Scottish Independence Is Within Sight

Craig Murray says that if you believe Scotland should only move to independence in a Westminster-approved process, then you do not really believe in Scottish independence. 

Scottish independence rally in Glasgow, 2018. (Azerifactory, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Craig Murray

There will never again be a route to Scottish independence deemed legal by Westminster. The 2014 referendum will never be repeated. The U.K. will never willingly give up a third of its land, most of its fisheries, most of its mineral resources, its most marketable beef, soft fruit and whisky, most of its renewable energy potential, a vital part of its military including its primary nuclear base, its best universities in a number of key fields including life sciences, its ready pool of intellectual and professional talent. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is for once honest when he says keeping the Union together is his top priority. It is the top priority of the entire British Establishment.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron only agreed to the 2014 referendum because he thought the result would humiliate and kill off Scottish nationalism. Support for independence was at 28 percent in the polls at the time he agreed. 

Westminster had the most enormous and horrible shock when support for independence grew to 45 percent during the campaign as many people for the first time in their lives heard the real arguments. The Whitehall panic of the last week of the 2014 referendum campaign is not something the British Establishment ever intend to repeat.

Trident submarine leaving its base on River Clyde, with Scottish Highlands village of Strone in background. (bodgerbrooks, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

There is a charmingly naive argument put forward by some that, if support for independence can be grown to 60 percent in the opinion polls, Johnson and Westminster will have to “grant” a referendum. This is the opposite of the truth. If support for Independence is at 60 percent, the very last thing that the Tories will do is agree a referendum they will lose. Their resistance will be massively hardened. Remember, the Tories could have zero Tory MPs in Scotland and still have a majority of 73 in Westminster. There is no political damage for Johnson in unpopularity in Scotland. In England, his anti-Scots stance is very popular with a core support base of knuckle-dragging, ill-educated racists. 

The “intellectual justification” for this stance was trailed by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on TV: Irrespective of the wishes of the majority in Scotland, the U.K. has a duty to stop Scottish Independence, to prevent anarchic secessionist forces being unleashed across Europe; he named Italy, France and Spain. 

Westminster will never agree to another referendum, and the more we look like winning it, the less they will agree to it. 

Nor is there a route to a “legal” referendum through the courts. If a court rules that a consultative referendum is legal under the current Scotland Act (which it might well be), then the Tories will simply pass new legislation at Westminster to make it illegal. They have already done this at Westminster to overturn Scottish parliament decisions, and the U.K. Supreme Court have already made clear that the sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament cannot be challenged. 

Scotland can become independent, but becoming independent is, without doubt, going to be illegal in terms of U.K. law — which is to say Westminster law. There will not be a route to Independence agreed with Westminster.

Westminster Has No Right

If you believe in Scottish independence, you believe that the Scottish nation are a “people” within the meaning of the UN Charter, and thus have an inalienable right of self-determination. That means that Westminster has no right, by legislation or by any other means, to prevent the Scottish people from exercising their self-determination.

I am sorry, but this is the fact: If you believe Scotland should only move to independence in a Westminster-approved process, you do not really believe in Scottish Independence at all.

Nicola Sturgeon campaigning in rich SNP territory, Kirkintilloch. (Ninian Reid, Flickr)

Which brings us to Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party and first minister of Scotland. Her much-trumpeted speech on the way forward following Brexit was disgraceful in explicitly stating that any referendum must be held with Westminster agreement, and that any referendum held without Westminster agreement could be “illegal.” She used the words “illegal” and “wildcat” to denigrate the idea of Scotland acting without Westminster permission.

Even the most loyal to Sturgeon of all major independence bloggers, such as James Kelly and Paul Kavanagh, could not support Sturgeon on this point. 

“Toom Tabard” as King John was derided, with his crown and scepter symbolically broken and with a blank coat of arms as depicted in the 1562 “Forman Armorial,” produced for Mary, Queen of Scots. (Wikimedia Commons)

What Sturgeon said amounts to an explicit acknowledgement of U.K. sovereignty over the Scottish people as both legitimate and immutable. She is accepting that the Act of Union did permanently alienate the right of self-determination. Sturgeon should heed the tale of Toom Tabard as to what respect English rulers show to Scottish leaders who accept their authority. Her speech reinforced my view that she really is much too comfortable in her role of colonial governor.

And yet…

Constitutional Convention

When Sturgeon started talking about calling a constitutional convention I first scoffed, thinking she was merely fulfilling my prediction that her “plan” would be to start yet another talking shop. But then I was astonished when she outlined the potential membership — the elected representatives of Scotland sitting together, constituting MSPs, MPs, (former) MEPs and council leaders.

I have explained at length over the last two years my proposal for a route to Independence that would lead to recognition by the international community. Donald Tusk,the former president of the European Council, today confirmed all I have been saying about the enormous sympathy there will be in the EU towards welcoming Scotland back, now the U.K. has switched status to third country state. (I knew Donald Tusk reasonably well when I was first secretary of the British embassy in Warsaw in the 1990s and he was an out-of-office politician the same age as me. I should like to think I had an effect!)

