Friday, October 8, 2010

But, alas, democracy still has its critics...

The other day, I suggested that Ian Hamilton was wrong to talk as if Scotland was an occupied country, with the need for some kind of 'revolutionary' activity to secure independence. I was of course basing my comment on the fact that every British Prime Minister since Harold Wilson has acknowledged that Scotland has a right to self-determination. In the case of Mrs Thatcher and John Major, that didn't extend to a right to choose devolution, but nevertheless those leaders did accept that the country could, if it wished, opt for full independence. So that democratic bottom line is a very long-established principle - but, depressingly, it seems there are some out there who still hanker after the antiquated notion that the sovereignty of the state trumps the sovereignty of the people.

Early this morning, in response to a trademark wind-up from my old Political Betting sparring-partner ChristinaD on the subject of David Cameron's criticism of the Megrahi release, I left a brief comment linking to my previous post. It provoked an extraordinary (and largely tangential) response from another PB poster, "HD2" - it's now on a very old thread, so I might as well respond to it here instead...

"Scotland used the Lockerbie release to snub Gordon, Westminster and the USA as the Soviet-style mindset up there meant ‘wee ek’ (sic) wanted to posture on a wider stage (poor little man).

It’s all gone horribly wrong for him, as it’s disgraced Scotland throughout the world and won no friends, anywhere."

Now, that would be leaving aside the utterly trifling figure of Nelson Mandela, who praised the decision to the skies, would it? Well, of course it would, we all know that the "International Community" (aka "Everywhere" or "The Whole Wide World") consists solely of the US and that highly select band of Britons who Mrs Thatcher used to call "sound".

"It also means England and the English have even less sympathy and tolerance for Holyrood."

Ah, yes, I think I'm starting to see where HD2 is going astray here. It's the familiar Anglocentric assumption that every decision Alex Salmond and his government make must by definition be calibrated to impact upon the English psyche in some way. So, depending on what day of the week it is, Salmond is either a malevolent genius intentionally driving hard-pressed English tax-payers to distraction in order to force them to demand an end to the Union, or alternatively he is a pitiful, cack-handed buffoon who yearns for the respect of polite London society, but fails lamentably with his every effort to win it.

The truth, of course, is rather more prosaic. Alex Salmond is primarily interested in what the Scottish electorate think of his actions, because it is the Scottish electorate alone to which he is accountable. But, oh, how HD2 longs for it to be otherwise...

"The assumption, for far too long, is that the Scots, and the Scots alone, have the right to determine their own future within the UK. That was always wrong, as it ignores the fact that, at the start of 1997 each and every person living in the UK was electorally equal, having a single MP in Westminster.

So...any putative ‘independence referendum’ for Scotland has to be carried out throughout the whole UK and not just in Scotland - which should have been the position in all devolution referenda to date."

Hmmm. A sentiment of which Abraham Lincoln would heartily approve, no doubt, but this is 2010. It wasn't that long ago that a woman needed her husband's permission to obtain a divorce - perhaps HD2 would like to turn the clock back on the right of individuals to control their own destiny, as well as the right of nations to do so? In fact, I'm starting to wonder if he thinks it would also be appropriate for residents of England (on the grounds of being "equal citizens of the UK") to be allowed to vote in elections to the devolved parliaments and assemblies - that was, after all, the de facto position prior to 1999, with the Westminster parliament (consisting of 90% non-Scottish MPs) voting regularly on Scotland-only laws.

"The logical extension to the ‘Scots only get to vote’ position is to ask where the international border should be and should every single person be able to declare themselves independent and their home a separate State?"

This last risible rejoinder is rather akin to insisting that, because newborn babies are unable to hold a pencil, we might as well forget about our commitment to the 'unattainable ideal' of universal suffrage. Of course, there's a (miniscule) grain of a serious point there - the criteria for determining which groups have a right to self-determination are rather fuzzy and subjective. But if only we could finally move on from this Victorian notion of the absolute sovereignty of existing nation states, it ought to be possible to easily remedy that problem by allowing an international body to adjudicate - and it could also be charged with ensuring that the rights of minority groups in any aspiring new nation are fully protected. But we're fortunate in Scotland that there's quite simply no credible dispute to our status - by any criteria that could conceivably be set down (long history as a distinct jurisdiction, clearly-defined boundaries) we undoubtedly qualify for self-determination if anyone does.

And to anticipate one of the predictable retorts at this point - "ah, but you don't believe in self-determination for Shetland, do you?" - well, actually, I do. I don't see the slightest grounds for believing that Shetland would want to secede from Scotland if independence occurred, but they would have every right to make that choice without hindrance.

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