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Showing posts with label Canada. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Canada. Show all posts

Monday, 28 April 2014

A “bereft” commentator says Westminster must not recognise a YES vote!

This Michael Ignatieff interview of 2012 continues to attract comments. One today prompted me to a vigorous response …


from Nathaniel Brisbane

As a child of Scottish and English parents I would be totally bereft if my historic homeland was to split and two states were to go their own ways. Whatever the SNP say it needs to be realised that there is bound to be friction between England and Scotland which will disadvantage the Scots. I am dismayed that staried-eyed 16 and 17 year olds can vote in the referendum. Westminister must not recognise a yes vote. Give greater devolution to Scotland as in Quebec but hold the union together. 

from Peter Curran

I am a child of Scottish and Irish parents, like many Scots. That "historic homeland" of Great Britain and Ireland was split in the 1920s after a bitter conflict with England, followed by a civil war in the South and partition of the country. Despite this, family relationships continued, trade continued, a shared currency was maintained for decades, and very recently the Queen visited the Republic of Ireland: even more recently, the head of the Northern Irish government visited the Queen in Buckingham Palace. The Royal Albert Hall recently celebrated the Irish and English relationship with a great musical event.

I think that Scotland, a country that will achieve its independence without violence through a democratic referendum agreed by the UK Government, and which will continue to have the Queen as constitutional monarch might just manage to maintain amicable relationships after independence.

In a word, you are talking sentimental nonsense, Nathaniel - you don't live here, and whether you feel "bereft" or not is not really a subject of much concern to Scottish voters. I am not a starry-eyed teenager - I am in my seventies and have lived in Scotland for most of my life, with about a decade in England, a country I love, and will continue to love, with ties of family, friendship and business.

What you are nostalgic for is a long-lost dream of British Empire - a brutal, exploitative imperialist construction that its component countries have long-since shaken free of, with Scotland soon to follow.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The referendum, the Law–and Gordian knots …

I have run the risk of late of wandering into legal territory that is beyond my expertise and competence, and defeats my aim of offering clarity to ordinary voters rather than political anoraks. I felt it was a risk worth running. But let me say this again -

The law is a process which now and again delivers justice and equity, but often doesn't. We can expect the kind of war of legal experts that has erupted recently to intensify until the debate proper starts.

The thrust towards independence by any nation is not driven by law, nor is it determined by law – it is determined by the will of the people, however it manifests itself. The law is a necessary adjunct to the negotiations after independence becomes an inevitability.

I fervently hope that we can determine the will of the Scottish people by a referendum properly conducted by the Scottish Parliament at a time that is right.

When the chips are down – and they may well be – no one needs a legal licence to determine the will of the people.

There is at, the very least, a critical mass of people in Scotland – call it a significant majority if you want –who passionately want - and will demand - their independence. Every indicator shows that. They will not accept their aspirations being buried in legal jargon and posturing.

The United Kingdom is a deeply socially and economically divided nation, with gross inequalities and injustices, and the legal system has often failed – some might say endemically failed – to remedy that, because in far too many areas, the law is the tool of a rich and powerful Establishment.

Claiming to know the mind of silent majorities and challenging the validity of democratic mandates is the instant resort of dictatorships, whether cloaked by the trappings of democracy or not, when they get a democratic result they don’t like. This has been done repeatedly in respect of the clear and unequivocal mandate delivered by the Scottish people to its present government.

Silent majorities – and that includes non-voters – are usually silent because they have nothing to say. The fate of nations is determined by those who are active as voters and individuals in the political process. By definition, the majority of them are not political sophisticates – but they have a vote, a voice, and they will be heard, come what may.

But the present crisis of capitalism, for that is what it is, represent a great wind of change blowing across the UK, Europe and our planet.

The political Left are in disarray worldwide and have nothing to offer in this great crisis, one that they forecast for a century or more but are now totally ill-equipped politically to handle.

There are great threats to democracy within the crisis, and both vested Establishment and financial interests and vicious neo-fascist interests that have both the will and the means to exploit it.

No amount of learned legal analysis will deliver either independence or the maintenance of the Union, because the people will either speak and act or they won’t, and the legal analysis will be meaningless to most of them. The ballot box has already sent a clear signal of their will, and the referendum will send another.

The UK Government is running grave risks in the negative and aggressive threatening way, with thinly-concealed threats to destabilise the Scottish economy, in which they are politicising the independence debate, in exactly the same way as the previous Canadian Government.

Scotland will not accept this.

The Scottish Government has relied to date on the process of rational debate and conventional politics, with spectacular success, to keep the independence debate on a rational footing. I hope we manage to keep it that way. The alternative are best not contemplated …

Referendum – legal matters and the relevance of Quebec and Canada

What I try to do in my blog is discuss issues relating to Scotland’s governance and Scotland’s independence from the standpoint of an ordinary voter, addressing myself to other ordinary voters in as straightforward a language as I can manage. I fail in this objective regularly, usually because I am reluctant to over-simplify, and often because my own understanding of complex issues is imperfect.

