Monday , June 17 2024

Does the Scottish people have the right to self-determination?

The reason it is so boring trying to have any sort of debate with Scottish nationalists, is that after a while you realise that they are repeating what they have read on a sort of crib sheet. Eventually any discussion either ends with swearing and insults or exactly the same claims about 97% of Scottish energy being given us by Scottish wind, the civic and joyous nature of independence supporters and how Scotland subsidises England. It would be nice to have some variation and original thought, but I have yet to come across a genuinely creative thinker on the nationalist side. There is rarely if ever honesty about the difficulties an independent Scotland might face, but this lack of honesty extends even to attempting to hide the true nature of the Scottish nationalist ideology. But just occasionally it peaks through.

The SNP has put forward arguments to the Supreme Court that claims that the Scottish people have the right to self-determination in the same way that Kosovans had to the right to self-determination when Kosovo left Serbia. It goes on to argue that the Claim of Right 1689 and the Act of Union 1707 shows that Scots are a people and that this is the ground for our right to self-determination.

It is intriguing that the SNP bases its case partly on a vehemently anti-Catholic document like the Claim of Right, which is fundamentally about preventing Catholic James VII and II remaining King of Scotland after the Glorious Revolution 1688. If you actually read it, you will discover a document that makes the Famine song seem positively liberal and kind in its treatment of Catholics. Perhaps Nicola Sturgeon should read extracts in the Scottish Parliament beginning with all the bits about Papists and Jesuits.

The independence of Kosovo is not recognised by Serbia, Russia, China, Spain and India among others. It is very much a special case due to the attempt by Serbia to ethnically cleanse Kosovans from what was then Serbia.

There have been no war crimes in Scotland for hundreds of years. No one has tried to force Scots to leave Scotland in recent times. Anyway, if you take Kosovo as your precedent, you would end up with Scotland separating from the Former UK, but being unrecognised by London. Not only that. Scotland would be unrecognised by at least two members of the Security Council and we might find it difficult to go on holiday to Spain if they didn’t recognise our independence.

So Kosovan independence is problematic at best. But there is an obvious distinction between Kosovans and Serbs, which justifies the former being treated as a people, which does not apply to Scots. Kosovans are Albanians and speak a different native language to Serbs. Kosovans are Muslims and have a different religion to Serbs. In what similar way are Scots different from other British citizens?

At this point we need to look at the claim that Scots are a people. On the one hand this is trivial. It is reasonable to call people living in Scotland as Scots or Scottish people. But merely living in a place with defined boundaries does not make you part of a people. For instance, people living in London are Londoners, but they are not a different people from those living in the rest of England.

It isn’t enough to say that Scots live in a different country from people in England. After all, if we look at European peoples they are not limited by national boundaries. The Hungarian people don’t just live in Hungary, they live in Slovakia, Romania and other neighbouring countries too.

But what then is it that constitutes a people in the European context. When Poland was partitioned, the Polish people were those who spoke Polish and who were Roman Catholic. It was this that led Woodrow Wilson to argue that various European peoples should have independent states. But when he argued this, he was not thinking of people living in Scotland.

When we talk about “a people” we don’t just mean people living in a certain area. We invariably mean people who share a common ancestry, language and usually religion. It is for this reason that some people argue that the Kurds should have an independent state where all people of Kurdish ethnicity could live.

But this has a very unfortunate consequence for Scottish nationalism. How are we to distinguish the Scottish people from the other people living in the UK? We cannot do it by language. Scots overwhelmingly speak the same language as everyone else in the UK. We cannot separate Scots on the basis of religion. Most of us are not particularly religious. We cannot separate on the basis of national boundaries, because a people can transcend national boundaries or only occupy part of a country. We are left with ancestry and common heritage.

But this amounts to I am part of the Scottish people, because my ancestors have lived here for centuries, my ancestors signed the Declaration of Arbroath and the Claim of Right and because I descend from these people these documents apply to me also.

That’s fine as an argument, but it is ethnic nationalism. It is blood and soil and the Brothers of Scotland in just the same way as the Far Right Brothers of Italy that has just been elected there.

But if we are to base the right to self-determination on being ethnically different from people in England and unfortunately there is no other way, then we are going to have a problem with dealing with those people who are not ethnically Scots. They cannot be part of the Scottish people unless Scottish people merely means people living in Scotland, but that can no more give Scotland the right to self-determination than people living in Burgundy or Bavaria. It would only be if Burgundians were a different people to the French that they might have a right to self-determination. But they cannot have that right merely because they occupy the territory of a state that was once independent.

Scottish nationalism likes to claim that it is civic and uses this to attract people who are not ethnically Scottish, but in the end all forms of nationalism resolve themselves into ethnic nationalism, because nationalism is always about the fact that my ancestors have lived here since Robert the Bruce and this is why we want to refight 1314 until we finally win. If there were no sense of Scottish nationalists forming a distinct ethnic group, there would be no sense of Scottish nationalism.

Scottish nationalists dressing up in historical costumes and continually appealing to ancient history and documents tell you everything about the basis of their thought.

Of course, it is absurd to suggest that Scots are a distinct people from the rest of those living in the UK. We are the same mix of all of the migrants who have been arriving here for thousands of years and who continue to do so. But if that is the case there is no separate people to claim the right to self-determination.

The intellectual foundation of Scottish nationalism with its claim that Scots are a separate people is a sort of pseudo-racism that wants to maintain that we are a race and the English are a different race and that this justifies are hatred of them.

People living in Scotland who do not themselves descend from those who wrote the Claim of Right ought to be careful, because the language of prejudice in that document might just apply to you also. Those whose family has arrived in Scotland in recent decades should no more play with matches than play with a nationalism that is just as likely to turn on you as all other forms of nationalism have historically turned on those who are different.

People in the rest of the world ought to be careful also, as if Scots are a people with the right to independence, then pretty much anyone can claim the same right and secession and perhaps war will soon come to your country too. After all the Russian people living in Ukraine have as good a right as the SNP to self-determination and to an independence referendum.

This article was first published here.

About Effie Deans

Effie Deans is a pro UK blogger. She spent many years living in Russia and the Soviet Union, but came home to Scotland so as to enjoy living in a multi-party democracy! When not occupied with Scottish politics she writes fiction and thinks about theology, philosophy and Russian literature.

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