Resist, Reform or Re-Run?

Even very high-ranking Unionists are jumping ship from the indefensible position that there can be no democratic choice about remaining part of the Union.

In a damning critique by the official responsible for drafting Whitehall arguments against Scottish independence, Ciaran Martin said that England had now abandoned any restraint as the dominant partner within the Union [Ciaran was Constitution Director in the Cabinet Office from 2011-14. He was one of six people at the table alongside Mr Cameron and Michael Moore, and opposite then First Minister Alex Salmond, then Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon].

Mure Dickie reports for the FT: “The UK government’s lead negotiator on Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum on Tuesday warned against refusing to allow a second such vote if Scots want one, saying to do so would fundamentally change the union from “one based on consent, to one based on the force of law”.

You can read Ciaran Martin’s report here: “Resist, reform or re-run: short- and long-term reflections on Scotland and independence referendums”.

Martin said that by discounting SNP election victories Downing Street was suggesting there was “no lawful, democratic path” to secession. He insisted: “Scots have withdrawn from UK-wide political leadership at the instruction of voters,” he said. There was “no good reason to resist” another referendum, he said, insisting that “fear of a different result isn’t a reason to ignore Scotland’s election result”.

The report comes on the heels of a damning report by Philip Rycroft, Prof Michael Kenny, and Jack Sheldon that concluded that the pandemic has seeded the idea of a prime minister “who speaks for England alone” and warns of complete deterioration of relations between the four nations of the UK amid “deep-rooted complacency”. Taken together they add to the very clear signs that very senior advisors have noticed that the present Johnson position is completely untenable. Johnson suggested in January that Westminster would not approve a second independence referendum for four decades or more, an approach that Ciaran Martin correctly identifies would be telling Scottish people that they had no lawful path to express their democratic wishes. This is essentially a constitutional imprisonment and a collapse of democracy.

These new reports and admissions certainly undermine the argument – put forward by some Scottish nationalists – that No 10 will “never agree to a Section 30 Order”. Here, clearly, their most senior advisors believe this to be an indefensible position.

In the report Martin writes:

“There would be a land border of some sort with England, just as there has been in Ireland for a century, both before, during and after EU membership. There would be, in time, different currencies, as there have been for decades across the Irish border, both during and after the UK’s EU membership. Nationalists would also have to address very challenging fiscal numbers, assuming a reasonable settlement of debt in the negotiations. Similarly, EU membership would be likely, but not inevitable, and almost certainly not immediate.”

It’s interesting that this level of debate is happening in Oxford, not in Edinburgh or Glasgow. You can watch the launch lecture with Ciaran Martin, Sir Tom Devine and Ngaire Woods here:

Comments (24)

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  1. Axel P Kulit says:

    Ah, but the senior advisors are only experts and can be ignored.

    The debate is going on in Oxford but not in London, Westminster or Edinburgh. I wonder if Boris actually wants Scotland to leave.

    I personally have no problem with a border. When I worked in Europe I just showed my passport and was waved through. When I travelled to SE Asia to see my family there I had no problem with visas – normally I just purchased one at the airport on entry.

    I suspect any border problems will result from a vindictive Westminster.

    1. Of course they can be ignored – but there is now a steady stream of very senior advisors pointing out in painstaking detail why this is a terrible idea and an indefensible position.

      1. Iain MacLean says:

        Westminster says no you can not have a vote to decide your own future!

        Ok, we become prisoners in a union? Or we fight back though democratic, diplomatic and civil means?

        If the uk is to use anti democratic means to keep Scotland in a union, Scotland should fight back with democratic means and civil disobedience aimed at undermining what will have become, an occupation!

        A country being held a prisoner is not a sustainable state of affairs for either the inmates or the guards!

        1. Daniel Raphael says:

          Israel likely would scoff at the suggestion that it is not sustainable to hold a country prisoner, as it has done precisely that with Palestine. That aside, the enduring question appears to be just how far–and using what methods–the English government is willing to go, in maintaining its de facto imprisonment of other nations in its pseudo-democratic embrace. All the talk about legal niceties and how things might appear to this or that audience are of interest, but are entirely subsidiary to the core question of what manner and degree of force England is prepared to employ.

          1. Iain MacLean says:

            Having lived in England, I see no will or ill will of the English people to keep Scotland in a union against its stated will.

            The key beliefs and motivation to try and keep Scotland in the union against its will, stem from the british / English nationalism of those in the british establishment who would view Scottish independence as a loss of face in front of the international community.

