Q. Why is there an independence movement?
We want independence in order to have democracy in Scotland; so that Scotland gets the government and policies it needs and voted for. This is not possible within the centralised and imbalanced constitution of the UK. Scotland is a nation, but with only 59 MPs to England’s 533 in a chamber of 650, Scotland cannot influence UK policies forced upon us which are detrimental to our interests and contrary to our will. Scotland has a distinctive political culture which is more left-leaning and socially democratic than the electorate of the UK as a whole. This has been evident for a very long time. The Conservatives are a minority party in Scotland but control the UK Parliament due to their electoral dominance in England. The Scottish Parliament was established in 1999 after decades of campaigning to help re-balance this and meet the aspirations of Scottish voters for some measure of self-government within the UK, but has very limited powers. And now Boris Johnson wants to grab back the remainder of those limited powers!
Q. Why did the 2014 Scottish independence referendum not settle matters?
The 2014 referendum on Scottish independence was a watershed moment in Scottish history. The independence side lost – but the unionist side did not win. Many voted against independence reluctantly and on the last-minute promise of further devolved powers. The campaign brought a democratic awakening, it was a beginning, not an end. The margin was much tighter (45%:55%) than the UK government anticipated. For many Scots the moment was cathartic, especially for the young. The referendum prompted their first serious consideration of the prospect of political liberty from UK. For a few heady months in 2012-2014 Scotland became alive. A glimpse was had of what Scotland might actually look like if the people of Scotland were free to shape it. There was a sudden blossoming, a hope. All ages, all kinds. People started to imagine a different future. A huge variety of Yes groups sprang up spontaneously. These were separate from the official Yes campaign.
The official campaign wound up after the result. But the unofficial Yes campaign was inspired and has continued to meet, to mobilise, to set up alternative media, to argue, and to discuss.
Q. Why has independence become so urgent?
Since 2014, a rapid series of tumultuous events in the UK has shown that the London government is disingenuous,chaotic and not to be trusted. Its instability is damaging our economy whilst making a mockery of democracy. Most notably, Brexit has changed the entire question. Scotland emphatically rejected Brexit. Many people who voted No reluctantly in 2014, are now having second thoughts. Remaining part of the United Kingdom no longer seems the safe or the decent option. Polling shows a consistent majority now in favour of independence.
Q. Why has Brexit changed the question?
In 2016 the UK government decided to hold a referendum on EU membership. To their shock, 51.9% of the UK population voted to leave the EU. However, in Scotland 62% voted to remain. In the four and a half years of talks since, Scottish minsters were repeatedly denied any input into the Brexit discussions as they would affect Scotland. Many who voted no to independence in 2014 did so on the basis that it would ensure continued and uninterrupted membership of the EU.
Q. Why is the Brexit deal so bad for Scotland?
Immigration. UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has set a UK points-based immigration system which aims at limiting migration to more highly-skilled entrants. But Scotland’s economy is reliant on migrant labour and needs migrants of all skill levels. Scottish ministers requested flexibility but were ignored.
Fishing. The Scottish Government was denied any input into the fishing agreement though fishing is a much larger part of the Scottish economy than the UK’s as a whole. (Scotland’s third largest EU export in goods). The UK Government promised fishermen that leaving the bloc would free them from needless bureaucracy, but Scottish seafood exporters now find the new agreement means far more forms and they are losing £1 million a day as exports are held up in European ports due to incorrect paperwork. Long delays mean their crabs and langoustines perish before they can reach market. The Scottish Government estimates the loss to businesses caused by delays at the border will reach £7 billion annually. Some of the Scottish fish quota is now being landed in Denmark rather than Peterhead to avoid the extensive bureaucracy of onward sale to the EU from the UK, which means that the onshore work of fish-processing is lost, which is an important part of the fishing industry.
Farming. Similar problems will be encountered by the farming sector which will lose EU subsidies. This will make some farms unprofitable. Scots received 17% of the UK’s CAP budget when we were part of the EU but if this is calculated by population share on a UK basis it would fall to 8.3%.
Exporting. Anyone exporting to the EU will face huge amounts of paperwork, not only increasing their costs, but making their product less attractive to recipients to buy and hauliers to carry. All this pointless economic injury is inflicted on Scotland against our democratic will, but to add insult to injury, Scottish Government ministers were denied any influence in the negotiations.
