A Turning Point in the Debate over Independence?


By Mark McNaught

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie’s recent concession that Scotland would not necessarily be ejected from the EU in the case if independence may mark a turning point in the debate.  Until now, the unionist parties have sought to put a united front against independence by belittling the assertions of Alex Salmond on many issues, perhaps most strongly on EU adhesion.

That edifice may be crumbling, and the unionist parties may become as divided as their ideologies reflect.  Hopefully, this cognitive dissonance will oblige them to actually address the implications of independence beyond the standard-issue scare tactics.

It could also presage a maturing of the debate, but that of course remains to be seen.  For unionists, it demonstrates that at least one of the assertions by advocates of independence is valid, rather than automatically denying their validity and hurling ad hominem attacks maybe, just maybe, the unionists will begin to enter into the substance of the merits of independence.

In any case, the rest of Scotland can debate what they can do in an independent Scotland, rather than what they can’t.  Instead of seeing EU commission President Barroso as the oracle of Delphi, his vague technocratic utterances determining Scotland’s constitutional future, it is clear that he is nothing more than an EU bureaucrat facing immense pressure not to set a precedent which could be applied to Catalonia.

This also demonstrates that Scotland’s constitutional future is up to Scotland, not the EU or the Westminster parliament.  This myth of EU or the UK being superior overlords, and that they have any say over Scotland’s constitution, should be finally and thoroughly discredited. 

If Scotland wants to remain in the EU after independence, it can negotiate the terms without being ejected.  If Scots want to keep the pound, they can.  There are no laws to the contrary.  No amount of unionist indignation can change that.

This means that advocates of independence can approach the debate on an equal footing to the EU and the UK.  Subservience to either must be a thing of the past. 

Within the UK, Scotland has been on the back burner of priorities for generations.  The Westminster parliament is too self-absorbed in the south–east, and the massive population which is concentrated there.  Scotland, and even the north of England, has been so often an afterthought.

Independence means that a smaller population and representation will not lead to being a low priority.  No longer will Scots have to beg Westminster for what is rightfully theirs, pleading for the means to deal with the pressing issues affecting them.

A perfect metaphor for the ‘we’ll get to it later’ policy of Westminster towards Scotland can be seen in the development of high-speed rail.  HS2, the development of lines between London and Birmingham, is bogged down in opposition and funding issues.  At this rate, how long would it take to get to Scotland?  Probably not in our lifetime.

Those in favour of remaining in the UK must now make their case without ill-founded assertions and demonisation.  These stale tactics reflect poorly not only on those who make them, but are an insult to Scots’ intelligence.

Scotland is a country, not a subservient colony.  Seemingly incapable of shedding the imperial mindset, the unionist contention that Scotland will be weaker if independent, and that it would ‘pack a punch’ more in the UK, is also discredited.

Independence will enable Scotland to conduct their international relations with other countries on equal terms, not as some adjunct to the UK.

It is the right of the unionist parties to conduct their side of the argument as they see fit. After Mr. Rennie’s concession, let’s hope they see fit to constructively engage.

Mark McNaught is a member of the Constitutional Commission, and Associate Professor of US civilisation at the University of Rennes 2 France, and teaches US constitutional law at Sciences-Po Paris.