Thursday, June 30, 2022

Melanie Phillips: A referendum should be for the whole nation


The Scots have no right to amputate the UK

Once again, Scottish nationalism is on the march.

The Scottish National Party wants another referendum on independence from the rest of the UK. A referendum on this was held in 2014, when on a turnout of more than 84 per cent more than 55 per cent of voters said “no” and almost 45 per cent said “yes”. 

The UK’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, has dismissed the SNP’s demand with contempt. Now Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is asking the UK’s Supreme Court to rule on the legality of holding a second referendum next year without Westminster’s permission.

Scotland has a devolved parliament at Holyrood. Under the Scotland Act 1998, any act it takes relating to the “union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England” is outside its legislative competence. But under one section of this act, which effectively allows the UK government to modify functions reserved to Westminster, a temporary order was made to allow Scotland to hold its referendum in 2014.

Discussion provoked by Sturgeon’s latest stunt has been almost entirely over its political and legal ramifications (for the latter, this Substack post by the legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg* is essential reading).  But almost no-one is asking the most important question of all. Shouldn’t the question of Scottish independence be for the population of the entire United Kingdom to decide?

Sturgeon is making out that denying Scotland the right to decide this (again) is on a par with Putin’s onslaught against Ukraine. While this claim is obviously as laughable as it is preposterous, its core point is at the heart of the campaign for Scottish independence — that Scotland is a separate nation and must be allowed to govern itself as such.

This is a sleight of hand. Yes, Scotland was once an independent nation. Its earliest recorded history began when the legions of the Roman Empire invaded ancient Britannia but were repulsed by the northernmost people of Caledonia, and accordingly marked a fortified division from northern England at Hadrian’s Wall. 

In 1707, Scotland voluntarily pooled sovereignty with England under the Acts of Union to create Great Britain. The Scots subsequently made an outsize contribution to Britain’s 18th century Enlightenment and industrial development, came to provide the bedrock of support for the UK’s Labour party and played a major role in the British effort in both world wars.

The modern movement for independence, which emerged during the 1970s substantially as a protest against the apparent hegemony of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party, is currently fuelled by a combination of factors. 

These are principally Scotland’s proud sense of its own history; the preservation of a distinct identity by the continuance of separate Scottish institutions such as the Church of Scotland and the Scottish education and legal systems; and, far less creditably, the profound and bigoted resentment by many Scots against the English, who they perceive govern them from Westminster (despite the existence of the Scottish parliament with many devolved powers) as latter-day English imperialists.

But this last point ignores the fact that Scotland is part of the overarching nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  In other words, the UK — often referred to by the shorthand term of Britain — is a meta-nation comprising the once separate nations of Scotland, Wales and the northern bit of Ireland.

So if Scotland were to become independent, that United Kingdom would be destroyed — severed at the top to become the Amputated Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

In other words, Scottish independence would affect not just the Scots but the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland too. It would have a profound effect on their economy, defence, national security and other matters. Yet the only people who would be deciding the fate of the entire UK would be the Scots.

The Scots may not like it, but they are citizens of the United Kingdom with responsibilities towards it. What right do they have to destroy it? None. The Scots demand their right to decide their own political destiny. But they have absolutely no right to dictate the destiny of others, with which their own has been fused since 1707. 

The 2014 referendum did no harm to the nation because the Scots voted against independence. But it was still wrong that it was restricted to the Scots alone. 

Although independence would be cataclysmic for the UK, the English are so fed up with having loaded the financial and political dice in favour of the Scots for so long only to get it all constantly thrown back in their face that, if they were ever asked, they might themselves vote to bid Scotland bye-bye.

Despite this risk, if there were to be another referendum proposing Scotland’s independence this should surely be for the United Kingdom as a whole to decide. 

*Authorial conflict of interest! 

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist, broadcaster and author - you can follow her work on her website HERE

1 comment:

DeeM said...

The UK would be nuts to agree to another independence referendum because the Scots are just stupid enough to vote in favour ...and then rejoin the EU!!!
That would make the Northern Ireland protocol look like a minor speed-bump.
The England-Scotland border would have trucks queuing up on either side waiting for the bureaucracy bods to check their papers.
Nicola Sturgeon's idea of socialist heaven!