Democratic Deficit in Scotland?

BY EFFIE DEANS

The SNP’s latest paper “Renewing Democracy through Independence” attempts to show that there is a democratic deficit that justifies Scotland leaving the UK. The argument goes that Scotland votes differently to the UK as a whole in General Elections or during the Brexit referendum. We get Tories though we voted for the SNP or Labour. We get Leave though we voted for Remain. What the SNP’s paper does not point out is that this is a feature of all democracies.

If Scotland became independent there would be parts of Scotland that would habitually vote differently from the whole. But Scotland would be a unitary state and the Borders or Orkney and Shetland would be mere regions of Scotland. The SNP argument is therefore that there is no democratic deficit if a region such as the Borders votes differently from the whole. Orkney and Shetland could not have an independence referendum due to voting differently to Glasgow because they do not form a country.

But it is obvious here that the SNP argument is assuming what it is trying to prove. It’s only on the assumption that Scotland is a separate country from the UK that it matters that Scotland sometimes votes differently to the UK. It doesn’t matter that Vermont votes differently to the USA. It is simple logic therefore that the SNP is using the logical fallacy called begging the question.

The democratic deficit argument only works on the assumption that Scotland is already a separate country from the UK. This assumption is then used to justify Scotland becoming a separate country.

The whole problem is that the words “country” and “nation” can be used in different ways. Normally when we talk of the countries of the world, we mean sovereign nation states, but we also use these words in looser ways. Scotland is commonly called a country, but it is not a sovereign nation state. If it were it would already be independent.

Because Scotland is called a country the SNP attempts to treat it is as if it already were a sovereign nation state and uses this to complain of a democratic deficit. But in a General Election there are not citizens of four countries voting one of which is outvoted by the others. There are citizens of only one country. They are British citizens. So where is the democratic deficit?

If in a Presidential election there were 49 states with American citizens and one state California with Californian citizens, it might be justified for the Californians to complain that they have been outvoted by the other 49 states and that they did not get the President that they voted for. But they would only be Californian citizens if California were a sovereign nation state. They cannot legitimately complain if they are all American citizens and California is a part of the USA. There is no democratic deficit there.

Does it change anything that Scotland is called a country and that it once was an independent sovereign nation state? No. This would only change anything in a UK General Election if people living in Scotland did not have the same citizenship as people in the other parts of the UK. But we do. It is this that makes us one electorate. It is this that justifies counting our votes and constituencies along with everyone else’s.

The SNP argument is that Scots are a different people and that Scotland is part of a multi-nation state called the UK which requires the consent of each part continually for it to remain together. But as I have argued previously this is to treat the UK as a confederation, where each member is already independent and has sovereignty. But this would mean that Scots were not British citizens.

Indeed, it would mean that there would be no common citizenship in the UK. But in that case, it would be expected that each part of the confederation was self-sufficient economically and did not expect fiscal transfers from the others. Logically Nicola Sturgeon should first give up all Treasury funding before seeking another independence referendum.

The reason why many people in Scotland think that there is a democratic deficit is because in the 1980s and 1990s Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish establishment told them that there was. It was unfair that Scotland voted Labour, but got Thatcher. This was the justification for devolution, but the folly is now clear because it can equally be used to justify independence.

Historically the UK is almost unique. We retained the sense of being separate countries even as those countries joined to form a single unitary nation state. The SNP presents the unitary nature of the UK as the Westminster viewpoint, but it’s alternative multi nation description of the UK if taken literally turns the UK into something like the EU. But this would mean Scotland already had independence. So again, the SNP would be assuming independence in order to justify independence.

Historically what happened in the UK is no different to what happened in other countries where various kingdoms merged to form a larger whole of similar people. The main difference is that there was no attempt in the UK to erase the “national” identities of the parts.

In 1869 the Japanese annexed the northern most island of today’s Japan Hokkaidō. It was then called Ezo and the people who lived there the Ainu did not speak Japanese, but a language completely unrelated. There are now approximately 100 Ainu speakers left. Japan had a policy of Japanification. Everyone in Japan had to assimilate and lose all sense of separate identity. But there is no democratic deficit if Hokkaidō votes differently to Japan as a whole.

In every modern democracy there are the descendants of people who once formed independent states or kingdoms. The fact that they either retained this previous identity or lost it is an historical accident that reflects well or badly on how they were treated. Scotland and England retained a separate identity because we were allowed to, because it was not seen as a threat to the UK as a whole. But to use this to justify destroying the UK is perverse.

There is no such thing as a separate Scottish people voting in elections, that does not get what it votes for. I only have one citizenship and it is the same as everyone else who is voting. This is the same in every democracy. If there is a democratic deficit in Scotland then Sturgeon needs to make clear that there is a democratic deficit in Japan, France and Germany, because they too are made up of people’s that used to form separate countries.

The fact that somewhere is called a “country” does not give it the right to independence otherwise we might see the Black Country seek secession or the West Country. Country is an ambiguous word that signifies precisely nothing. What matters is not what you are called, but what you are. Scotland is not independent, and cannot surreptitiously assume independence (“we’re a country, not a region”) to justify independence.

The only democratic deficit is that Sturgeon began campaigning for indyref2 five minutes after losing indyref1 and would campaign for indyref3 five minutes after losing indyref2. Meanwhile if we lose once we lose forever. That is your democratic deficit.

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