"The parallels between the leave campaign and the SNP are ironic as well as instructive"by Jim Gallagher / April 27, 2016 / Leave a comment
Flashbacks are said to be a reaction to stress. So I must have been more stressed during the Scottish referendum campaign than I had realised. Today, I keep hearing the cadences of Alex Salmond in the utterances of Chris Grayling and Michael Gove. The similarities are instructive as well as disconcerting.
The European debate had barely been initiated when Chris Grayling used the S-word. The EU referendum was all about wresting back sovereignty from Brussels. For Scottish Nationalists too, it was all about sovereignty. Both ignore the paradox at the heart of their statements: the fact the people are making this choice is an exercise of sovereignty. If Britain can choose whether to leave or remain, it must be sovereign. If the Scottish people can choose whether to be independent of not, they must be sovereign too. In both cases the fact that you can ask the question answers it.
Sovereignty is the slippiest of concepts. For some in the leave camp, the sovereignty to be recovered is the Westminster Parliament’s. In truth, Parliamentary sovereignty is merely a legal “rule of recognition”—laws properly passed in Parliament are recognised by UK courts, so a Westminster Act repealing the European Communities Act of 1972 would duly be put into practice by the UK courts. This kind of sovereignty has never been lost.
In truth, assertions of sovereignty are simply a reasonably polite way of expressing resentment about interference by foreigners, who might not have our interests at heart. Perhaps the SNP’s most successful argument was that independence would mean that decisions about Scotland would be taken by people who were concerned only about Scotland. They at least avoided adding explicitly “and not by the English”, though frequent pejorative references to “Westminster” were intended to have precisely that effect. Brexiteers are blunter: they want “Brussels” to stop interfering in British lives.
When pressed, both sets of secessionists acknowledge that there will be need to be cooperation afterwards. Implausibly, both argue cooperation would be better once union had been ended. This isn’t just wishful thinking, it’s rhetorically useful—anyone who suggests that…