Option Zero is not an Option

Much discussion has been had lately if the Scottish independence movement should treat anything other than a mutually agreed and consented referendum as a valid mandate for independence, given how certain unionist politicians in the Conservative and Labour parties have explicitly spoken out against even the prospect of another referendum on independence. And so, the “prospect” of a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) has once again reared its head among the twitter fringes of the independence movement. The prospect is, in my view, best illustrated by a few notable examples.

1916, Ireland. The Irish Republic is proclaimed during the Easter Rising. The Easter Rising is crushed, but full-blown resistance flares up again in 1918 as Sinn Féin wins a majority in the general election of 1918, withdraw to form the Dáil Éireann and the Irish War of Independence begins. After much brutal violence between the auxiliaries of the British government and the Irish Republican Army, the Irish side eventually accepts the Anglo-Irish Treaty, that partitions the country into a dominion (the Irish Free State, that eventually becomes the Republic of Ireland) and Northern Ireland, which is kept within the UK. Right now, we’re into our 96th year of that partition.

1991, Slovenia and Croatia. The unilateral declarations of independence of the two set off respectively the Ten-Days War and the Croatian War of Independence, becoming the first phase of the Yugoslav Wars. Eventually, the two do become independent, but not before militarily repelling an invasion in the case of the first and tens of thousands of deaths and about 700,000 people displaced in the case of the latter.

2017, Catalonia. After a referendum complicated by Spanish police intervention and the ensuing loss of, by the Catalan estimate, approximately 770,000 votes, Catalonia unilaterally declares independence from Spain. In the event, the referendum is dismissed, Spain dissolves the Catalan autonomous parliament and calls new elections. Catalan independence does not manifest in the instance and most pro-independence parties effectively accept this.

In summary, there is one thing to learn from all these examples for the Scottish independence movement: unilateral declarations of independence are no laughing matter. They should not be resorted to lightly. The risks of UDI include:

1) the blunt cancellation prospect: a virtually unchallenged assumption of central control (Catalonia in 2017)
2) attempts at political and military subversion and economic blockade (the secession of the Baltic States from the USSR in 1990)
3) a full-blown war of independence, frequently with elements of a civil war (Ireland, former Yugoslavia, Indonesia, most other post-colonial nations)
4) partition of the country along lines of constitutional opinion (Ireland in 1922, partly Bosnia in the 1990s)

It is at its core a fundamentally and inevitably controversial, confrontational and usually not properly legal path. What a lot of the fringes of the independence movement do not seem to understand, when discussing possibilities for what we can do if the UK government denies us a Section 30 order for an independence referendum, is that a UDI is not a matter of simply declaring that “we are now independent” and the UK government will have no choice but to accept that. Declaring independence without mutual consent is tantamount to declaring the state you are seceding from your enemy. It is for all intents and purposes a gauntlet of challenges that there needs to be a profoundly unified political will in both government and society to take on.

In a scenario where Scotland were to declare independence unilaterally without any agreement with the rest of the UK, we would have to have somehow converted 70%-90% of the population to support of independence for it to even be feasible. Otherwise, there would likely remain a large proportion of the Scottish population that would be devoted unionists disinclined to accept the legitimacy of this process. Nearly all of these people would support the British government in whatever measure is taken to repress such an independence declaration. This is even leaving aside the fact that virtually all Scottish business would continue to consider the UK government the legitimate authority to receive their taxes and British military forces would remain based in bases across Scotland. We would have virtually no feasible peaceful way to remove them without their consent.

Internationally, speaking of any kind of recognition for a UDI in any scenario is ridiculous. No nation that desires to have any kind of friendly or even working relationship with the UK would support a unilateral Scottish declaration of independence. Even the worst opponents of the UK in international relations would not recognise us out of sheer selfishness: it simply does not benefit virtually any nation on the planet to side with this hypothetically isolated Scotland against the UK.

To survive a UDI, we would require strong enough popular support by our population at large to defy the world. It is a path that would present the Scottish political class and population with challenges of a scale that the average Scottish person has not only never faced but also quite frankly never conceived of. The Scottish population, even most yes voters, would not be willing to accept these challenges and their patience with us would run out in months at best. Activists that are pushing this almost universally do not understand the implications of what they are proposing.
It is a non-option. And any conversation about it needs to cease now.


