Catalonia Independence And Brexit – Not The Same Thing

Catalan Catalunya president Carles Puigdemont speech - declaration of independence

The Catalan declaration of independence does not prove your point, whether you are for or against Brexit

There has been an inevitable tendency among many people to co-opt the events surrounding the recent Catalan independence referendum and resulting declaration of independence from Spain for their own distinct purposes. This is unhelpful. Recent events in Spain illuminate Brexit little more than the election of Donald Trump explains Brexit – in other words, a few headline similarities obscure a wealth of differences.

First, we can all acknowledge that Spain hugely mishandled the entire affair. Whether this is partly due to weaker institutions and the less embedded traditions of democracy in Spain or just sheer incompetence on the part of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government is not fully clear to me, but the actions of the Spanish government clearly fuelled rather than defused the situation.

Rajoy should have learned from the UK’s experience with the Scottish independence referendum of 2014. Faced with Scottish separatists with similar delusions of statehood, David Cameron called the bluff of the Scottish National Party. The referendum was held on fair terms and the nationalists lost – despite an awfully dreary and uninspiring “No” campaign which pushed an entirely negative message and had little positive to say about the value of the United Kingdom. And though this led to the rise of Nicola Sturgeon and the arrival of the Tartan Tea Party of SNP MPs in Westminster after the 2015 general election, the nationalist tide has since receded.

Madrid took a different approach, opposing the referendum at every turn. I can’t speak to the legality of the constitutional court’s decision to ban the referendum, but the violent way in which it was put down by the police and Guardia Civil handed the separatists a huge and unnecessary propaganda victory. I can fully believe that the Catalan regional government has behaved reprehensibly and childishly throughout, but a mature national government in Madrid would have handled this in a way which took the sting out of the Catalan independence movement, putting it to bed for a generation. Mariano Rajoy achieved the exact opposite.

The decision of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont to proceed with a declaration of independence, as ratified by the Catalan parliament, was opportunistic, antidemocratic and immature. Yes, the referendum was violently put down by the Spanish authorities. But the referendum was also deemed illegal  in the first place by the proper Spanish courts, and many of those who would have voted against independence did not go to the polls. To take this botched referendum as a mandate for independence is a huge overstepping of Puigdemont’s authority, and is fundamentally antidemocratic.

Simultaneously, Spain has been far too laid back in dealing with this threat. It was shocking enough that it took until the days before the Scottish independence referendum for anti-independence campaigners to hold a mass rally in London in support of the United Kingdom – but at least it happened. Spain waited until days after the unilateral declaration of Catalonian independence to hold a similar rally in Barcelona. Where was this public outrage and shows of loyalty to Madrid when Carles Puigdemont was prancing around acting like the living embodiment of all Catalan public opinion? It is hard to attribute this to anything but laziness on the part of the citizenry. As he left the US constitutional convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin told an enquirer that he had bequeathed the American people “a Republic, if you can keep it“. At times, the Spanish seemed too lazy to make much of an effort to keep theirs.

How does all of this tangentially relate to Brexit? In one sense, Brexiteers can draw some basic parallels to Catalan independence. Both are primarily cultural movements consisting of people who do not accept the legitimacy of the larger political entity which they seek to leave. But the British EU referendum was conducted under the rule of law and its outcome was legitimate. One can raise valid points about the precise mode of Brexit being unstated and the lack of a plan on the part of the official Leave campaign – all true. But the instruction from voters to the UK government to commence secession from the political entity known as European Union was clear. In the case of Catalonian independence, not so. In many cases, the Catalan government behaved provocatively and with great immaturity. These are not smart, measured people whom anybody should seek to drape their arms around.

But there is also a contradiction at the heart of the Catalonian separatist movement. Both in Catalonia and Scotland, advocates for independence seek to leave the political purview of Madrid and Westminster respectively, but remain very much part of the European Union. In doing so they engage in a feat of denial and political fancy which exceeds that of the most ignorant of Hard Brexiteers. Leaving Spain means Catalonia leaving the EU, just as leaving the United Kingdom inevitably meant Scotland leaving the EU when Scotland voted back in 2014. In both cases, separatists sought to downplay or even deny this truth. Carles Puigdemont and his followers need to accept this difficult fact if they are to be remotely taken seriously. But they do not accept reality, just as the SNP refused to accept reality.

