A guest post by Alasdair Stirling
It is an understatement of some magnitude to say that the words of the ancient Chinese curse - ‘may you live in interesting times’ – are apposite today.
The EU referendum vote set the good ship ‘UK’ on an uncharted course and just for good measure has thrown the captain and his officers overboard. And if that wasn’t enough, fate determined to set the reserve captain and his motley crew fighting amongst themselves. Now a month from the referendum we have a new captain but no course and no compass. However, all is not disarray. The first mate of the northern part of the ship is showing worrying signs of leadership and competence and is threatening to launch the lifeboat; most horrifyingly of all she may have both charts and a compass for the voyage.
Seafaring analogies aside, the Unionist establishment are far from worried about any peril to their blessed Union from this turn of events. Quite the reverse in fact: the Unionist media in Scotland is cock-a-hoop with delight at the way that Theresa May’s first order of business was to come north and ‘sucker’ Nicola Sturgeon into participating fully in the forthcoming the Brexit negotiations. Their delight is grounded in the belief that Theresa May has killed any resurgent demand for independence with kindness. However, their view is underpinned by the logic that there is no possible way for Scotland to remain in both the British and European unions. Thus the logic goes: give the SNP the time and chance to propose the impossible and when they fail gracefully accept their capitulation to the inevitability of Brexit.
However, this type of thinking is what is known as an informal fallacy: specifically it is ‘argumentum ad ignorantiam’, or in English an ‘argument from ignorance’. You see, the Unionist’s delight at Theresa May’s political positioning putting Scotland in an impossible position is the measure of their ignorance. How delighted will they be if Nicola Sturgeon puts forward an arrangement that can see Scotland remaining in both the British and European unions? Not so delighted I suspect, and no doubt inclined to write off any such proposal as a crazy CyberNat/SNP fantasy. But there is a giant fly in that particular jar of ointment: you see the British Foreign Office negotiated and the British government approved the working template for just such an arrangement.
In 1984, the British and Chinese governments agreed the Sino-British Joint Declaration founded on the constitutional principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ formulated by Deng Xiaoping (the Leader of the People's Republic of China). The imperative driving Deng’s thinking was the obvious difficulty in successfully reunifying Hong Kong’s advanced free wheeling capitalist economy with the mainland’s underdeveloped bureaucratic command led society. Deng’s suggested resolution to the problem was that there would be only one China, but distinct Chinese regions such as Hong Kong could retain their own capitalist economic and political systems, while the rest of China uses the socialist system. Under this principle, Hong Kong could continue to have its own political system, legal, economic and financial affairs, including external relations with foreign countries.
For those interested, the full text of the Sino-British Joint Declaration is available HERE. However, in mischievous spirit I shall use it to set forth a draft text of a possible Anglo-Scottish Joint Declaration that Nicola Sturgeon might put forward for Theresa May’s consideration.
• The national unity and territorial integrity of the United Kingdom shall be upheld and a Scottish Special Administrative Region (ScotSAR) shall be established.
• The ScotSAR will be directly under the authority of the Government of the United Kingdom (GovUK) but will enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in defence affairs.
• The ScotSAR will be vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication. The laws currently in force in ScotSAR will remain basically unchanged.
• The Government of the ScotSAR will be composed of local inhabitants. The First Minister will be appointed by Her Majesty the Queen on the basis of the results of elections or consultations to be held locally. British and foreign nationals previously working in the public and police services in the government departments of ScotSAR may remain in employment. British and other foreign nationals may also be employed to serve as advisers or hold certain public posts in government departments of the ScotSAR.
• The current social and economic systems in ScotSAR will remain unchanged, and so will the life-style. Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief will be ensured by law in the ScotSAR. Private property, ownership of enterprises, legitimate right of inheritance and foreign investment will be protected by law.
• The ScotSAR will have the status of a free port and a separate customs territory. It can continue the current trade policy, including the four freedoms: goods, services, people and capital.
• The ScotSAR will be an independent financial centre with free flow of capital and a freely convertible ScotSAR currency. The ScotSAR may authorise designated banks to issue or continue to issue ScotSAR currency under statutory authority.
• The ScotSAR will have independent finances with its own budgets and final accounts, but reporting it to the GovUK. Additionally, GovUK will not levy taxes on ScotSAR, but the ScotSAR and GovUK will agree financial transfers one to another as required in respect of the use of defence facilities and mutual defence arrangements.
• The ScotSAR may establish mutually beneficial economic relations with the United Kingdom and other foreign countries.
• The name used for international relations will be ‘Scotland, UK’. In doing so it may maintain and develop diplomatic, economic and cultural relations and agreements with states, regions and relevant international organisations on its own account and it may issue ScotSAR passports for its citizens and local inhabitants. The ScotSAR may agree and implement international agreements to which the GovUK is not a party.
• The government of the ScotSAR is responsible for the maintenance of public order. GovUK military forces stationed in ScotSAR, for the purpose of defence shall not interfere in the internal affairs in the ScotSAR.
Of course this sort of arrangement should not be any obstacle to the Unionist establishment who a mere two years ago were offering ‘Devo SuperMax’, a ‘powerhouse parliament’ and ‘as near to federalism as is possible’. More than that, such a ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement would allow Theresa May (who is no doubt ‘respectful’ of Scotland) to avoid being the Prime Minister who lost the Union. However, I suspect that if Nicola Sturgeon were minded to make such a proposal, the Unionists will likely want to put a flea in her ear and tell her to ‘go home, be a good girl and eat her cereal’ - or rather they would if Scotland had no other option.