Prior to the historic vote approving a new independence referendum in the Scottish Parliament yesterday (Tuesday 28 March) I, like many others, wrote to the MSPs who purport to represent me urging them to respect the Scottish Government’s mandate; honour the democratic will of the Scottish electorate; and reject their parties’ calls to deny Scotland’s democratic right of self-determination. The responses I received from representatives of the British parties at Holyrood were unsurprising, but no less deplorable for being only what I expected.
Common to the feeble rationalisations of their craven conduct was the customary nonsense about there having been an undertaking that the first independence referendum was a ‘once in a generation/lifetime’ event. I say nonsense, not only because there never was any such undertaking, but because there could be no such undertaking. It not only didn’t happen, it couldn’t happen. The incessant whining about this mythical ‘promise’ betrays a fundamental failure to comprehend the nature of the democratic right of self determination. A right which is vested entirely in the people of Scotland. A right which cannot be limited, constrained or withdrawn by any politician, political party or elected administration.
Comments were made by leading figures in the SNP to the effect that the referendum was a special opportunity for the people of Scotland. In describing how special this opportunity was, the words ‘once in a lifetime’ or similar were used. At no time was it suggested that this was a unique or unrepeatable event. It was simply a case of politicians deploying a common figure of speech in order to emphasis the importance of the vote.
And even if there had been an assurance from Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon that the referendum was to be a one-off, that assurance would have been meaningless. Because neither they nor anyone else has the authority in relation to an inalienable right. Even as Scotland’s democratically elected leaders, neither was entitled to place any conditions or constraints on Scotland’s right of self-determination. How much less right, therefore, does the unelected British Prime Minister have to forbid the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination?
Similarly, nobody voted in the first referendum to relinquish their right of self-determination. The argument that the people of Scotland made a choice and must abide by it for all time and in all circumstances displays an ignorance of democracy even more profound than the failure to grasp the concept of self-determination. The whole point of an inalienable right is that it can no more be forfeited than it can be removed. Nobody can lawfully renounce the right of self-determination any more than than they can lawfully vote themselves into a condition of slavery.
Article 1(2) of the Charter of the United Nations explicitly affirms “the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples”. It might well be argued that, under the terms of the UN Charter to which the UK is a signatory, the requirement for permission from Westminster constitutes at least an unreasonable and possibly an unlawful interference in the exercise of the Scottish people’s right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs.
What cannot sensibly be argued is that the people of Scotland somehow lost – even temporarily – the right of self-determination when they voted No in 2014. Democracy is a process, not an event. It is plainly an affront to any concept of democracy to insist, as many Unionists do, that the democratic process be stopped just because they got the result they wanted. These Unionist might well retort that nationalists want to keep on voting until they get the result they want. Of course they do! That is no more than democracy in action. The right to decide – to make an informed choice – necessarily implies the corollary of a right to reconsider in the light of new information. It cannot be otherwise and still be considered democracy.
The British parties’ campaign to deny the people of Scotland a voice is, not only undemocratic, it is definitively anti-democratic. That they continue this effort despite Holyrood having voted decisively in favour of a new referendum merely adds disrespect for Parliament to contempt for democracy and disdain for the sovereignty of the Scottish people on a lengthening charge-sheet.
There is, however, a sense in which the first independence referendum really was a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’. In many way, the stars were favourably aligned for the restoration of Scotland’s independence back then. At the very least, and despite the deplorable behaviour of the anti-independence campaign, there remained the possibility that the archaic, dysfunctional political union could be dissolved with a minimum of acrimony and a certain amount of goodwill. In November 2013 I wrote,
A No vote on 18 September 2014 will have consequences. The outcome itself and the all too easily envisaged response of the British state to that outcome will alter an already unsatisfactory political union in ways that must inevitably have a deleterious effect on the social union that we all value so much.
Who can deny that the imperious, domineering, contemptuous attitude of Theresa May’s ‘One Nation’ British nationalist regime has altered the union and deformed the democratic space within which the constitutional debate is conducted?
Who can deny that the shrill, irreverent and all too often infantile behaviour of the British parties at Holyrood has been deleterious to all political discourse in Scotland?
Who can deny that, in a test of loyalty which asked them to choose between Scottish democracy and an increasingly obscene and irrational British nationalism, MSPs from the British parties chose the latter. They chose to forsake Scotland for the dogma of ‘The Union At Any Cost’.
It should never have come to this. It could all have been so very different.
Now, regrettably, we must recognise that the ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ we had in 2014 is gone. Independence is as inevitable now as it was then. But it cannot now be a graceful or an amicable process. Our best bet may be to get it over with as quickly as possible.Views: 5236
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