Sovereignty

Nae king, nae queen.   Nae laird, nae maister.
We’ll no be fooled again.

Scottish independence is now inevitable. I do not know how or when it will happen. I am, however, sure that the final trigger will be seen as trivial at the time and will only acquire importance in retrospect. So we need to start thinking about what happens afterwards.

The Brexit debate is over. There will be no more discussion. It will happen and that is it. The reason is the way sovereignty works in the UK.

‘Sovereign’ is usually taken to mean a monarch but nearly all organisations have one person who can say “That’s enough discussion. This is what is going to happen.” In the Catholic Church this person is the Pope. In business it might be the Chief Executive. In the United Kingdom the person is the Prime Minister.

The British political system seeks to perpetuate the myth that sovereignty rests with ‘the Queen in Parliament’. In reality a Prime Minister who can command a majority in the House of Commons has complete, unfettered power. The organisation chart of the senior management of the United Kingdom looks like this:

Sovereignty

The ‘Queen in Parliament’ myth states that the Queen considers and approves all decisions made by her government. We know, since the prorogation of parliament fiasco in September, that the woman will sign anything put in front of her, even if this means approving illegal actions. Hence, sovereignty in the UK resides with the Prime Minister. Cabinet will always approve his decisions since dissenting Ministers are easily replaced. The House of Commons will approve since the majority of MPs belong to the PM’s party and will follow the instructions of the party whips. The Queen and the House of Lords can be ignored.

As a part of the United Kingdom this all applies to Scotland; with one small complication. The ‘Claim of Right’ states, among other things, “…the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs…”. The Claim of Right has a long history but two important events are that it was adopted by the Scottish Parliament 0n 20 January 2012 and endorsed by the House of Commons on 4 July 2018. The Claim asserts only the people’s right to choose who should have sovereignty over them. Historically this was the case as Scottish monarchs were elected, albeit by something less than universal suffrage. This was why James VI was so anxious to get his bum on the English throne where he could enjoy The Divine Right of Kings. None of this stops some politicians and commentators interpreting the Claim of Right as meaning that the people of Scotland are sovereign.

These same people then postulate an Independent Scotland with a top down parliamentary democracy similar to Westminster and a future First Minister wielding sovereignty over the people of Scotland. All of the proposed constitutions for an Independent Scotland that I have read describe this kind of government.

Suppose, however, we take the statement ‘the People of Scotland are sovereign’ at face value. The First Minister, cabinet, and Holyrood assembly would function as normal but all decisions would be considered and approved by the People of Scotland. We could expect that most decisions would be tacitly approved but some might be contentious. For example, a future First Minister might force through a bill to privatise NHS Scotland. If enough people think this is wrong they would demand a plebiscite. The disputed bill would stand or fall on the result. People who didn’t care one way or the other would not need to vote. This system might result in parliament seeking a consensus before passing contentious legislation. Members might even feel a need to consult their constituents.

This could never work I can hear the media commentators shouting. Someone must be in charge. Someone must make the decisions. Someone must Govern. No country could be successful under such a system. People will not vote to implement hard decisions. They must be governed.

Unfortunately for these commentators there is a country in Europe which has a system of government not dissimilar.  A country so confident in its people’s ability to make decisions it does not even have a Head of State. That country is Switzerland.

The people of Scotland could be sovereign but only if we are willing to take the responsibility. If we are not, someone else will be sovereign over us.

 

References

Claim of Right

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/sp/?id=2012-01-26.38.0

https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-07-04/debates/18070455000001/ClaimOfRightForScotland

Switzerland

https://www.ch.ch/en/demokratie/political-rights/

Written By Tommy, Yes Pollok Convener

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