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Friday, November 11, 2011

Meanwhile, back in Scotland

Whatever you think of Alex Salmond, you have to give him credit for forcing others to address his agenda. The question though is whether it is the right agenda at the right time? Do people really want the Government to be focussing on Independence in a time of economic crisis?

David Cameron clearly has a problem with this. Judging by this article in the Independent he is finding the whole debate very distracting and would like Scotland's First Minister to get it over with so that everybody can move on.

The paper says that the Prime Minister is considering a UK-led referendum on Scottish independence to prevent the Scottish Nationalists from setting the terms, question and timing to suit themselves:

Some of the Prime Minister's aides want him to organise a Scottish independence referendum, set and run by Westminster – and they are in discussions with Labour to seek cross-party support. They believe this referendum could be held in 2012 or 2013 – much sooner than the 2014-15 timetable favoured by Scotland's SNP First Minister, Alex Salmond – and it would contain a straightforward Yes/No question on independence.

It is understood that the Prime Minister has yet to make up his mind but he has allowed soundings to be taken, both on his own side and on the Labour benches, to discover whether there is widespread support for this ploy of hijacking the referendum issue from the SNP.

This makes a lot of sense, especially as Scotland is not in a position to decide its own fate. Whatever the outcome of that referendum the consent of the rest of the United Kingdom will be necessary for any change. I am sure Nationalists will find that fact unpalatable but that is the way it is.

The main motivation behind this latest move though appears to be a desire to prevent Alex Salmond using the referendum for his own political ends and ensuring it focuses on the matter in hand:

One of the other issues which Mr Mundell has been exploring is whether the Coalition Government might be able to amend the current laws to force the Scottish Government to ask a clear Yes/No question on independence.

Mr Salmond has made it clear he favours a three-option referendum with the Scottish people being asked to back full independence, the status quo or "independence lite" – a settlement which many unionists believe would leave Scotland independent in all but name.

There have also been suggestions from the Nationalists that Scots would be able to choose more than one option in the referendum – prompting critics to warn that the SNP could secure independence even if this was only the second-best supported option.

Conservative ministers at Westminster want to stop all these developments, moves they believe are simply attempts by Mr Salmond to manipulate every part of the referendum process to suit himself. As a result, plans have been discussed for a "Clarity Act".

Modelled on a Canadian law of the same name, the Act could force the Scottish Nationalists to put just one simple question to the Scottish people. It is understood that ministers are considering inserting a new clause into the Scotland Bill which would perform the role of a full Clarity Act by setting strict terms for any referendum on Scottish independence.

It is an issue that will be well worth watching over the coming months.

Update: Wikipedia has more on the Canadian Clarity Act:

On September 30, 1996, Dion submitted three questions to the Supreme Court of Canada constituting the Supreme Court Reference re Secession of Quebec:

1.Under the Constitution of Canada, can the National Assembly, legislature, or government of Quebec effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally?

2.Does international law give the National Assembly, legislature, or government of Quebec the right to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally? In this regard, is there a right to self-determination under international law that would give the National Assembly, legislature or government of Quebec the right to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally?

3.In the event of a conflict between domestic and international law on the right of the National Assembly, legislature, or government of Quebec to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally, which would take precedence in Canada?

As soon as these questions were made public, both parties of the National Assembly, the Bloc Québécois and numerous federalists denounced Ottawa's gesture. An Act respecting the exercise of the fundamental rights and prerogatives of the Québec people and the Québec State was passed in the National Assembly of Quebec by the Parti Québécois government two days after the Clarity Act had been introduced in the Canadian House of Commons.

On August 20, 1998, the Supreme Court answered, concluding that Quebec does not have the right to secede unilaterally under Canadian or international law. However, the federal government would have to enter into negotiations with the Quebec government if Quebecers expressed a clear will to secede. It confirmed that the Canadian Parliament had the power to determine whether or not a referendum question was clear enough to trigger such negotiations. The Canadian constitution would remain in effect until terms of secession were agreed to by all parties involved, and these terms would have to respect principles of democracy, minority and individual rights as outlined in the Canadian constitution.

Both the government of Quebec and the government of Canada publicly stated that they were very pleased with the opinion of the Supreme Court, which stated both that Quebec could not legally separate unilaterally from Canada and that the Canadian Parliament would have a 'political obligation' to enter into separation negotiations with Quebec in the event that a clear majority of its populace were to vote in favour of independence.