Comments (27)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Josef Ó Luain says:

    Neither you nor anyone else is about to make discussion of the UDI option go-away or “cease now”. Given that most of us know that UDI will never happen, I’m surprised you’ve even bothered to think about it, let-alone post about it.

  2. Marga says:

    Underwhelmed by your account of Catalan situation. Assumption of central control was imposed by violent repression ire still unventilated. Imminent televised mass showtrial of indy politicians taken hostage by central govt will cause outrage. Watch this space if your think unilaterism is dead un Catalonia.

  3. David says:

    OK you have summed up your reasons why UDI is not a good option. What you have not done, in this article, is come up with any suggestion of viable, peaceful alternatives to the delivering of independence by referendum. We have a mandate in Scotland for a referendum as long as it takes place while the currently elected Scottish Parliament is still in place. If we choose to act on that mandate and UK government says no what is the plan B? Do we wait quietly, sitting up straight and paying attentention, until the Tories of UKok decide now is the time or do we consider alternative options that might be available within the democratic process if we use our collective imaginations. Or do we just kiss it goodbye? …………………………… over to you!

    1. Jamsie says:

      There is no legal or political mandate.

      1. Kenny Smith says:

        Foam fart fart foam Yoonyun!!!


  4. L. Campbell says:

    UDI is, indeed, the worst possible option. Scotland situation is very different from any of those examples. We were a signatory to the very document that underlies the UK. England is the other. Now, after 311 years, we can see what actually happened as opposed to what should have happened: England unilaterally declared itself the master of all it surveys. Can you tell us where it says in the Treaty of Union (or in the ratifying Acts) that England was to become the master of the three ‘Celtic’ fringe nations? The Scots, Welsh and NI MPs together cannot outvote the English MPs, so there is no point in saying that the British Nationalists in our midst agreed to this situation. When did they agree? The present UK reflects nothing more than a complete invasive takeover of the whole of the British Isles. Is that not ultra vires? Our oil and gas have been purloined and the revenues used by the Thatcher government to off-set massive levels of redundancy all over the UK, and particularly in Scotland. They were also used to build massive infrastructure in and around London. Who agreed to that? Westminster helped itself to over 6000 square miles of Scottish territorial waters, recognized in international law as belonging to Scotland. Who agreed to that? When was the consultation and vote held? Few Scots want Trident to remain in Scotland, yet we are the UK’s nuclear silo and dumping ground for these hideous WMD (the very kind of weapons that were sold by almost every European country, including the UK, to Iraq, then destroyed after the invasion of Kuwait, conveniently forgotten about later, when it was imperative that we need there to be WMD in Iraq to justify invasion. We are a colony. As a colony, in 2014, one of the minorities in Scotland, which could not have won the indyref on its own, was supplemented by another two minorities who ensured that 55% NO vote. The first was the British Nationalists, calling themselves ‘Unionists’ (the home-grown minority); the second was the rUK residents who voted by an overwhelming majority of their own group (around 75%); and the third was the considerably lower percentage of EU nationals who has been told consistently throughout the indyref campaign that they would be out of the EU, with Scotland, if they voted for independence. Taken together, these three disparate groups ensured Scotland’s imprisonment in the UK, and on an agenda which subsequent events have proven to be, at best, utterly mistaken, and, at worst, totally mendacious. On reflection, I would opt for the latter explanation which included in its mendacious total a complete lie about Scotland’s place in the EU (no mechanism to expel any member or part thereof whatsoever) and why voters should vote NO to protect Scotland in the EU. That worked out well, eh? From top to bottom, this so-called ‘Union’ is a fallacy, a chimera which suits one part only – England, and not even all of it. We either take the risk of going without another indyref, but not by UDI, rather with dissolution of the so-called “Union” as being utterly unfit for purpose in the 21st century. The Scottish and even Welsh colonies are becoming very restless; with NI nationalists becoming ever more angry at the shenanigans of the ‘Unionist’ antediluvian DUP. Why cannot England just go and leave the rest of us in peace?

    1. IO says:

      Stop being a racist who complains about the independence referendum enfranchising everyone who lives in Scotland, Lorna.