But the heart of what I was proposing is this, as I put it in December 2018:

“The Scottish Parliament should then convene a National Assembly of all nationally elected Scottish representatives – MSPs, MPs and MEPs. That National Assembly should declare Independence, appeal to other countries for recognition, reach agreements with the rump UK and organise a confirmatory plebiscite. That is legal, democratic and consistent with normal international practice.” 

Or as I put it again two weeks ago:

“We should assemble all of Scotland’s MEP’s, MP’s and MSP’s in a National Assembly and declare Independence on the 700th Anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, thus emphasising the historical continuity of the Scottish state. The views and laws of London now being irrelevant, we should organise, as an Independent state, our referendum to confirm Independence, to be held in September 2020.”

Debating chamber of Scottish Parliament. (Colin, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Please do read the articles linked if you have not already done so. They explain how Scotland can legitimately become an independent nation without regard to U.K. domestic law.

Now, until Sturgeon’s speech, I had never seen anybody else but me put forward the proposal that the way forward is via an assembly of all MPs, MSPs and MEPs, giving the triple legitimacy of democratic election. Sturgeon has enhanced this by adding council leaders. 

There is a huge difference between an assembly — or convention — of elected representatives, and an appointed one of the great and the good. This new assembly proposed by Sturgeon is very different indeed in that respect from the convention of the same name that helped formulate devolution. 

Now I do not think for one moment that Sturgeon has convened this convention to declare independence. But an assembly of Scotland’s MPs, MSPs, MEPs and council leaders will have a clear independence majority numerically and a massive Independence majority intellectually. It will have an extremely strong claim to be a properly representative assembly whose members each have a democratic mandate. The French Revolution was of course similarly precipitated by constitutional innovation convening a National Assembly combining the different Estates, and that assembly was swept along by fervor to take proto-revolutionary measures which went far beyond the initial positions of any of its members. 

The dynamic of a new constitutional body whose members feel they command legitimacy, should not be underestimated. The convening of this body will be a real constitutional innovation. We need to make sure, that like that French National Assembly, they can clearly hear a huge mob outside their windows, demanding radical and speedy change.

Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010.

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6 comments for “Scottish Independence Is Within Sight

  1. Kozmo
    February 13, 2020 at 23:37

    The right of the Scottish people to self-determination and the inherent right of all people to chart their own destiny among the nations must be respected above all else.

  2. February 12, 2020 at 18:27

    This is absolutely what the people’s of SCOTLAND need, an understanding of what is really happening.
    This is well and truely explained and easy for the people’s to understand, and it needs to be broadcast to the whole audience
    I personally thank you for this information!SAOR ALBA, SCOTLAND THE TRUE FLOWER OF THE WEST.?!

  3. Neil S
    February 11, 2020 at 17:32

    After establishing their independence, why would the people of Scotland want to become subordinate to the European Union? They should retain their independence, otherwise, there was no point in leaving the U.K.

    • Vivian O'Blivion
      February 13, 2020 at 06:39

      Oh FFS! How many times does this have to be explained? The United Kingdom is an incorporating union, the EU is a federation. As a practical demonstration, the EU robustly represented the interests of the Republic of Ireland in the Brexit negotiations while Johnson chucked the Ulster unionists under the bus (Customs checks at Belfast and Larne) with nere a moments hesitation.
      2014 was a period of political awakening and education for Scotland. 2016 and times since have been a period of political regression for England. Why wrestle with facts when you can retreat to a jingoistic world of imagined past glories?

  4. John Wells
    February 11, 2020 at 17:12

    Massively encouraged by your cogent and purposeful comments and proposals expressed above, since these are the very qualities lacking in the debate so far. Admittedly there is a growing number of MSPs dissatisfied with the frustrating inertia of the ‘leadership’, but the vast majority of ordinary proponents are desperate for much more rapid progress than we have seen from anyone at Holyrood. Everyone seems to recognise and acknowledge the circular futility of Sturgeon’s argument that we must ask for Westminster’s permission to escape from the prison in which they are determined to keep us, and we must not move through the presently wide open door, lest our freedom is at some point declared less than (in their opinion) legitimate. However, our principle / only form of communication is through social media which tends to render it piecemeal and unfocused; and in the face of a corrupt, biased and controlled MSM, combined with rudderless leadership, the massive energy and purpose of dedicated and honest supporters becomes dissipated and disillusioned. So where from here? I agree with your repeated proposals for the creation of an Assembly of all elected personnel to create both focus and energy for our national effort. If there was a body to coordinate the efforts of the National consciousness and fervour we see in the very many marches, I’d gladly be part of it. Finally, thanks for your on-going energy, wisdom and erudition which I know to be widely appreciated and respected by a huge number of compatriots.

  5. E Wright
    February 11, 2020 at 11:59

    I agree totally with the logic here. Yes, a constitutional convention would do the trick. Better ensure the loyalties of the Scottish regiments though before declaring UDI.

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