It is also curious that the separatists are so desperate to escape the clutches of Madrid (one protester today said that Catalonians were currently “oppressed” by Spain) but are entirely comfortably – even eager – to remain under the authority of Brussels, and inevitably as a much smaller and less influential member state were they to be readmitted. I would very much like to read an argument explaining how modern Spain suppresses Catalonian culture and freedom in a way that the EU would not. As an independent country and small EU member state, Catalonia would be much less able to influence EU policymaking than Spain is currently able to do. They would be in an infinitely weaker position to defend and advance Catalonian national interest.

And yet if this is still the choice of the Catalonian people they should be free to make it – through a lawful, democratic and legitimate referendum. If they do so, it will be a clearly cultural and constitutional decision, just as Brexit was. This doesn’t automatically mean that it is the “wrong” decision – it would simply mean that as with Brexit, some things matter more than short term political and economic stability. This is an argument which I have strongly made about Brexit, and which could hold true for Catalonian independence too. If the people of Catalonia genuinely feel that Madrid is hostile to their own interests then they should have the right to secede from Spain and take the consequences and potential benefits upon themselves. I supported Brexit because I do not feel that our cultural affinity to Europe – our sense of ourselves as part of a cohesive European demos – warrants as powerful and extensive a government as we currently have in Brussels. If Catalonians feel the same about Spain then so be it.

But if nothing else good comes from this turmoil in Spain, hopefully it will disabuse separatists throughout Europe of the childlike, naive notion that Brussels is their friend, and that the European Union in any way cares about their freedom or right to self-determination. It most assuredly does not. The European Union has its own journey – toward greater political integration and centralisation – to pursue. Brexit is enough of a bump in the road for EU leaders; they have no desire to see Europe fragmenting further at a time when they are trying to busily absorb everyone into the grand project, even as their undermining of established member states fuels these separatist movements.

Besides that, this is an internal matter for Spain to deal with. One might plausibly consider taking sides from a personal perspective had the referendum been conducted legally under terms agreed by both sides, or if the Catalan government could make an irrefutable case that no further dialogue with Spain was possible for the redress of their grievances. But in the absence of these mitigating factors we ought to refrain from jumping into a foreign debate purely to score cheap political points about matters in our own country.

The Catalan independence movement is not like Brexit, as anybody who supported the continuation of the United Kingdom in 2014 and Brexit in 2017 should have the humility to accept. No matter how low your opinion of Nigel Farage, Aaron Banks and Dominic Cummings may be, they did not press ahead with an unlawful referendum and claim (quite) such an implausible mandate from it. And whatever constitutional vandalism the UK government is currently engaged in as it seeks to implement Brexit is nothing to the constitutional vandalism currently being perpetrated in Spain.

At its core, Brexit is about securing the continued relevance and autonomy of the nation state (at least until such time as public opinion shifts more definitively in favour of the kind of supranational government offered by the European Union). And that means keeping our personal opinions about Catalan opinions quite distinct from any other political agenda.

 

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Scottish Brexit Hysteria: Nicola Sturgeon’s Flawed IndyRef2 Argument

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I begged once, back in 2014. I will not beg again.

Thus far I have refrained from commenting on Nicola Sturgeon’s tunnel-visioned decision to agitate for a re-run of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum following last year’s vote for Brexit.

Back then, I poured my heart into the pro-Union campaign because I strongly believe in our United Kingdom, and do not want to see what I believe to be one of the two greatest and most consequential countries on Earth torn apart unnecessarily to the diminution of all. My beliefs have not changed since then.

