It’s sovereignty we need – not ‘independence’ or ‘devo max’

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By Dave Taylor

In his Hugo Young lecture, Alex Salmond drew attention to the words of Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, that great opponent of union with England in 1707.  “All nations are dependent; the one upon the many.”

Even the infamously isolationist North Korea, prior to the 1990s, wasn’t totally independent, it relied wholly on its neighbour China.  Nowadays, even that most hermit-like state, according to the CIA factbook (not the most pro-NK source), “became a member of the UN in September 1991. 

North Korea also belongs to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); the International Civil Aviation Organization; the International Postal Union; the UN Conference on Trade and Development; the International Telecommunications Union; the UN Development Program (UNDP); the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization; the World Health Organization; the World Intellectual Property Organization; the World Meteorological Organization; the International Maritime Organization; the International Committee of the Red Cross; and the Nonaligned Movement.”

All of these memberships limit its independence to some extent.  North Korea’s insistence on being as independent as it can be means that it has limited trade and its people are starving.  Not a great idea.

Monaco is at the opposite extreme.  It is so integrated with France, that it has little independence to do anything.

Both, however, are sovereign states, even though North Korea is the most repressive and undemocratic state in the world.  Sovereignty means that a state can decide what international arrangements it makes, and which it renegotiates or withdraws from.

Lack of sovereignty means you have no control.  It means that you might get some independence to do some things – but others decide the toys you get to play with.

Compared to sexual politics, it’s the right of Bella Caledonia “to choose what to do with her own [political] body, with whom, when, how, and to determine the consequences.”

If we are happy to allow sovereignty to lie with “the Queen in Parliament”, ie Devolution Minimus to Devolution Maximus, then Scotland could have a huge range of ‘independence’, even to the extent of being allowed to run everything except defence, foreign affairs, and currency.

If Scotland has sovereignty, then it can decide to have a currency union with the rump-UK, as the SNP propose, as well as a defence union.  The Scandinavian countries discussed such a move for the Nordic nations in the post-war years.  The SNP are open to similar proposals between Scotland and the other nations currently making up the UK.

It could even, if Scots believe in the ‘stronger together’ meme, agree a common foreign and security policy with the rump-UK – the EU provides a prototype model.

Since the British want the current UK to continue because it achieves all these ends, then the rump-UK would be insane to reject such close working.

In practical terms, therefore, there need be no difference in the UK between devo max and independence.

The difference lies in sovereignty.  If Scots want these aspects of close connection with other parts of the UK, they are just as achievable through a sovereign Scotland, as through a continuation of the current UK Union. 

But with sovereignty, we get to negotiate the terms of the agreements.  What Scotland desperately requires is a restoration of our sovereignty.