by Hazel Lewry
In the run up to the 2011 national elections Alex Salmond promised the people of Scotland a referendum if they voted for him. Our nation voted for him. En masse.
Alex Salmond did not promise a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) if the people voted for him. The Unionist parties tried to tell us that’s what we’d get. We trusted one organization to give us our voice, the SNP.
Alex Salmond now has no option if he is ever to carry credibility on his shoulders as a statesman. True statesmen make promises and keep them in so far as the democratic system allows. To do anything else is not credible, honourable or democratic.
We must guard against a parliament and an elected leadership that is neither credible nor honourable. Witness Clegg’s U-turn on student fees, it was created not by democratic deficit but by political expediency – they could likely have scrapped Trident and increased bursaries. That is just one of many examples from that (dis)honourable chamber.
We in Scotland must forever guard against a parliament that mimics the one in London.
In the run up to the 2011 Elections there were those in government, both Scots and UK, who stated that a vote for the SNP is a vote for independence.
Irrespective of Salmond’s statements, if the shoe were on the Westminster foot, and it was Westminster’s preference that Scotland become a fully self determining nation once again, does anyone amongst us think that the promise to ask the people would be implemented?
No. Every indication is that it would simply be conveniently forgotten. “You have already spoken”, we’d be told. The Union would be dead if that was Westminster’s wish.
Westminster has a severe distaste for referendums. It historically holds them only when forced to, and then only when it has a reasonable chance of getting the result it wants. If the result isn’t what it wants or looks like it might be close, it changes the rules, unless it’s aware it’s being watched (eg in 1979 and1997. Yet referendums and polls are the cornerstones of democracy.
Is this what we want from Holyrood?
It is just one of the reasons that we did not elect a Unionist party in 2011.
Holyrood should have some simple words engraved into the debating chamber – repeated through every committee room. “Honour. Accountability. Trust. Integrity.” This is what we, the Scots, primarily expect from Holyrood, and it works both ways.
“The People are Sovereign” should be engraved above each entrance.
In the interim, as we march towards our combined future, it could be a fundamental side issue to test the Treaty of Union and its validity in the world’s courts, but will Westminster want to perform this test if Salmond chooses to declare the 1707 treaty void? Let Westminster appeal that declaration.
Almost every indication is that the treaty is invalid on a multitude of counts, from before inception, to breaches since it was inked through having its reason d’être invalidated with the reconvening of the Scots Parliament.
We should not declare the 1707 Treaty void because of a wish to declare UDI, we should do it because of a wish to bring honesty, integrity and honour to the negotiating table.
We should do it as we know there is a struggle ahead, and only the foolish or incompetent do not use all viable options in a struggle. The present Scots government, to date, has given short measure to both foolishness and incompetency.
Polls show a distinct wish by the Scots for Holyrood to be in charge of their daily lives, to have more powers.
The level of power that Holyrood enjoys should be what it chooses, based upon what we the Scots approve. It should be for us to decide, for London to accept. Period.
Absent a valid Treaty of Union that aspect of oversight which Westminster believes it enjoys is voided.
Absent a valid Treaty of Union the world and its financial behemoths will be forced to pay very close attention to this political anomaly which masquerades as a “United” Kingdom.
Absent a valid Treaty of Union Westminster will discover itself under a very severe microscope.
Alex Salmond, or whoever is our chosen leader in Parliament, is then at full liberty to enter any negotiations with an ultimate hand. The position would be clear.
The Scots in an upcoming referendum are only going to vote one of two ways, Full Fiscal Autonomy or End the Union. At present there is no other perceivable outcome to the pending referendum.
Absent a voided treaty, Westminster’s premier will baulk, they might wish a second referendum – as the EU did in Ireland (already they’ve mentioned it), they will obfuscate, they will invent hurdles. Are there any among us who believe for one instant this will not be the course of events. Publicly they may say one thing, privately they will do another.
If contingency plans have not already been drawn up for these eventualities, they are certainly in the works, secretly, within Westminster’s dark and dusty halls. The UK government will be looking for ways to thwart the will of the Scots. If the propaganda doesn’t work, there will be a “plan B” – bet on it. It will be so because they need our resources, human and environmental.
If the Union Treaty is already invalid, declared so by the Scottish Government, what then?
Alex Salmond could technically declare the treaty invalid at any time, then permit Westminster to work an appeal process. Certainly there is reason enough for such a declaration. Does Westminster believe they have grounds for a challenge.
