BY EFFIE DEANS
The Conservative manifesto promised that there would not be a second Scottish independence referendum. The Conservatives won a large majority. That should be the end of the matter.
This being Scotland it isn’t. Independence is the bone, Nicola Sturgeon is the dog. Scottish nationalists will teach their toddlers that “No means No” or else raise spoilt brats. Young independence supporting women will go on demonstrations asserting that “No means No” and people will sometimes go to jail for failing to take no for an answer, but nationalism always has the threat of violence in it. If we don’t get our way, we will take matters into our own hands. It is for this reason that nationalism so frequently does give rise to violence.
There is in human nature clearly both the desire for unity and the desire for separation. It is for this reason that nation states form from groups of similar people and also why these groups sometimes break apart. There are therefore numerous examples of secession nationalism (Croatia, Latvia) and unification nationalism (Germany, Italy). Wishing to maintain the territorial integrity of your nation state of course is not nationalism at all. To suggest it is merely shows a wilful misunderstanding of the word “nationalism”.
In order to satisfy both the forces of unity and disunity many countries have developed forms of government that both unite the nation state and devolve power to its various parts. The United States does this very well with each state having a great deal of local power. But the Federal Government on certain issues has control. There is no nationalism in the United States. To say someone is an American nationalist is not to say that he wants the United States to be independent. It already is independent. Nor is it to say that he wants to maintain the territorial integrity of the United States. Every American wants this. To say someone is an American nationalist is to say that he is a fascist, a supporter of the Ku Klux Klan or something similar.
There are no nationalists in the secession sense, because secession is simply not an option. The last state capital that tried to secede was burned to the ground in 1865. Every American school child pledges allegiance to one nation indivisible. If any state had a state election asking for a referendum on independence, it would not be granted for the simple reason that such a referendum would be illegal, the issue would be outside the competence of that state’s legislature and if it chose to attempt to assert its independence anyway its state capital would be burned to the ground.
What is different about Scotland? The main reason that nationalism exists here is possibility. Twenty or thirty years ago Scottish independence was a non-issue. Only a few obsessives were interested. No one went on marches. Two things changed this. The Scottish Parliament and the independence referendum campaign. These both gave rise to the sense that Scottish independence was possible. It first requires the idea that something is possible before people even begin to think about whether it is desirable.
The Scottish Parliament ought to have acted as a way of giving people control over local matters. It need not have fuelled nationalism. After all devolution doesn’t fuel nationalism everywhere.
The reason the Scottish Parliament fuels nationalism is because Scottish independence is considered to be possible and the Scottish Parliament is deemed to have the right to decide on this issue. This is why so many Scots vote for the SNP both at General Elections and at elections for the Scottish Parliament. They think doing so makes Scottish independence more likely. But it ought not.
The Scottish Parliament only has the right to decide on devolved issues. It cannot declare war on Texas, for the same reason Texas cannot declare war on Scotland. Matters of defence are not devolved issues. But so too constitutional matters are explicitly outside the competence of the Scottish Parliament. But you cannot logically have a manifesto commitment to something that is outside your control, nor can you have a vote on it, nor can you pass laws or decide to do anything else.
It therefore doesn’t matter if the SNP put into their 2021 manifesto that they want permission for a second independence referendum. It doesn’t matter if they win all the votes and all the seats. It wouldn’t matter after all if they put into their manifesto that they wanted to annex the Isthmus of Panama, because it once belonged to Scotland and it ought to be independent again and belong to us. The SNP can logically only put into their manifesto at a General Election that they want permission to have an independence referendum, but they would then have to persuade an overall majority of MPs to agree with them.
The reason so many Scottish journalists are confused about this is either because they are Scottish nationalists or because they sympathise with Scottish nationalism or because they are scared to contradict their SNP masters. But nonetheless this is peculiar because these same journalists almost universally admire the EU.
How many EU member states would allow a legal referendum on independence for one of its parts? Many EU member states forbid referendums in general, others have made clear that they would never allow independence movements to succeed. No EU member state has split up into independent parts, though a number have done so before joining. The EU is opposed to member states splitting up in this way. It is for this reason that it sided with Spain and gave zero support to Catalan independence supporters.
The EU clearly involves a process of unification similar to that which Germany underwent in the nineteenth century. It is already practically impossible for Eurozone members to leave. The EU did its very best to prevent Britain from leaving. The end point of ever closer union will make it virtually impossible for EU member states to leave. At that point they will cease to be independent in any meaningful sense. The relationship of Germany to the EU will be as Saxony at present is to Germany. Each will be formerly independent states that now cannot leave.
Those Scottish journalists who support the EU while arguing that the Scottish Parliament has the right to decide if it wants independence understand neither devolution nor the EU.
There should never have been a first Scottish independence referendum. David Cameron should simply have pointed out that independence was outside the remit of the Scottish Parliament. It is an issue about which this parliament cannot even have an opinion. He should have then told the SNP that when they win a majority at Westminster, they can have their referendum. It is the possibility of independence alone that means the SNP are uninterested in devolved issues. The SNP will only take seriously what is within their competence (schools, hospitals etc), when it is carefully explained to them that Scottish independence is outwith their control.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.