Fundamental to democracy are the abilities of the people to choose their government, and then to hold that government to account for the promises and commitments that it made in order to win power. Additionally, democracy cannot function if people are not permitted to change their minds in the light of new information. As a part of the UK, Scotland lacks all those abilities. Events since the independence referendum have brought the democratic deficit that Scotland suffers as a part of the UK very starkly into focus.
There has of course been Brexit and the betrayal of the Vow, and now for the third time in six years we see the Conservative party choosing the next Prime Minister without the slightest input from the wider public , the public over whom the dysfunctional British Constitution will give that Prime Minister almost unlimited power. This blatant assault on democracy has now become normalised as the way in which British Prime Ministers with their presidential powers are chosen. It is noticeable that the British media, fan-boying and fan-girling as it does about individual candidates, no longer bothers to remark just what an insult to democracy the entire process is, all the more so in the UK, which as we have seen with the lamentable term in office of the corrupt serial liar Johnson, lacks any meaningful methods of holding the Prime Minister to account.
From the anti-independence parties we hear the repeated refrain that “the SNP” needs to respect the result of the 2014 referendum as though the SNP is not currently the dominant party in the Scottish Government because the people of Scotland put them there. The SNP have respected the result, Scotland is still a part of the United Kingdom. However what is far more important is that the winners of a democratic vote respect the promises and commitments that they made in order to win it, and that the people have the ability to hold the winning side to account for those promises and commitments. If that is not possible, there can be no meaningful democracy.
What the Labour and Conservative parties are demanding right now is that they do not need to respect the promises and commitments that they made as part of the Better Together campaign and that they and they alone are judge and jury on whether those promises have been kept. They are determined to ensure that the people of Scotland cannot hold them to account.
In effect they are insisting that Scotland handed them a blank cheque in all perpetuity in 2014 and that they alone, not the people of Scotland, will decide whether they have acted in good faith in the years since that vote. They have abrogated to themselves the power to decide when and if they should face the verdict of the people. They bandy about time periods after which they might be prepared to consider ‘allowing’ another referendum, completely ignoring the fact that if the UK is as they claim a voluntary union, this is a decision for the people of Scotland to make, not them. And they certainly do not wish to acknowledge that the people of Scotland already made that decision using the only democratic means available to them, when they chose to elect a Scottish Parliament committed to bringing about another referendum within the term of the current Scottish Parliament.
As a part of the UK Scottish democracy is fatally compromised because Scotland’s MPs at Westminster are a small and permanent minority who can be sidelined and ignored. When, as is currently the case, the ruling party at Westminster has a majority which is greater than the total number of Scottish MPs, Scottish votes can make no difference at all to how votes in the House of Commons go.
Of course the usual retort of opponents of independence, especially outwith Scotland, is that regions or cities within England don’t necessarily get what they vote for either. The difference is that they are not constituent nations within what is always described as a voluntary union of different countries. Scotland is a nation with a long history as an independent state, and a distinct political culture and tradition of its own, a nation moreover whose continued existence as a distinctive polity within the UK was not extinguished by the Treaty of Union but rather was guaranteed by it. If it is relevant to the discussion that London or Yorkshire don’t always get what they vote for either, then the UK is not a union, but is rather the unitary state of Greater England.
Despite that infamous Vow, promising that the powers of Holyrood would be made permanent, the Conservative Government of Theresa May obtained a Supreme Court ruling that the Sewel Convention has no legal standing. Holyrood is entirely at the mercy of Westminster, which can use its non-Scottish majority to change, sideline or even abolish the devolution settlement. The Conservatives are deeply hostile to the Scottish Parliament, and all that is holding them back from an all out assault on the powers of Holyrood is the fear of another independence referendum.
We are also seeing Westminster using that built in Scottish minority position at Westminster in order to overrule the Scottish Parliament, and in effect to ensure that the losers of a Holyrood election are still able to get their way. The last Holyrood election was won by parties supporting a second independence referendum, but the losing parties, who opposed the referendum are relying on Westminster to block the referendum, making a mockery of last year’s Scottish Parliament election.
Given all this the publication of the Scottish Government’s second paper setting out the case for independence is timely indeed. The paper sets out the view that it is for the people of Scotland and no one else to decide how they are governed and to decide whether Scotland should become independent. Rather than rehash all the points raised in the paper, you can read it for yourself by clicking here : However given the way governance in the UK has been going these past years, and the evident authoritarianism of the Conservatives, it is no exaggeration to say that the future of democracy itself in Scotland can only be secured through independence.
I’ve been blogging a lot this past couple of weeks but I am afraid that it has caught up with me and I’ve hit a brick wall of post-stroke fatigue, so I am going to need a few days to rest and recuperate. I’ll be back after the weekend.
My Gaelic maps of Scotland are still available, a perfect gift for any Gaelic learner or just for anyone who likes maps. The maps cost £15 each plus £7 P&P within the UK. You can order by sending a PayPal payment of £22 to [email protected] (Please remember to include the postal address where you want the map sent to).
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