Thursday, 31 May 2012

Scotland Declares Independence / Debate in Parliament

This afternoon, the national legislature of Scotland - a legislature which comprises Conservative, Green, Independent, Labour, Liberal and Nationalist deputies - declared that Scotland should become an independent state. 

The events today were reminiscent of the Dissolution of the Soviet Union.

After the Belavezha Accords, even the Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, conceded that as long as the population and the Parliament of a constituent Republic wished to secede from the multinational state, they had the right to do so. 

Today, Lewis MacDonald, a Labour deputy who sits in Parliament despite being thrown out by his constituents, showed his party to be even democratic than the Soviet Communist Party by his admission that the Labour Party would refuse to recognise independence even after Yes votes from both Parliament and in a referendum.

Today was important. I refer above to the Belavezha Accords which formally ended the Soviet Union - a multinational state formed without reference to its multiple nations, but which had a measure of internal devolution (sound familiar?) - but there have been many more European independence events in my lifetime. 

Between 1988 and 1994, Estonia, Croatia, Georgia, Ukraine, Fyrom and Slovenia all had their devolved Parliaments declare independence, followed by a referendum. (Bosnia-Hercegovina did it the other way round). 

In the same timeframe, the devolved Parliaments of Latvia, Lithuania and Moldova declared independence, without a referendum, and recognised by both the former power, the USSR, and by most European states. 

In 2008, the autonomous province of Kosovo and Metohija seceded from Serbia as the Republic of Kosovo. There was no referendum: the election of a pro-independence devolved Parliament, followed by a declaration of that Parliament, was broadly accepted. 

The declaration, by Kosovo's devolved Parliament, and the widespread acceptance thereof, established a precedent. 

Eminent Eurojurists, including Czech President V√°clav Klaus and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, accept that a declaration of independence by a devolved Parliament sets a precedent. 

Kosovo's independence is recognised by Afghanistan, Costa Rica, Albania, France, Senegal, Turkey, the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Latvia, Germany, Estonia, Italy, Denmark, Luxembourg, Peru, Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, Sweden, Netherlands, Iceland, Slovenia, Finland, Japan, Canada, Monaco, Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria, Liechtenstein, Korea, Norway, Marshall Islands, Burkina Faso, Nauru, Lithuania, San Marino, Czechia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Columbia, Belize, Malta, Samoa, Portugal, Montenegro, Macedonia, UAE, Malaysia, Micronesia, Panama, Maldives, Palau, Gambia, Saudi Arabia, Comoros, Bahrain, Jordan, Dominican Republic, New Zealand, Malawi, Mauritania, Swaziland, Vanuatu, Djibouti, Somalia, Honduras, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Qatar, Guinea-Bissau, Oman, Andorra, Central African Republic, Guinea, Niger, Benin, St Lucia, Nigeria, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Kuwait, Uganda, Ghana, Haiti, Sao Tome and Principe, Brunei, Taiwan and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. 

Countries which recognise the Republic of Kosovo (green), Countries which don't (grey), Kosovo (red)
Knocked from the Wikipedia

If it bored you reading that list, I can assure you it was much more boring typing it! What you will note is that the United Kingdom - along with every European Union state with the exceptions of Cyprus, Greece *checks Greece is still in the EU*, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain *actually, goes to double-check the EU still exists*. 

That is to say, that the European Union, almost in its entireity, including the United Kingdom, accept the principle that a devolved Parliament can decide to secede from its parent nation.

That's a nice principle. Applying it to Scotland, I take the view that we are now an independent state, and we await only ratification of this declared principle by the people. 

Parliament, therefore, is now asking voters to confirm that Scotland should be an independent country. 

The debate itself had few highlights. 

Linda Fabiani (SNP - East Kilbride) spoke well, in calm and measured tones. She said that Scotland will be a counterfoil to British aggression and, in a reference to the British war crimes in Iraq, said that "we can say 'not in our name' and really mean it". 

Ruth Davidson (Unionist, Glasgow) gave a quite incredible performance which puts one in mind of a small child having a tantrum. In a rant which encompassed the British Navy, the British political police, and British military intelligence, she went on to say that she supported the amendment of Johann Lamont (Unionist, Pollok) which stated that - well, you know what it stated. It stated the usual half-baked pish. 