            Johnson could not give a fig for Scotland, over 30 years as a politician and columnist he has repeatedly proved this view, all he cares about is how history will treat the man who lost the union.

            The labour movement in Scotland which was the key foundation of the union has disappeared and splintered, most moving to YES, this leaves a rump with no feeling, understanding or vision for Scotland. The labour movement’s demise was facilitated by the tories, now ironically labour and tories are like two peas in a pod, best buddies. An uneasy coalition whose reason to be is to stop Scotland from becoming independent.

            The foundations for the union are long gone, it’s rootless, the uk government do not have the support from either England or Scotland to keep Scotland a prisoner, we need to seize the moment post 06th May and go for the final push!

          2. Pub Bore says:

            You’re right, Iain; the original rationale for the Union is long gone. If the kingdoms of Great Britain were still independent of one another, I can’t see any reason why either of their governments would now want to unite. The Union abides only as a matter of habit and tradition.

  2. Tom Ultuous says:

    Personally I hope Johnson does go down the “no referendum” road. The narrow lead ‘Yes’ currently has will be easily wiped out by state media’s project fear.

    1. Iain MacLean says:

      Fool Scotland once, shame on you, fool Scotland twice, shame on us!

      Project fear can only work once!

      1. Tom Ultuous says:

        I doubt that Ian. It seems to work every time in England. The media managed to get the independence polls from 58% to 50% with a bit of NS trivia set against a background of the tories pillaging and raping the “UK”. Johnson’s refusal to grant a referendum would build anger and support.

        1. John Learmonth says:

          Don’t blamethe media. Do you take any notice of it?
          No you don’t so why do you presume anybody else does. Unless of course you are better than the ‘gammon’? Are you and if so please tell us why……

          1. Tom Ultuous says:

            Sure thing John. Rupert Murdoch never influenced a living soul. Just like advertising. The “extras” spent by the Leave campaign never influenced anyone. Nobody fell for the lies on the side of the bus. The DUP spent their 250K “donation” on a pro-Brexit advert in the metro (not available anywhere in Ireland) purely as a wealth distribution measure. The new Andrew Neil channel won’t move anybody to the right. Nobody is influenced by flag waving. People are too intelligent to be influenced by soundbites. The tories just keep parroting them because they like the sound of their own voices. These days you’d be forgiven for thinking “UK” politics was all about uniting the stupid. There’s a clown on Question Time tonight who was once given an hour long programme on the BBC to tell us how all the problems in this country are down to the middle classes using underhand means to get their children into higher achieving state schools.

            Am I better than the stupid. No, it’s all luck. Where you’re born, how intelligent you are, the drive you have, your health blah, blah. That said, if I died and was told I would be reincarnated as a human being of average intelligence I’d request I be sent back as something more intelligent such as a dolphin or a potato. The thought of being so stupid that a division of Eton clowns could take the piss out of me is unbearable.

  3. Graham Ennis says:

    So now the kissing has to stop. In all its power and nastiness, London will impose its fiat on the Scots.
    All it has to do is refuse a section thirty order.There is nothing that Sctland can do about this, in a practical
    sense. Its a big NO!.
    But: international law says that if a recognised entity like Scotland votes for yes, and is not granted a section 30,
    then the London Goverment is breaching international law.
    The result is going to be “Immoveable object meets infinite force.
    The practical consequences of this are grim. At that point, the Queen in London can suspend the Scottish parliament.
    If it then ignors the edict, and continues, as the Catalans did, then inevitablyu thje London Goverment have to either shut up an d watch events
    unfold, or as the Spanish Goverment did, use military violence.
    If and when the Scots and the UK are forced down that path, it will be a grim outcome.
    Scots will not blink at the idea of national liberation, and as Lenin said, “It takes but a single spark to ignite a prairi fire.
    So in that case, violence will be inevitable. There will emerge a strong contingent of Paramilitary Scots under no ones control.
    Emergency laws will be forced on the Scots, the Parliament shut and blocked offg, and history will decide who was right.
    Thios in itself is utterly horrifying. It means the equal of another Irish war, but on the UK mainland.
    Ther recent one took 30 years before the London Goverment saw sense.
    So some very serious thought needs to be given to this situation.

    1. Chas Gallagher says:


      I’ve been warning of this scenario since before 2014 and it really is such a shame that the London brit/nats establishment can’t learn from the histories of previous conflicts written by their so-called learned educators at Ox/Bridge. It wasn’t just Ireland, Malaya, Kenya, Cypress need I go on?

