A question of consent


The Labour party’s Scottish branch office has its conference this weekend in Dundee. You can be forgiven for not having noticed, what with so many other vitally important events that are far more newsworthy taking up your attention. Like the two for one offer on toilet unblocker in your local supermarket, or the house across the road getting new curtains in bright red plush velour no less. It’s the talk of the local branch of ScotMid, which is considerably more than can be said for the Labour conference.

Branch office manager Richard Leonard, for whom the adjective hapless appears to have been invented, has been doing the rounds of the interview circuit in an effort to inform Labour voters that he does in fact exist. According to a recent poll, only 37% of Labour voters in Scotland know that he’s the leader of the party in Scotland. The poll didn’t ask how many of them cared, but that number is likely to be lower.

Richard’s great plan to reinvigorate the Labour party in Scotland is to turn it into a Brexit party and to rule out a second EU referendum. With this masterstroke he has managed to piss off the almost two thirds of the Scottish electorate which voted to remain in the EU. But it’s a lot worse than that. Richard has also been stamping his foot at the very possibility of there ever being another independence referendum. Since, as we are frequently informed by a British press which is keen to highlight differences of opinion within the Yes camp, one third of independence supporters also want to leave the EU, that means that by ruling out another indyref under all and any circumstances, Richard has also cut his party off from the support of leave voters who also support Scottish independence. He’s now restricted his party’s appeal in Scotland to people to want to leave the EU and who are implaccably opposed to independence. Most of those people vote Tory, and Richard is trying to sell them Jeremy Corbyn’s version of socialism. That’s a form of politics which believes in self-determination for everyone except Scotland.

There’s a definite parallel between the Conservatives and Labour on the Scottish Question now. It’s a development which hasn’t been much remarked upon in the British nationalist press in Scotland, but one which has fundamentally altered the nature of this supposed union of which Scotland forms a part.

Over the past few months we have witnessed the Conservatives in Westminster insisting that they will refuse to accede to any request for a Section 30 order in order to hold an independence referendum. We have also seen Richard Leonard insist that opposition to another independence referendum will form a part of the next Labour manifesto and will be the policy of a future Labour government irrespective of how the Scottish electorate votes.

The cornerstone of Scottish political discourse up until now, amongst both those in favour of independence as well as those opposed to it, is that Scotland is freely and willingly a part of the UK. We are not a colony held subject against our will, and all that is required for Scotland to leave the UK is for the voters of Scotland to say so. Even Margaret Thatcher, that self-proclaimed English nationalist, conceded that point. She once famously stated back in those pre-devolution days that if Scotland wanted independence it only needed to return a majority of SNP MPs to Westminster.

That’s no longer true. We can no longer believe that Scotland is willingly and freely a part of the UK until the people of Scotland say otherwise when the British government and the major British parties refuse to allow the people of Scotland to have a say on their future. Scotland is being torn out of Europe against its will by people who insist they are respecting the will of people while doing their utmost to prevent the people of Scotland from having any say. If the democratic will of the people of Scotland must be subordinate to the democratic will of the people of England, then this cannot be a union at all.

The refusal of Theresa May to acknowledge the democratic mandate held by the Scottish government represents a seismic change in our understanding of this British state that Scotland remains a part of. Yet it is one which has passed unremarked by much of the Scottish media, which apparently sees its job as to defend the interests of the UK in Scotland and not to defend the interests of Scotland in the UK.

We can no longer pretend that this is a union founded upon consent when we have a British Prime Minister who lied to the Commons and baldly stated that the SNP has no mandate for another independence referendum. This is no longer a union founded upon consent when that Prime Minister says she will refuse to allow an independence referendum. This is no longer a union founded upon consent when the leader of the Labour party in Scotland states that his party’s manifesto can override the will of the people of Scotland.

Our entire understanding of British democracy has been trashed by the British government and the official opposition. It’s been trashed by a British media which baselessly asserts that any independence vote held without Theresa May’s permission would be illegal when the issue has never been legally tested.

In 2014 the anti-independence campaign sought to fight on a very narrow range of arguments. In particular they were concerned above all to avoid getting into the democratic argument for Scottish independence, the way in which the British state subordinates the interests of Scotland and how it contains no constitutional structures which are able to protect Scotland from the effects of English nationalism. Theresa May’s denial of the mandate which the Scottish government possesses thrusts the democratic deficit of a Scotland within the UK into the very centre of the debate.

Despite the intransigence of Theresa May, the question of Scottish independence will be revisited by the electorate of Scotland. And when it is the questions of democracy and consent will be front and foremost. A British state which insists that a Prime Minister without a mandate in Scotland has a veto over Scotland’s future has no answer to that question. If it’s for Theresa May to decide whether Scotland can speak then there is no consent. Consent which is presumed is no consent at all, and without consent there is no union. The union is already dead, it’s been killed by those who claim to love it. The only question left is how best to unchain ourselves from the corpse.

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27 comments on “A question of consent

  1. john mclaughlin says:

    Yet another excellent piece Paul ! We all acknowledge this to be the truth, I am frustrated, angry at the constant bombardment of Pi– from all unionist sources. My feelings are that the SNP have all their arguments ready for the unionist onslaught but will we/they get a fair hearing ? on main stream avenues.

