Angus Robertson, Civil Disobedience, Democracy, Indyref2, Jim Sillars, Marxism, Nicola Sturgeon, Opinion, Politics, Revolution, Scotland, Scottish Independence, Scottish National Party, Scottish Nationalism, SNP, Supreme Court, Unionism
Yesterday’s ruling at the Supreme Court basically confirms that anybody who had voted for an independence referendum during the last Holyrood election didn’t know what they were doing. The Scottish government has no legal power to hold such a referendum.
Following the ruling, Angus Robertson, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, had observed that “up until today we have been labouring under the illusion that the United Kingdom is a voluntary union. Today we learned it is not a voluntary union.” The SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon stressed the same point:
Let’s be blunt: a so-called partnership in which one partner is denied the right to choose a different future – or even to ask itself the question —cannot be described in any way as voluntary or even a partnership at all.
As it happens, this sounds like a perfectly fair complaint to me. The UK is “a family of nations” and no family should be held together by brute force. Ideally, the Union should contain some mechanism akin to the EU’s Article 50, in which any nation can drop out at any time. But the paradox of Robertson and Sturgeon’s position is that they had first gone to the Supreme Court and that they are secondly – even now – trying to identify some “lawful and constitutional means” to leave the Union. You will have noticed that no family has ever possessed its own internal legality, which makes leaving the family somehow “illegal” or, even more absurdly, “legal.” Leaving a family is in fact more often than not a question of brute force.
The Supreme Court has ruled that for Scotland to leave the Union is a revolutionary act and one that involves the same suspension of legality that characterises, for example, a war. The Court has certainly shown that it is impossible in any practical respect for Scotland to leave legally. If only Westminster can ever legislate for an independence referendum, then it will agree to one only when the Scottish nationalists are predicted to lose it. This is what had occurred back in 2014, when our gracious host, David Cameron, had allowed the referendum cake to be wheeled out on the strategic political calculation that it would kill off half of his guests.
In simpler times, the SNP’s Jim Sillars had maintained that Scotland could leave the Union whenever there was a majority of separatists in the Scottish parliament. They could all just pass a law to announce that they were independent. If anything, yesterday’s ruling has shown Sillars to be more sensible than Sturgeon is. But in sticking to the “lawful and constitutional” roadmap, what road does Sturgeon actually have left? As far as I can see there are three options.
The first is the one that she has chosen and it is the very worst one. She wants everybody in Scotland to continue to vote for Scottish independence, as a kind of weird, ongoing passive-aggressive chant. Unfortunately, the Court had ruled yesterday that there is no existing legal method to directly connect Scotland’s electorate with a referendum. Holyrood is unable to grant one whilst at Westminster Scottish MPs constitute too small a minority to achieve anything without English assistance. So this is a plan to achieve nothing. It is probably just a plan to buy time until Sturgeon can, as the gossips suggest, slip off into the lucrative after-dinner sector.
The second option is to field SNP candidates up and down the UK, in Cornwall and Sussex and Cardiff and so on. Once the SNP had won a majority in the Westminster parliament, then they could legislate for an independence referendum. Unfortunately, the SNP are ideologically prevented from ever countenancing such a strategy because they are, at bottom, ethnic nationalists. They view the English working class as being qualitatively psychologically different to Scottish voters and they are never going to speak to them or think about them, let alone take a train down to Cornwall and stand in one of their elections.
The third option is mass civil disobedience or even revolutionary violence. This would shock and amaze the UK government into conceding independence, as had occurred with the former colonies of the British Empire. But the SNP are never going to run with this strategy because they are not revolutionaries. Their leader in particular is committed to a cautious, managerial bourgeois politics and “lawful and constitutional” are the only words in her dictionary.
So maybe we can leave Scottish independence here then. Its different contradictions have led it to become an entirely self-nullifying political unit. For most supporters of Scottish independence, the movement has been largely hobbyism or a recreational, social-media experience. It has tended to involve sticking signs in windows and mobbing BBC journalists on Twitter rather than fleeing between safe houses and pinpointing the best positions to raise barricades. Perhaps, given yesterday’s defeat, they should branch out into a more realistic politics that can build homes and finance hospitals and potentially mean or achieve something.
[Previously on Tychy: “The Fallacy of IndyRef2.”]