    2. John Learmonth says:

      Who are the ‘Scots’?
      In the meantime pubs are open, go and have a drink and calm down and stop talking bollocks.
      There is no similarity between Eire in 1918 and Scotland now.
      CALM DOWN!

      1. James Mills says:

        ” The pubs are open ” ?? Where do YOU live ?

          1. Pub Bore says:

            Except for takeaways.

    3. Pub Bore says:

      Which Scots will not blink to use political violence to impose their will on the generality of the Scottish people? Is this some sort of wet dream of yours, Graham?

  4. Daniel Lamont says:

    Your point, Mike, that the discussion is taking place in Oxbridge rather than in Edinburgh is telling. Why is that? The informed discussion should be taking place in Edinburgh University as well. I am aware of the work of individuals such as Professor James Mitchell but not of any more co-ordinated research and analysis. The remit of the invaluable Centre on Constitutional Change is perhaps too wide to undertake the role. The University ought to be hosting proper public debate and provide analysis to undergird that. However, I am not holding my breath since its focus seems to be on marketing ‘the Edinburgh Experience’ rather than undertaking anything more controversial .

    1. Pub Bore says:

      Yep, I suppose the University’s mission has traditionally been the rather less prescriptive one of attracting scholars to its ‘universitas magistrorum et scholarium’ in Edinburgh. How on earth does that serve the Cause?

      1. Daniel Lamont says:

        And your point is?

        1. Pub Bore says:

          …that the University should function as a university, where scholars come together in community to pursue their own education rather than research prescribed/commissioned by other communities of interest.

          Why ‘should’ this discussion be taking place in Edinburgh University? If there was sufficient interest within the community of scholars that comprises the university there, then it would be taking place.

          And isn’t it indeed taking place? Do you know this for a fact? Given the breadth of scholarship that’s attracted to Edinburgh University by its canny marketing, I’d be surprised if the political constitution of the British Isles isn’t being discussed.

          All in all, I reckon you’re just knocking Edinburgh University for not being ‘Scottish’ enough; that is, for not following a nationalist agenda.

          1. Daniel Lamont says:

            These issues may be being discussed but we should know about these discussions if they are taking place. The University states that its Vision and its Mission Statement is as follows:
            To recruit and develop the world’s most promising students and most outstanding staff and be a truly global university benefiting society as a whole.
            Our Mission
            The mission of our University is the creation, dissemination and curation of knowledge. As a world-leading centre of academic excellence we aim to:
            enhance our position as one of the world’s leading research and teaching universities and to measure our performance against the highest international standards
            provide the highest quality learning and teaching environment for the greater wellbeing of our students and deliver an outstanding educational portfolio
            produce graduates fully equipped to achieve the highest personal and professional standards
            make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world, promoting health, economic growth and cultural wellbeing.

            These are admirable intentions which I support and I would draw your attention to the last clause of the Vision and to the final element of the Mission which specifically speaks of a ‘socially responsbile contribution to Scotland’. Ciaran Martin’s report raises issues about the future of Scotland. I was reinforcing and supporting Mike Small’s point that it was interesting that such issues were not being discussed at Edinburgh University and I am pointing out that it lies within the University’s own mission to do so. I am arguing that the University is a public body, funded to some extent by public money, and leading an informed debate is something that it should be doing. You accuse me of attacking Edinburgh University as not being Scottish enough. I have made no such suggestion. Please don’t accuse me of saying things that I haven’t said or implied. It might well be that such a debate – especially given the diversity of such a large University – could well be strongly opposed to Scottish Independence. My point is that the University should be conducting or informing such a debate and that it should be accessible to the general public as part of its role. Much relevant material may well be being published in academic journals but unless you have access to an academic library such publications are inaccessible to the public at large.

          2. Pub Bore says:

            Yep, I’m with you there, Daniel. Edinburgh University’s work in the field of British constitutional politics should be better publicised.

            Indeed, our universities should be democratised more generally, and there’s no practical reason in the digital age why their resources and publications can’t be made freely available to the public. Making Edinburgh University a ‘university without walls’ would indeed represent ‘a significant… and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world, promoting health, economic growth and cultural wellbeing’, in keeping with its corporate vision.

            The sticking point is that this would render the University’s knowledge-base valueless as a commodity and the University itself thereby unsustainable under its present business model.

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