One question from the constitutional point of view. Whatever happened to the liberal democratic concept which has some basis in international law and practice of a people's right to self-determination. Cannot a democratic successor to a Scottish Parliament that joined a parliamentary union succeed from it subject to the expression of the will of the people it represents? As I am typing these questions on a train we might call it the Great Western approach to union - last in first out!
I think that is a valid concept but you cannot escape from the fact that an action such as this has consequences that impacts on the self-determination of other peoples within the United Kingdom.
How do you define people Dafydd? The legal position is clearly set out by Prof Adam Tomkins of Glagow University in his evidence to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee. The only political body that can call a binding referendum is the UK Parliament. Salmond has to realise that his snake oil salesman's approach to politics has limitations in a state where the rule of law exists.
"Do people really want the Government to be focusing on Independence in a time of economic crisis?"

Scotland's working class has had it pretty tough. Scottish people often feel they are not really part of the United Kingdom being so far north and 'out of mind' of London. I returned to my Scottish roots by doing a PhD in Scotland and while my intent was focused on Edinburgh, I actually fell for Glasgow, I just love that city. While living in Glasgow I couldn't help but notice how ordinary Glaswegians felt they were cut-off from London even though Scotland is part of the UK.

If the Scottish people want independence they should have it regardless of the feeling of 'timing'. They are a very resourceful people, still have lots of oil, and its government has given its blessing to shale gas extraction; also, Scotland has some of the best areas for producing electricity from tidal flows.

Scotland has at least three very powerful universities. For example, the University of Glasgow is very focused on applying science to commercial projects and is very focused on engineering. If memory serves and in contrast to Wales, Scotland has three universities ranked in the top 100 world rankings (Glasgow, Edinburgh, St Andrews): http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2011?page=1

If Scotland does OK as an independent nation then Wales should take notice. But, imho, the way the Welsh Assembly Government works needs a serious overhaul, its cabinet appointment system is a joke given that its members are appointed from such a small pot so we end up with Ministers with no real interest in their briefs. Like a Business and Enterprise Minister who according to the BBC has capitalist 'regret'; and there was the past Minister who didn't like meat who had the agriculture brief.

Scotland has a BIG future. "BIG COUNTRY". cw
We have been here before

No man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation.
No man has the right to say to his country "Thus far shalt thou go and no further".

Charles Stuart Parnell Cork 1885
Peter, your tea's oot. http://www.heraldscotland.com:80/mobile/news/politics/labour-kills-off-westminster-home-rule-vote-1.1134275
The legal/constitutional position is irrelevant.

If your wife decides that she doesn't want to live with you anymore and the divorce papers land on the doormat, you can tramp off to your solicitor, the County, High, Supreme or European Court, but the end result will be the same. It'll be a waste of time and money. Your efforts will only increase her determination to get away from you.

Her leaving you will probably affect you profoundly in many ways, but it doesn't give you the power or the right to make her stay against her will. You'll have to negotiate the best terms you can get, as she surely will.

The unionists can rant, rave, puff and connive, but the Scots will decide the issue.

The key sentence in the Canadian Clarity Act lies in the final paragraph, "the Canadian Parliament would have a 'political obligation' to enter into separation negotiations with Quebec in the event that a clear majority of its populace were to vote in favour of independence."

'Obligation' is putting it mildly. Fundamentally it's not a legal, but a political issue.

The real question to ask is why the Scots want independence, or conversely what does the Union offer them which is a better alternative to independence? As far as I can see, not much.

Which PM/Counsel/Advocate General in his right mind is going to apply to the courts for an injunction to prevent the Scottish Parliament holding a referendum on its own terms?

Even dafter is the notion that Westminster can enforce a referendum on the Scots.

That is not to say that Salmond shouldn't watch his back in the meantime, as the dirty tricks brigade of the unionist establishment and its allies in the media, the press and the BBC are already at work and will soon get desperate.

I wish the Scots all the best in their endeavours to get the best for their country and people.
Actually you are wrong, Westminster can force a referendum on the Scots as they have reserved the power to themselves. Referenda are only ever advisory and there are more than the Scots to consider here. However, if there is a yes vote for Independence, which is unlikely, it will be up to the UK Government to address that and negotiate accordingly. In that respect our positions are not that much different.
'Even dafter is the notion that Westminster can enforce a referendum on the Scots.'

Sorry Peter, that sentence of mine was badly worded. Had I re-read it I would have written:

'Even dafter is the notion that Westminster would enforce a referendum on the Scots.'

.. which fits in better with what I was saying.
Anybody who thinks, as Cameron appears to, that by trying to enforce his will on the unwilling Scots will win them round, is an idiot!

The Unionists, devoid of argument, resort to obscurantist legalities. Yes, That's bound to do it!
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