This is the title of what is effectively a 12 page document presenting material on that subject - disappointingly little to match the weight of the reality of its subject.
It is less even than that, spending a significant proportion of its space on rhetoric attempting to elevate what is, in truth, pretty pedestrian stuff, all declarations of intent with no engagement with the ‘hows’.
Anyone can say easily what they will do. The real test lies in showing credibly just how they will do it. This document does not even attempt the ‘hows’. It is no coincidence that the leader of the ‘Yes’ campaign, Blair Jenkins, recently made a failed attempt to force a focus on the ‘whys’ and get away from the widespread concerns with the ‘hows’.
Some jarring notes set the document in the sort of schoolyard points-scoring only the immature cannot rise above.
The description of the constitution-that-might-be as ‘written’ is unnecessary in the 21st century – but reminds as of who happens not to have such a constititution.
The mention of the need for such a constitution to establish the framework for controls by parliament over government to prevent such things as ‘entry into illegal wars’ is another triumphalist poke in the ribs of the auld enemy.
In the midst of repeated assertions of the need for freedom from Westminster for Scotland to realise itself, it has to be said that the inclusion of the need for a constitutional platform to ‘provide for the continuity of the monarchy in Scotland’ sits very uncomfortably indeed.
There are other tedious little notes that speak of intellectual and imaginative poverty in a document that has a stuttering aspiration to rise to the spiritual. Repetitions of the leaden political mantras beloved of advertising agencies, like ‘made in Scotland’ and the appearance of a new creation to be known as ‘Revenue Scotland’, are just banal.
One had hoped for better.
Some moments in the document, however, cause eyebrows to fly sky high – like: ‘…the people, rather than politicians or state institutions, are the sovereign authority in Scotland’.
Those working to assert the operational and financial irresponsibility of the blinkered for wind at all costs and those attempting to underline the necessity for the salmon farming industry to clean up its act – both concerns supported by hard evidence – do not see Scotland as run on this particular ‘sovereign authority’ of the people.
A passage, perhaps not unrelated to this, argues that: ‘the sustainable use of Scotland’s natural resources should be constitutionally protected [Ed: our emphasis]to embed Scotland’s commitment to sustainable development and responsible and sustained economic growth’. This is the authentic SNP we have come to know. The reality here is what we would call a ‘binding and gagging clause’.
Some of the big ignored ‘hows’
In the middle of what is little more than a document of ruminations, there is a single compressed passage outlining matters to be resolved between a hypothetical ‘Yes’ vote and the day of formal independence – to be around 18 months later in March 2016.
This passage is on a list of arrangements to be concluded between the UK government and the Scottish government, which would include:
‘the process and timetable for the negotiation and conclusion of the agreements which will form the final independence settlement. Issues to be resolved would include the division of financial and other assets and liabilities (including oil revenues and assignation of other tax revenues, military bases and overseas assets), the transfer to the Scottish Parliament and Government of political authority over institutions previously controlled at Westminster, the ongoing co-operative arrangements that the peoples of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland would share, and the timetable for the speediest safe removal of weapons of mass destruction from Scotland. Of course, some matters may continue to be discussed after independence (as was the case, for example, with the Czech Republic and Slovakia).’
Any one of these issues would take 18 months to conclude. They could of course theoretically be conducted simultaneously by different negotiating teams. However, with a government ruled by one man for lack of sufficiently competent alternatives and a civil service more noted for its failures than its successes, where would the sheer volume of talent and capability come from to manage such major and detailed parallel negotiations on which an independent Scotland would be founded?
And this list does not even mention the 14,000 international treaties with the UK that would have to be renegotiated for a Scotland alone.
’18 months’ is a visit to cloud cuckoo land.
The last sentence in this passage above carries the escape clause of ‘Of course, some matters may continue to be discussed after independence (as was the case, for example, with the Czech Republic and Slovakia)’.
In the position under discussion, Scotland would have a very great deal to ‘discuss after independence’ – and if much was left to that stage of scrabbling about after the event, the country and its government would be dealing with serial operational, legal and regulatory failures to the extent that the immediate work to be done in establishing a strong economic foundation for a new country would have to come well below the firefighting.
The examples of other countries’ progress to independence
The document makes general reference to 30 ‘new UN members since 1945′, which ‘became independent following a referendum on independent statehood with the average length of time between the referendum and independence day being approximately 15 months. ‘
The 30 countries are not identified, yet this is a key matter. There are many countries whose separation from an umbrella identity were located in parts of the world in the post=colonial foothills of modern statehood, where the work of separation will not have had any great degree of complexity.
The document here references specifically the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which effected their separation in just under six months – with the caveat that they discussed unresolved matters after independence.
It is a country desperate to an extent more than there is any evidence of in Scotland, that will go blindly for independence without knowing what the outcome of negotiations will actually be.
