was a member of the British Parliament for nearly 30 years. He presents TV and radio shows (including on RT). He is a film-maker, writer and a renowned orator.
Boris Johnson, by foolishly dismissing Nicola Sturgeon’s request for a second independence referendum, has risked Britain’s marriage with Scotland ending in a messy divorce.
The land of ‘Neverendum,’ a ‘Brigadoon’ Scotland, shrouded in the mists of Celtic obscurantism, where new “once in a lifetime” referenda reappear every six years, is no doubt a source of frustration to many of my fellow Scots as they struggle with a health and education crisis and many succumb to the worst level of drug-deaths in Europe. Indeed, their flagship city – my birthplace Dundee – is literally THE drug-death capital of Europe.
The Scottish education system, once a boulevard ahead of the English and known from the Scottish Enlightenment onwards as one of the best in the world (if not for us, you might know neither penicillin nor the steam engine) is now languishing in the doldrums and shame of shames behind the English. The Scottish health service, over which my 84 year-old mother spoke to me in tears at Christmas, is equally in an even more parlous state than the NHS in England and Wales.
The Scottish Parliament controlled by the SNP and their Green Party allies has considerable powers and budgets, but seems to lack the will to concentrate on real-life, real-time problems for long.
If only Scotland could be “free” is the mantra (albeit thereafter shackled by the European Union).
A separatist party, which has been in power for a decade and achieved precious little, is one which by definition must keep the pure flame of national grudge alive. Otherwise people might conclude that it isn’t raining, it’s the SNP micturating on them.
I have fought separatism all my life and not just in Scotland. I opposed the breakup of Yugoslavia and of Czechoslovakia. I still cry over the break-up of the USSR. I oppose the partition of Ireland, of Cyprus, of Israel-Palestine. So I’m not your natural supporter of the partition of a small island of English-speaking people which has grafted together like bone over 300 years. And I’m not and never will be. I’m a Union Man.
But make no mistake. I will fight for Scotland’s right to choose whether or not to continue to remain in a voluntary union with England and Wales as often and as many times as it likes.
Scotland has the right to leave. It follows that only the Scots can decide that question. It further follows that only they can decide when to decide and how often. Of course, constant recourse to constitutional referenda may invite ridicule and certainly potentially fall victim to the political law of diminishing returns. But “facts are chiels that winna ding” as the national poet Robert Burns said. And the facts are these. The United Kingdom is a voluntary union of three countries and six-counties of somebody else’s country – Ireland. Those six counties have the right to call a border-poll any time they can secure an Assembly decision to hold one. Soon they will and the long-frustrated century long illogical and illegal partition of the island will be over. It follows ineluctably that if the Scottish Parliament decides to have yet another referendum on leaving the Union, no British Prime Minister can deny them – unless seeking to provoke a Catalonia or worse on the green and pleasant land.
If Scotland could only choose to remain in its current marriage when the other partner allowed her to, that would cease to be a marriage of equals and fall foul of all international norms on forced marriage of people, and peoples.
And nothing could more certainly ensure it would all end in a messy divorce than to deny Scotland its inalienable right to self-determination, which is what Boris Johnson foolishly did this week with his peremptory dismissal of Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for IndyRef2. With an airy wave of his privileged hand, Johnson sought to put Nicola Sturgeon back in her box. But she is a jack-in-the-box and Johnson’s insouciance was precisely the response she was hoping for.
He could have said – fairly – that the British state was rather busy implementing the results of the referendum to leave the European Union at the moment, but when that was achieved – by the end of 2020 – he would of course be happy to sit down with Ms Sturgeon and discuss all options and all questions without preconditions. And that meanwhile perhaps she might get on with her job running Scotland’s devolved government.
That would have been the smart course. But as the wisest fool in Christendom, Boris Johnson frequently eschews common sense as we shall increasingly see.
Instead, he has handed the initiative to the SNP and given them a new grudge to nurse. And nobody does the politics of grudge better than Nicola Sturgeon.