  5. SleepingDog says:

    I agree that there are such risks associated with a unilateral declaration of independence. It would set an internal precedent, perhaps precipitating areas like the Borders or Shetland Islands to announce their own departures from Scotland. Perhaps only extreme circumstances, like the UK waging a war of aggression, would justify taking them on the basis of marginal public support.

    I would also say that many of these risks apply to winning a referendum on 51% of turnout or so, where similar problems and polarizations to the narrow Brexit vote can be envisaged.

    My view is that a new UK constitution should be pursued to establish the right of secession. In this way, people throughout our various territories can complete the task of decolonization of the British Empire, allowing self-determination for all territories, and not just selfishly for ourselves in Scotland.

    This should legislate for an amicable or at least mutually-supportive separation period, balanced by a higher bar than 50%+1 votes. Nevis requires a two-thirds or 2:1 positive vote, which sounds about right:

  6. Kenny Smith says:

    If the UK or any other country for that matter tear up a treaty then we can too. UDI is a last resort of course it is but it will never be off the table. I hope we never use it but we can’t discount it. Westminster agreed to a referendum because they thought it was a shoe in, now not so much. Patience is a virtue we all agree but at some point the rules of the game will have to change because dancing to their tune will see us locked in forever. Listening to foamy farts for all eternity

  7. Big Jock says:

    Catalonia failed because the vote was classed as illegitimate due to low turnout. Spain is in the EU. The EU do not like mother countries sovereignty being tested.

    Scotland would be trying to remain in the EU and leaving a non EU country. Scotland is not Catalonia. We have many friends in the EU. The UK will have many enemies.

    Catalonia declared UDI and then sat on it. The leaders went into exile. They had no plan to defend their new nation. We would only use UDI if political discourse fails. Scotland would have a plan to defend itself.

    1. Jamsie says:

      Scotland leaves the EU as does the UK after Brexit.
      And those friends in the EU have said Scotland goes.

  8. Joe Gibson says:

    We all know that this Union we have with Westminster is a SHAM, the definition of a UNION is an agreement with two or more parties (I this case between Scotland and England) (Westminster) is to form an alliance between themselves for the benefit to both sides , when this one was drawn up was supposed to mean have mutual respect for each other by means of sharing. I have not read the full script of this Union, however I do know that we are not been treated as equal partners and never have been.

    We have been lied to cheated and deceived by people within Scotland who claim to be Scottish, but for their own personal gain fight like ferrets in a cage to secure this Ermine cloak and the title that goes with it.

    I would love for our loyal friends who wish us to be independent and have a bit more ability than myself to articulate and consolidate all the transgressions against us and that can be proven beyond doubt be taken to the United Nations and ask that they decide if we have been fairly treated.

    I am sure that if is this is a Union then if one of the parties wished to break the union then I should no longer be legal.

  9. Dougie Blackwood says:

    From the example of the Catalonian referendum it is clear that neither can we decide to hold a referendum without Westminster’s agreement nor is it ever going to work if we just try to walk away without a democratic mandate. If Scotland holds an unauthorised referendum, as the Catalonians did, the unionists will cry foul and promote a boycott and any result will be ignored.

    Our Unionist masters may tell us that we cannot have another referendum. They thought it would be all too easy last time and they got a fright so it may be that Indyref2 will be continually booted into the long grass. There is however another option. We must wait meantime until the disaster of Brexit plays out and, when we feel we are ready demand another referendum. That may be granted but I suspect it will not. If we are refused that will be the time to begin the campaign.

    We must, right away, announce that the next UK general election, whenever that is, even if it is 3 weeks later, as it might be, will be a treated as a referendum and that when we gain more than half of the seats and more than half of the votes cast we will begin to negotiate the terms of our independence. Given the advance warning and a positive outcome the result will be accepted by the nations of the world regardless of what London says.

    1. Jamsie says:

      Ah the democrat deficit eh?
      At the last general election the SNP got less than 40% of the vote.
      It is unlikely they will improve on that so does that mean your conditions will ever be met?
      I suspect they won’t.

      1. Kenny Smith says:

        Foam, foam and more foam

        Fart, fart and then another helping of foam

  10. Jamsie says:

    And at the last Holyrood elections on a turnout of 55% of the electorate the SNP got 45% and 41% of the constituency and list votes respectively.
    The democratic deficiency at work eh?
    Hardly a resounding mandate.
    Roll on 2021.

