On Tuesday 16th January the UK parliament put beyond doubt that their claims down the centuries that the UK is a respectful union of equals is, and always was, a lie.
This was the second time I’d brought my Scotland (Self-Determination) Bill before the house and there are various opinions floating around about the reasons for, and implications of, introducing the legislation as drafted. Wings kindly suggested I set out my reasons for bringing it forward for a second time, and why I consider Tuesday’s defeat in the chamber as a Pyrrhic victory for the union.
Private Members Bills are a parliamentary device that backbench members use to highlight a key issue that they have been campaigning for, or to bring forward a legislative remedy to a topical issue. As a determined independence campaigner I’ve tried to use every available parliamentary device, adjournment debate, Westminster Hall debate and Early Day Motion to make the case for independence, as has my Alba Party colleague Kenny MacAskill MP.
Whist we are formally addressing the UK Government in these initiatives, we are ostensibly speaking to the people of Scotland to communicate what is possible and necessary to keep the cause of independence alive, and to provide a clear signal that strategy, progress, and action has not completely stagnated at the hands of the SNP.
It’s my view that the independence movement has faced two principal challenges over the decade since the 2014 referendum. On one hand a succession of intransigent Tory PMs deaf to the democratic voice of Scotland, and on the other an SNP leadership obsessed with gender politics who have adopted a timid and unambitious attitude towards the central question on independence they were elected to address.
When I first introduced the Scotland (Self-Determination) Bill last February – with the support of some “renegade” then-SNP MPs including the now-expelled Angus MacNeil and Margaret Ferrier – I was genuinely surprised that it passed on the nod.
And while it was unlikely to get a formal second reading or become law, I tried everything I could to find a mechanism to force a vote, but standing orders and prorogation ultimately blocked those efforts. However, this week Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine finally challenged the Bill.
Ahead of its first reading this time around, Jardine referred to the Bill, in a comment in The National, as “divisive and unnecessary”. But the truth is the Bill is anything but. It merely replicates the provisions established by the Belfast Agreement and contained in the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
What Christine Jardine and her supporters must confront is that it is in fact a modest, liberal and fundamentally democratic mechanism. It would merely have delivered constitutional parity to the people of Scotland, as it does not favour either side of the argument. It’s also in keeping with the commitments of the 2014 Smith Commission report, and in accordance with expert international legal opinion and the rights of peoples as enshrined in the UN Charter.
Whilst I gave Christine Jardine MP fair warning on each of these hurdles in advance of her opposition speech, she declined to address them in the chamber. What she delivered instead was a reprisal of the lame Better Together “you’ll have had your vote” sentiments we’ve endured since 2014, and then meandered off to attack the SNP’s recent track record in government, which is odd, given that I’m not in the SNP.
(It did amuse me when Christine opened her speech by commending me on my knowledge of Liberal political history, which immediately got me thinking, “well at least one of us understands it”.)
This week I pressed the issue, and in voting against Scotland’s right the English parties voted against the assurances that have been repeatedly given over decades by the likes of Lord Gladstone, Lady Thatcher and Sir John Major.
They subverted the rights established by Winston Churchill and now enshrined in the UN Charter, they voted against their international treaty obligations, and against the principle of equal treatment of all distinct peoples within a state.
This has pushed the issue back to the people, but a First Minister who chooses to do nothing about it and will never lead this country to independence.
We desperately need a constitutional convention to communicate, debate and agree a strategy for delivery. Country before party is the only way forward now. We must use every election, every initiative available to us in both parliaments.
I am tired of waiting. It’s time for action.