By Mark McNaught
The UK government report ‘Scotland Analysis: devolution and the implications of Scottish independence’ issued February 11 indicates that the Coronation Oath will no longer will be applicable to an independent Scotland, and that the Scots would need to reapply for the privilege of being royal subjects.
Scots will be summarily excommunicated from the Monarchy for the heresy of voting for independence, and the Scottish government will have to engage in brutal negotiations with God to regain divine right to their beloved anachronistic figurehead. We all know how almighty God can be, and she may not be in the mood to give Scots such a good deal this time, requiring much more penance and expiation than they suffered even under the UK.
Irony aside, while I’m sure this was not the UK government’s intent, this is the logical conclusion of the report. If Scotland becomes independent, no treaty or agreement applies. With a ‘yes’ vote in 2014, Scotland would instantly become a shunned pariah state, including by the Monarchy. Scots would be stuck in merciless negotiations just to join the Commonwealth, let alone the EU.
Of course not, would respond Westminster. Were Scots to vote for independence, there could easily be a way for Scots to remain under the Crown and remain in the Commonwealth, without changing the terms of the Coronation Oath. Look how Australia, Canada, and New Zealand were able to make the transition to independence?
Exactly; The precedent for the Westminster government facilitating independence is well established. Given how many countries have become independent from the British Empire, one would think they could have found their groove by now.
With astounding arrogance, the UK government has already designated itself the successor state, like Russia became for the Soviet Union within the UN after the fall of communism. The notion of equality among UK nations has been negated.
According to the daunting UK government legal opinion, an independent Scotland would need to renegotiate some 14,000 international treaties to which the UK is currently signatory. Chaos would ensue, the sky would fall, yadda yadda, you know the tune.
If the UK were the least bit cooperative in providing post-referendum clarity, an easy way could be found for Scotland to seamlessly remain in the UN and the EU. Scotland already meets all of the conditions for entry into both, because Scots are already members. Westminster obstinacy is the only barrier to simply signing up and carrying on as members.
Even if the UK government violates the terms of the Edinburgh agreement and the recommendations of the electoral commission and is not cooperative, Scots have nothing to fear in negotiating their own place in the world.
It may well be that some negotiations can only begin after full independence in 2016 to adhere to certain international institutions, because Scotland would only then be in a position to negotiate as an independent country. However, Scotland will be able to take its time and prudently decide which ones it wishes to sign on to, which countries they wish to have bilateral treaties with, and in what areas. It took centuries for the UK to get where it is internationally, wherever that is. Scotland should be in no hurry to craft its long-term future.
There are certainly many treaties within those 14,000 which are anachronistic, inapplicable, do not serve Scottish interests, or all of the above. Upon independence, there should be a serious appraisal of which treaties are worth pursuing, and which are better left by the wayside.
Scotland could be liberated from onerous and outdated UK treaties. Much diplomatic underbrush could be carefully cleared. Not all of these issues need to be resolved before full independence, and many should be carefully considered over the long term. Scotland could adhere to the advice of George Washington in his Farewell Address of 1796.
It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.
Even assuming independence meant automatic expulsion from the WTO, the UN, and the EU, which it doesn’t, and overly onerous conditions are imposed, Scotland could decide that belonging to them is not worth the bother. Maybe belonging to the WTO could weaken Scottish labour laws, and Scots could give it a miss.
The much more likely scenario is that upon a ‘yes’ vote, these institutions will find a way to facilitate continued adhesion, because expelling Scotland would be utterly pointless, punitive, and needlessly disruptive.
Maybe even the Monarchy would somehow find a way for an independent Scotland to seamlessly remain under its reign, at least until Queen Elizabeth passes on and Scots can choose in a referendum whether her successor be anointed, or rather a head of state be elected based on the will of the Scottish people rather than divine right.
Only independence will afford Scots these opportunities.
Mark McNaught is a member of the Constitutional Commission and an Associate Professor of US Civilisation at the University of Rennes 2 France. He also teaches US constitutional law at Sciences-Po Paris.