Letters: So is Scotland to be a national entity or a possession?



IT is good to see that the Supreme Court will consider if Scotland’s elected parliament can authorise a mandated, advisory plebiscite on our future standing, or if we are subordinate to the parliament in the south, with its long English tradition of inalienable “sovereignty” (“UK government ‘confident’ of victory in indyref2 court fight”, heraldscotland, July 19).

As the “unwritten constitution” doesn’t give much guidance, the judges could examine why Northern Ireland has the legal “right to self-determination”, yet Scotland does not.

For Scotland’s continued subordination, one of the two signatories to the 315-year old Act of Union establishing the UK, the UK Government relies on an Act of Parliament from 1998 setting up a non-sovereign, subordinate legislature. Will the learned judges insist that an Act from only 24 years ago, negates and overrides Scotland’s long-established tradition of sovereignty of the people, and the internationally-recognised right to determine its own future?

It depends on how the “UK constitution” regards Scotland since 1707: does it regard Scotland as a national entity within the UK, possessing equal legal rights, or does it suggest we are a “possession of England”: an administrative territory? Either way, Scotland is entitled to hold a referendum to then leave a voluntary Union, or a referendum to decolonise a “Territory” (secession), and the Supreme Court must rule on this, not on a parochial 24-year-old reference within an Act of devolving limited (and deliberately limiting) semi-autonomy, but on the wider aspect of international jurisprudence and the principles of self-determination.

GR Weir, Ochiltree.

PARLIAMENT HAS TOO MUCH POWER

I THINK Jill Stephenson’s suggestion (Letters, July 19) that the threshold for changing the UK constitution should be the same two-thirds majority as is required for changing the SNP constitution might find support from some unexpected quarters. The SNP constitution is changed by a vote of two-thirds of the delegates sent to conference, not by referendum. And the SNP can easily win a two-thirds majority of the Scottish seats at Westminster with less than 50 per cent of the vote. Maybe a motion for independence would be blocked by MPs outwith Scotland, by the House of Lords, by the monarch, or maybe it would swiftly be devolved to Holyrood, where the more democratic election system can produce a blocking minority.

The UK constitution doesn’t require a two-thirds majority for change because Parliament is sovereign, not the constitution. It requires the agreement of the Commons, the Lords and the Crown. The need for agreement of the latter two is significantly weakened because the Commons can replace them. Perhaps if we were a country that placed less power in a Parliament that could be dominated by a faction in the largest party, the last Westminster election wouldn’t have been a polarising clash between the left wing of the Labour party and the Ukip-backed right wing of the Conservative Party. We wouldn’t have a country where the Conservatives enjoy a comfortable majority at Westminster, but are delighted instead of humiliated when winning only a quarter of the seats at Holyrood. It would then be obvious that Scottish and English politics were aligned, and independence would be a niche subject. But every Labour government has failed to make these changes, and Conservative ones don’t even want to try.

So we are stuck with the question of why unionists don’t think that they can win a simple majority in a referendum. We are told simultaneously that there is no demand for a referendum, and that idea of a referendum is so popular that it keeps the otherwise inept SNP in government. There is a demand for a longer interval between referendums than the seven years thought acceptable in the Good Friday Agreement. And of course any Parliament can overturn the decisions of its predecessors. There is a demand for a turnout threshold, so that the don’t-knows and the dead can be counted on the unionist side. And there is a demand for a blocking minority, without ever giving any suggestion of why an unpopular idea should permanently be able to block a popular one. If we think the current political stasis is bad, imagine a Scotland where 65 per cent of votes still loses a referendum.

Alan Ritchie, Glasgow.

YES/NO WITH A DIFFERENCE

IN the latest of her ritual letters condemning the SNP, Jill Stephenson (Letters, July 19) repeats the well-used argument that there was inherent bias in a simple Yes/No question. This idea was originated by psephologists indulging in their own version of psychological analysis. It is questionable whether any reasonable person would find the slightest bias in answering yes or no to the question.

It is bad enough that pollsters are allowed to publicly speculate immediately before any election or other political event but it is disgraceful that their views should be allowed to unilaterally dictate matters of national importance.

The only real bias in the question about Scotland becoming independent was the omission of the word “again”.

Peter Dryburgh, Edinburgh.

• JILL Stephenson calls for compromise from Nicola Sturgeon on the questions to be asked and the majority required for a future independence referendum. Personally, I would be quite prepared to compromise on the Yes/No question, even if it means I won’t be able to use my collection of Yes badges. In the spirit of compromise, I suggest the following question on the ballot paper: “Do you want Scotland to remain a part of the United Kingdom? Yes/No” – with a 75% majority required of course.

John Jamieson, Ayr.

ALL PARTIES SHOULD EMBRACE PR

YOUR correspondents are quite right to point to the UK’s democratic deficit, to which the obvious answer is the introduction of proportional representation for Westminster, of which I personally became convinced by the late Robin Cook at a Fabian Society event in the early 1990s. Belatedly, the Labour Party is now coming over to agreeing with him: 80 per cent of constituencies voted for electoral reform at last year’s conference and this year they will be joined by the major trade unions (another late giant, Gavin Laird, would be very pleased with that).

It is more likely than not that if Labour is the largest party at Westminster at the next General Election, it will be supported by the Liberal Democrats in introducing PR and the political landscape of England, Scotland and of the UK will be transformed. The twin caricatures of “Tory England” and “nationalist Scotland” will be banished, and all votes will demonstrably count equally in every part of the UK.

The only question is whether the SNP will stay true to its historic commitment to electoral reform or whether it prefer to keep its false position as third party, with its Commons privileges and Short Money. What is clear, however, is that as the possibility of Indyref2 recedes ever further into the judicial long grass, electoral reform is the most realistic and achievable opportunity to improve the way Scotland and the UK are governed.

My message to those who would seek common ground is: why not accept what is the best compromise available – and support it accordingly?

Peter A Russell, Glasgow.

WHAT IS THE CASE FOR THE UNION?

WE are currently suffering the highest inflation in 40 years, the highest taxation in 70 years, UK trade performance at its worst level on record and the biggest drop in living standards since 1956.

Instead of procrastinating about a future referendum, Scottish currency and reminiscences of empire, perhaps one of your regular contributors could address the case for the Union?

Alan Carmichael, Glasgow.

BREACHING THE ACT OF UNION

I WAS somewhat surprised to read that Bill Brown (Letters, July 19) considered my letter of July 18 was “an opinionated history lesson”. I think that all of the historical information contained in the letter is verifiable.

Another piece of historical information that Mr Brown might like to reflect on is that the new UK Westminster Parliament broke Article 25 of the Act of Union. This Article, which had been added to the original terms by the Scottish Parliament, guaranteed that “the Claim of Right shall Remain and Continue unalterable and that the said Presbyterian Government shall be the only Government of the Church within the Kingdom of Scotland”.

However, the new House of Commons was dominated by members of the Episcopalian Church of England, many of whom were extensive landowners. They used their majority to push through the 1711 Patronage Act. This gave the right to Scottish lairds to present suitably qualified candidates to presbyteries in the event of a vacancy. This was bitterly opposed by the Church of Scotland. However, despite regular protests to Westminster by successive General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland, the Act remained in force until 1874. This was the issue that split the Church of Scotland in two in 1843.

Eric Melvin, Edinburgh.

Read more: If Sturgeon wants an indyref deal, here’s what she has to do





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