The idiocy of Scotland declaring UDI

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:

udi image 3

2. there is a somewhat pompous declaration you can sign to support the idea. A copy appears on Councillor Lee’s Facebook page:

udi image 2

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):

udi image 1In 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?

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4 Responses to The idiocy of Scotland declaring UDI

  1. Robert Peffers says:

    First of all you are correct that a unilateral declaration of independence is idiotic – but not for the reasons you imagine but for the silly use of the term as it cannot legally be used for a situation of what the democratically elected Members of the UK Parliament would be doing if they were to leave Westminster and declare the Union over.

    In the first place the term, “United Kingdom”, legally describes exactly what the United Kingdom is and what it is not. What it is not is a country – the clue is in the second word of the title, “Kingdom”, which is defined as the Realm of a Royal Personage, At present that is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of the Kingdom of England/Elizabeth Queen of Scots. The differences in title are due to a simple legal fact. In the three country Kingdom of England, (Wales annexed in 1284 by the Statute of Rhuddlan), and Ireland annexed in 1542 by the Crown of Ireland Act).

    However, in 1866 the three country Kingdom of England had their, “Glorious Revolution”, and deposed their Monarch but he remained the King of the still independent Kingdom of Scotland. In England the Parliament removed from William & Mary their veto over the English Parliament making that Kingdom a, “Constitutional Monarchy and thus a sovereign Monarchy whose powers were deferred to Parliament.

    In Scotland they did not have the law of Divine Right of Kings, having declared, in the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, that was so. This declaration also declared Scotland as an Independent Kingdom but with the people as sovereign and the Monarch their protector of the People’s sovereignty.

    In 1706/7 the two equally sovereign Kingdoms signed a bipartite Treaty of Union but part of that Treaty was that Scots Law remained Independent and it still is independent. So, with the proviso that if the Sovereign People of Scotland gave their elected representatives a proper majority mandate, and they then declared the Bipartite Treaty of Union was over the legal, “Status Quo Ante”, would be a perfectly legal dissolving of the equally sovereign partnership of. “The Bipartite Union”, Parliament.

    The actual Royal Realm is, “The United Kingdom”, and need not also end but the full and legal title of the Establishment of Westminster is, “Her Majesty’s Parliament of Her Majesty’s United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland. In other words what is wrongly called the United Kingdom is NOT the union Parliament it is Her Majesty’s joint Realm.

    Westminster never has had legal sovereignty over the Scots or Scotland except by the mandate given to the elected Members sent there by the legally sovereign people of Scotland.

    So what you are calling UDI does not apply it would simply be a declaration of a bipartite agreement ending by one signatory partner decaling it had ended.


    • James says:

      RP – She is not Queen of Scots.
      Her full title, by virtue of the Royal Titles Act of 1953, is: “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith”


  2. Robert Peffers says:

    The Definition of the word, “Unilateral”, is an adjective and it is defined as – “involving only one of several parties; not reciprocal”. So, whatever you imagined UDI meant then you are quite obviously in error.

    Here is a historic statement by Lord President Cooper, delivering the Opinion of the First Division of the Court of Session on the 30th of July 1953, that: “The principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law.”

    Thus, if a majority of the sovereign people of Scotland mandate either their elected representative in Holyrood or Westminster, to dissolve the bipartite United Kingdom Parliament it is a perfectly legal move and not UDI.

    Furthermore, a Kingdom is defined as a Royal Realm. Westminster is NOT a Royal Realm, it is the parliament of that Royal Realm and withdrawing from the Parliament does not alter Her Majesty’s place as Queen of Scots. Under Scots law no one can be Queen or King of Scotland only the Royal appointed and accepted by the sovereign people, Queen/King od Scots..

    Laughably you quoted but one of the many titles of Her Majesty to make your case. If any doubt remains all members of the royal line are given titles they legally use in the two Kingdoms of the United Kingdom that signed the Treaty of Union 1706/7.

    It is, in fact, considered an insult if the titled person uses their title from the one kingdom while in the other kingdom. For example upon a royal vehicle crossing the border it must change the royal standard on the vehicle accordingly.

    Please do proper research before splurging such stuff all over the internet and please quote your sources to back your opinions.


    • Roger White says:

      Just to clarify for anyone coming straight to Mr Peffers’ comment – I assume he is responding not to my original article (which he has commented on before – see above) but to the comment of ‘James’ since he mentioned the Queen and I didn’t. I don’t know whether James does splurge his comments all over the internet but this is the only place I’ve knowingly seen anything he’s written.


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