It was intriguing though, to see it finally confirmed. It doesn't matter if they're right wing, or centrist, or Liberal: one thing above all unites these diverse people - the Orange Order, the Labour Party, the Liberal Party, the BNP and the Tories - and that is the maintenance of the Union between Scotland and Britain at all costs - even at the cost of damaging Scotland, as one Unionist deputy later admitted.

It was Davidson's rant which inspired Lewis Macdonald to admit that Labour would refuse to accept a Yes vote. It was eerily reminiscent of the fascist Orange Order's less veiled threat of violence a few years back that if the people of Scotland voted for independence, the violently anti-Catholic group would become a (more) paramilitary organisation. 

Serious questions must be asked about whether the two are linked, given the exposure of the close links between the Labour Party and Orange Order.

I find myself wondering whether deputy Macdonald has had discussions with the Orange Order or any other quasi-paramilitary organisation regarding their behaviour in the event of a Yes vote, and whether he is not himself a member of any such organisation. 

Mark McDonald (SNP - North East) spoke next. He slapped down Macdonald effortlessly, and when Macdonald asked him to yield, the Nationalist, not breaking stride, told him not to "be silly". Macdonald, shocked, pursed his lips in a fashion which reminded observers (well, me) of Kenneth Williams of Carry On fame. McDonald pointed out that only with independence could Scotland achieve social justice, and pointed out that the very first act of the Labour government in 1997 was to slash disability benefits. 

Drew Smith (Unionist - Glasgow) rose next, and gave a speech which should be listened to by every Unionist legislator. Not for the content, particularly (he referred to the Government "delaying" the referendum for three years when i) the referendum is on timetable as set out in the previous election campaign; and ii) the Unionists have had three centuries to hold a referendum on their terms. I confess I was partially mistaken in point ii) - as Drew Smith reminded me this evening, Labour under Wendy Alexander offered a referendum before withdrawing it). He admitted that Scotland would thrive outside the Union, and his tone was respectful and conciliatory. What a change from the usual spittle-flecked screeching neds that Labour, in particular, so often put up. 

He was followed by fellow Glasgow list deputy Humza Yousaf (SNP), whose speech concentrated mainly on the stain on Britain's reputation left by the illegal war of aggression in Iraq. He noted that whilst the UK was despised in the EU, and hated in the Middle East, Scotland was respected, and had one of the best lines of the day, echoing Gwynfor Evans when he said he was an "internationalist-nationalist".

Next up was Annabel Goldie (Unionist - West) who seemed relaxed now that the burden of party leadership had been lifted from her shoulders. She is generally amusing and likeable, and was no different this afternoon. She was right to call for clarification on the legal advice regarding Scotland's place in the European Union. She was right to call for clarification on the legal advice regarding Scotland's place on the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. That this advice has not hitherto been published seems to me to be an indication that the advice does not benefit the Yes campaign. 

Whatever the truth, it needs sorted, and it needs sorted now before the Dependentists twist the truth to their advantage. 

Kenneth Gibson (SNP - Cunninghame North) succeeded Goldie, and used his time to decry the Unionist use of the word "separation" in place of "independence" - saying that Scots don't wish to separate - quite the opposite, we wish to play a full part among the nations of the world. After taking an intervention, he seemed to give up the idea of speaking calmly, and embarked on a quite gloriously furious speech, at one point saying "the Blairites should go and sit over [on the Tory benches] where they belong".

Gibson's time was followed by Willie Rennie (Unionist - Mid Scotland and Fife) who claimed to support Home Rule (he'll be voting No, weirdly, to Home Rule). He said that we should be content with devolution, and made the mistake of taking an interjection from McDonald, who asked precisely which powers Scotland is incapable of wielding, and why. He was unable to answer, mouth gaping and closing like a fish lifted from the sea, and mumbled something about "separation" before sitting back down to obscurity and his five-member party. 

