Troublesome Natives

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Reader Comment by Andrew Barr

Troublesome Natives Scotland is in the state of the half-nation; where we are half-served, and half-governed, and half-represented from a parliament unfulfilled in its purpose. We are met at the half-way house; at a parliamentary divide, and where the reluctant Unionist compromises for a radical Nationalist vision.

This is not the story of one nation and its people. This is the story of the conquest of Wales. This is the story of British Africa and Ghandi’s India, and of Ireland and its partition, and of the disappearance of the Cornish nation, and of America’s Declaration of Independence and Catalonia’s bid for liberty. It is the story of the Basque Country, and of Quebec and Croatia, and of Robert Burns and the Parcel of Rogues, and of every nation ever subdued and of every nation ever set free.

The British policy of ‘all shall enter – none shall leave’ has changed little over the centuries. It has prompted some of the worst brutalities in world history, started countless battles and wars and undermined the very concept of international democracy and self-determination. And yet what would later evolve into the British Empire began right here in these islands from the patterns of conquest and models of colonisation that forged the early ideology of a united Britain.

The sovereignty of Scots was first laid down in the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath which stated that the people would stand loyal to Bruce for as long as he chose to defend their liberty, but would drive him out as an enemy and choose another king should he surrender the defence. The people’s sovereignty was again declared in the 1950 Covenant and again in the 1988 Claim of Right, but today remains the reservation of the Westminster Parliament.In 1953, senior judge Lord Cooper remarked: “Considering that the Union legislation extinguished the Parliaments of England and Scotland and replaced them by a new Parliament, I have difficulty in seeing why it should have been supposed that the new Parliament of Great Britain must inherit all the peculiar characteristics of the English Parliament but none of the Scottish Parliament, as if all that happened in 1707 was that the Scottish representatives were admitted to the Parliament of England.”

He went on to say: “The principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctly English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law,” meaning that in Scotland, Westminster had never been sovereign, and that the Scottish people hold highest authority over the nation. This right to self-determination is not only affirmed by historic Scottish documents but also by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Charter of the United Nations.

The solution to Anglo-Scottish resentment is certainly to forgive and forget old grudges but it is equally important to eliminate the political structures that are remnant of those old powers. In truth the Union is representative of nobody; it does not represent the Celtic nations whose socialist vote is nulified by English conservatism, nor does it represent the English vote which is diluted by politicians from the rest of the United Kingdom being able to vote on solely English matters despite the reverse not being true. Devolution’s flaw has been to make outposts of the Celtic world and to retain the non-devolved status of an English Mother Country.

If the devolution process falls short of the people’s sovereign right then it betrays its own principle and cause for self-determination. If devolved matters should be praised then reserved matters should be questioned. If we are to define democracy as a nation governed by its people then that definition must be universal. This is not the whim of romantic nationhood but the practical, fair, and respectful way in which all the world’s nations should coexist.

In his 1706 speech of opposition to the Act of Union, Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun said:  “All nations are dependent; the one upon the many, this we know. But if the greater must always swallow the lesser and so become greater still, then such a logic is released upon this world which can only result in, I know not what. Gentlemen, we are Scotsmen. Let us go forward into the community of nations and lend our own, independent weight to the world.”

Ultimately resistance to the Act proved unsuccessful and the Scottish Parliament was adjourned. Months of rioting and mob rule broke out in the streets of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and Dumfries until armed forces were sent in to enforce the new constitution. It was a scene we would see replicated again in India and in nations across the globe.

Whilst most territories regained independence during the earlier parts of the 20th century it was not until 1979 that the first devolution referendum was held in Scotland. A majority voted in favour but the verdict was rejected. In protest, folk musician Dick Gaughan wrote that for friendship to “flourish on both sides of the Tweed” then people must respect the rights of their neighbours. The song ends with the words: “Think them poorest who can be a slave, Them richest who dare to be free.”