The logic of self-determination could hurt the SNP in the end
In the aftermath of last week’s Scottish election, nationalist politicians — supported by credulous commentators in London — have claimed that refusing to grant a second referendum on independence would be a denial of democracy.
Never mind the generational mandate bestowed on the Union by Scottish voters in 2014. Never mind that a majority of voters backed pro-Union parties on Thursday. Never mind too that the constitution is nothing to do with the Scottish Parliament. Democracy has spoken!
But look past the rhetoric and it swiftly becomes clear that there are hard limits on the SNP’s commitment to self-determination. They have no intention of granting it to parts of Scotland.
If you doubt it, just look at the reaction to a recent article by Professor Vernon Bogdanor, in which he looks at the staunchly unionist Borders region and then asks a simple question: “Should they be extruded from the United Kingdom against their wishes?”
Cue much spluttered outrage from nationalist outriders about this ‘ridiculous’ suggestion, replete with unflattering comparisons regarding the creation of Northern Ireland. But with that Province celebrating its centenary this year, it is worth giving the ideas behind its creation proper consideration.
Unionists should have no difficulty arguing that the creation of a Northern Ireland was a just reflection of the divergent wishes of different parts of the island.
Bogdanor points out that the unionists of Ulster were a “compact minority”, as the SNP claim Scotland to be in today’s Union (and, as he points out, the Borders are within Scotland).
But it was put just as well by Andrew Bonar Law, then a Unionist MP and later Prime Minister, in the preface to the 1912 book Against Home Rule:
The logic of self-determination does not leave nations inviolable, not least because (as the SNP must admit) it is not obvious that two groups can be easily deemed a single nation if one seeks to escape the authority of the other.
Of course, an Irish or Scottish nationalist will try and insist that their preferred unit be taken as the basis for all decisions, but there is no reason for anyone who does not share their nationalism to agree.
Unionists must not allow themselves to be browbeaten (once again) into accepting nationalist premises. If an area of Scotland is actually serious about choosing a different future, they have as much right to a hearing as do the SNP, Plaid Cymru, or Sinn Fein.
The Borders may not even be the most likely candidates. Both Orkney and Shetland have sought closer relations with Westminster to offset the overweening power of the SNP’s Edinburgh, and are strongly against independence. Might we one day have cause to welcome the next home nation: the Northern Isles?