It is also germane that the former Czechoslovakia only came together as a single country in October 2018, so, by 1993 when it split up, it was just 75 years old.
The Acts of Union in Scotland and England and the Treaty of Union that made them, together, Great Britain, is a union now 307 years old.
In 307 years of acting as one, the number,scale and complexity of what has to be unpicked and duplicated in severance is immense. The 75 year existence of Czechoslovakia cannot credibly compare.
The legal provisions alone, in unravelling what Scotland would need to keep from the UK statute book and from sub-statute legislation, if not carefully and thoroughly effected before any independence, could see unintended but inevitable injustices perpetrated.
Worse, what guarantees would a prematurely separated state have that its former and senior partner would participate in impartial fairness in post-independence negotiations? Why would it need to? What would compel it?
Scottish EU membership
Since this is matter so mishandled to date that it has blown much of the SNP’s credibility, it is scar tissue the party cannot resist trying to render invisible, so the document goes into rather more detail on this than on other matters.
The argument here has returned to the familiar one that Scottish membership would be negotiated while the negotiations with the UK were also ongoing, and while Scotland remained a part of the UK and was included within its membership.
This notion makes the available capability pool for this overall spectrum of negotiations even more improbable in the timescale the First Minister continues glibly to insist is achievable.
The document commits further to simultaneous negotiating with all of the other international organisations – like Nato et al - of which the UK is a member and of which Scotland would also wish to be.
The sheer man power required for all of these simultaneous negotiations is, even in number, never mind calibre, simply beyond feasible achievement.
The confidence of the document in insisting on the viability of pre-negotiated and virtually automatic Scottish membership of the EU ignores altogether the judgment of the President of the European Commission, Juan Manuel Barroso and of some member states that have made their views on the matter known. They have concurred that Scotland would have to negotiate for membership as an already independent country and would probably have to take its place in line.
As we have held from the outset, there is no question that a Scotland prepared to pay the price of EU membership in ceding fiscal sovereignty to the eurozone and in moving to political union, would not be a welcome new member – in due time.
In this renewed assertion of continuous membership [and it commits to that phrase in para 2.3 on page 12], the document also ignores the political reality of the sensitivities of EU member states, like Spain and Belgium, who, in the light of their own internal separatist movements, simply could not afford to vote to give Scotland an easy passage to independent or continuous membership.
The document cites the reunification of Germany as supporting evidence for the ease with which Scotland would achieve membership and would also complete the scale of negotiations that will be imperative in the eighteen months allowed.
Germany reunified in just under two years. The Berlin Wall fell on 9th November 1989, on 3rd October 1990 the country was formally reunified and, as this document says, ‘the former East Germany becomes part of EEC’.
There are two problems with this argument.
Scotland is not Germany – in fact no other country is like Germany, with its focused and determined capacity to work as hard as it takes to achieve a desired end in a short time. Transport Scotland has shown that it cannot even let a contract for the Clyde and Hebridean ferry services in under seven years.
The use of a reunified Germany and the consequent inclusion of the former east Germany within the EU membership of west Germany, is a double edged sword.
This process simply underlines the primacy of the holder of the EU membership. The key factor here was the membership of west Germany. Its expansion to include the former DDR was an internal matter; and Germany, in its new form, remained an unchallenged member. Mind you, who was ever going to threaten the membership of the economic engine of the entire EU?
But it is logical that, had west Germany shed a state into independence, the EU membership would have remained with west Germany; and the separated state would have begun negotiations as the new state it had chosen to become. Membership is not attached to individuals or to individual components of a member state. It is attached to the named member state.
The document’s remark that: ‘The economic, social and political interests of the EU will be best served by Scotland remaining in continuous membership.’ appears to be unaware of the fact that this is exactly what a substantial proportion of voters will be concerned about. What about Scotland’s interests?
The citizenship issue
In describing the content of the ‘constitutional platform’, an opaquely grandiloquent term, the document says that the content of this ‘platform’ will: ‘define entitlement to Scottish citizenship on independence day and subsequently’.
In reality, were Scotland to become as peripherally independent as membership of the EU would require, ‘Scottish citizenship’ would begin as a virtual irrelevance.
Central to the matter of EU membership is the issue of wider citizenship. At the moment, EU citizens [apart from the rest of the UK] are entitled to, for example, the right to free third level education enjoyed by Scots within Scotland.
So much of this document is no more than unthought musings with no physical musculature. It could not be more disappointing or more unable.
Scottish Secretary, Michael Moore, has made the remark of the day in saying that the SNP are concentrating on the picture frame because they have no painting to put in it.
This essay is a signal failure, blowing hot air when what the independence proposition badly needed was the fruits of hard work in hard facts. It is an obituary.