Assets, debt, and British nationalist desperation

According to a report in the Sunday Times, the Scottish Government intends to hold a consultative referendum in order to avoid any potential legal issues if a Section 30 order is not forthcoming from the British Government. The report claims that the Scottish Government believes that a consultative vote is within the powers of the Scottish Government and has a better chance of bypassing possible legal challenges. Essentially what this boils down to is that a Yes vote in the referendum would not result in Holyrood making an immediate declaration of independence but rather would give Holyrood a popular mandate to open independence negotiations with Westminster. This is basically what would have happened anyway in 2014 had that year’s referendum produced a Yes vote.

It should be pointed out straight away that under what passes for a constitution in the UK, referendums are always consultative. The British nationalist fetish for the absolute sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament means that nothing can bind the hands of Parliament, no government can pass legislation that a subsequent government is unable to repeal, by pass, or overrule, and it is up to Westminster to legislate in order to put into effect any decisions made by the electorate in a referendum. The EU referendum was a consultative referendum, but the second that the result was declared, the political pressure to implement it became overwhelming, and was immediately taken advantage of by the right wing of the Conservative party.

The key issue here is to ensure that the referendum is lawful, if it is lawful, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and Labour as political parties could choose to boycott the referendum but they would not be lawfully able to order Conservative or Labour controlled local authorities not to participate in the referendum and to deny the vote to residents of those local authorities.

As I mentioned in my previous piece, right now we are in the same stage of proceedings as we were in 2012 before the Edinburgh Agreement when the British nationalist parties refused to accept that Holyrood does have a mandate for a referendum and are intent on arguing about process, about the legality of the referendum, rather than engaging in the substantive arguments of the merits of an independent Scotland versus their assertions that Scotland is better served by remaining under Westminster rule. This is not a debate that they want to have because they are painfully aware, even if they would never admit it in public, that they themselves have destroyed the strongest weapons that were in their persuasive arsenal in the 2014 campaign. No one in Scotland will now believe a Westminster promise that following a No vote there will be greater powers for Holyrood. Instead we know that Westminster will seize on a No vote and eviscerate the remaining powers of Holyrood in order to turn it into a toothless talking shop. The only thing that has prevented the Tories from doing this already is their fear of another independence referendum. One that fear is removed the Anglo-British nationalist gloves will be off and we will see an all out assault on the devolution settlement from the Tories.

Equally no one will believe any commitments to investment or promises that jobs will be secure. Those 26 frigates have sailed off into imaginary waters. Crucially they also know that we enter the second independence with the two sides neck and neck in the polls and that the No campaign no longer possesses the massive lead in opinion polling that it enjoyed at the start of the 2014 campaign and that opposition to independence and support for the British state can no longer be portrayed as opposition to “nationalism”. We can all see for ourselves the xenophobic Anglo-British nationalism of this Conservative government.

This is why the anti-independence parties are hoping to use any means that they can in order to frustrate the democratic will of the people of Scotland for a second independence referendum. They realise the weakness of their own position. It is because they know that their union flag jaikets are on a very shoogly peg that they are desperate enough to try and block the operation of democracy in Scotland by asserting its unlawfulness. However as Matt Qvortup, a professor of political science at Coventry University who has studied referendums around the world, pointed out, there was no doubt ­that the Scottish Government did have a democratic ­mandate for a fresh vote and he predicted that attempts by the Westminster parties or their British nationalist surrogates to use the courts in an attempt to thwart that mandate could significantly boost support for independence by as much as 5%.

The professor also pointed out that one of the persistent claims of the anti-independence parties is categorically untrue. We have heard a lot that an independent Scotland would immediately be saddled with a debt of £180 billion as its pro-rata share of debt from the UK. However Professor Qvortup noted that an independent Scotland would be under no legal obligation to pay any share of UK debt after independence and could use this fact as a negotiating tactic. Scotland could point out that legally it was perfectly free to walk away from the UK’s debt but negotiate to take on a share of it in return for a share of the UK’s assets. No assets, no debt.

Professor Qvortup also said that we should not rule out the possibility that Johnson might after all agree to a Section 30 order and another referendum. It has always struck me as odd that certain people are prepared to accept at face value Johnson’s claim that he will not agree to a Section 30 order when he lies about everything else. From Johnson’s point of view there are political advantages to facilitating another Scottish independence referendum. If he wins it he can pose as the great champion of the Union and can use the victory in order to destroy the power of the Scottish Parliament, removing an inconvenient and annoying source of political power and authority which is independent of him. If he loses, he removes a block of fifty anti-Conservative MPs from Westminster, which in Qvortup’s words would “fireproof” the Conservatives at Westminster for a very long time, adding : “So either he saves the Union or he goes down as a democrat and also guarantees his majority for a very long time. If somebody were to think that thought then it [a section 30 order] may not be quite so unlikely.”

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13 comments on “Assets, debt, and British nationalist desperation

  1. James Mills says:

    We need a slogan for the referendum .

    Clearly , as was seen in the Brexit campaign , appealing to the intelligence of some voters is a sure-fire-winner .

    ”Take Back Control ” or ”Get Brexit Done ! ” or ”Die in a Ditch ! ”

    We in Scotland need a Boris Johnson style , pithy , short , blatantly untrue slogan .
    What about :

    ” Better Together , Again !”

