We are the people, and we can say yes

It is a fundamental principle of the Scottish constitutional debate that the people of Scotland constitute the sovereign body in this land, not the Westminster Parliament, not Theresa May or any other British Prime Minister. The people of Scotland have asserted their sovereign rights ever since the Declaration of Arbroath of 6 April 1320. According to many it was one of the first ever declarations of popular sovereignty, presaging modern democratic understanding by many centuries. The Declaration asserted that the independence of Scotland, and by implication the choice of the form of Scottish government, was the prerogative of the Scottish people, one which no monarch could usurp.

The modern incarnation of the Declaration of Arbroath is the Scottish Claim of Right of 1989. The Claim of right asserts that the people of Scotland possess the sovereign right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs. Despite the Treaty of Union, this is a right which is inalienable. It is a right which cannot be usurped by any monarch, nor by implication by any Prime Minister who sees their authority deriving from the sovereignty of the Crown in the Westminster parliament. The principle asserted in the Scottish Claim of Right in 1989 remains the principle underpinning not just the Scottish independence movement, but underpinning the entire edifice of Scottish governance, encompassing both the Holyrood and Westminster parliaments.

That right was reasserted yesterday in the House of Commons, amidst the jeers, boos, and catcalls of Conservative MPs. David Cameron’s respect agenda is working out really well, isn’t it. It died when that Tory MP shouted out “suicide” when Ian Blackford asked what options were open to Scotland within the UK.

The debate was called at the insistence of the SNP, in order to express in the chamber of the House of Commons that the Scottish Parliament has rejected those parts of the EU Exit bill which impact upon the devolution settlement. It was a reminder to the Conservative government that it does not have the right to use Brexit to usurp the will of the Scottish people as expressed during the referendum of 1997, and reinforced by the promises and commitments made to the people of Scotland by the anti-independence parties in 2014.

The significance of the Claim of Right is that Westminster only governs Scotland because the people of Scotland consent for it to do so. If that is to have any meaning at all, then the people of Scotland have the absolute right to withdraw that consent. The people of Scotland do not need to ask Westminster’s permission in order to consider whether we wish to withdraw our consent. If you have to ask permission in order to consider whether you wish to withdraw consent, then you have no right to withdraw consent. That would mean that absolute sovereignty in Scotland rests with the Westminster Parliament, and not with the people of Scotland. It means we’re not a partner, not a constituent part of a union, it means that in the eyes of the Westminster government there is no substantive difference between Scotland and an English county council. We already know that that is precisely how they see is. That is why the union is as good as dead.

For the entire period of the existence of this so-called Union, Westminster has acted as though that was the case, as though it possesses absolute sovereignty in Scotland. But that’s only because the people of Scotland have tacitly permitted it to do so. For most of the existence of the UK the Westminster Parliament was the only elected forum through which Scotland could express its democratic will. That was why Margaret Thatcher said back in the 1980s that if the people of Scotland wanted independence, all that they had to do was to vote for an SNP majority amongst Scottish representatives to the Commons.

We can withdraw that permission at any time we choose, and we can do so through the means of another elected body which represents the whole of the people of this country. We have such a body in the form of the Scottish Parliament. The Westminster Parliament might have drawn up the Scotland Act with the express intention of reserving all sovereignty to itself, but the point of the Claim of Right and the long tradition of Scottish constitutionalism upon which it rests is that no parliament can abrogate the sovereignty of the people of Scotland to itself.

The significance of the Claim of Right is that if another body representing the collective will of the people of Scotland possesses a mandate for an independence referendum, no UK government has the right to prevent it. What the Claim of Right means is that the people of Scotland do not require anyone’s permission for an independence referendum. It is a reminder to Westminster that the UK is a multinational state, founded by the union of two sovereign nations. Sovereignty in the Kingdom of England is founded upon the sovereignty of the crown in parliament. Sovereignty in Scotland is founded upon the collective will of the people of Scotland.

Scottish popular sovereignty didn’t end with the Treaty of Union in no small measure because the Treaty of Union itself specified that the institutions of the Scottish state, other than Scotland’s old parliament, were to continue unaffected. Scots Law was not subsumed into English Law. Scottish sovereignty was to be exercised by the Westminster Parliament, but it was not abolished by it, nor was it subservient to it. That remained the case as long as there was no other elected body possessing a mandate from the people of Scotland as a whole.