The Brexit deal will be calamitous for our economy. Scotland must exit the United Kingdom as a matter of urgency before it does us any more economic damage, and before the UK forces rules on us that sell off our remaining public assets and bring us out of alignment with existing EU regulations and standards, further closing EU markets to us in future whatever relationship we might choose to have towards the EU as an independent nation.
Q. Why is devolution now under threat?
On leaving the EU and repatriation of regulatory powers once held by the EU, the UK Government has argued that it needs to set up arrangements for a British internal market. However – note - there are, and have never been, any barriers to UK internal domestic trade since the United Kingdom was formed in 1707. The UK Withdrawal Bill (2018) and the Internal Market Bill (2020) are naked attempts to dismantle the 1998 devolution settlement and to force UK de-regulation and privatisation on Scotland, over-riding the Scottish Parliament and the will of the people. It’s an ambush!
UK Withdrawal Bill
In June 2018 the UK passed the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. This concerns legislative powers which rested with the EU during UK membership which would be repatriated after Brexit. Many of these powers were in sectors such agriculture, fishing or environment, which were explicitly devolved to Scotland by the Scotland Act (1998). But in a stunning power grab, Clause 11 of the bill claims powers over areas which are rightfully Scotland’s, such as food labelling and hygiene, chemical regulation, and animal health – limiting the legislative competence of the Scottish Government.
Internal Market Bill
The Internal Market Bill was passed in 2020, allowing the UK Government sweeping powers to unilaterally and arbitrarily impose its rules on Scotland despite her devolved powers. In Clauses 2 to 9, there are powers to compel Scotland to accept lower standards on animal welfare, food safety and environmental protections amongst others, even though these are devolved areas. Part 4 establishes a new unelected monitoring body, the Office of the Internal Market, which will have the power to veto laws passed in Scotland if they appear to give Scotland some variation deemed a market advantage over other parts of the UK!
The health service has always been under Scottish control even before devolution and even before the setting up of the National Health Service in 1948. There is a long tradition of publicly assisted health provision in Scotland. But the UK government wishes private health companies to have a guaranteed right to trade unhindered in Scotland, weakening and undermining our National Health Service.
They want private water companies to be given a guaranteed right to trade in Scotland unhindered by the Scottish Parliament.
All of this can be achieved with just a stroke of a UK minister’s pen on the wide-ranging justification of ensuring ‘flexibility for the internal market system, in response to changes in market conditions’.
Devolution was intended to allow Scotland a degree of variation within the UK but the Conservative government clearly wishes to eliminate this, subjecting Scotland to a UK Government we did not vote for which has no legitimacy in Scotland, contrary to the Scotland Act (1998).
Q. But surely the Scottish National Party campaigns for independence?
Support for the Scottish National Party has continued to soar despite the failure of the independence referendum. The SNP recently won the May 2021 Holyrood elections with a pro-independence majority of seats. As a party of government though the SNP has withdrawn from active independence campaigning. It continues to focus its strategy on securing a fresh poll with the agreement of the UK Government. The SNP Scottish Government regards itself as a government not a campaign. Many are disappointed by this and feel that the movement must take different directions beyond party political structures. No independence movement ever secured independence through politicians alone but through the struggle of the people.
Q. What is Scotland, and how did it end up being subject to Westminster?
Scotland was a sovereign, culturally distinct nation, fully integrated into the European state system until early modern times, receiving and conducting foreign embassies and entering into alliances and treaties with other states. Through dynastic marriage King James VI of Scotland became King of England in 1603 and moved his court to London. He attempted to unite his two jealous kingdoms but was met with opposition from both administrations. However, during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714) by means of bribery, treachery, intrigue, military and economic threat, and with an international war raging in the background severely disrupting trade, her English ministers forced Scottish Parliamentarians into negotiating a Treaty of Union with England. This resulted in the ‘incorporation’ of Scotland into a new state to be called The United Kingdom of Great Britain. This came into force on May 1, 1707, but has never been celebrated as the birth of the UK. The agreement was an international treaty and preserved all ancient rights in Scotland to property, the Scottish legal system, church, universities and education system but left Scotland at a severe disadvantage fiscally and legislatively in terms of solving any Scottish problems. In order to remedy this, the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999 with some devolved powers which are now threatened by the UK Government’s European Withdrawal Bill (2018) and Internal Market Bill (2020).