Scottish independence: two referendums are required

What follows is the text of a comment I made today on an article by Gerry Hassan on the ‘Our Kingdom’ site arguing that only one referendum – the one promised by the SNP government in Holyrood – is required to determine whether the Scottish people are in favour of independence for their nation. I’m reproducing that comment here, as it’s quite a long, opposing argument that I wish to draw people’s attention to:

There should be two referendums, except the second should be a UK-wide one to ratify the settlement between the UK and Scottish governments. The analogy – apart from the voting – is indeed with Czechoslovakia, rather than with countries in which a smaller ‘region’ has seceded to become an independent state. That’s because if Scotland left the Union, this would create two new states, not just one. The new ‘United Kingdom’ (minus Scotland) would in fact be an entirely new country that had never existed before: the dissolution of the Union of 1707 does away with ‘Great Britain’, and the resultant ‘UK’ state could not then logically be considered to be the same as the present UK because the latter is the product of the union of Great Britain and (Northern) Ireland – and if Great Britain no longer exists, neither can the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’.

So the consequence of Scottish independence wouldn’t be a new Scottish state and a continuing UK, but a new Scottish state and a new UK. This latter might be called, for example, ‘the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland’ – but such a Union, between three implied ‘nations’, has never existed before, and it is the right of the people of those nations to say whether they wish to be joined together in a new state of this name. The people of the new UK have just as much of a right to say whether they wish to belong to the new state that results from Scottish independence as do the Scots to say whether they wish to belong to the new Scottish state resulting from the independence settlement negotiated with the outgoing UK. Denying the people of the existing UK – including Scotland – this say in their constitutional and national future is grossly unfair and undemocratic. Scottish independence is not a matter that affects Scotland alone, and all UK citizens, all of whose citizenship and national identity are affected, are entitled to be consulted. Shame on those who would deny us this democratic right: the UK government and some Scottish nationalists!

In this second referendum, the question could be: “Do you consent to the agreement reached between the governments of the United Kingdom and Scotland, which grants independence to Scotland and creates a new state to be called ‘The United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland'”? A majority in favour in Scotland would result in independence – so that would not be subject to a veto by voters in the rest of the UK. However, a majority against the deal in the rest of the UK would block the creation of the new UK, and the caretaker UK government would have to come up with a new settlement to be submitted to the people of the UK (minus Scotland) in a second referendum (or third one, this time without Scottish participation, if you see what I mean). However, if there were a majority against the negotiated settlement in both Scotland and the rest of the UK, then the existing UK would continue.

My feeling, however, is there would be a strong majority in England in favour of a negotiated independence for Scotland: in fact, it would be more likely to be carried in England than in Scotland, and the English vote in favour would lead to a majority across England, Wales and N. Ireland as a whole. In that instance (a vote against independence in Scotland but in favour of the new UK in the rest of the existing UK), Scotland could be included within the new UK state with no change to its devolved status as at the second independence referendum. The ‘new’ UK that resulted should logically, however, be called ‘the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland’ – doing away with the Union of 1707, which would have been rejected by the people of England but endorsed by the Scottish people.


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