Leaders: Law derives authority only from the people it serves
IT IS not exactly a shock that the House of Commons Scottish affairs select committee today warns the “overwhelming” weight of evidence shows Holyrood has no legal powers to hold an independence referendum. What is surprising is how relevant they believe that to be.
Furthermore, it is equally unsurprising that the committee concludes that any moves by the SNP-dominated Holyrood parliament to legislate for a referendum would risk “indefinite” legal wrangling, with the prospect of plans to hold a vote on Scotland leaving the UK being struck down by the courts.
In coming to such a definitive judgment, it would be hoped the MPs relied on impartial experts, but they did not, or not exclusively. For example, they cite Scotland’s Advocate General, Lord Wallace, saying Holyrood has no power to deliver even an advisory referendum, and if it did, it to would flout a “fundamental principle of democracy”. Yet, as a former Liberal Democrat deputy first minister, Mr Wallace is hardly a neutral.
From even the most cursory reading of the report, it is clear the committee has fundamentally misunderstood the way modern democracy works. Instead of trusting Lord Wallace, they would have done well to reflect on the words of Irish home rule campaigner Charles Stewart Parnell, who said: “No man has the right to fix the boundary of the march of a nation; no man has the right to say to his country, ‘Thus far shall thou go and no further’.”
It is a phrase oft repeated by First Minister Alex Salmond, encapsulating not only a fundamental democratic principle, but also a modern reality. It must be for the people of Scotland best to determine the way they are governed and that includes determining the referendum question by which they choose their constitutional future.
That future could be to retain the constitutional status quo, or move to some form of “devo-plus”, or “devo-max”, if these can be properly defined. Or it might be supporting a modern form of independence within an interdependent world.
In making the case for the rights of the people of Scotland to decide, we make no judgment on what would best suit Scotland in the 21st century. We simply believe there is an important principle at stake, which is that the Scots should determine the question, or questions, they are asked about their future.
This is not to ignore the law, but to acknowledge the law only derives its authority from the people it is there to serve. No court, in Scotland or the United Kingdom, whatever its formal powers under law, can flout the will of the people. No court can say to the Scots: “This far and no further”. The select committee might like to ponder on this before attempting to fix the boundary of the march of the nation by putting spurious legal impediments in the way of the people determining their future.
Is coalition still possible?
When it was formed there was a logic to the coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. An exhausted Labour party was ill-equipped to continue in government. The country was in the midst of economic
catastrophe. We were told the UK needed stability and the markets had to have confidence in a steadfast government.
Initially, the two parties rubbed along well enough. There was a personal chemistry between David Cameron and Nick Clegg and a shared determination to tackle the debt and deficit.
The honeymoon did not last long. After Tory MPs scuppered the Lib Dems’ plans to reform the Lords, it was inevitable the junior partner would strike back, and Mr Clegg yesterday pledged his party would not now support
constituency boundary changes, which may have helped the Conservatives at the next election.
So where do the parties stand? Having betrayed their promise not to introduce university tuition fees, been defeated in the AV referendum and now surrendering over the Lords, grass-roots Lib Dems could be forgiven wondering what purpose their party serves in office. And the
Tories are not faring much better. Their reputation for economic competence was wrecked by the Budget and its many subsequent U-turns. Their policy of favouring austerity over promoting growth and employment has been found wanting.
The coalition was a marriage of convenience. The truth is that the world has moved on and is a very different place. The question is whether there remains enough common policy ambition between the two parties to make coalition even possible, if no longer convenient.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east