The death of traditional Scottish unionism

The UK Supreme Court has made its ruling. It’s a no, it’s a big fat no. That ruling came as no great surprise, a court established in London by a British Government and steeped in the English constitutional dogma of the absolute sovereignty of Westminster was never going to find sufficient legal wriggle room to allow Holyrood to hold an independence referendum, even a referendum which was carefully specified as being consultative, without Westminster’s permission. The ruling was not just a no, it was a flat out no, a unanimous no. The ruling did at least give us a definitive answer to the question of whether Holyrood can proceed with its plans for another referendum and did not, as some had feared, refuse to give a ruling on the substance of the matter.

The court – at least in its summary judgement – made no recognition of the fact that the only democratic means open to the people of Scotland to express their democratic wish for another referendum is through an election to the Scottish Parliament. That is exactly what happened at the Holyrood election last year, and the result was unarguable. By the normal rules of all elections in the UK the parties advocating another referendum won a clear and solid majority and a mandate to bring about another referendum. This means that, despite what the likes of Anas Sarwar would have us believe, the political question of whether there should be another referendum has already received an answer as definitive as the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Scottish Parliament lacks the legal competence to hold one. If democracy in Scotland is to have any meaning, there must be another independence referendum.

This ruling did not settle the question of independence – it gave us another powerful and compelling reason why independence is necessary.

There is now a clear contradiction between the legal situation and the democratic situation. The judges have effectively ruled that Scotland is a hostage of whoever the Conservatives have chosen to install in Downing Street. The generations long claim so beloved of traditional Scottish Unionism that the United Kingdom is a voluntary union of nations is a myth, a lie told to the people of Scotland by British nationalists in order to secure Scotland’s loyalty. Traditional Scottish Unionism died today. The fairy story that the United Kingdom is a voluntary union of nations is dead and buried. A union in which member nations may only exercise their right to decide whether they wish to remain in that union or to leave it with the permission of a government effectively chosen by the electorate of the largest nation in that union is not a voluntary union in any meaningful sense of the term. There is as much substance to the claim that the United Kingdom is a voluntary union as there was to Gordon Brown’s Vow, as there was to the promise that no Westminster government would ever meddle with the devolution settlement without the express consent of the Scottish Parliament.

The Supreme Court dismissed arguments based upon the right to self-determination enshrined in international law. It ruled that Scotland is not a colony. It ruled that Scotland is not oppressed. It ruled that Scotland is not denied meaningful access to control over its own affairs, and then it issued a ruling denying Scotland meaningful access to control over its own affairs as far as deciding whether it wishes to revisit the question of independence is concerned. This is not the fault of the court. The court does not make the law, it merely interprets it. The fault lies squarely with those Westminster politicians who have always told Scotland that it is a part of a voluntary union, but who have denied Scotland any means of putting their claim the test. Westminster and the Conservative party are blocking Scottish democracy.

There is now no answer to the question – What is the democratic route to another referendum given that we now know that it is not the people of Scotland voting for a parliament to which they have given a mandate for another referendum. This represents the ultimate failure of devolution. Devolution cannot guarantee democracy in Scotland, it cannot guarantee that the people of Scotland will get what they vote for, because what Scotland votes for is subject to a veto from an occupant of Downing Street that no one voted for and who represents a party which has not won a democratic election in Scotland since 1955. The UK is not a voluntary Union, Scotland is a hostage to the Conservative party.

This is intolerable, and as she gave her reaction to the Supreme Court ruling, the First Minister noted that the court did not rule that there is no legal route to Scottish independence, it ruled that the Scottish Parliament cannot pass a bill to bring about another independence referendum without Westminster’s consent. However democracy in Scotland cannot and will not be blocked by a minority party in Scotland which has been consistently rejected at the ballot box by the people of Scotland.

The Conservatives and Labour have every right in a democracy to oppose independence and to oppose holding another independence referendum, but what they cannot do if democracy in Scotland is to have any meaning is to resort to authorities outwith Scotland to ensure that they still get their way after they put their propositions to the people of Scotland in an election which they lost. Yet that is exactly what the democracy deniers of Anglo-British supremacism are doing now.

Independence is now no longer solely about building a Scotland which works for and in the interests of the people of Scotland and ensuring that Scotland always gets a government which the people of Scotland voted for. Independence is still about those things, but now another dimension has been added to the independence question, independence is now also about ensuring democracy itself. We know know that democracy in Scotland cannot be guaranteed as long as Scotland remains a part of this non voluntary and unequal union.

The First Minister announced today that democracy cannot be denied. The people of Scotland must have their say in a legal and democratic vote on the future of their country. Therefore the next election in Scotland will become a de facto referendum on independence. Labour and the Tories must now explain themselves to the people of Scotland, they must explain their lies about the nature of a union which we now know is not voluntary at all. They must explain what the democratic route is for the people of Scotland to secure another referendum now that we know it is not voting for a Scottish Parliament committed to delivering one. During PMQs in the Commons today, the unelected Prime Minister repeatedly refused to answer that question.

The First Minister also announced a special conference of the SNP and discussions with the Greens in order to determine the question to be put to the voters of Scotland at that de facto referendum and a plan of action once a Yes majority is secured. Scotland will have its say, but we have work to do between now and then to build that secure Yes majority and to hold the democracy deniers of Anglo-British nationalism to account. That will continue to be the sole focus of this blog until that Yes vote is secured.


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