Any body elected by the people of Scotland as a whole, and accountable to the people of Scotland as a whole, can bring such a referendum about if it possesses a mandate from the people of Scotland to do so, because it’s the people of Scotland who are sovereign. Sovereignty means we don’t need to ask or to beg, we require no one’s blessing. It means that Westminster’s permission is not required. Theresa May can say no, but we are the people and we can say yes. It would be fitting indeed if we were to have reasserted the sovereign right of the people of this country by the week of 6 April 2020, the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath.

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36 comments on “We are the people, and we can say yes

  1. Dan Huil says:

    The SNP in Westminster deserves praise for their actions. Another Rubicon has been crossed. The people of Scotland are sovereign in Scotland; now even britnat Westminster accepts that truth. The time is right to use it for Scotland’s advantage.

    • Robert Harrison says:

      Either way it was a trap for Westminster and they walked into the b trap which has killed there scotlands not a nation garbage dead as if they went into the address trap that would of made them lose all credibility and thing is English mps actually care about what othere nations think of them and they will do anything to be seen as the good guys when we know they are the evil villians out for destruction.

    • Illy says:

      In game theory this is what’s known as a “fork”: All options open to them were bad.

      Incidentally, by acknowledging that the people of Scotland are sovereign, they’ve opened the doors to allowing the SNP to call a “Scottish MPs only” vote on devolving more powers.

  2. donald6 says:

    The Write stuff, Ch. 5, was sneering at the SNP, this morn, for being “silly” in the said debate and that they had “ten years to debate it”,

    • Macart says:

      Were they indeed? They’re not too bright are they? They don’t seem to realise what was done last night or why and they certainly don’t realise that there’s just been a tectonic shift in parliamentary relationships. They also haven’t grasped what this means for post Brexit economics or relationships.

      But, y’know, let them have their condescending snigger.

      Tick tock.

  3. Alan says:

    I wouldn’t use the Declaration of Arbroath to legitimate this. It’s legitimate because it’s democratic not because a bunch of nobles hundreds of years ago wrote some shite to get the pope to adopt a position that favoured their interests. I doubt they gave a rat’s arse about the will of the Scottish people or they simply understood such as their own will.

    • Ealasaid says:

      Beware anglicised versions of Scottish history. More evidence is being found that what the Declaration of Arbroath states is just the situation that existed in Scotland at the time in relation to clan chiefs and other leaders as well as the King.

    • Nancy B says:

      No, they undoubtedly didn’t, Alan. Any more than the nobles who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta could possibly have foreseen the constitution of the US. Yet look how Magna Carta has been used over the last 800 years to redefine and justify the underpinnings of basic rules of law ever since. Habeus corpus anyone? Why shouldn’t the Declaration be used in the same way, as a starting point and statement of intent?

      • Alan says:

        To all I reply: Why the romantic twaddle of Scottish lords and not the Scottish Enlightenment? Both Hume and Smith provide better reason in A Treatise of Human Nature and The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Or is this Scottish writing and history that you are unfamiliar with?

  4. Macart says:

    Couple more boxes to tick this summer, but nearly there. 🙂

    Procedure and action = consequence.

    The motion was debated and resolved unopposed and recorded in Hansard. It’s debatable whether UK media have picked up on the significance of what’s just occurred and even if they did, they’d hardly give the UK’s electorate the heads up with attendant whys and wherefores. Might prove a bit embarrassing considering the bullshit narrative they’ve ingrained upon modern UK culture on all things Scotchland.

    When that other shoe drops on constitutional crisis and its implications for post Brexit life however? I’d imagine they won’t be too happy.


  5. […] Wee Ginger Dug We are the people, and we can say yes It is a fundamental principle of the Scottish constitutional debate that the people of […]

  6. Craig P says:

    It’s worth acknowledging the source of that quote:


    ..any agreement [of the Scottish Constitutional Convention] which was rejected by the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher could not become law. Wright responded to this political reality by appealing to the idea of Scottish popular sovereignty. At the first meeting of the Convention he famously remarked: “What if that other voice we all know so well responds by saying, ‘We say no, and we are the state’,? Well we say yes – and we are the people.”

