There has been a lot of talk recently about the upcoming Referendum on Independence scheduled for 2010. Former Labour stalwart Brian Wilson has said that Holyrood has no power to hold such a referendum. That view frankly is tosh.
The proposed Referendum Question issued by the SNP in their manifesto has been carefully worded so that it meets the legal requirements of the current devolution settlement. Whilst Westminster legally retains ultimate control on Scottish independence within the devolution settlement, any Yes vote for independence by the Scottish people would surely force the matter. Not only would United Nations International Law be on the side of the Holyrood referendum result but the International precedents of the Kosovo and East Timor referenda Pro Independence results are strenously backed by the UK Westminster Government. If its good enough for Kosovo and East Timor it must be good enough for Scotland!
In practice, any Pro Independence result must be observed by Westminster. If they refuse to acknowledge the result then they not only would face International derision and sanctions but the democratic will of the people of Scotland would create such political tension to force its hand. In a such situation I would imagine the Holyrood Government would just declare unilateral independence anyway.
It won’t go that far, obviously. Westminster must observe the result. Better that and enter into negotiations with Holyrood regarding oil and gas revenues and Scotland’s share of the national debt. Under UN International Law, Scotland holds 95 % of the oil and gas of the UK. A unilateral declaration of Independence would see Scotland take at least that, perhaps 100 % and leave the UK to face a lengthy battle to get its 5% back. Also Scotland may just ignore the UK’s national debt entirely in such a situation.
Scotland and the UK don’t need to look very far for a precedent on Advisory Referendums. Denmark granted Greenland its own government in 1978, the law coming into effect from May 1 1979. Denmark retains matters of foreign policy in this arrangement.
Greenland remained part of the EU (then EEC) but it formally withdrew in 1985 after an earlier Advisory Referendum voted Against staying in the EEC. Although Denmark had retained foreign policy as part of the Greenland government arrangement, it recognised the Advisory mandate of the Greenland people. As argued with a Pro Independence vote for Scotland, it had little other choice.
This is also the precedent on Scotland remaining a member of the EU after independence. Like Greenland we would need to have a referendum on the matter if we wanted to withdraw.
Similarly, like Greenland, if such a referendum produced a No vote we would need a similar treaty like the Greenland treaty of 1984 to settle any pre-existing commitments Scotland had to the EU before any withdrawal. The EU does not lose it nations easily. There are reports that Greenland is now considering rejoining the EU again.
It may be that Brian Wilson will need persuaded of the Greenland precedent. He has landed a job as chairman of Flying Matters; an organisation setup to promote the Aviation industry’s views on climate change. In reality, its partisan views are regularly criticised by various climate change groups. Ironically Mr. Wilson was a former Energy minister at Westminster.
It was in July 2007 that he became embroiled in a row with Greenlanders complaining that their views were ”apocalyptic green spin” when an Inuit representative, Aqqaluk Lynge, arrived to give evidence on the Stansted Airport expansion claiming the ice floes of the Arctic were being harmed by global warming, and that holiday aviation flights were one of the causes.
If Mr. Wilson wants to disdain Greenland or its precedents then his views deserve to be ignored.