Stephen Bailey: The SNP’s fallacious narrative on Scotland’s place in the UK

Dominating the discourse is one Nicola Sturgeon, restless in her quest to yank Scotland free from the Auld Enemy, but at what cost?

By Stephen Bailey

Why the U.K. is a unitary nation and not just a lose confederation of sovereign nation states.

It’s a fact of constitutional law that the U.K. is a unitary nation. What does this mean?

A unitary nation is a country in which a single authority holds ultimate and exclusive political sovereignty over the entire territory within the borders of that country.

In the U.K.’s case, this is the House of Commons (Westminster). It’s the supreme law maker for the entire U.K. and no other body can pass legislation that can supersede it:

‘Parliamentary sovereignty is a principle of the U.K. Constitution. It makes Parliament the supreme legal authority in the U.K., which can create or end any law. Generally, the courts cannot overrule its legislation and no Parliament can pass laws that future Parliaments cannot change. Parliamentary sovereignty is the most important part of the U.K. constitution.’

– taken from the U.K. Parliament attachment near the bottom of this article.

Over the last few years, the Scottish National Party (S.N.P.) have attempted to perpetuate a narrative that the United Kingdom is nothing more than a lose confederation of sovereign nation states and that therefore Westminster has little or no political authority over Scotland.

However, this is both historically and constitutionally illiterate and so is fallacious.

Scotland had indeed been a completely sovereign independent nation before the Acts of Union of 1706 – 07 (she’d gone into regnal union with England in 1603 when James VI of Scotland had assumed the English throne after Elizabeth I’s death, but retained her political independence and kept a separate parliament.)

However, after 1707, Scotland pooled her sovereignty and resources with England (and Wales plus Ireland) to form a single composite country, Great Britain, in which sovereignty resided solely with Westminster. Great Britain (and after the 1800 – 01 Acts of Union with Ireland), the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland became a unitary, or single, country with constituent parts (Scotland and England (with Wales since the mid – Sixteenth Century) from 1707 onwards and Ireland was added after 1801.)

At this point, Scotland ceased being an independent sovereign nation. This is still the case today, even after devolution.

Therefore, this trope that the S.N.P. are trying to establish in the public’s mind of the U.K. as just a lose confederation of sovereign nation states is simply specious and based on a deliberately fallacious historical narrative.

A unitary country does not necessarily have to be a highly or overly centralised one in which all power over that nation’s constituent parts is concentrated in a single authority. Administrative devolution would de–centralise power over purely Scottish affairs from Westminster to local councils, organisations and individuals in Scotland. So keeping power and democracy localised to Scotland whilst 100% guaranteeing the Union as there is no devolved legislature through which nationalism can push for independence, the major intrinsic flaw inherent in legislative devolution (the type that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have now.) The same model could be applied to Wales and Northern Ireland.

In such a unitary country, the central political authority has the ability to abolish any devolved institutions it has set up by repealing the acts of parliament that set it up originally.

Under constitutional law, there is absolutely no requirement to obtain the permission of either the devolved legislature or to hold any kind of confirmatory vote in the devolved area before doing so, although in practice this would be seen as undemocratic and heavy handed and any government seeking to abolish devolution would seek to gain a democratic mandate for doing so by putting a commitment to it in their manifesto for a general election.

If they won, they would gain such a mandate (winning a referendum on the matter would also provide an indisputable mandate):

‘…Parliament [can] repeal any of the laws implementing these changes [i.e. devolution.]’ – taken from the U.K. Parliament attachment at the bottom of this article. 

Added to this, ironically, the website of Holyrood itself contradicts the S.N.P.’s assertions on Scotland’s sovereign status in the U.K. It states explicitly:

‘Under this system of devolution Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom and the U.K. Parliament in Westminster is sovereign (has ultimate power).’

(NOTE: This is taken from the old, archived Scottish Parliament website, but the information is still up to date.)

It’s also backed up further by the website of Westminster:

‘Parliamentary sovereignty is a principle of the U.K. constitution. It makes Parliament the supreme legal authority in the U.K….’


Perhaps somebody should tell the S.N.P.?

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