In response to the demands of the Scottish Parliament (controlled by the majority Scottish Nationalist Party) the UK Government has agreed to hold a referendum in Scotland on the question of Scotland’s independence from the UK. This is due to be held in 2014. Already the ‘NO’ camp and the ‘YES’ camp have been set up fronted by prominent politicians and personalities to campaign for their case in the lead up to the vote in 2014.
However, the debate around Scottish independence has been increasingly bothering me. It’s not that I have strong feelings either way about Scottish independence but it’s the way we’re going about it that bugs me.
Whether we live in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, we are all citizens of the United Kingdom, our nation state. As such we all elect our members of parliament from local constituencies throughout the UK and we all travel with UK passports when we venture beyond our island shores. We know that the UK is made up of four distinct nations, three of which have devolved government with their own parliament or assemblies composed of their own elected members, with the exception of England which kind of gets by without any of these legislatures.
This network of governance seems to me to be at least some kind of bond that unites us all as part of the UK. Now I could mention the Crown and the Royal family but really that’s an entirely separate issue of interest and, for me, great concern and I shall leave that for another time.The point that troubles me here is that while I can accept the people of one or more of our existing nations can decide that they would like to break away from the UK and become independent, it surely doesn’t stop there. Don’t we all have a right to have a say on the continuing status and perhaps existence of the UK? Don’t we all have a stake in the sanctity of our nation state?
In my mind there should be a clear process to follow that respects the views of all UK citizens, or at least the majority of them. Simply speaking such a process would look something like this.
Stage 1. The people of an existing nation and their elected representatives campaign for and get a majority in favour of independence.
Stage 2. A ballot is held of all peoples in the nation concerned to test the degree of support for independence. If a majority votes in favour then,
Stage 3. The UK parliament sets up a constitutional commission to consider all the implications and consequences for the UK if the said nation’s independence was to proceed.
Stage 4. The report of the Commission is published and is debated nationally by all interested parties and more importantly in the UK parliament and the various nation’s parliament and assemblies.
Stage 5. After a period of national discourse the UK Parliament makes a decision on whether or not to agree on the requested independence, possibly following a ballot of all UK citizens.
Stage 6. If the decision is to proceed then it goes ahead in a settled political climate following the debates and democratic decisions taken.
You may think the above process is a bit bureaucratic and involved, but this reflects the issue: the continuing viability of our existing nation. Surely in these circumstances we should not be playing fast and loose nor should we be expected just to go along with what just one part of the UK wants to do.
Moreover there is a risk that if one nation gets independence then others would want to follow leaving a seriously diminished UK. Would it even be the UK anymore? Maybe we’ll end up as four independent nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
Personally I quite like that idea but that’s not the point here. The point is simply that the quest for independence by one part of our existing nation state is a matter for us all to consider and decide upon, and not just for those within the area that want it.