The Overextending Mayoralty


If going through final Brexit deadlines has become tiresome then SNP interventions into the negotiating process have become still more boring and absurd.

The other day Humza Yousaf made the claim that Gunboat diplomacy would not be welcome in Scottish waters. He demonstrated not merely his ignorance of history, but also his wilful ignorance of devolution. Gunboat diplomacy has absolutely nothing to do with fishing nor indeed with protecting a nation’s territorial waters from lawbreaking. Gunboat diplomacy only ever took place in someone else’s territorial waters usually by means of a dirty great gunboat sailing into someone’s port and demanding something at the point of a gun.

The UK is a unitary state with devolved parliaments and some mayors in England.  There are only UK territorial waters in international law. For the same reason that there is no such thing as Californian territorial waters there is no such thing as Scottish territorial waters.  

All of the confusion which the SNP continually exploits comes about because SNP politicians repeatedly and deliberately conflate what they want to be the case (that Scotland become a sovereign independent nation state) with what is the case. Scotland has a devolved parliament that is subordinate. Scotland has had no international existence since 1707. For this reason, Scotland is not a member of the United Nations and was never a member of the EU, but rather was a part of a member state. We joined because the whole UK chose to do so, and we left for the same reason.

The idea of Humza Yousaf’s equivalent in California telling the United States Navy where it could sail and what it could do is quite preposterous. But this would never happen because the roles of the state and federal Governments are clearly defined. The states do not attempt to negotiate with foreign powers, nor do they attempt to undermine United States negotiations because they understand and accept that they are subordinate.

The problems with devolution in the UK are that the subordinate parts continually wish to claim that they are on a par with central Government and push a maximalist interpretation of devolved powers plus a minimalist interpretation of reserved powers.

Foreign policy is reserved. It therefore has nothing whatsoever to do with Holyrood. But that means the UK’s relations with the EU and the negotiations taking place are not Humza Yousaf’s business. Defence too is reserved. It is up to the UK Government to decide how it wishes to defend British waters from Russian submarines just as much as French trawlers. It is true that agriculture, forestry and fisheries are devolved. But this gives the Scottish Government the right to decide what Scottish fishing boats can do, it gives it no right at all to decide what French fishing boats can do. Scotland can no more decide to allow French fishing boats into the North Sea than California can decide to allow or prevent Chinese fishing boats.

Scotland cannot have a foreign policy anymore than California can for the simple reason that neither has an international existence. To suppose that California can act contrary to the United States Government on a matter of foreign relations is to suppose that California can declare war on Scotland. It is to misunderstand the nature of international relations.

When Scots voted for devolution we voted for a subordinate Parliament. This is what devolution means. If the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Parliaments were not subordinate, we would not have devolution but rather independence or confederation.  

It was never the intention of those who devised devolution that there would be conflict between devolved and reserved powers, but this was because no one predicted how politicians in the devolved parts of the UK would attempt to usurp reserved powers because of nationalism.

Suggestions from people like Gordon Brown that the solution is to give ever more powers to the Scottish Parliament and introduce some form of federalism miss the obvious point that this would merely encourage people like Humza Yousaf to still more try to usurp whatever reserved powers were left. Giving power to nationalists encourages nationalism. Learn this simple lesson. Politics in Scotland since devolution began to demonstrate it unequivocally. One more “wafer thin mint” of powers for Holyrood won’t blow up Mr Creosote, it will blow up Mr Britain.

The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.