However, I do not intend to make another argument or write even one more article seeking to convince the Scottish people to realise the self-evident, inherent wisdom of remaining in our United Kingdom. As the 2014 campaign drew to a close, I quoted the peroration of President Abraham Lincoln’s famous first inaugural address, which sums up my feelings far better than I can put into my own words:

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend it

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Substitute “separation” for “civil war” and you have my distilled viewpoint on the matter of Scottish independence. But Scottish nationalism is a blind and unreasoning beast, appeals to logic and sentiment will get us nowhere, and we should recognise this fact. If one seriously believes that the Scottish people are being oppressed and having their democratic rights trampled by the Evil English, or that they somehow lack their due influence in our nation’s government despite enjoying political devolution and autonomy far greater than that enjoyed by the UK’s most populous home nation, then a sensible discussion cannot be had.

Neither am I willing to involve myself in another referendum campaign which will consist of those on the side of Scottish independence prancing around pretending that they are the sole custodians of compassion and progressivism (not that I claim the latter label for myself), and that the only thing preventing Scotland from becoming a modern-day socialist Utopia is the cold, dead hand of English conservatism. I will not buy into the pernicious myth that people’s hearts get a little bigger and their spirits more generous the moment they move north of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Scottish nationalists: try building that compassionate welfare state with a 15% annual government budget deficit and the economy-suffocating tax rises which would be required to close it, and then talk to me about compassion.

Nor am I willing to debate on the skewed terms of the Scottish National Party, which is an authoritarian, centralising machine (one fire and police service for an entire country, really?!) which would happily turn Scotland into an undemocratic one-party state under the cult of personality of Nicola Sturgeon or Alex Salmond given the opportunity. I will not debate further concessions or autonomy for Scotland when the SNP government refuses to avail itself of the fiscal autonomy which has already been granted, and when similarly populous English regions (like, say, Yorkshire) are equal in population but have a fraction of the voice, and yet bear this injustice with more stoicism than that of every last Scottish nationalist combined. The SNP does not debate or negotiate in good faith, as should be evident by the mere fact that we are even discussing a re-run of the independence referendum after the matter was supposedly settled for a generation.

All of that being said, and despite the known disingenuousness and bloody-mindedness of the SNP, I was rather surprised by Nicola Sturgeon’s widely reported public statements and recent series of tweets, which amount to nothing more than another hysterical hissy fit about Brexit coupled with an Olympian denial of reality – Trumpian “alternative facts”, if you will:

Sturgeon wants to hold another referendum when “the terms of Brexit [are] clear and before it is too late to choose an alternative path”. But it is clear to everyone with a functioning brain that there will be no alternative path. No matter how much the UK government screws up the negotiation and process of Brexit, there is no alternative for Scotland to remain an EU member. It has been stated and restated by one EU leader after another that there is no mechanism either for a region to remain part of the European Union when its parent member state secedes, or for a seceding region to claim automatic, continuous or even expedited EU membership on the basis of the former parent country’s membership.

One can argue about whether this is right or wrong – the political motivations behind it are quite clear, with certain other EU member states none too keen to give succour to restive independence movements in their own regions – but one thing a government should and cannot do is base its policy and public pronouncements on a denial of basic reality which can best be described as howl-at-the-moon stupid. If Scotland wants to be an “independent country” and an EU member (to the limited extent that the two overlap) then it must apply to rejoin the EU as a new entity from the outside, whereby its application will almost certainly be vetoed by Spain. Those are facts.

So what does Sturgeon mean when she says that the Scottish people must be free to pull the eject lever on the United Kingdom “before it is too late to choose an alternative path”? She is basically lying to her own citizens, pretending that the ejector-seat she is selling them is connected to a functioning parachute when in fact it is weighed down by the iron anvil of reality. And what is that awkward reality? The fact that voting to secede from the United Kingdom necessarily and automatically means that Scotland would find itself out of the UK and the EU, certainly for a long time and almost certainly forever.

Of course, many Scottish nationalists and their finger-wagging apologists in the rest of the UK love to argue that it is somehow ironic for pro-Brexit Unionists to warn Scotland of the dangers of finding itself locked outside of a larger political entity. These people think that they have hit on a clever, winning argument when in fact all they have done is reveal the paucity of their own understanding of patriotism and national identity, let alone why people voted for Brexit.

