Who is sovereign in Scotland? According to Scottish tradition and to the Scottish Claim of Right that would be the Scottish people. The Westminster doctrine that sovereignty in the UK rests with the Crown in Parliament was famously ruled in 1953 by the Lord President of the Court of Session to have no standing in Scots law. Lord Cooper of Culross gave his legal opinion stating, “the principle of unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle and has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law”.
Be that as it may, successive Westminster governments have a very different view. They uphold the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of the Westminster parliament, and their absolute right to overrule the rights of the Scottish people. The only person in the whole of Scotland who is sovereign is Fluffy Mundell, and he does what the Tory Prime Minister tells him. You might think Mundell is two faced, but ask yourself, if that was true why’s he wearing that one? We think we live in a democracy, but it’s the strangest democracy in the world, where the party which gets just one seat gets to call all the shots and complain that the majority party wants a one-party state. British democracy is four Tory wolves, three Labour jackals and a Scottish sheep voting on what to have for dinner.
We might fondly imagine in Scotland that the Scottish people are sovereign, but that’s not how it works in practice. That’s how come we can get Theresa May appearing on the Andrew Marr show telling us that Scotland shouldn’t have a second independence referendum. When you’re told that you require permission from a Prime Minister that no one elected and whose party has only one MP in your country, it’s a safe bet that the establishment wants you to believe that the principle of popular sovereignty doesn’t apply to you. Scotland, you’ll do what you’re told and you’ll be happy that you live in a free country. British democracy means that in this most perfect partnership of nations, the small nations get to do what the big one tells them.
Later this week Patrick Grady, the SNP MP for Glasgow North, has arranged a debate in Westminster on the Scottish Claim of Right. The Claim of Right states that the Scottish people have the right to determine the form of government most suited to their needs. Westminster Tories and their Labour pals are going to tell us that the form of government best suited to Scotland’s needs is the form that Labour and the Tories tell us is best for us.
When you have a debate on the popular sovereignty of the people of Scotland held in the parliament that fetishises its own absolute sovereignty, the result is predictable. Westminster’s going to tell us that the only sovereignty in the UK is the sovereignty of the Westminster parliament. They’re going to tell us that if we want another independence referendum that we need their permission. And they’re going to tell us that we shouldn’t have one. Why do you want a Scottish independence day, Westminster asks, because when you live under Tory rule there’s fireworks every day.
The thing about popular sovereignty is that if you have to ask for it, then you can’t have it. The people are sovereign only when they start to act as though they are. A sovereign people don’t need permission in order to campaign for independence. We don’t need permission from a political party. We don’t need the blessing of the Scottish parliament. And we most certainly don’t need the permission of a Westminster parliament that denies that we have it. By organising ourselves, by starting our campaign, by acting as though we were already independent, then we achieve sovereignty. Sovereignty comes from deeds, not words. Scottish sovereignty is produced by the people of Scotland taking their future into their own hands and campaigning for a destiny that we determine for ourselves. We don’t need anyone’s permission.
This week we learned from Nick Clegg that during the coalition government the Tories cynically screwed over the poor and the low paid in order to curry favour with the rich and the better off. They had no concern or care for the human consequences or the victims of their policies. And that was when the Lib Dems were supposedly holding them in check. Now we have a majority Tory government there’s no check or restraint on their self-serving pursuit of power and their ability to punish the weakest in society. With a Tory majority government, the popular sovereignty of the Scottish people isn’t just something that would be a good idea, it becomes a moral imperative.
In a Scotland where the people, all the people, are collectively sovereign, it becomes a betrayal to punish the poor to benefit the rich. A country where the people are sovereign is a land which is governed in the interests of all, not the interests of a few. It’s a country which forsakes itself if it allows inequality to grow, if it permits the children of less advantaged families to fall behind. Yet all these things happen in the UK as a matter of Conservative policy because in the UK the only imperative is the need to get reelected under an unfair and skewed voting system that the Tories are about to skew even more blatantly in their own favour. If we vote to remain a part of the UK, we’re voting to consign ourselves to the gutter, we’re voting to reduce ourselves to the detritus that can be swept aside. Because we won’t be sovereign.
So let’s act as we mean to go on. By joining a Yes group or a CommonWeal group, by becoming an active member of a party that supports independence, you’re declaring your own personal Scottish sovereignty and you’re engaging in the active creation of a better country, a country that belongs to us all. Scottish sovereignty means putting all of us first. Scottish sovereignty is a creative act. The only way it’s going to come into being is if we believe in it, we act on it, and we create it. Scottish independence and Scottish sovereignty don’t require the permission of Westminster. They require ours.
Audio version of this blog, courtesy of Sarah Mackie @lumi_1984 https://soundcloud.com/occamshaver/wee-ginger-dug-5th-sept-2016
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