Rennie also used interesting terminology. He spoke of Scotland "going independent" instead of "becoming independent". It seems to be very much a British viewpoint. Scotland "going away". It's little slips like that that give you someone's real feelings towards their country. For Rennie, his country isn't Scotland - it's Britain. It's not that he doesn't want to see his country secede: it's that he doesn't want to see a part of his country "going away". 

After Stewart Maxwell (Minister for Sport), who said that Scotland is a country which believes in fairness and social justice, and would never - indeed didn't - vote for a government which would cut benefits for the disabled, came Richard Baker (Unionist - North East). This privately-educated, cut-glass accented snob said nothing of import, and in short order was followed by Clare Adamson (SNP - West) who gave an impassioned speech in which she disclosed that she became a convert to the cause of independence after the Thatcherite government closed Ravenscraig, slinging ten thousand Scotsmen on the dole in order to meet EU quotas in England. She spoke movingly of her family and how this had affected her community. She was followed by her regional colleague Mary Fee (Unionist - West), who started off with the Unionist version of "I'm not racist but..." - "I'm a proud Scot, but...". It went downhill from there, with every Unionist cliche in the book. We would lose all of our big companies, who would never be able to replace British government contracts. We would be compelled to join the Euro (nobody else has been compelled. We are compelled to join the Euro once we meet the conditions, which include membership of ERM-II. We are not compelled to join ERM-II). Mary Fee later contacted me to clarify that she did not say that companies would leave, only that some contracts depend on the British government. I still see it as scaremongering by implication, but will accept her word that isn't what she intended. 

Patrick Harvie (Green - Glasgow) didn't have as much time as he should have, cut to two minutes. Recently, he has been making an excellent contribution to the independence debate, and has taken a particular interest in the mechanics of the process. In years to come, he may be viewed as one of the most important architects of independence. He has been calling for an Icelandic-style Constitutional Convention to iron out the kinks in the debate. He later explained that he believed the Convention would be initiated after a Yes vote in the referendum, and produce a written outcome before the transfer of powers from London to Glasgow. 

It was a pleasure to see Margo MacDonald (Independent -  Lothian) back in the Chamber. She is a massive asset both to Parliament and to the Yes campaign, and spoke with unbridled passion for the paltry two minutes she was awarded. Her two minutes were the most powerful in the whole debate, and highlighted the inequality of status between Scotland and England, which produces further and deeper poverty. Visibly angry, she asked "stronger together? While neglected old people live out their lives to sad, miserable ends?".

Given the strength of passion of her speech, it was all the more bewildering that she was cut off in mid-flow in order to give seven minutes to the blowhard buffoon Jackson Carlaw (Unionist - West). He produced little of note, advanced the debate not one iota, and generally acted the clown. He did, however, concede that Scotland is in a fine position to succeed as an independent state. He was followed by fellow Unionist Patricia Ferguson (Unionist - Maryhill), who also did the "I'm not racist, but..." opening. She was immediately clamped by John Mason (SNP - Shettleston), who explained the definition of patriotism, and asked her whether she put Scotland or the United Kingdom first. Tellingly, she refused to answer. 

Following her poor performance on Sunday, Nicola Sturgeon (Deputy First Minister) closed for the Government. In a thunderously good speech, she started by echoing my praise for Drew Smith and told the Unionists to learn from him. She said that far from the "too poor" argument advanced by many on the Dependentist side, the fact that poverty existed in resource-rich Scotland was a shining advert for independence. 

She went on to address some points made earlier: she pointed out that Labour were campaigning on the basis they preferred Tory government from London to Labour government from Holyrood, and shot down Davidson's soundbite that Scotland "shares the rewards of the United Kingdom....I think she means 'sharing the wars' of the United Kingdom", and closed by describing the differences between pre-democratic Scotland in 1996 and the devolution interregnum of today in "the only difference between then and now is that the arguments of Lord Michael Forsyth now come out of the mouth of Johann Lamont".

The vote was called, counted and won. And just over two hours ago, the Scottish Parliament, the settled will of the Scottish people, the national legislature of this nation, affirmed for the first time in more than three centuries that Scotland should be an independent country again. 

What a day to be alive. What a time to live in Scotland. 

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