    It would be an immense psychological boost if the SNP/Yes movement very soon threw a match into their gunpowder barrel and proved the Unionists as liars and thieves,

    sorry folks ,rant over.

  2. […] Wee Ginger Dug A question of consent The Labour party’s Scottish branch office has its conference this weekend in Dundee. […]

  3. I love your writing!

    It combines sharp political analysis with beautifully flowing sentences that make me laugh. I would like to take issue however with the apparent non-ironic use of the expression “the Scottish Question” – at the start of the fourth paragraph.

    “The Scottish Question” seems from here to be quintessentially and unapologetically British, a shorthand from the English Nationalist position for exactly what you so eloquently describe in the final sentences.

    From our point of view the Union is already dead, while from theirs in is still a “question” – some abstract issue to be discussed by people of power, irrespective of what the proles think, before enacting a solution. Perhaps the so called ‘Scottish Question’ should henceforth be enclosed by scare quotes.

    Anyhoo … thanks for the words! 🙂

  4. Cubby says:

    Your writing has always been excellent but you have now improved your blog with your superb graphics.

  5. Mary McCabe says:

    The UK only accepts democracy and consent when they’re in their favour. For most international bodies the maxim Might is Right trumps the principle of self-determination.
    So the clearest way to an indyref which won’t be boycotted by the No side and might be accepted by the world is:
    1) apply for a Section 30 order.
    2) when it’s refused get the pro indy majority of MPs to disrupt Parliament in an eye-catching and ongoing way – shouting slogans whenever the PM gets up to speak, repeated walkouts etc.
    Don’t do a SinnFein and refuse to take up seats – that just gets the MPs firstly accused by the media of being lazy and greedy and then ignored by the media. And the constituents deserve representation on the few reserved matters that affect them personally (eg benefits and immigration).
    3) Carry on disrupting their precious Parliament until the next Holyrood election – presented as a referendum on a mandate to negotiate for indy.
    If there’s a pro-indy majority (which we must constantly campaign towards) and that gets ignored (it does take two sides to negotiate) carry on with the disruption campaign in Westminster.
    Civil disobedience only works in London. Elsewhere it’ll be ignored or blamed on the incompetence of the Scottish Govt.
    Unless we’ve got the numbers willing and able to go down there indefinitely and e.g close down the London Tube the only place to do it and be noticed is within the Hallowed Walls.

    • Cubby says:

      Sorry but that is a recipe for achieving exactly nothing. We already have a mandate for indyref2.

  6. annraynet says:

    Splendid, gives us hope in increasingly dark times.

  7. ScotsCanuck says:

    “The Labour party’s Scottish branch office has its conference this weekend in Dundee” …… as appealing as a gathering of the ‘undead’ I would presume, hosted by he who has no reflection (both anecdotal and literal) …. where is Van (“Mac”) Helsing when needed.

  8. benmadigan says:

    here are 2 videos on the UK’s govt’s attitude to northern ireland over the past 40 years. I imagine the same Unionist intransigeance is seen in its attitude to Scotland


  9. Stellar, Paul.

  10. Wullie says:

    What if England wanted to dissolve the union would they ask Scotland for a S30.
    Naw, they would just say cheerio and thanks for all the oil.

  11. Melvin says:

    I am concerned by this new militant, authorative tory tribe, they could well lead us to civil unrest, In fact I think that is what they want to happen. I on the other hand want the democratic process to proceed. I hope by the end of this week. The SNP will be able to call for a referendum. We need it to be now, any later and I fear an authoritarian lurch by Westminster, back to the days of the Cromwell. Any excuse will be used to call an national emergency and martial law. The Tories are certainly capable of this given the disaster of a compliant Labour Party.

    • bringiton says:

      The final days of the British empire,so like Rome.
      Fighting erupting along all their borders and the inward collapse of their authority and power.
      The delusions of resurgent global expansion will soon be seen for what they are.
      The British empire will end like Rome and all that will be left is the City state of London.
      It has been that way for some time but reality is now coming home to roost.

  12. Muscleguy says:

    “In particular they were concerned above all to avoid getting into the democratic argument for Scottish independence, the way in which the British state subordinates the interests of Scotland and how it contains no constitutional structures which are able to protect Scotland from the effects of English nationalism.”

    Fortunately I chose to do the vast majority of my campaigning in IndyRef1 with RIC so I was unconstrained by Yes Scotland strategising and I made full use of such arguments on the doorsteps and streets of Dundee. RIC was very active in Dundee and Glasgow in particular and those places voted most strongly for Yes.

    I recall the RIC flyer which simply said ‘Britain is for the rich, Scotland can be ours’. There is so much implicit in that slogan including the above. We pushed both parts for all they worth and they had traction.

    Ah well, I’ll just chalk it up with all the other witless, craven failures of Yes Scotland.