There never was (and likely never will be) a culture and common feeling of “European-ness” that outweighs British identity, and so it never made sense for such a powerful and dominant level of supranational government – one with determinedly expansionist, federal aspirations, no less – to sit over us in Brussels. There is, however, a strong sense of Britishness and shared British history, no matter what contemporary pundits say about the decline of Britishness and the rise of English nationalism.

If you doubt it, answer this one question: what was the name of the decisive Second World War air battle fought between July and October 1940? (Hint: even a post-patriotic millennial can tell you that it wasn’t the Battle of England, just as Pearl Harbor and 9/11 were attacks on the United States of America and not on Hawaii and New York respectively). Our sense of identity is overwhelmingly forged as a unified British entity (albeit one with proud constituent home nations), no matter what narratives of fracture that the pro-EU media class try to feed us. And so there is all the difference in the world between wanting to preserve the United Kingdom, to which most of us have at least some sentimental attachment, and wanting to free the United Kingdom from antidemocratic supranational European government which didn’t exist half a century ago and which most people barely comprehend.

Brexit, at its core, sought to return the highest and most consequential level of government to a polis with a commensurate sense of shared identity. If Scottish nationalists try to suggest that it is somehow hypocritical for Brexiteers to support the United Kingdom and warn of the cultural costs of separation then they either think that you are stupid or else are being catastrophically stupid themselves. Both options are equally plausible.

So by all means let Scotland hold another referendum, at the appropriate time. If they choose to defy the current polls and vote for true isolation on the world stage as a tiny country in poor fiscal health, determined to antagonise its larger neighbour, then that is their right. But they must do so only when the temper tantrum of their attempted divorce from the United Kingdom does not further imperil what is already a fraught and difficult Brexit negotiation for the rest of us.

Since Scotland is coming out of the European Union anyway (as even Nicola Sturgeon realises in her more lucid moments), it makes absolutely no sense for Scotland to pull the eject lever and jettison from the United Kingdom before the Brexit negotiations and process are complete. Sturgeon pretends that the referendum must be held virtually overnight, before it is “too late to choose an alternative”, but she is deliberately deceiving the people she represents. There will be no alternative other than the binary of life inside Brexit Britain or life as an independent country, whether the vote is held tomorrow or in 2025. All that holding IndyRef2 before Brexit is complete will accomplish is prioritising the vainglorious fantasy of Scottish nationalists over the UK government’s solemn responsibility (shoddily discharged thus far, admittedly) to secure the best deal and optimal future relations for our entire United Kingdom.

So go ahead, Scotland. Have your second referendum – at the appropriate time, once the United Kingdom you so despise has successfully finished negotiating its way through our present great national trial. I will not say a single further word to convince you to stay – the decision is yours, and if Project Fear worked back in 2014 then I can only hope that Project ‘Mystic Chords of Memory’ will ultimately do the job next time around.

So do what you will. But in 2014 you voted to remain part of the United Kingdom, and as a full and equal part of the UK you don’t now get to sabotage the Brexit process in pursuit of the SNP’s unachievable fantasy of leaping smoothly from our Union to that of Brussels.

 

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Nicola Sturgeon’s Failure Of Courage

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75 days after her massive tantrum about the EU referendum result, a meek and humiliating climbdown from Nicola Sturgeon

From the Guardian:

Nicola Sturgeon has shelved plans for a quick second referendum on Scottish independence after dire spending figures and a fall in public support for leaving the UK.

The first minister told Holyrood on Tuesday that her government only planned to issue a consultation on a draft referendum bill – a measure which falls short of tabling new legislation in this year’s programme for government.

Two months after telling reporters a referendum was “highly likely” within the next two years, she told MSPs that that bill would now only be introduced if she believed it was the best option for Scotland.