    • Nancy B says:

      Exactly! And quoted in the parliamentary debate by the SNP MP from West Dumbartonshire, Martin Doherty-Hughes.

  7. Wonderful, Paul.
    I favour a Transition Period following Independence culmination on the 6th April 2020.
    Softlee softlee, catchee monkey.
    I see that peddler of eclectic boy wizard stories has taken to Twitter again labling half of Scotland as blood and soil Nazis.
    This woman needs help.
    Seriously, doesn’t she have a Best friend in whom she can confide the attic full of uncertainties with which she is clearly burdened.

    All that dosh, and nothing to spend it on.

    The Leafy ‘burbs of Edinburgh don’t like all this ‘We, the people’, chatter.

    They Rule, and we should be grateful.

    They’re rich and successful, and titled.
    Whereas we, the people, are not.
    Ergo, back in your boxes.
    Time and tide, and all that.

  8. bringiton says:

    Unfortunately,the London based parties are going to argue that Scots voted in 2014 for Westminster to continue to make decisions on their behalf.
    Consequently,they will argue,that trumps any decision taken by the Scottish parliament.
    They may get away with this in the short term but longer term,the cat is out of the bag and Scots will begin to realise that they are in charge of Scotland and not England’s Tories.

    • Ealasaid says:

      The question on the ballot paper was ‘Should Scotland become an Independent country?’

      At no point did we give Westminster, which is only about 8% Scottish, permission to overrule the Scottish Parliament which is 100% elected by the sovereign people of Scotland and therefore entirely the voice of the sovereign people in Scotland.

    • Illy says:

      There’s an argument to be made that the claim of right enforces “Scots votes for Scots laws” – ie: When it comes to issues that effect Scotland, only Scottish MPs get to vote.

      • Geordie says:

        Ooh, I like that! All of a sudden our SNP majority in Westminster would have a huge, impervious majority.

  9. Nigel Mace says:

    The Claim of Right goes still further back to 1689 and the 1989 document was but its up-dating. The SNP motion the other night was a brilliant coup by Ian Blackford and the SNP, leaving the Unionists (of every unlovely stripe) the unpalatable options of voting against this historic truth or failing to divide the House and thereby allowing the Claim of Right to be assented to by the Westminster Parliament – in the pointless hope that nobody would notice. BUt we have and the records of the Commons itself will now stand over against any Breximaniac Tory attempt to divert/deny the process. Hell mend them – SCOTREF# is coming – and with it our independence. Bring It On.

  10. Concerned Citizen says:

    They are ramping up the Novichok thing again (https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/07/the-amesbury-mystery/) and Tory MPs were apparently told to let this motion pass.

    I am beginning to wonder if they are egging the Americans on to go to war with somebody, anybody so they can declare a state of emergency and impose martial law in the UK, which would mean that any opposition to Westminster diktat could be labelled as treason.

    Anybody who does not believe that the Tories would stoop to this does not understand them. It is not the Tory elite’s offspring that would die on the front line and their wealth would protect them from the economic disaster that a war would bring.

    They could also use the state of emergency to impose net censorship and shut down dissenting media voices. War – the Tory wet dream.

    • grizebard says:

      No, concernbot, it’s you who are ramping up the “Novichok thing” right here where it doesn’t belong. It has nothing whatever to do with Scotland, the Claim of Right, the topic at hand. (It’s not as though there is a shortage of space on the wilder shores of the blogosphere where this sort of baseless speculation truly belongs.)

  11. Graham Niven says:

    Apologies to the late great Woody Guthrie

    Scotland Is Your Land

    This land is your land This land is my land
    From Mull O’ Galloway to the Shetland island;
    From Caledonian forest to the Moray Firth waters
    This land was made for you and Me.

    As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
    I saw above me that endless skyway:
    I saw below me that golden valley:
    This land was made for you and me.

    I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
    To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
    And all around me a voice was sounding:
    This land was made for you and me.

    When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
    And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
    As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
    This land was made for you and me.

