised they left the oven, the front door open and the car unlocked.

Why is this important? It matters because a good grasp of the past is essential to a proper understanding of the present. And you have to know where we are to be able to work out where we might be going. That Cat Boyd manages to come to the conclusions she does despite having swallowed so much media crap about the past is a testament to just how glaringly obvious it is where things are headed.

Although the constitutional contexts are very different, there are clear parallels to be drawn between Spain/Catalonia and UK/Scotland. Established power is much the same wherever you find it. In its essentials, democratic dissent doesn’t vary much from one context to another. So we can look at what happened in Catalonia on Sunday and see it as a warning. It would be dangerously naive to imagine that the British state would shy away from deploying the same brutality against anything perceived to be a threat to its structures of power, privilege and patronage.

There is a simple test, which requires a reasonable understanding of the British state’s past behaviour towards Scotland and only a little imagination. Look at the questions below and ask yourself how any British politician might answer, supposing they could be obliged to respond at at all and supposing that they could be forced to be honest. (OK! Maybe a bit more imagination than I thought.) If, like me, you find it impossible to envisage any Unionist politician answering in the affirmative to any of the questions, you then have to ask what justifies them having political power. and what they might do to keep it.

Do you acknowledge Scotland’s democratic right of self-determination as guaranteed by Chapter 1 of the Charter of the United Nations, and agree that this right is vested wholly in the people of Scotland to be exercised entirely at their discretion?

Do you accept the authotity of the democratically elected Scottish Parliament and recognise the validity of its decisions as a true reflection of the will of Scotland’s people?

Do you denounce the efforts of the British state to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination and condemn the disrespect of the Scottish Parliament evident in the refusal of the British political parties to accept its ruling on the matter of a new constitutional referendum?

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14 thoughts on “A test for British politicians

  1. SandyW

    Sorry, the only answers I can imagine a British Unionist politician giving are:

    ‘We’re Better Together’

    ‘Back in your box’ and

    ‘Eat your cereal’.

    Up to you what order you want to put them in.

  2. Willie John

    “It would be dangerously naive to imagine that the British state would shy away from deploying the same brutality against anything perceived to be a threat to its structures of power, privilege and patronage.”

    Tanks and George Square. Miners and Maggie.

    We had the 40% fiddle, then Project Fear. Operation Force could be the next step but, just as in Catalonia, the backlash could make independence even more likely.

  3. Ayrshirelass

    Scotland and Catalonia are quite distinct
    Scotland is one of two founding countries of the UK and can repeal the Treaty of Union.
    That plus the Scottish right of sovereignty.
    The people are sovereign and have given the Scottish parliament a crystal clear mandate to hold another referendum.

  4. bringiton

    I think you know the answers to your questions Peter.
    No,No,No thrice No.
    As you say there is hardly a sheet of bronco between the Spanish and British (not allowed to say English) government’s attitudes to power.
    Both administrations are from the far right where might is right and they are not about to accede to any of their “regions” demands for autonomy,especially if money is involved.
    I seem to remember Jack Straw,immediately after our referendum result demanding that England,sorry Britain,should be declared indivisible to prevent Scots from having another referendum
    Democracy Labour style.

    1. stewartb

      Given what’s happening in Catalonia, your recall of Jack Straw’s comments is very timely and important – a warning to all progressive democrats in Scotland. For the record:

      Source: Jack Straw writing on 20 September, 2014 in The Times:

      “Now that Scotland has decisively spoken, after a campaign whose terms were set by the SNP for itself, we should follow the example of stable federated countries (the US and India, for example) and say: “This Union is now indissoluble.

      …… Put this commitment to the Union in primary Westminster legislation. Of course, that could be changed but only by all the UK’s MPs. “Better Together” must mean what it says.”

      So, we had a Labour (not even a Tory!) politician wishing to place Scotland and its people’s sovereignty in an analogous position to Catalonia in Spain. How many MPs does Scotland send to Westminster?

      And irony of ironies, he chose to use as examples, states that gained their independence from his England/Britain by bloody revolt.

  5. David McDowell

    It certainly suited Cameron to have “Devo Max” off the ballot paper.

    His “plan B” was to offer something looking very like “Devo Max” three days before the vote, if there was any chance they might lose.

    As we all know, that’s exactly what he did and it worked.

    And at that point the idea that Salmond in any way “outsmarted” Cameron looks like wishful thinking to me.

    1. Ayrshirelass

      Its not really a matter of Alex Salmond vs David Cameron. Thats the same old rhetoric of the independence referendum which was personalised to a disturbing degree. The referendum was about every man woman and child in Scotland. Unionist supporters would prefer we forget that.

      In fact Cameron was forced to offer Scotland a a totally different status within the Union with devomax to the people of Scotland to gain their consent to remain.

      He lied clearly, the very next day with his announcement of EVEL and the actions of Westminster MPs in blocking devomax from the Scotland Bill in fact means that the Union on which Scotland chose to remain no longer exist.

      1. David McDowell

        I’m not the one who brought up “Alex Salmond vs. David Cameron”.
        It was raised in the article and I just responded to it.

  6. William Ross


    Question 1 — Yes
    Question 2 — Yes to the extent that such decisions are in their power — see the various Scotland Acts. The Scottish Parliament is not a fully sovereign body and this was ratified by the Scots on 18 Sept, 2014.
    Question 3 — Not sure that I see disrespect but I want to see Indyref2 after Brexit.. I voted SNP on 8 June 2017 to protect Indyref 2. Most Scots did not agree.

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