Arguably 101 Scots could invoke such a declaration. Better by far, cleaner in our present age, is for a declaration to come from the chambers of our elected representatives.
In the declaration that voids the treaty, we simply agree to continue under the present arrangement until after the referendum. No UDI – just putting the true facts on the table, with limits and provisos as to debt and expenditures. Trident for example is something we should veto.
This gives us Scots full control over our own referendum. In fact the incessant rumblings and interference in Scots affairs from Westminster can easily be cited as the reason for the need to declare the treaty void.
It might even bring Westminster to the negotiating table a little earlier than anticipated.
It also helps to ensure an opportunity for a more level playing field at the referendum itself.
In not utilizing a UDI, the Scottish Government will categorically not have betrayed any electoral trust.
Although we agree to mostly continue as we do at present, it doesn’t mean everything has to be the same. As an example we could simply take broadcasting off the table. Any other “reserved” area that would be better administrated in Scotland could be “resettled” as well. Perhaps we should limit that course of action to the two or three areas most valuable to our land. Crown Estates and taxation?
In the interim we reconstitute a fledgling exchequer. Most Scots are unaware that at the inception of Union there was a separate Exchequer established for Scotland – the Scots Exchequer was only abolished under Thatcher in 1981.
Customs/Excise was similarly treated, but its lifespan was relatively short in comparison, 1707-1822 / 1979. These are simply more ongoing examples of erosions of Scots fields of competence that the original 1707 debates apparently neither foresaw nor intended.
The last integration and reformulation of the Customs / Excise division of government within the UK was as recent as 2004. This was just more centralization, following on from the “excise standardization” of 1979. The theme is apparently clear, or is it just co-incidental, that Scots aspirations towards Independence will be stifled, then punished.
By the time Scotland votes in her referendum, the re-established Exchequer could be ready to assume full control of Scotland’s fiscal accounting.
In the first few months there will certainly be issues, teething problems are to be expected. They would have been avoided for the most part without Thatcher’s interference. Before the vote the Exchequer could be a responsible auditing and bookkeeping service for Holyrood.
After the vote there have been rumblings about Westminster withholding benefits, withholding pensions. What about those government jobs that are or may be only valid under the Union.
Many of these arguments actually have a comic value, sadly the scaremongering continues as some among us perpetuate them. For the very few factual cases the onus is on our resurgent nation to make the transition as simple as possible for any of the few negatively impacted individuals.
Westminster is effectively bankrupt. It needs and requires Scotland, the reverse does not hold true.
If not for the fact of Scotland’s resources, Westminster likely wouldn’t even be able to borrow. What then of her benefits payments? What then of her jobs? She, like America or Greece will have to choose which bills she can afford to pay, and when. Will it be disabled people or the bankers, the old age pensions or Trident? The indications are already clear.
The Scots parliament would simply put through emergency borrowing powers prior to the referendum vote. With no valid Treaty of Union it would have the authority. Funds would be there to set the nation on a stable path until those slightly delayed revenues come through. There will be interest to pay, but as a nation in surplus it should not be difficult. A nation in surplus has little issue borrowing.
My substantial tax cut might just have to wait a year or so. I’m fine with that.
We’ve acknowledged the potential speed bumps. We know there are ways of dealing with them. There remains only one potentially critical issue. Westminster.
The actions of Westminster are not in our hands. With an invalidated treaty and a sovereign nation once again, what do we do if Westminster rebels against international law? There lies the crux of the issue.
No one knows if Westminster will flaunt the norms of the International community, however if Westminster should break international law the answers are past knowing until the extent of the rebellion in London becomes clear.
Circling the wheel we are now back to UDI. This, and only this is where UDI is appropriate. After a free nation votes to chart its course in democratic fashion, with clear questions asked and clear answers given. If that response is ignored then it will be time, as our ancestors did before us, for UDI.
In the years 1296 to 1328 there was a war, we won, decisively in 1314. The English refused to accept this, continuing to claim “over-lordship” of Scots and Scotland. Nearly six years after the decisive battle the Scots had to address the issue.
The Declaration of Arbroath wasn’t just a constitutional document, it was a UDI. It was a Declaration of Independence. It came not from the leader but from the people. It was accepted in history.
It did lead to final recognition eight years later.
It is very possible that in seven centuries, little will be proven to have changed.
If there is a need, when we “win the upcoming battle”, if we are “ignored again”, then is the time, once more, for UDI.