I’ve just heard an ill-informed BBC 1 interviewer suggest to the FM that using a General Election as a democratic event to test the will of the people of Scotland regarding independence is somehow illegitimate or unworkable. So it seems timely to remind ourselves of what follows.
Like many I suspect, I am aware of what Margaret Thatcher is supposed to have said about the constitutional significance of a majority of independence-supporting MPs from Scotland being elected to the House of Commons. I’ve never seen an authoritative reference to this. Anyone?
The same issue was raised in the Wings Over Scotland (WoS) blog on 6 January 2020: ‘We’ve never been able to actually confirm the oft-cited “quote” from Margaret Thatcher suggesting that the SNP winning a majority of Scottish seats at a UK election would constitute a mandate for independence, …’. However, the blogger helpfully and crucially adds ‘… but here’s a verified more recent one from a then-serving Conservative PM.’
WoS then provides evidence from 1997, specifically from an article in the Sunday Times written by its Scottish Political Correspondent, Joanne Robertson:
Here the ex-Tory Party chairman, Norman Tebbit is proposing a referendum on Scottish independence. The article reveals push-back from John Major’s government. There are several ‘interesting’ things in this article but in the present context the noteworthy section is obviously this:
Before disregarding Mrs Thatcher altogether as a useful source, I recall reading a letter in the National (can’t recall date) which referred to the book, The Downing Street Years. The letter writer directs us to page 624 and ‘midway down paragraph 2’ – if only all references to sources were so precise! It reads:
‘The Tory Party is not, of course, an English party, but a Unionist one. If it sometimes seems English to some Scots, that is because the Union is inevitably dominated by England by reason of its greater population. The Scots, being an historic nation with a proud past, will inevitably resent some expressions of this fact from time to time.
“As a nation, they have an undoubted right to national self-determination; thus far they have exercised that right by joining and remainingin the Union. Should they determine on independence, no English party or politician would stand in their way, however much we might regret their departure.” (my emphasis)
On 3 January 2020, WoS returned to the same topic. It shared an article written by Ian Swanson, then Political Editor of the Edinburgh Evening News. This time essentially the same Tory ‘principle’ expressed by the Major government is being espoused by the former Tory leader in Scotland, David McLetchie in the context of an upcoming UK General Election. Note the relatively recent date, 2010!
Here are three key parts of what McLetchie is reported as saying:
Fast forward to Toryism/Unionism in the 2020s: once held democratic ‘principles’ ditched because they can with impunity – without consequential harm – given a compliant corporate media and BBC. Or so the Tories of 2022 might think!
And let’s not forget the complicity of the other British/English political parties, confirmed very recently by David Lammy MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs. From the Daily Express, 15 June 2022: ‘When asked his party’s position on a second referendum and asked whether they would rule it out, Mr Lammy responded: “Categorically”. “We are a unionist party. We believe in the union, we can rule that out categorically.”
Oh dear! Mrs Thatcher is being proved very wrong – British/English politicians are standing in the way of Scotland exercising its undoubted right to national self-determination!
On 27 June, 2022 the Daily Express ran with this headline: ‘Thatcher would have backed IndyRef2!’ Desperate Sturgeon makes bizarre claim in union bid’. Bizarre? Leaving that aside, the same article ends with this from Professor Ciaran Martin who helped negotiate the terms of the 2014 referendum on behalf of Cameron’s government:
“The UK Government is under no obligation to set out under what circumstances Scotland might become independent.”
“So at the moment, while in principle Scotland can become independent, in practice it can’t, no matter how it votes at elections, or how often it does so.”
Looks as if the Tories, the world’s most ‘successful’ political party in the world’s ‘leading democracy’ that is this precious Union, have been perfectly content to rely on other ‘principles’ when it suited! There is a big difference between legal principles and political tactics.
Acknowledgement and respect to the valued research skills and related output on such matters from Wings over Scotland back in the day!
8 thoughts on “Democracy in this Union and the convenient fluidity of Tory Party ‘principles’”
I am pretty sure I heard Thatcher express those sentiments in an aside to the SNP MP s, when they were a small band.
It should be in Hansard, but I tried to find it, and could not.
Perhaps some retired SNP MP could affirm this?
Or an honest political journalist–there were some, back then.
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There is a Marxist quote which encapsulates the Tory and unionist attitudes in this regard: “These are my principles and, if you don’t like them, I’ve got others!” Groucho Marx
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Opinions Opinions Opinions
Dig up as many as can be found
Because there is only one Opinion that matters
And that is the opinion of
The people who are governed , matters not if a Democracy, Dictatorship,Imperialist or
Because NO One can govern without consent
This is a universal truth
Those who think they can do so without consent
Always ends in one of the following
1.Eventually they must yield
Which may involve
A.) A ignominious defeat from which they never shall recover
B ) Revolution
C ) War to the bitter end
which those who govern eventually cannot keep imposing their will
Whilst those that refuse pass the resistance to their progency for ever and ever
Till the day the oppressor
Is either so weak or no longer has the stomach to continue
From strength shall follow
From weakness shall flow strength
Over to you Westminster
Take your pick, no matter what your days are numbered.
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Four interesting articles from the Law Society of Scotland website
The Union and the Law
18 June 2007
by David M Walker was Regius Professor of Law in the University of Glasgow from 1958-1990
The Union and the Law revisited
14 July 2014
by Ian Campbell CMG, former circuit judge and former Honorary Visiting Professor at the University of Liverpool
2014 Revisited: Championing Scotland in Europe
18th July 2016
by Ian Campbell CMG, Honorary Visiting Professor, School of Law, Liverpool University; former circuit judge
The Queen could be bemused
18 November 2019
by Ian Campbell CMG, Honorary Visiting Professor, School of Law, Liverpool University, former circuit judge
Able to write a piece on what they tell us at this time?
The unionists who would close off any democratic avenue to Scottish self determination have learned nothing from Northern Ireland where the establishment effectively disenfranchised a large section of the population.
When peaceful democratic processes are blocked off then people are forced to adopt other means.
I hope they come to their senses and prevent that situation from arising.
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Ireland was illegal Partitioned by Westminster 1923. Ireland did not vote for it. Universal Suffrage 1928. Home Rule Bill was scheduled at Westminster in 1914. Delayed because of WW1. There was a massive Irish Home Rule movement in 19C with major support.
If Ireland has waited 5 years. They could have voted for Home Rule/Independence. Now Ireland could vote for unification. The Irish Catholic’s were illegally discriminated against. Not treated equally. They did not have the vote.
The Masonic unionists acting illegally. Unequal and unfair. Misogynist, racist, secret and unfair. They discriminate on religious grounds. They blackball people. Not equal or fair.
Why is an illegal, secret undemocratically masonic organisation being allowed to take over the streets in some parts of Scotland. Illegal, unfair and non democratic, causing trouble and intimidating others, Again the wishes of the majority of the public and the electorate. A minority causing trouble against the wishes of the majority.
In Ireland a unelected minority of the population, took over NI. Undemocratic and unfair. The illegal Partition. Now people in NI can vote to reunify.