by Hazel Lewry
“I’m a feartie and I’m going to project that fear onto the people of Scotland.” This is Westminster’s strategy for winning a referendum and binding a sovereign people. Fear.
The Westminster fear is that there aren’t enough gullible Scots to bite. There hasn’t been since the Home Rule petition of 1952 with its 2 million signatures in 1952, a fearlessness confirmed by the “Yes” responses in the 1979 and 1997 referendums.
This is why fear is now palpable in Westminster. Fear for its very existence, its authority and its standing in our world. Fear that it will become the global laughing stock which that babbling cauldron so richly deserves to be.
Fear is based either in ignorance or as a result of real danger, often mortal. Fear frequently causes acts of irrationality or real desperation. The fear emanating from Westminster since May 5th 2011 has been quite palpable – not acute to the point of causing paralysis, but well into the realm where we have observed several acts of desperation.
The latest of these acts was another attempt to disenfranchise the Scots yet again, an attempt by George Foulkes to “outlaw” a devo max question. All informed individuals are aware that as the debate about our nation’s future progresses the potential need for this question may well reduce to the point of irrelevance, but just in case it doesn’t that door of democracy shouldn’t be closed.
January’s affirmation of the claim of right in Holyrood appears to have altered the dynamics of the devo max question. Within 48 hours of the declaration David Cameron took the option off the table. Cameron probably did this because he then knew that it was also now a vote for independence, although only fiscal independence. He also knew, and truly may have feared, that the Scots might wake up to the fact that devo max was no longer “his gift”, but Scotland’s right.
Westminster believes it will lose a devo max option. This creates fear of imminent demise, and that fear begets rash acts. The removal of devo max from the ballot was such a rash act, because David Cameron is gambling that he still has enough time to recover from this blatant disrespect and perhaps squeeze a no vote from the Scottish electorate. Confabulation, scaremongering and disinformation will be the Westminster stance for the next two years.
George Foulkes backing up Cameron was a rash act, engendered by the now very real fear of a loss of a place at Westminster’s cash laden trough. Cash laden because we’re forced to fill it.
In the final analysis the questions, manner, wording and number are now up to the Scots. We will decide. Cameron acknowledged this with his “in or out”. He didn’t say there couldn’t be extra questions, just that he wouldn’t agree to them. The difference in tone was noteworthy. The essence of the UK announcement was “without Scotland’s resources, we don’t want Scotland”.
If we as a nation choose to have a third question or a thirtieth on the ballot paper, we will put it there. It is our sovereign right to act as we will. The only thing that should prevent Scots from placing a third option on the ballot is our own sovereign will, or lack of need. Fear should never enter the equation.
We have a right to require an amended Union. Westminster has a right to accept or terminate the Union. We have a right to set a timeframe for Westminster’s response.
The logic is as linear as it is simple.
In 1707 a treaty was created where two sovereign nations unified their parliaments. Article three of that treaty created a single parliament. It effectively robbed the Scots and the English of a sovereign parliamentary voice. That newly created parliament had no authority over the Union Treaty unless given leave to amend it in certain specific articles. In other specific articles it was banned from amendment. Some sections were left open.
With the independent parliaments of Scotland and England suspended, or adjourned, the majority of the treaty could not be changed. This situation lasted for almost three centuries; it was why Westminster lived in fear of Scotland ever having a functional democratic voice, a parliament, because it would have control over the Treaty of Union where Westminster did not.
In 1997 there was a referendum in Scotland. Almost 75% of Scots supported the question “I agree that there should be a Scottish Parliament.” It was not an executive or an assembly, it was a parliament, and it should have tax raising powers.
Westminster’s politicians and the Union machine went into overdrive to convince Scots again that they were too “wee, stupid and poor” to achieve this. The fear campaign failed. It took two years to bring forward a relatively toothless legislative body with a voting system designed to keep Westminster parties, the proponents of Union, firmly in charge.
Proportional voting, with three London based parties combining to split Scotland’s vote and prevent any parliamentary declaration of sovereignty seemed designed for Westminster success. This system would take a perfect storm of political mishaps to converge, simultaneously, for there to be any upset to Westminster’s status quo.
“Reserved powers” became an illusory reality. Westminster couldn’t stop the annulment of article three of the treaty of Union at the option of the Scots in 1997. Article three reads: “That the United Kingdom of Great Britain be represented by one and the same parliament, to be stiled the parliament of Great Britain.”
The illusory reality aspect, we’re no longer under the Parliament of Great Britain, but a successor, that’s notable as it inherited the powers. However there’s now no longer one parliament, there’s two. Westminster’s problem is that one has control over the Treaty of Union where the other doesn’t. The hard reality is that Holyrood as a Scots parliament has control over the aspects of the Union treaty which Westminster does not.
The second aspect to the illusion is that “reserved” only had meaning as long as Holyrood allowed it, as we’re now so ably demonstrating. In reality there is no reserved because Holyrood now controls the 1707 treaty. London knew this in 1997. It was the reason for the shenanigans whereby Westminster forced a voting system on Scotland that she herself would and will not accept.
Since 1999 and Winnie Ewing’s carefully chosen opening address we have had our destiny in our own hands. Since then we have had control of the Treaty of Union again, with all the fear engendering aspects of reality that holds for Westminster.
Since May 5th 2011 we have had a government who might be willing to use these powers. That is why Alex Salmond rightly informed London that its days of diktat were over. He chose his words carefully and came from a position of knowledge and strength. Salmond was right to a point, because Westminster can still dictate if we go to a poll and give it the authority, but he’s effectively stopped it grabbing back power without a similar poll.
This means that because “reserved” is now a useless illusion, Scots can impose a new reality. If we choose to place devo max, FFA or anything else on the ballot, and it passes for implementation, then that is how we choose to amend the Treaty of Union.
It is no longer Westminster’s gift. Westminster has only the choice to accept or reject Scotland’s terms.
Should Westminster reject the terms Scotland places before her, and she will if it is anything less than an incorporating monetary union where London keeps control of Scotland’s wealth, it’s independence anyway. In this case it is simply independence created by reaction rather than chosen by action.
Holyrood doesn’t, and can’t simply declare a unilateral position on the constitution; because that’s not the premise we elected our government on. We elected them to play by the rules as they exist until we have our say in a referendum as promised.
The affirmation of the Claim of Right puts that shackle as firmly around Holyrood as it does around Westminster. That affirmation puts everything back into the domain of the individual Scot, a domain it should never have been removed from in the first place.
In a basic sense, we’ve been marching towards a point since 1952 where anything except a no vote means the marriage is over. Devo max in any incarnation is an offer of a new marriage but with a “pre-nup” on Scotland’s terms. As these yet unspecified terms have already been summarily dismissed as unacceptable by Westminster, there will be no new marriage.
As we walk to that poll we should remember that the future is never certain, and that if our choices on the day are limited, we will understand those limits are engineered by Westminster’s fears.
We also know that we should not fear, because that will influence our decision. We should not fear because our adversary wishes us to. We should not fear from a position of ignorance or lack of knowledge. We should not fear because it will give another the opportunity to exploit us.
We should not fear, we should walk forward with knowledge, for in knowledge lies the certainty of the right decision, not the panic or haste of the wrong one.
As we walk to the poll in 2014, we will leave the fear behind. We will leave the fear in London.