With the publication of the first in the Scottish Government’s series of papers setting out a renewed case for independence, the second independence referendum campaign has now got underway. As was entirely predictable the usual British nationalist suspects have not taken it well. Kevin Hague of the anti-independence group “These Islands” reacted to the first paper, comparing Scotland in the UK with a range of comparable northern European nations all of which perform better on a number of metrics than Scotland within the UK by sniffing that the Scottish Government had “cherry picked” the comparator nations and saying that on the metrics examined in the paper, Scotland as a part of the UK has a better economic record than the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Greece, or Portugal.
So let’s have a brief look at those countries. The Czech Republic and Slovakia, as Czechoslovakia, had a totalitarian Communist regime for almost 45 years after WW2 with a centrally directed command economy. The Czech Republic, the more economically developed of the two, was occupied by Nazi Germany and after the war deported its huge German minority who made up a third of the entire population and who occupied the most economically advanced parts of the country. Since the fall of communism both the Czech Republic and Slovakia have faced the challenges of building market economies and establishing secure democratic structures.
Like Slovakia, Greece and Portugal were traditionally agrarian economies which never experienced the early and intense industrialisation seen in Scotland. Greece embarked upon a disastrous war with Turkey after WW1 which resulted in the deportation of over a million Turks and Greek speaking Muslims from Greece and the need to integrate over a million and a half refugees from Anatolia into Greek society, many of whom were Turkish speaking Christians who did not know the Greek language. Throughout the inter war period Greece was marked by economic crises and political instability which ended up with a military coup and the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas. in WW2 Greece was occupied by both Italy and Nazi Germany, causing widespread destruction. After the war there was a civil war between pro-communist partisans and the right wing which lasted until 1949. The following years were marked by social strife and political instability until the coup of 1967 installed a far right military dictatorship which lasted until 1974.
Portugal was another traditionally agrarian economy which was marked by political instability. The republican revolution of 1910 abolished the monarchy and over the next 15 years Portugal had 45 different governments. A military coup in 1926 led to the establishment of the right-wing dictatorship of the Estado Novo under António de Oliveira Salazar in 1933. For almost fifty years Portugal languished under a far right dictatorship which was only brought to an end with the left wing military coup of 1974, known as the Carnation Revolution, which paved the way for the restoration of democracy. Portugal’s economy had been devastated throughout the 1950s and 1960s by the dictatorship’s disastrous pursuit of wars in Portugal’s large African colonies of Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau, which the dictatorship had refused to decolonise even as Britain and France were granting independence to their African possessions.
So basically Hague is claiming that as part of the UK Scotland has performed better than actual dictatorships which have been scarred by war and political instability. This is not the great advertisement for Westminster rule that he seems to think it is.
Meanwhile, Douglas Ross has insisted that he will boycott an “illegal” “wildcat” referendum, and I am probably not alone in wishing that Scotland could boycott Douglas Ross. He insists that he would still boycott the referendum even though he claims to be confident that the no campaign would win it, which makes Ross possibly the first politician in history to assert that he would not participate in a democratic event which he claims would only bolster his own position. It seems that for Ross it’s the principle of the thing that matters, the principle being that the people of Scotland should only ever be allowed to vote when Boris Johnson says it’s OK, although since Ross also thinks that Boris Johnson is unfit for office then maybe he really ought to ask the people of Scotland why they should respect Johnson’s wishes when he himself so clearly doesn’t. Ross’s branch office has not been on winning side in Scotland for decades and every time that he tells the electorate to tell the SNP that Scotland doesn’t want another referendum his party just gets another kicking.
If Ross’s boycott means he’s also going to boycott all media appearances about the referendum then I’m all for it. We’d get peace and quiet from his purse lipped Tory negativity and one less no voter. What’s not to like?
Of course a referendum held without a Section 30 order need not necessarily be either “illegal” or “wildcat”. The First Minister has made it clear that she does not intend to hold an unlawful referendum and has promised that the Scottish Government will shortly reveal a major update on plans to hold a referendum even without a Section 30 order. However the real question for Ross and his British nationalist cronies – we’re looking at you here Anas Sarwar – is that if the exercise of democracy is “illegal” in this so-called union then why exactly should Scotland remain within the confines of a political structure which criminalises the free and peaceful democratic expression of the will of the people of Scotland. It is also then incumbent upon Ross and Sarwar to spell out exactly how the people of Scotland are supposed to express their wish for another independence referendum and the mechanism by which this supposedly voluntary union will deliver it.
Yet whenever this question is put to Ross and Sarwar all we get are variations on the theme of why they do not want another independence referendum. We know that already, both of them told us at great and tedious length in the 2021 Holyrood election campaign all the reasons why they do not want another independence referendum, and the people of Scotland listened to their arguments and went ahead and voted for a Scottish Parliament with a large majority of MSPs from parties committed to delivering another independence referendum. That is the only process which we have which allows the people of Scotland to say whether or not they want another referendum and the people have unequivocally said that they want one.
So if this process does not suffice for Ross and Sarwar, they have an obligation to say what does suffice, them rehashing their arguments from an election which they lost is not going to cut it. The fact is that every time they refuse to specify exactly how the people of Scotland are supposed to exercise their right to choose the form of government best suited to their needs, they bolster the case for independence because they merely reinforce the view that the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland will not be heeded within this so called union. After all, if the right of the people of Scotland to choose the form of government best suited to their needs really is subject to a veto from a Prime Minister which Scotland did not vote for and whose party has a mere six Westminster seats in Scotland, four of which are held by MPs who recently voted that they had no confidence in him, then the people of Scotland do not after all have the right to choose the form of government best suited to their needs. That right then belongs to the aforementioned Prime Minister. British nationalism may be defined by its exceptionalism but Ross and Sarwar cannot have it both ways.
The anti-independence media in Scotland proves that it sees its primary task not as informing the people of Scotland but rather as acting as agents of British nationalism because it consistently tells us that a Section 30 order is needed for a referendum and that Johnson is not disposed to grant one and then as sure as a ferry crisis story in the Herald fails to follow up on what this means for Scotland and for the character of this supposed union that those same anti-independence media outlets are keen to inform us is defined by its voluntary nature. Neither do they press Ross and Sarwar and the other apologists for the British state on exactly how the people of Scotland are supposed to express their will for another referendum. However if the democratic choices of the people of Scotland really are subject to the whims of the occupant of Downing Street then this is not a voluntary union and the unionism sold to us by the Scotsman, the Herald, the Record and the BBC is founded on a lie.
This question goes to the very heart of the matter of independence. Independence is fundamentally about ensuring that the people of Scotland get what they choose in a democratic free and fair election. If Scotland cannot get that within the UK then the UK is neither democratic nor free and fair. It is telling indeed that the British nationalist parties and the anti-independence media consistently dodge this question. It’s almost as though they are terrified of the response of the people of Scotland when they get the answer. A refusal by Johnson to a Section 30 order is not the get out of jail free card that British nationalists think it is, it merely confirms that the union is dead and that the people of Scotland can only exercise their democratic rights in an independent and sovereign Scottish state.
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