Her officials later said that consultation process could start at some time in the next year, with no target date in mind for its launch or its conclusion. Sturgeon’s official legislative timetable, the programme for government, described the referendum as an option and not as a goal.

Well, well, well.

Looks like a tacit admission that running a creaking, statist, big government petro-state north of the border – all based on a fiercely irrational cult of personality – doesn’t produce the kind of dynamic, resilient country which could frolic its way to independence without an economic care in the world after all.

Who could have possibly known?

 

Postscript: But let us not be too smug. The same report also tells us that the SNP plans to use the Scottish government’s discretionary fiscal powers cut the outrageously high Air Passenger Duty tax by 50% – a good first step in reducing it even further, back to the kind of levels which no longer put passengers off flying to or connecting through the UK:

She confirmed that the SNP would cut air passenger duty at Scottish airports by 50% from April 2018 to stimulate spending, a plan lambasted by Labour and the Scottish Greens as it would damage efforts to tackle climate change.

The day that the Conservative Party can lecture Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish National Party on pro-consumer, supply-side economic reform with a straight face will be the day when Philip Hammond stands at the despatch box and promises an even greater cut in APD for the rest of the UK in his first Budget.

Until then, the Conservatives continue to disappoint expectations, preferring to virtue-signal their environmentalist credentials and rob leisure and business travellers of their money than usher in the aviation revolution that this country sorely needs.

 

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Nothing Positive To Say About The EU? Just Bash The Leave Campaign

Owen Jones, unable to think of one positive thing to say in support of the European Union, focuses his attention on mocking the Leave campaigns

Owen Jones can’t make a full throated defence of the European Union and Britain’s place in it, because in his heart of hearts he knows the EU to be a bad, terminally unreformable institution in which we should play no further part. Of that I am absolutely convinced, no matter how deep in his subconscious Jones may have buried his natural euroscepticism.

But to avoid alienating his virtue-signalling left-wing readership who instinctively support the EU (either out of simplistic internationalism or the cynical knowledge that being in the EU imposes stricter employment and social laws on the UK than British voters would likely tolerate themselves), Jones has walked back nearly all his earlier principled criticism of Brussels, and now bleats the usual fantastical nonsense about staying in the EU to transform it into some kind of socialist utopia.

Thus, unable to make a passionate argument in favour of the European Union, Jones must content himself with making snide observations about the Leave campaigns (who regretfully seem to provide him with near endless material). He cannot make an honest intellectual or moral case for Remain, so he deflects by snarking at those who want to reclaim British democracy by leaving.

And so we get stuff like this, in which Jones wastes an entire YouTube video smugly pointing out that pro-Brexit Conservatives are moaning about the Remain campaign waging “Project Fear” when many of them adopted similar arguments against Scottish independence during the 2014 referendum, and against Labour and the SNP in the general election last year. Because, according to this bizarre logic, two wrongs (the Evil Tories doing it before, and the Remain camp doing it now) cancel each other out.

Jones scoffs:

Project Fear. That is how Chris Grayling, who is a Tory cabinet minister who supports Brexit – Britain leaving the European Union – that’s how he is describing the campaign led by the government to stay within the European Union. As soon as I heard him describe the campaign to stay in in those terms, all I could think was “you cheeky git!” It reminds me of the Yiddish expression, chutzpah.

[..] Then there’s Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, who in the weeks before the general election said “Ed Miliband stabbed his own brother in the back to become Labour leader. Now he is willing to stab the United Kingdom in the back to become prime minister”. Again, you had co-ordinated attacks by big businesses warning of economic calamity were Labour to enter Number 10. Project Fear on speed, quite frankly. The whole campaign was waged on the basis of fear.

Now, the people complicit with that included, obviously, the likes of Chris Grayling and his colleagues in the Conservative cabinet, and the Conservative backbenches who now support Brexit and who are angry at those tactics, as they see it, being employed against them.

We can expect to see a lot more of this finger-wagging nonsense over the next few months from those who are determined to keep Britain inside the European Union.