Wherever possible, I try to refer readers who want more complex analysis on certain issues to sources that are more informative and better qualified to offer analysis than I am.

One such issue is the relevance of Quebec’s struggle to gain its independence from Canada, a struggle that has many points of relevance to Scotland’s present position within the UK.

I am indebted to Barontorc, a regular contributor to the comments section of my blog for drawing my attention to Alan Trench’s writings. What Alan says about himself is on his blog Devolution Matters , and from my initial reading of his work I believe that he is a very important voice and source of independent - and highly expert - comment on matters that are of vital relevance to Scotland.

I would suggest that his blog is a must-read for nationalists, and indeed for unionists who care about an objective debate.

Here are what I consider some essential facts about Quebec, its referendum, Canada and the Scottish/UK parallels, with quotes from Alan Trench, with the intention of pointing my readers towards his vital extended observations and arguments. Devolution Matters


The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, a centre right party with roots going back to 1867, were the government of Canada from 1984 to 1993, when they lost out to the Liberals, who replaced them in government.

In 1994 the Parti Québécois (PQ) won the election in the province of Quebec, the largest province of Canada by area and the second largest administrative division. Since they are a party advocating the independence of Quebec, this had similar repercussion to the SNP winning the May 2011 elections in Scotland.

They launched a campaign that led to a referendum in 1995, with a badly-worded and confusing question, which produced a very narrow No (just over 1%) to independence.

The federal government promptly launched an aggressive programme to promote the idea of the federal government in Quebec (roughly equivalent to the UK government promoting the UK in Scotland) which led to a major political scandal, Sponsorgate, that eventually brought down the Liberal Government, who were replaced by a Conservative minority government in 2006.

However in the period between the referendum and the fall of the Liberal Government – 1995-2006 – a number of interesting things happened in the legal and constitutional areas.

The federal government mounted a challenge through the Supreme Court to the Quebec Government’s right to unilaterally secede from Canada, but they didn’t get the result they had hoped for.

The Supreme Court held that -

Quebec did not have a unilateral right to secede from Canada, either under Canadian or international law.

It did have a right to hold a referendum

Providing a clear question had been put in the referendum and providing it produced a clear vote in favour of independence, the federal government would be compelled to enter into independence negotiations which it would have to undertake in good faith, i.e. no stalling, or attendance at the negotiating table but with a refusal to discuss the terms of independence..

This left hanging the question of what constituted a clear majority. (It seemed that the Supreme Court thought that 1% was not enough, but no figure was recommended or specified.)

The Canadian Government responded to the Supreme Court judgement by introducing a bill – Bill C-20 – which was enacted as The Clarity Act in 2000, defining the conditions under which it would enter into negotiations on the independence of Quebec. Effectively, it put this decision in the hands of government, rather than the courts, and this politicised the issue. What infuriated the Quebec independence party and most Quebecers was the requirement that all ten provinces of Canada be involved multilaterally in the negotiations. (Roughly equivalent to the argument that all four parts of the UK be involved in negotiations on Scotland’s independence.)

Quebec promptly responded by passing its own Act, asserting the sovereignty of the Quebec people to assert their right to self-determination under international law, and arguing that any dispute that arose between the Clarity  Act and the Quebec one should be resolved by the courts.

Alan Trench, in his blog Devolution Matters comments trenchantly as follow -

“What in a Canadian context looked like a rather aggressive and partisan move would look ten times as much so in a UK context. And that in turn would invite the SNP to question the outcome of any referendum if they wished. Far from bringing ‘clarity’, it would risk bringing yet further confusion and rancour to the debate.

“The second issue is to ask at what stage a ‘clarity provision’ should be included. There is clearly some pressure to include it in the Scotland bill. That sort of provocation would be a good way of ensuring that the Scotland bill did not get legislative consent from Holyrood, forcing the UK Government either to drop the bill or impose it regardless of the Scottish Parliament’s opposition.”


The Canadian experience will have been closely studied by Alex Salmond and his key strategists, and we can rely on them to draw relevant inferences from it, while clearly recognising the key constitutional and historical differences and the limits of the parallels that can be drawn.

We can also rely on the fact the the UK Government under Cameron and Osborne - a shaky Coalition comprising a LibDem Party in a state of utter demoralisation and electoral irrelevance, and a deeply-divided and accident-prone Tory Party (Cameron has already lost Coulson and Liam Fox in scandalous circumstances and may lose Theresa May) that may not survive much longer – will be highly aware of  the Canadian experience and will inevitably draw all the wrong inferences from it, and be at least as cack-handed as the previous Canadian Conservative government was.

What is certain is that the Canadian experience will significantly shape our great debate over the next couple of years. Scotland could conceivably be dealing with a different UK Government in the lead-up to the referendum.