The Scottish Government has issued the Scottish Independence Bill, which is meant to serve as the “constitutional platform” for a new Scottish sovereign state, if Independence Day follows from an affirmative vote on the upcoming Independence referendum, about which I wrote this blog’s first entry. I first learned about this development from reading Stuart Elden’s Progressive Geographies blog, which includes Elden’s excellent analysis of the territorial aspect to the Scottish constitution bill. While there is much to look over in this fascinating document, which features a draft Constitution and a lengthy appendix describing each section in detail, and I will most likely be revisiting this a number of times before the September 18 vote, the territorial issues isolated by Elden do indeed merit the most immediate attention. As Elden observes, the redactors’ stated confidence in Scotland’s “territorial integrity” being a simple matter that international law will straightforwardly confirm seems well off the mark—especially when you consider that the explanatory section in the appendix to the constitution bill cites Aberdeen University scholars asserting that “over 90% of current UK oil and gas revenues are from fields in Scottish waters, based on international legal principles” (Chapter 2, Part 2, Section 6 here). My guess is that, if Scotland indeed repeals the 1707 Act of Union and becomes an independent sovereign state, a now Scotland-less British government would not be as sanguine as the Scottish Constitution Bill redactors about the notion that Scotland’s territory is uncontestable.
It is especially intriguing to me that the Scottish Constitution Bill both asserts that “international law” would recognize that Scotland should retain its territorial integrity that it had before the 1707 Union (Part 1, section 7) and that it will remain a constitutional monarchy with the current Queen of Britain as the head of state (Part 1, section 9) . Perhaps one reason that it is so important to keep Scotland a monarchy and to keep the current Queen as head of state (as well as her successors) is that much of Scottish territory that could plausibly be contested—namely, the Shetland Islands and Orkney Islands, both of which came into official Scottish possession in 1470 when Christian I, as King of Norway he was also King of Denmark and Sweden), defaulted to Scotland’s King James III on his dowry for his daughter Margaret, who became Queen of a Scotland with two more archipelagoes that would, in 2014, add significantly to the oil and gas reserves Scottish Independence planners want to maintain). Since the Orkneys and the Shetlands were annexed to the Scottish Crown as personal territories, it would seem that Scottish Independence planners could not have considered moving beyond 1707’s Act of Union: if they sought to abrogate the Union of the Crowns in 1603 (on which see these surveys; this union was not just a ceremonial union of the Crowns of England and Scotland in the person of James VI and James I, by the way, but also included legislation, such as the English Parliamentary Union of England and Scotland Act of 1603), then that might well enable claims by Queen Elizabeth on virtually any Scottish soil—after all, she maintains the personal throne in direct line proceeding from James I / VI.
Once again, I am quite sure I will be spending a lot of time reading this fascinating document, but I wanted to point out some of the immediate observations I had, besides marveling at how the complex territorial issues that will surely be unleashed into the world of international law with a pro-Independence vote in the referendum are optimistically reduced to a simple legal issue in the document:
I was quite fascinated by the Bill pointing out that “the principle of the rule of law continues to apply in Scotland” (Part 1, Section 15.1). Much as with William I’s method of dealing with the conquest of England—essentially claiming that the government continued as before, with simply a righting of the succession to him and some—ahem, minor changes in elite personnel—the pro-Independence redactors of this document seem very zealous to highlight continuity in the process. There is clearly a great desire to avoid any language that sounds like revolution—and indeed the major theme running through the document appears to be that the ultimate goal is simply reverting, on the sovereignty question, to the state of Scotland in 1706, while keeping as much continuity as possible.
Scotland’s status as a profoundly archipelagic country is nicely woven into the Constitution Bill, which states that the government will pay attention to “particular needs” of “island communities,” which are not reduced to a single type but seen as each having “distinctive geographical characteristics” (Part 1, Section 30).
This Constitution Bill is strikingly environmentalist: a “healthy environment” is seen as an “entitlement” for all (Part 1, Section 31.1), which falls in line with Environmental Justice views, while 1.31 also weaves into the constitution a commitment to preserve biodiversity and struggle against “climate change.” Especially for such a succinct Constitution draft, this environmentalist language does not at all seem like mere verbiage, but really stands out as a significant commitment.
Especially considering my recent thoughts about national anthems in the context of World Cup nationalism and British identities, I was intrigued to see the way in which the Constitution bill clearly confirms the Saltire (or St. Andrew’s Cross) as the existing Scottish flag, but leaves open the legislature’s ability to declare a national anthem. While implying ownership of over 90% of the United Kingdom’s oil and gas reserves was evidently not too contentious, deciding between “Flower of Scotland” and “Scots Wha Hae” (among other candidates) was too hot of a topic to handle.
One final note: although it simply states the obvious, I was struck by the simple essence of the whole independence movement, linked to a single legal act: “The Union with England Act 1707 is repealed” (Part 1, section 35). Most probably, as with the case of working out the details of territorial rights, the truth of the matter will be much more complex than a single sentence can convey—but it is indeed quite thrilling to see how all of what is at stake in the September 18 vote hinges upon this single reversal of the currently ongoing union.