  13. peter e smith says:

    Great thoughts, eloquently expressed. Thanks Paul.
    The comments are all very worthwhile too and I agree with Melvin that time is of the essence. I believe that civil unrest is almost inevitable and I am fearful that our hard won democratic rights will be stripped away under some form of “national emergency”. I put nothing past the crooks of the British establishment.We have already witnessed a high level character assassination and there will be more and dirtier tricks to be played yet. They have form.
    Control of mainstream media is critical and the independence movement has almost no visibility or opportunity to access these platforms. Social media sites and the likes of your wonderful blog only reach a tiny %age of the population and most of them are already believers.
    Sorry if I am thinking out loud here – just frustrated that are not further ahead.

  14. Macart says:

    When it comes to Westminster and the politics of the UK? It’s always been a case of the ‘best trick the devil ever pulled’. A con job. The big lie. A preciousss union for the benefit of the few. A fudge of convenience for an establishment, (and a fairly invested political class).

    The big lie of ‘one nation’ created in order to facilitate management of populations. It’s not and never has been ‘one nation’. The ‘trick’ of course was to convince those populations of the big lie. To deprive them of their rights and choices. Helps when you have an unwritten constitution which could be amended on the hoof right enough. You know the drill by this point. Their idea of politics/democracy/identity, is what they say it is etc. Great for the political types I suppose, but not so great for populations.

    History has been airbrushed a fair bit in the past three hundred and twelve years, but the facts are still fairly simple. An international treaty, two signatories and two separate legal systems. Much like any other deal, a political union only exists so long as both parties are happy with the arrangement. In Scotland, (being a popular sovereignty supported by the Claim of Right), that means just so long as a majority of our electorate want it to continue.

    So are folks happy with the UK they see today?

    • Gordon yet But was airbrushing at lunchtime, Sam.
      In conversation with Ian Blackford he referred to ‘what YOU call the ‘sovereignty’ of the Scottish People.
      Claim of Right, mandate of the Scottish parliament, means nothing to Old Brewdog.
      He knows what side his Brit Nat bread is buttered on.
      What a pointless waste of 30 minutes of air time this Dog Whistle for Brit Nat pensioners this show really is.
      I was glad to see Stephen Wright got a spot at the close of the show.
      Stephen Wright?
      Me too. apparently he is a ‘musician and a Labour Activist’.
      A Corbyn Man who declared that Redmund Leotard, or whatever his name is (I’m as confused as to who leads the Red Tory Branch Office as apparently 2/3rds of Labour voters) is doing a bang up job and will provide free public transport for all including the Hated Few, and will stop evictions during the winter.
      Christ on a bike.
      There is more sign of intellect on a culture on a laboratory Petrie Dish than there is in whole of the Brit Nat Freeloaders Up Here.
      Who would vote for this mob?

      • PS The Brewdog declared at the close of the show that Blackford had ruled out Indyref 2 until at least after a 2021 SGE.
        No he didn’t, but why let Truth get in the way od broadcasting to the converted?
        Pointless little show beamed from the Backwater that is now BBC Jockland.

      • Macart says:

        Been away for most of the weekend so catching up on all the reading. From the gubbins appearing on both the printed and broadcast media covering some comprehensively debunked tropes from indyref one, seems the powers that be are getting a tad on the nervous side. 🙂

        • The Scotsman leads with a story that Alex Salmond regretted joking during the currency debate with Lord Darling of Flipper.
          There will be lots of that..re-releases of their greatest Project fear hits…
          They are lying openly now and Scoop Hutcheon and others let them away with it.
          Who is buying these rags nowadays?
          They can’t be relying on adverts; there are none.

  15. Andy Anderson says:

    Sorry different topic.
    Joanne Cherry today tweeted this link. It is about the right of us to hold a referendum. Worth a read, it is a 2012 news article


  16. And in other news, Old Lizzie has just given her son Edward, Forfar, as a birthday present.He’s now the Earl of Forfar. Free Bridies for life?
    Did anybody ask the good citizens of Forfar?
    What dinging world do these people live?
    I have coined a neologism, ‘ding’, to replace the F word because wee shrinking violets in the Dead Tree Scrolls, according to Scoop Hutcheon, in to-day’s Herald Britland, the Re Stu (photographed) and you, Big K, indulge in foul mouthed tweets, which will put off the faint hearted for voting YES, rather than starve or freeze to death under FM Jackson Carhire’s Free Market Blue Tory Scotland, the colony.
    So ‘ding’ it is from now on, and all adjectival, and verbal, and noun derivatiives.
    I’m ‘dinged’ if I’m going to offend the poor wee souls of our Fourth Column.
    I’m dinging ragin’, guys.
    Yours Truly, Baron Johannes of Yoker.

  17. Velofello says:

    @ Jack Collatin: Ding? That’s posh for dung, didn’t you know? Years back I had a load delivered and dumped beneath my then primary school son’s bedroom window, and he, trying to be posh, complained to his teacher and class at school of the stink of ding.

    • My point exactly, Velofello.
      They are reduced to playground waffle, dismissing the tremendous work done by WGD, WoS, and many many more by somehow arguing that the ‘sweary words’ invalidate the excoriating exposees of the Brit Nat and MSM lies threats and deception.

      ‘Ding’ it is from now on in.
      They are dinging treacherous liars.
      Ding them all.

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