David Green: The Government should tell the SNP that any referendum must give parts of Scotland the right to remain

24 Aug

David Green is CEO of Civitas.

Now that the SNP has a coalition agreement with the Scottish Greens it will call for another independence referendum if it thinks it will win – but not before. Instead of allowing the SNP the advantage of choosing the timing, the Government should seize the initiative and challenge the right of the SNP to speak for all Scots.

The SNP claims it has democratic legitimacy because along with the Greens it has a majority in the Scottish assembly. But, if the Scots have a democratic right to leave the UK, then parts of Scotland also have a democratic right to leave an SNP-ruled nation. The Government should tell the SNP that any referendum must give parts of Scotland the right to remain part of the UK.

There is already a movement that wants Shetland to be a Crown Dependency, like the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. When the SNP used the slogan “It’s Scotland’s oil” back in the 1970s, some in Shetland retaliated with “It’s Shetland’s oil”. The unexploited Cambo oil field to the West of Shetland promises to bring prosperity to the area for at least 25 years, but under pressure from the Greens Nicola Sturgeon is withholding support.

There is a similar, although smaller, independence movement in Orkney and in 2020 Orkney Council agreed to explore options. The constituency of Orkney and Shetland consistently votes for the Liberal-Democrats, a unionist party. At the last election the SNP vote was only 34 per cent.

Building on the Shetland Movement of the 1980s and 90s, Wir Shetland was founded in 2015 to campaign for Crown Dependency status. In September 2020 Shetland Council voted 18-2 in favour of exploring options for independence from Scotland.

The attractions of becoming a Crown Dependency are understandable. The British Government is responsible for defence and foreign policy, but all domestic affairs are the responsibility of the local elected assembly. There is a common travel area and a customs union ensuring the easy movement of goods. The relationship with the British state is directly via the monarch, not the Westminster Parliament. Becoming a British Overseas Territory is another constitutional alternative, but ultimate power lies with the Westminster Parliament and becoming a Crown Dependency gives greater autonomy.

And then there are the border counties. Lowland Scots have long had more in common with England than Scotland. At the Battle of Culloden in 1746, when the Jacobite rebellion was finally defeated, four of the 16 infantry battalions fighting for George II were Scottish and one of the three battalions of horse was Scottish.

The three constituencies closest to England consistently vote Tory. If offered the chance to secede from Scotland to join England, who knows what the outcome might be? At the last general election there was a clear majority for unionist parties. In Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, the SNP vote was 39 per cent; in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, the SNP got 38 per cent, and in Dumfries and Galloway, 41 per cent.

The UK is worth defending because of our great achievements together in upholding democracy and the maximum of personal freedom. And it is especially worth defending against the small-minded grievance mongering of the sectarian SNP. Historically Scots were known as the high-minded champions of a civilised society. Scottish achievements justify legitimate patriotic pride, but that patriotism should never be confused with the divisive nationalist animosity fomented by the SNP.