There’s been a lot of loose talk slopping around on social media recently about the possibility of Scotland declaring UDI. At first, I dismissed it as just another piece of nonsense associated with a lunatic fringe of Yes voters.
Now I discover
1. it is a serious endeavour promoted by an SNP politician, Councillor Pat Lee of South Lanarkshire council on his Facebook page:
2. there is a somewhat pompous declaration you can sign to support the idea. A copy appears on Councillor Lee’s Facebook page:
3. and of course, I should have known, there’s a rally planned in Glasgow’s George (sorry, Freedom) Square to promote ‘a possible plan for UDI … if the unionists fail to deliver Devo-Max’ (something that was never promised but we’ll let that pass):
In case you thought all this was the disturbed imaginings of one individual another SNP politician, Councillor Patrick Hogg of North Lanarkshire this time, has weighed in with The Case for Scotland Making a Unilateral Declaration of Independence in May 2015? on the web site that purports to be at the intellectual end of the Yes spectrum, Bella Caledonia. Says Pat No. 2:
I believe the grass-roots Yes Scotland campaign should, if we (SNP and Yes Scotland candidates) win a majority of seats in May [2015 – UK parliament elections], make a unilateral declaration of Independence and demonstrate peacefully with unswervingly disciplined law-abiding behaviour, from the day after the election result, in every city of Scotland and demand action from our new MP’s and the Scottish Government.
The reaction to this project by more sober souls on social media has been dismissive, ranging from ridicule to outrage. But the idea, and its stupidity in the Scottish context, bears some analysis.
First, what is a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI)?
Cllr. Lee seems to think it’s a lot of individual signed declarations – ‘UDI’s (sic) from all corners of this land.’ Perhaps he’s been misled by the suffix ‘uni,’ confusing it with unique individuals or a universal desire.
‘Unilateral’ of course means one-sided. One party in an existing arrangement, which in this case would be Scotland as part of the United Kingdom, says in effect ‘We are now an independent state. We are going it alone whether you agree or not.’ In fact, the implication is that the other side does not agree, otherwise why would the declaration need to be one-sided?
As for the ‘We’ in such a declaration, it would at best be an elected government, at worst some body or group that came into power through other than democratic means.
In the UK the phrase UDI is associated irredeemably with the white minority government of what was then Rhodesia, which declared UDI in 1965. After UDI the Rhodesians found they were subject to UN sanctions and had precious few friends in the world: apartheid South Africa and the then-Portuguese dictatorship were about it. I was there in 1972 and a strange isolated place it was. The experiment, as people will know, did not end well.
In fact there are various other examples of UDI, whether or not they were called that at the time. Wikipedia lists a dozen, from the USA to the Crimea. They have in common that they were all associated with some violence and sometimes prolonged and bloody war.
Is it possible that Scotland could subject itself to that sort of process?
Consider four scenarios.
Scenario 1. The status quo continues for some time, whether or not it eventually turns out to be some final ‘settled will of the Scottish people.’ That status quo as proven decisively on 18 September is that the great majority of people in Scotland do not want independence: only 38% of the electorate voted ‘Yes.’ As with some other manifestations of the desire by a minority for independence, the demand for UDI gradually fades away.
Scenario 2. The pro-independence parties make substantial and continuing electoral progress such that their representatives dominate at least the Scottish parliament and maybe Scottish representation in the UK and EU parliaments. I do not believe this will happen but if it did it is likely it would suggest a clear and sustained majority for independence. In these circumstances it is difficult to see that the UK government could deny another test by referendum of the will for independence. There would be no point in doing so if it were not willing to accept the result. In those circumstances UDI would be unnecessary.
Scenario 3. Even though it is unlikely, under Scenario 2 the UK government does not consent to independence and frustrated by the clear denial of political will Scotland’s parliamentarians declare UDI.
Scenario 4. Under Scenario 1 the demand for UDI does not wither on the vine and some at least of those involved pursue non-parliamentary and undemocratic action, ranging from mass civil disobedience to outright violence. It is successful to the extent that it somehow forces UDI on Scotland.
I have listed these scenarios in what I regard as order of likelihood, from the greatest (Scenario 1) to the least (Scenario 4). Scenario 1 I am happy with. Scenario 2 I could live with if it happened. To say that Scenarios 3 or 4 would be messy is an understatement.
How likely Scenarios 3 and 4 or might be is clearly a judgement call. I would judge highly and extremely unlikely respectively, which is why I title this post ‘the idiocy’ of UDI. Anyone checking Wikipedia’s list of a dozen historical cases of UDI will see that unlike Scotland hardly any occurred where there was a genuine representative democracy.
There remains one loose end in what will probably turn out to be a cul-de-sac in Scotland’s history – the involvement of SNP councillors in the call for UDI and the hope that more will get involved. If there’s one thing all sides agree on it is that the SNP has been a very disciplined political party. Under its new leader Nicola Sturgeon, will it maintain that record of party discipline and require its elected representatives to disassociate themselves from the call for UDI? Or is it riding a tiger it cannot get off that it unwittingly created through its insistence on an independence referendum?