Not having particularly kept up with Scottish politics after the ’45, and despite having close Scottish relations involved on the fringe of the Scottish political scene, the niceties of the devolution settlement have largely eluded me. I’ve only made it up to Scotland once since devolution anyway, and spent the majority of the trip in the remote Highlands getting boozed up on fine whisky.
You’d think that for someone with a keen interest in British constitutional history I’d have paid more attention, considering that devolution was always – potentially – the most significant constitutional change since universal suffrage was introduced. I just never really thought it would have legs, and that the entire experiment would end up being scrapped once it was shown to be a huge waste of money. More fool me, it would seem, as it appears that something very odd indeed may be happening north of the border.
Because, you see, in constitutional and international legal terms, terminology is hugely important. Call the Scottish political executive an executive, fine. Call it a government? Well, it’s not, is it? It has elements of the powers of a government, but it’s merely a subservient element of the federation that is the United Kingdom, surely?
That’s what I’ve largely – in my ignorance of the niceties of Scottish politics – thought to be the case. But now I’m not so sure, as it looks rather as if the ruling Scottish National Party has already decided to declare independence in the most subtle of ways – in a manner, in fact, that has barely even been noticed by the London-centric media, and that appears to have been done with little or no consultation with Westminster.
“the unilateral decision of the Scottish National Party’s minority administration to remove the Royal Coat of Arms from government offices and rename the Scottish Executive as the Scottish Government is not a ‘rebranding’; it’s a rebellion.
“That’s what you call the removal of lawful authority’s symbols in conjunction with unmandated, unsupported and unsupportable claims to the sole title to govern nations. They’re called rebellions…
“It says much for how deeply, and dismally, the dismal science has seeped into the hearts of the British people that so much reaction to the rebellion has focussed on ‘How much does the rebranding cost?, rather than the more pertinent question of ‘How dare you try to take our country from us?'”
Merely calling the Scottish Executive the Scottish Government doesn’t give it all the powers of a government, that much is certainly true. Hollyrood still lacks the power to declare war and make treaties independent of the rest of the UK, after all, two defining aspects of governmental power. Yet it does have the power to raise some taxes, and to set policy in areas as important as education, health, transport and – most vitally – justice.
Considering how restrained most European states are in their foreign policies these days – what with obligations to the EU, NATO, UN, WTO etc. etc. etc. – is the ability to determine an independent foreign policy really a necessary hallmark of a national government these days? If not, the Scottish National Party’s “rebranding” of Scotland’s Executive as “the Scottish Government” could well be an informal declaration of independence from the UK. Not full independence just yet, certainly, but certainly a significant step down that route.
There are, let’s face it, plenty of precedents to choose from for countries under British/English rule seeking full independence. You can take the armed rebellion route, like the Americans, or the peaceful negotiation, like India.
Scotland, however, seems to be taking Canada as its role model, specifically the concept of patriation. Because in 1867, under the British North America Act, Canada gained partial independence – an independence which crept steadily over the following century, until the country was fully independent in all but name. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1982 Canada Act that our Canuck cousins gained full independence from Britain.
So, was the passing of the Scotland Act the latter-day equivalent of the first British North America Act of 1867? Is Scotland truly now in that no man’s land of not being fully independent, not fully under London’s control, as Canada was from 1867-1982? And are the masterminds of the independence-seeking Scottish National Party, currently in control at Hollyrood, using their current position to make subtle changes – such as calling themselves a government rather than an executive – merely to hasten the process, or is this something more significant?