    ” Too Wee , Too Poor , Too Stupid ! ”

    ”It’s England’s Oil ( and gas and water and whisky and fish …)”

    ”Don’t They Know There’s a War on ? ”

    ” We Love You , Scotland ! ”

    My favourite is

    ”Won’t Get Fooled Again ! ”

    • Dr Jim says:

      Don’t call it a referendum, call it a eh erm eh *not referendum* then we’ll maybe talk ….mibbees

      I love this descent into madness from the union fearties, they’ve even got experts on madness now

    • Robin McHugh says:

      “Better together?
      Nah.
      Safer apart”

  2. grizebard says:

    Actually, after reading Paul’s latest missive, the slogan that springs immediately to mind for IR2 is “think about it: you just can’t afford to vote ‘no’ now”.

  3. Melvin says:

    I think Paul is bang on, Boris will agree, to take the pressure and focus of himself, he will have another 18 months guaranteed as pm as the Tories won’t want to change their liar in chief at this point.

    I think this is why the SNP have started the gun on the referendum, it puts real pressure on the Tories to back Boris.

    Exciting times and we will win

  4. Legerwood says:

    Given the news today that the Times, at the behest apparently of No 10, pulled a story about Boris Johnson’s plan when Foreign Sec to offer Carrie a job at £100,000 pa I am not sure that the Times stating anything about the SG’s plans re the referendum can be believed. The Times would appear to have trashed its reputation big time.

    That together with Murdo Fraser’s meltdown interview have made this quite a weekend for the independence campaign.

    • Alex Clark says:

      I completely agree, a story in the Times quoting unnamed sources is evidence of nothing at all. The simple truth is the journalist who wrote this story is as much in the dark as anyone reading here as to what the question will be in the referendum bill that is soon to be published.

      It could be the Scottish government want this leaked and therefore it’s true, it could equally be that the UK government wants this rumour to gain traction and therefore it’s a lie.

      It could be that there is no source at all and the Times just made it all up. Take your pick.

  5. Drew Anderson says:

    “…We have heard a lot that an independent Scotland would immediately be saddled with a debt of £180 billion as its pro-rata share of debt from the UK…”

    This situation is dealt with by the Vienna convention. The above would only happen if England chose not to be a continuing state to the UK. Alternatively, it opts to be a successor state and starts life, post Union, as a new state; just like Scotland is expected to be.

    Continuing states, if recognised, take all the assets and rights. They also have to accept all debts and obligations.

    So, if England wants to start talking about a “divorce bill” it has to give up its (likely) claim to continuing status. It would have to apply to become a new member of the UN; the Council of Europe; NATO; the IOC and so on… If they want £180Bn, fine; but it’ll cost them the UN Security Council permanent seat!

    It’s either or, but not both. I can’t see England, or whatever the remainder or the UK calls itself, giving up the UNSC seat under any conceivable circumstance. You can file the £180Bn divorce bill under “project fear (Scotland) 2.0”.

  6. Christopher Rosindale says:

    There’s one flaw in Paul’s argument here, though I share his cynicism about the self-centred Johnson potentially granting a Section 30 Order if he decided that Indyref2 suited his own political interests.

    What happens to him if the Unionist side lost?

    I’m afraid that I just cannot see him being able to continue as PM in that scenario. The moment that a Yes win was announced, Boris Johnson’s career would be shattered. The break-up of the UK, due to a vote which he allowed to happen, would be his epitaph. It would only take a few days for the media to work out how seismic the end of the UK, and the loss of the British identity, would be for England, and they would quickly form an angry queue to dump the blame onto Johnson’s shoulders. 3 centuries of shared history, and the identity which they forged, would be over. Because of Boris Johnson……..

    For the rest of his life, and after his death, he would always be known as “The Last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom,” or as, “The Prime Minister who lost Scotland.” Neither description would be escapable for him. Even Brexit would be eclipsed by that as his legacy.

    A parallel can be found in Joseph Bruce Ismay. In 1909, he was the Chief Executive of the General Oceanic Steam Navigation Company (White Star Line), which then commissioned 3 huge ocean liners, the like of which the world had never seen before. In the 1930’s, when he died from a stroke in Ireland, he was a virtual recluse. Why? Because, in April 1912, he made a split-second decision which changed his life.

    He left the sinking RMS Titanic in a lifeboat, saving his own life, while leaving over 1500 other people to lose theirs, on a ship which he owned. He even heard them screaming in terror during the ship’s final plunge….

    From that moment, and in large part due to the media coverage in newspapers, especially those owned by notorious media baron William Randolph Hearst – the Rupert Murdoch of 1912 – his life was ruined (one of them even branded him J. Brute Ismay). Society shunned him. Friends abandoned him, and history defined him as a coward…. He has never lost that image.

    If he gets blamed for losing the Union, Boris Johnson will probably meet a similar fate. And he likely knows it. He will become an image of embarrassment, even humiliation, for both his party, and England, and he would never escape it. This, I am convinced, is why he is not likely to grant a Section 30 Order, to avoid taking the risk. David Cameron granted the previous one because, like with the EU referendum, he arrogantly assumed that he would win easily, only to get a shock both times, the second shock ruined his career, and he resigned.

    Can you picture Boris Johnson doing the same? I can’t, based on his conduct since he became PM.

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