    1. Kenny Smith says:

      At the Holyrood and council elections the Tories got roughly 25% of the vote and according to the press and the way they celebrated getting 25 they were acting like they won both. If Tories pull 40% + then I’ll agree it’s finished. I heard a hero of your Michael Forsyth complain about unelected Europeans making decisions but somehow that thinking can’t be allowed to apply to us.

      Jimbo keep on foaming ya big mad foamy heid

      1. Jamsie says:

        Barbie hen
        Calm yer jets.
        Yer living in the lap of the U.K.
        Wee Nicola has telt ye “now is not the time”!
        All very Theresa like.
        The Tartan Tories are alive and well in their wee minority spending money they don’t have.
        Makes ye proud tae be Scottish eh?
        Ahm gaun tae get ma face painted!

        1. Kenny Smith says:

          FART FOAM FOAM FART!!!!

  11. Redgauntlet says:

    That’s just not what happened in Catalonia, it’s not an accurate account of events there…

    Puigdemont declared the independent Catalan Republic, and then immediately, in the very next sentence, suspended its application and called for talks with the government in Madrid. Does the author think that classifies as UDI? I certainly don’t. It’s just a bluff.

    There was no serious attempt at all by the Catalan nationalists to implement UDI. To do that would have required force or the threat of force/ violence.

    For that very reason, there nine Catalan politicians should not be in prison obviously, nor is it to describe what they did as “treason” or “sedition”…

    It was a political stunt, or if your prefer, a bluff and it has set back the chance of a democratically negotiated referendum with the rest of Spain by a generation…

    1. Jamsie says:

      A generation?
      The same as here?
      Surely no.

  12. Redgauntlet says:

    In any case, the author is broadly right about UDI…

    If you don’t have legality, then you must have legitimacy….

    Which is to say, if you want to declare UDI, you better have 66% or 70% of the population on your side. That’s what it comes down to. It’s not workable otherwise.

    We are nowhere near that figure in Scotland, nor are they in Catalonia…

    1. Alex M says:

      I think we are all agreed that a UDI without a democratic mandate is a non starter. But we cannot wait for the English to allow their colony to have a vote. We have to use the English version of democracy, which is a first past the post, winner takes all system as in the Westminster Parliament that is 85% English. We can’t get a majority there, but we can get a majority of MPs representing Scottish seats. All we have to do is make sure that a independence is on the manifesto. Margaret Thatcher, despite her many faults, accepted such an outcome would be decisive. This obsession about a referendum is self-defeating. Almost every independent country achieved that independence without a referendum.

      1. Redgauntlet says:

        Agreed Alex M, there is no reason it has to come through a referendum.

        In fact, a referendum would ideally be a kind of rubber stamp for an event which had already taken place in the Scottish Parliament…

        But I can’t say I see it as being likely.

        Scottish independence either happens now, or it will never happen…

        I’m amazed, and disappointed. how little the polls have moved with the Brexit fiasco unfolding…

        It just shows to what extent people decide things based on their long held prejudices and beliefs rather than on changing reality…

        But after all: 300 years of cultural localisation is bound to prove efficacious for the vast majority in the end…

        But the SNP’s “softly, softly catch a monkey” approach doesn’t seem to be working either.

        Much better to go down with guns blazing. A mass act of civil disobedience on Brexit Day for example…

        1. Redgauntlet says:

          Sorry, should read “300 years of cultural COLONIZATION”…

  13. Crubag says:

    I’m actually old enough to remember when the SNP approach was to get a majority of Scottish MPs, which would then trigger independence.

    But it required MPs being elected on that platform, and it only raised a handful of MPs. From an electoral perspective the genius idea was to replace this with a referendum. This allowed the unconvinced, or the unionist even, to vote SNP on domestic political grounds, without affirming independence.

    That option, of a legal, democratic, but non-referendum, route is still open. What isn’t known is what effect a reversion to the old policy would have on SNP electoral success – how much of the MSP/MP vote currently comes from non-independence supporters?

  14. John says:

    A campaign of civil disobedience first ,then UDI .If the English want to fight let’s fight .No one voted for the English to take over 300 years ago ,we don’t need a vote to get rid of them

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.