Jason Michael may well be correct when he says that no nation can be dominated without its consent. But he’s a bit late in urging that Scotland must not give that consent to the British state. Because that is precisely what we did on Thursday 18 September 2014.
On that day, for the fifteen hours that polls were open, the people of Scotland held in their hands total political in a manner and to an extent that is exceptional, if not unprecedented, in even the best functioning democracies.
Sovereignty is vested in the people. The people are the ultimate arbiters of public policy. All legitimate political authority derives from the people. To be legitimate, political authority must derive from the people. Only the people can legitimise political authority. However this is stated or explicated, it ultimately distils down to the most fundamental principle of democracy – popular sovereignty. The sovereignty of the people. Only the people are sovereign. There is no sovereignty other than the sovereignty of the people.
While the sovereignty of the people is an abiding principle, the exercise of this sovereignty is, in practice and of necessity, mediated by the democratic institutions and processes adopted by and pertinent to the nation. Just as the individual is rarely, if ever, able to fully exercise their personal sovereignty – in the sense of always and only doing what suits them – so it is only under vanishingly rare circumstances that the electorate has an opportunity to act as the ultimate political authority.
Democracy is pooled sovereignty. The sovereignty of the individual is not diluted by being pooled. But the exercise of that sovereignty is both distributed and narrowly applied. Which is perfectly adequate for most of society’s purposes. Democracy is not significantly diminished by the compromises we make in order that the machinery of society can run without the full and constant attention of every individual.
In elections, the exercise of sovereignty is constrained by the process. We make choices, by means of a prescribed procedure, only from among a small number of candidates offering a limited range of policy options. A system of representative democracy, such as we have, involves using elections to give – or, more accurately to lend – politicians the authority to decide, subject to various checks and balances. The fundamental principle of popular sovereignty means that we do so always with the assumption and on the condition that we, the electors, retain the sole and exclusive authority to decide who decides.
Scotland’s independence referendum in 2014 was different. What was at stake in that referendum was the issue of ultimate political authority in Scotland. The matter of who decides the matter of who decides. In that referendum, the people of Scotland were asked to make a simple but portentous choice. Holding ultimate political power in our hands, we were asked to choose between keeping that power to ourselves, and handing it to a British political elite which we do not elect and which is not democratically accountable to us.
We chose the latter. By voting No, Scotland gave its consent to being dominated by the British state. That No vote was effectively a licence granted to the British establishment to do with Scotland as they please. Being undefined, the No vote could mean whatever the British political elite wanted it to mean. Is it any wonder they view Scotland with such obvious contempt?
The task now is to rectify the fateful mistake we made in 2014. We must revoke the licence we gave to the British state. We must re-assert our right to decide who decides. We must snatch back the power to fully exercise our sovereignty. We must recover our dignity and restore our authority. And we must do so urgently.
Asking for a Section 30 order is most definitely not the way to do this. To petition the British government for permission to exercise our right of self-determination is to confirm the British state as a superior authority. It is to accept the very licence which it is our urgent and essential purpose to rescind. It is to allow that the right of self-determination is in the gift of the British state, rather than being vested wholly in the people of Scotland, to be exercised entirely at our discretion.
Talk of requesting a Section 30 order isn’t “reassessing the terrain for a 2018 referendum” so much as revisiting the terrain of the 2014 referendum.
We need to approach #Referendum2018 with a new mindset. A more assertive mindset. A mindset which actively resists the idea of the supremacy of the British state rather than meekly pandering to it. A mindset which rejects the alien concept of the sovereignty of the British parliament in favour of the democratic principle of the sovereignty of Scotland’s people.
We need to rid ourselves of the indoctrinated notion that independence is something we must ask for and fully embrace the fact that it is already ours for the taking. Scotland is not a part of another nation asking permission to leave. Scotland is an equal partner in a political union giving notice of its intention to dissolve that union.
We don’t need to explain this choice. We are under no obligation to justify it. Independence is normal. Restoring normality requires neither explanation nor justification. It is the proposal to keep Scotland in a political union that is so evidently detrimental to our national interests which must be explained. It is the Union which must be justified.
We gave our consent to be dominated. That was a mistake. It’s easily fixed. We simply withdraw that consent.
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