    As I went walking I saw a sign there
    And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
    But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
    That side was made for you and me.

    In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
    By the busy food bank I seen my people;
    As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
    Is this land made for you and me?

    Nobody living can ever stop me,
    As I go walking that freedom highway;
    Nobody living can ever make me turn back
    This land was made for you and me.

  12. Stirring stuff, Paul. Ian Blackford has proved his worth beyond all doubt with this manouevre. It is very gratifying to see our Westminster SNP MPs playing Westminster at its own game – and winning!

  13. Rod MacKay says:

    The Scottish government should apply for the S30 Order. It will be refused. The Scottish Parliament should then remind Wastemonster that a refusal of consent will be taken as consent. Hoist them with their own petard.

  14. Luigi says:

    If Scottish law was indeed not subsumed by English/British law by the treaty of union, then how on earth can a so-called “UK Supreme Court” rule over the will of the people of Scotland?

    Something doesn’t quite add up here. We are either sovereign or we are not. If the SC rules against us, at the very least it should go to the International Court to settle it,

  15. Bill McDermott says:

    I agree wholeheartedly Luigi. I also say that the tactics of the SNP contingent at Westminster should have been the tactics every since 2015 when we sent 56 MPs to London. We should have been playing this disruptive game all along and not acting nicely, nicely to be good parliamentarians.

    We are a different country and we have to act as if we are.

    • Luigi says:


      There have been claims that the SC (set up by Blair?) is a mega Bluff on the part of the British establishment. A kind of pretend supremacy over Scottish law. To date, apart from the recent wobble over BREXIT (when they came out looking really bad), the authority of the SC has not been seriously challenged, and so they continued to get away with their little charade.

      Well, the mask is slipping now – how the SC rules on the SG Continuity Bill will be very interesting (and revealing). Their bluff is being called big time – what to do? Do they back down and try to save face somehow (like what happened at WM with the Claim of Rights debate), or do they try and grasp the nettle, sparking a constitutional crisis. Either way, it’s a win-win for the indy movement. Things are about to get really interesting.

      Popcorn ready. 🙂

  16. Andy Anderson says:

    Very well clarified Paul, and thank you everyone else for good points and clarification on the issue.

    It will be interesting to see how this is used.

    My view is the the Supreme court has no jurisdiction in Scotland if it is against Scots law.

  17. Andy Anderson says:

    According to His Supreme Fluffiness, in the National today, he says that if SG wins in the Supreme court later this month (the SG Continuity Bill) then they, the trustworthy people in London will respect that decision. Now we know that is a lie because in the last year all he has done is lied, or he has been played by others. Same thing.

    I can see a fight down the road.

    I can see the SG using this clarification of the Claim of Rights to say that Clause 30 regarding a referendum is not needed as Scotland, and now Westminster agrees with them. Tthe following (taken from Hansard)

    “That this House endorses the principles of the Claim of Right for Scotland, agreed by the Scottish Constitutional Convention in 1989 and by the Scottish Parliament in 2012, and therefore acknowledges the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs”

  18. MI5 Troll says:

    Nice headline(and article) Dug as always… I think I might get that stuck on to a T-Shirt to wear during this unnaturally barbeque weather, down in Kilmatroll.

  19. Kat hamilton says:

    Well said red mackay…like that sentiment very much….fluffy and co agreed to the claim of rights only to say that no section order now, later on or practically ever will it be given…suppose when you’re a snake in the grass your bound to have a forked tongue….goes with the territory….once the legalities are clarified, hopefully it’ll kill the assertions that we are under wms diktats without any way out…well done Ian blackford…the unionists gaff has been blown….

  20. Kat hamilton says:

    Sorry Rod not red…apols..

  21. grizebard says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment, but not in the least with your timing, Paul. I don’t want Scotland arm-twisted out of the EU against our express will, which was our sovereignty in action as much as anything. How can that be conveniently ignored by anyone?

    I don’t want even one of the people of Scotland, which includes all those longstanding residents (parents and taxpayers) from other parts of the EU, to be shorn of their rightful share in our common sovereignity come April next year by brute London diktat.

    I want to be totally free by April 2020, not still tangled in the process of getting it!

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