Some of them refuse to make positive arguments for the European Union because they actually rather dislike it, but hold Britain in such low regard that they believe that despite being many times the size of independent countries like Australia and New Zealand, Britain is uniquely incapable of functioning independently outside of a regional political union.

Others shy away from talking up the European Union because they genuinely love the institution, want us to integrate even more deeply and therefore worry that they might get too carried away praising Brussels and so harm their own side.

Others still dislike the European Union and know full well that Britain could prosper outside this anachronistic mid-century supra-national political union, but persuade themselves to support Remain for fear of the social stigma that comes with declaring oneself a eurosceptic in certain circles.

But in no case will they be honest with the British people, because they have all come to the conclusion that telling what they see as difficult truths – in their case, that the European Union is a good thing for a, b and c reasons, and Britain should continue to participate because of x, y and z – will not win the referendum, but that Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) will do the job quite nicely.

Owen Jones rightly bristles at the way that the “No” campaign wielded this tactic in the Scottish independence campaign, which would make you think that he opposes it being used by any group and in any context. But apparently not so. Because Conservative Leave supporters “brought it on themselves” by utilising FUD tactics in the past, the Remain camp should not be criticised for doing so now.

It is a shame to see Owen Jones – at his best an intelligent and articulate voice on the Left – frittering away his time on the EU referendum campaign by pointing out the foibles and tactical hypocrisies of the Leave campaign. But what other choice does he have? Despite knowing full well that the EU is unreformable, Jones has committed to supporting Britain’s continued membership.

I think that this is a betrayal of the democratic accountability and local control that Jones spends much of his time promoting. And I suspect that he does, too. Which is why we can all expect to see lots more “gotcha” videos on YouTube criticising individual members of the Leave campaign, but not a damn thing praising the European Union or explaining how this magical socialist “reform” of the EU is to be achieved.

After all, nothing distracts from a guilty conscience like pointing out the flaws, failings and inconsistencies of other people.

 

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The SNP Government Is Unilaterally Creating Its Own Foreign Policy

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Grandstanding SNP politicians do not have the right to unilaterally set British foreign policy

In a concerning report by the Herald Scotland, it transpires that the SNP government north of the border is attempting to create its own mini foreign policy, not aligned with nor cleared through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Westminster.

More concerning still, the fact that the Foreign Office quite rightly asked the Scottish government to cease and desist from this irresponsible behaviour is being portrayed as the real scandal, rather than Nicola Sturgeon’s back-of-an-envelope attempt at statecraft.

From the report:

The Foreign Office in Westminster is demanding to vet Scottish Government dealings with other countries on human rights, according to correspondence seen by the Sunday Herald.

The UK foreign minister, James Duddridge, has asked the Scottish international development minister, Humza Yousaf, to clear all his letters to foreign governments with the UK government before raising concerns about human rights infringements and other matters.

The move has infuriated Yousaf. “It beggars belief that the Tories – who are in the midst of scrapping the Human Rights Act – want to vet the Scottish Government’s letters raising human rights concerns abroad,” he said.

“I am proud of the SNP raising concerns about human rights without fear or favour – and certainly will take no lessons from the Tories on this,” he added.

“Whilst we are happy to share correspondence with Westminster, as we have done to date as a matter of courtesy, we certainly will not be asking or seeking permission before raising legitimate concerns about human rights.”

And for context:

Yousaf wrote to Duddridge and the Malawian High Commission, Kena Mphonda, on December 16 2015 raising concerns about the arrest of two Malawian nationals, Cuthbert Kulemela and Kelvin Gonani, for alleged homosexual offences.

Duddridge replied on January 7 2016, saying that following representations from the UK government, charges against the two men had been dropped. “You mention that you have written to the Malawian High Commissioner on this matter,” he wrote.

“While it may be useful that the Malawi High Commission is aware of your concern about this issue, I would be grateful if correspondence with governments on human rights and other reserved matters be cleared through this department.”

