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Scotland – A State of Consciousness?

Scotland ought to be more than a virtual nation with a popular cultural consciousness. Scotland is a subsidiary nation within the UK state. It is currently engaged in the process of incremental devolution which ought to lead inevitably to greater sovereign authority.

Scotland ought to believe in/ have sufficient cultural confidence, to express national consciousness that includes the need for a nation state. Scotland is a neo-nation with national civic institutions, national cultural characteristics and intellectual sensibilities (ways of feeling) that are and can be shared.

Scotland ought to have self -determination as a fundamental principle of natural justice and as a common good. Scotland is intellectually sovereign, yet politically subservient.  This contradiction inhibits, represses and indeed prevents an empowering collective sense of national consciousness that should be able to translate into liberal nationalism.

It is this journey from national consciousness to a progressive liberal nationalism that is the task of this generation.

The ‘ought’ and ‘is’  dichotomy , dialectal in essence, is used   and profoundly explained in the first two  pages of  Questioning  Sovereignty by the wonderfully erudite Scot ,  Neil MacCormick whose passing we should remember on the 5th of April.

Born in Glasgow on the 27th May 1941, Prof MacCormick had a quite remarkable academic career in legal philosophy with over 30 years of academic leadership to the law faculty at Edinburgh University and indeed at universities around the world.

But he did more. He engaged his immense intellect actively in studying, campaigning for and demanding self-determination for Scotland. As an MEP from 1999 to 2004 he became increasingly involved with European policy particularly with respect to the growing demand for autonomy from latent nations within larger states.  (He also looked after Scotland’s whisky, ferries and fisheries while starring as a piper.)

His work on re-defining and re-formatting the concept of national sovereignty is vitally important (see his essay A Kind of Nationalism in his book).  He argues (with enormous skill) the case for the development of a liberal nationalism- ‘the just state’. This draws a very sharp line in the sand from the chauvinistic, cultural and ethnic nationalism seen elsewhere. He also worked assiduously in redefining sovereignty within the wider pan-European political commonwealth in which sovereignty might be expressed within   political arrangements beyond the boundaries of the traditional nation-state.  His defining nationalist principle  is ‘ the members of a nation are as such in principle entitled to effective organs of political self-government within the world order of sovereign or post-sovereign states.’

He was profoundly influenced by Yael Tamir whose book Liberal Nationalism impressed him greatly. In particular a politics of national belonging, comprising societies of individuals with a shared consciousness, which Tamir calls ‘contextual individuals’.

It is as ‘contextual individuals’ that conscientization takes place as we can see and feel in contemporary Scotland.

Mac Cormick should be remembered on his birthday (May27th) and his work celebrated by being made known.  But a greater tribute to the great man would see a devolved assembly in Edinburgh after May 5th with a mandate to hasten the process towards a liberal national sovereignty.


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  1. Peter Curran says:

    Thanks, Thom.

    I was unaware of the concept of ‘liberal nationalism’, and it is an idea and a label I have been searching for to define my nationalism, and to allay the fears of friends who are put off making the final commitment to an independent Scotland by spectres of negative, blood-and-soil nationalism and neo-fascism

    I’m off to Amazon now to get the book!

  2. David McCann says:

    David McCann says:
    April 2, 2011 at 1:01 pm. (Posting on the correct thread!!)

    I could’nt agree more about Neil. Not only had he a giant intellect, he was a fantastic human being

  3. Graham says:

    In Scotland, nationalism has an increasing and widening appeal because it has become generally accepted as representing a national self-determination founded upon civic principles, despite continuing attempts to tarnish it with associations to nationalisms based on different and less attractive principles. Nationalism per se is openly discussed, predominantly in a Left context, which is occasionally challenged from the Centre, Right and Green but rarely does Liberal nationalism even find a voice. It should speak out and up more often; it deserves to be heard. Straight talking and the plain language of “get off our backs and mind your own business” can be more powerful than academic theses, though.

    It is not anti-social to acknowledge that there is too much State interference in our private lives. If UK Government disagrees with that message, it at least receives it. It concerns me that Scottish Government and local authorities are not even sent it.

  4. ratzo says:

    “Questioning Sovereignty” was the first in a series of four books. The last one was only just published before he died.
    They’re all deeply interesting but there’s a practical difficulty with them (rather than a theoretical one) and that is the presumption about the status and trajectory of the EC that underpins them.

  5. The concept of Scotland’s sovereignty is simple: we are a representative democracy.

    What this means is that the people of Scotland are sovereign. It is enshrined in Scots Law within the entrenchment of the ‘Declaration of Arbroath’ in 1328 and later by the 1689 Claim of Right which restates this concept by making clear James VIIth did not abdicate the Scottish Throne but was expelled from the throne on the direction of the sovereign people of Scotland. Further the Claim of Right entails the Crown to undertake a separate oath of allegiance to the sovereign people of Scotland to preserve our rights, laws liberties and freedoms for all time.

    The 1707 Treaty of Union further safe guards the sovereignty of the people of Scotland for all time. In a judgement by the Lord President of the Court of Session in 1953 the presumption that Westminster holds tenure of Scottish sovereignty was stated as being perverse, contrary to Scots Law as Scotland is not a Parliamentary democracy like England and Wales nor could the Lord President see how the constitutional theory of the English Parliament could remain paramount over the UK Parliament as the parliament was ‘as new’ and not just the absorption of the Scottish Parliament by the English Parliament. He further expressed the view that the clauses in the 1707 Treaty of Union which stated they were for ‘all time’; meant exactly that.

    Winnie Ewing’s announcement that “The Scottish Parliament suspended in March 1707 was now reconvened” must mean that under Scots Law and the Scottish Constitution it now represents the sovereign people of Scotland – if the 1953 judgement is still precedent.

    I have researched this at length because I believe that there are clauses within the current Scotland Act Amendment Bill before Westminster are in breech of the Treaty of Union and the 1953 judgement of the Lord President as they directly effect clauses which are preserved for all time and can not be altered without the agreement of the sovereign people of Scotland.

    In terms of this article I disagree whole heartedly with the concept of the EU as it currently stands and the Lisbon Treaty aim of creating of a political super state which is currently in vogue. If the current fiscal crisis that is ripping the EU and its monetary policy apart is not a warning to temper those looking to invest even more power in EU institutions – I do not know what is.

    If Ireland, as its new chancellor is hinting, are about to default on the IMF / EU loans and leave the bond holders to take the hit then the lines of dominoes of countries either already over the hill or rapidly heading that way (including the UK) are about to come tumbling down as France and Germany head for the fiscal hills in an attempt to out run the financial tsunami that is about to hit the EU.

    Once the Germans and French are ‘safe’, the political EU will come to bits faster than a chocolate hand grenade and revert to being a unified trade zone as per EFTA agreements so supra national sovereignty will become moot.

  6. GrahamH says:

    Interesting article, cheers

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