Scotland in the UK : The form but not the substance of democracy

Ever since the First Minister made her announcement about how she plans to progress the second independence referendum which Scotland gave the Scottish Parliament a clear and unequivocal mandate for at last year’s Holyrood election, the anti-independence media in this country has shown that it has precisely zero interest in defending democracy, and even less interest in standing up for the basic principle of traditional Scottish unionism, the understanding that Scotland is a sovereign nation which chose to pool its sovereignty with the Kingdom of England and its dependencies in 1707 and that the union thus created will last as long as the people of Scotland want it to. It is a fundamental tenet of traditional Scottish unionism that the people of Scotland have the absolute right to decide whether Scotland becomes independent. Even Margaret Thatcher accepted that. That right is not to be subject to a veto from a Prime Minister in Downing Street that Scotland didn’t vote for.

Why the flying f*ck don’t the likes of the Herald’s Iain MacWhirter or the supposedly liberal Guardian’ s columnists write about how outrageous it is that the Conservative party aided and abetted by Labour and the Lib Dems are changing the nature of the UK from a voluntary union to a coercive one, and moreover are doing so without bothering to obtain even the pretence of a mandate from the people of Scotland? Why do they not write about how incredible it is that the First Minister has to come up with a plan for a plebiscite election in order to force Westminster to do something that Westminster’s apologists have always insisted that Scotland has an absolute right to do?

You might have thought that any journalist journalist interested in championing democracy would be screaming about that from the rooftops. You would have thought that they would be highlighting the fact that the 2021 Scottish Parliament Election was utterly dominated by the issue of another independence referendum and that whether voters were supportive of or opposed to another independence referendum we all clearly knew what we were voting for. We also know that even despite a suspiciously well funded anti-independence tactical voting campaign, the voters chose to elect a Scottish Parliament with a substantial majority in favour of another referendum. However it now appears that we are being told that none of that matters. The losers won. The parties which lost that election campaign have decided to retroactively rewrite the rules so that they can run roughshod over the will of the electorate and get their way anyway. Apparently we have government by opinion poll in this country now, but only when those polls are to the liking of the opponents of independence. Polls showing majority support for independence or for another referendum magically don’t seem to count.

Those journalists with a platform have a public duty to call this development out for the anti-democratic descent into authoritarianism that it really is. But no. They are instead fully occupied with gloating about how the UK Supreme Court will rule that the Scottish Government’s referendum plan is unlawful and how the plan to turn the next UK General Election into a de facto referendum is, in their opinion, unworkable.

From the anti-independence media there is a resounding silence on the threat to democracy, they only want to talk about process and are supremely comfortable with the notion of a Scotland in which it makes no difference how the people of Scotland have voted. Scottish democracy can be vetoed by a British Prime Minister whose party has not won an election in Scotland since the 1950s, and that is just fine with them. They do not want to examine the consequences of this or what it means for the character of this union that they are desperate to keep Scotland a part of.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. If Scotland had a media that was genuinely representative of the range of opinion in this country, we’d be independent already. Instead we have a media which is so terrified of the possibility of stoking support for independence that it enables the hollowing out of democracy and the destruction of Scottish sovereignty. Scotland, we assume, is just supposed to – in the words of Conservative Scotland Secretary Alister Jack – suck it up. The anti-independence Scottish media will just nod along in agreement like a British bulldog nodding dog on the dashboard of the Brexit bus that Johnson is driving off a cliff.

The anti-independence journalists and commentators express their incredulity about how a de facto referendum could work. The SNP don’t get to determine the terms of a UK General Election, they sniff. They wonder contemptuously how the SNP – and it’s only the SNP that they ever talk about, not the Greens, Alba, the other pro-independence parties, or the wider independence movement – is going to campaign against British parties with fully detailed manifestos. Tom Gordon in the Herald scoffed, wondering if the SNP would just reply “independence” when asked about health policy, defence policy, or education policy. He is however spectacularly missing the point, just like Macwhirter in his contribution to anti-independence miserabilism in today’s Sunday Herald.

The point is that a de facto referendum is only going to happen if the British Government continues to deny the result of the most recent Holyrood election and if the UK Supreme Court rules that the British state considers it unlawful for Holyrood to implement the mandate given to it by the people of Scotland. We are used to a situation where the British parties use their seats won in the rest of the UK to overrule Scotland in Westminster. If a de facto referendum does come about it will be because the British parties have appealed to sources of authority outwith Scotland in order to overrule the Scottish Parliament as well. Under such circumstances it makes not a blind bit of difference what any Scottish political party puts to the people of Scotland in a manifesto. Scotland is only ever going to get what a Westminster in which Scottish representatives are a small minority chooses to allow it. In UK General Elections Scotland is effectively just a spectator, and the winner of that predominantly English General Election can overrule the Scottish Parliament too. So who cares what is in the manifesto for a UK General Election or a Scottish Parliamentary election? Scotland is only ever going to get what the British nationalist parties decide to allow. Within the UK Scotland has only the form of democracy, but not its substance. And all this is just fine with the Scottish media’s enablers of Anglo-British nationalism.

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