There is no grey area or room for interpretation here – this was a completely irresponsible act on the part of the devolved Scottish government. Foreign and defence matters are reserved to the UK government and Westminster parliament as you would expect in any country even remotely based on the principle of subsidiarity. It is not the job of any of the devolved assemblies – in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland or indeed England, if there was one – to enter into sensitive diplomatic correspondence with other sovereign nations.

Imagine for a moment that one day California or Texas decided to start acting as an independent agent on the world stage, raising all manner of issues with foreign governments, and maybe even negotiating their own trade deals or bilateral arrangements. The federal government in Washington, D.C. would rightly never tolerate such an arrangement, as it would undermine the very sovereignty and credibility of the United States. The same goes for Scotland.

Whether the SNP government had a point is immaterial. In this case, the SNP and their buccaneering international development minister Humza Yousaf (again, a role which should not exist in a Scotland which remains part of the UK) are probably on the right side of the issue. Malawi has a very concerning record on LGBT rights and the persecution of individuals, and the concerns raised were valid. But being right on this one occasion does not validate the wholly offensive principle of Scotland creating its own mini foreign policy behind the UK’s back.

In typical virtue-signalling SNP fashion, Yousaf tries to fold this issue into their pitched battle against the Heartless Evil Tories in Westminster, saying he will “take no lessons from the Tories” on human rights. But this isn’t about human rights. It is about the structure and proper running of our country. If we now establish the principle that self-regarding Scottish politicians can make interventions like this with foreign countries, what is to say that they cannot one day scupper a sensitive trade, security or intelligence negotiation by blundering onto the scene and undermining the UK’s position?

Even if the Scottish government happens to be right, any differences of opinion on foreign policy matters should be discussed and settled behind the scenes, so that the UK government can speak with one voice. Anything else will see the UK mercilessly divided and conquered by our foreign negotiating partners.

The Scottish people voted in 2014 to remain part of the United Kingdom on the understanding that certain additional domestic powers would be devolved from Westminster. Whether or not you believe that the UK government has delivered on those pledges, at no time was the idea of an alternative Scottish foreign policy raised for debate. There was no expectation that the Scottish government should be an independent actor on the world stage any more than the governor of Iowa or Texas can sign treaties with North Korea.

But as with so many other matters, a repeat of instances like this can only be prevented if we decide once and for all what kind of country we want to live in, and how the various parts of it should work together. And that means holding a constitutional convention as soon as possible. Given the approaching EU referendum, some time shortly after 23 June would seem to be a good time.

If we are to truly resolve the roiling questions about the future of the United Kingdom and our democracy and settle these issues for a generation or more, we need to collectively agree a fair and equitable devolution of powers to the four home nations on an equal basis. The question of whether England is treated as a home nation or a group of regions is of secondary importance, though this blog strongly believes that for true parity, England must be treated as a single entity just like Scotland. But this discussion must take place soon, within the wider context of a full constitutional convention.

Such a convention would give us the opportunity to debate and agree which powers should properly reside at each level – the federal UK government in Westminster, the devolved assemblies in the home nations, and county and town councils. We can simultaneously reform our legislature, ideally making the House of Lords democratically elected and ejecting the Lords Spiritual so that Britain no longer ranks alongside Iran as the most prominent technical theocracy in the world.

If this all seems ambitious and unlikely, then this is only a failure of our imagination. There is no good reason why we should not have such a debate (well, there is one reason – the future of the monarchy – which will be discussed in a future blog post). And as Pete North argues, why should we not be ambitious in terms of the future governance of our country?

Do nothing, and we can be sure that more of these instances will occur in the future, with ambitious Scottish politicians looking to make a name for themselves and burnish their human rights, national security or trade credentials by taking advantage of our lack of a written constitution and designing their own far-reaching roles on the world stage, with no oversight and no accountability.

Enough. No more SNP diplomacy by numbers. Whether they happen to be right or wrong on a given issue, for so long as Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, diplomacy and foreign policy should be a reserved matter for our shared government in Westminster and not hijacked by the Scottish nationalists.

That is the settlement which the people of Scotland signed up for in the 2014 referendum, and that is what they should now get.

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