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Out! – Article in The Sunday Herald


OUT: By Rev David Robertson

Sunday Herald 12 Jun 2016

“Scotland free by 93” is an SNP slogan from the dim and distant past. It has now been replaced by “an independent country in an interdependent Europe”. Nice soundbite but what does it mean? It all has to do with the vexed question of sovereignty and what it means to be an independent, free country.

In Scotland it has been the mantra of the Scottish National Party for a long time that sovereignty should lie with the Scottish people.

search-2  Gordon Wilson….in a bygone era….

But now there has been a significant change within SNP thinking. The argument is for an independent Scotland within the EU because ‘sovereignty’ in the modern world is never absolute and needs to be shared. Modern Western democracies were based upon the Christian premise that only God is sovereign and that everyone else, governments, families and individuals, share or reflect that sovereignty. The separation of church and state was key to the development of liberal democracies. The irony is that when the State replaces God, it too often assumes absolute sovereignty. But most democrats recognize that sovereignty is limited. If we wish to have international co-operation, trade agreements, peace etc, then it will mean that we voluntarily limit our sovereignty, unless we want to become like North Korea. The question then becomes, what is the difference between an independent country in an interdependent Europe and an independent country in an interdependent UK?

Our voice in Europe would be smaller than it is in the UK. Furthermore by any standard the EU is much less democratic than the UK parliament. We can at least vote out our MPs; we cannot vote out the most powerful political group in the EU – the commissioners. The notion that a people should determine its own policies is surely one that is core to the SNP, or indeed any democrat. Handing power over to other nations and corporate interests is against everything the SNP should be standing for. Scotland’s fishermen, farmers and industrial workers should be governed by Scotland’s politicians, not those of either the EU or the UK. It is a strange kind of independence when you are not free to make your own laws, or your own trading agreements.

The EU means a diminution, not only of sovereignty, but also of democracy. We are handing power away from our elected representatives to an unelected political executive (the EU commission). The irony here is that when the SNP, Labour and other self-styled progressives give us reasons for staying in the EU, they cite things such as workers rights. What they are in effect saying is that if Scotland governs itself we could not be trusted to have workers rights. Instead we have to rely on unelected Eurocrats to protect us from ourselves. The SNP say they want us to have a stronger voice in Europe – but that voice is pointless if we have no power. The way that the EU is set up at the moment, there is no possibility of that happening. If anything the EU is going to become more centralized. As one left wing commentator observed:

“Every pro-EU argument boils down to ‘You can’t trust the plebs’.”

What does this handover of sovereignty mean in practice? It means that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) can over-rule the SNP government on minimum pricing of alcohol, despite a democratic mandate. It means that the Scottish government commitment to denying companies who evade tax from bidding for public procurement contracts (as announced at the STUC in April) would be struck down by the ECJ.

As regards sovereignty it is also worth pointing out that we are not just talking about fishing, minimum alcohol pricing, the shape of cucumbers. The Treaty of Lisbon makes clear that the EU aspires to be a federal state with its own armed forces and its own foreign policy, which member states will be required to follow. The real question on the June 23 is not whether we wish to remain in the EU but whether we wish to join the United States of Europe, where the sovereignty of the Scottish people will be so diminished that we might as well call ourselves a county instead of a country. We will be reduced from regional status within the UK to sub-regional status in the EU.

On the other hand, if the UK votes to leave the EU it will mean more powers and sovereignty for the Scottish parliament. Fishing would be devolved to the Scottish parliament. Who is better to run the Scottish fishing industry – democratically elected Scottish government ministers, or Brussels bureaucrats?

What is disturbing here is that the vote on June 23 is not about Scotland being an independent country within the EU (the EU has already made its opposition known to the idea of an independent Scotland being welcomed into its club); it is about whether the UK remains in the EU. By standing with Cameron and Osborne, Nicola Sturgeon is unwittingly putting back the dream of Scottish independence for many years. The SNP are urging us to vote to remain in an undemocratic EU where we will be represented by an unelected commissioner appointed by the Conservative government. It is the worst of both worlds.

David Robertson

Spokesman for “SNP for Leave” and former Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland


  1. Sovereignty and democracy.

    Thank you for this as it starts where those on the leave side on the national ITV debate last week struggled with the question of definition of sovereignty from the audience. They didn’t really know what it is. Sturgeon’s answer, to me, was incoherent. She floundered and was rattled by the marvellously scalpel like succinct summing up of her arguments by the leave side and that summing-up has been expanded here by David. It was said that she was keener to be ruled Brussels than parliament. Gisela Stewart, labour MP, was also wonderfully clear on democratic sovereignty, I was impressed. All the leave side knew what sovereignty in the UK is.

    Yesterday, The Times had some very good information of the tortuous, undemocratic workings of the EU organisations and regulation and law making. (Sclerotic is how Gisela Stewart described it on TV.) Evidently there is only one judge from the UK. And the number of MEP,s have greatly reduced.

    In the same newspaper, former law Lord, Lord Phillips, always considered in his career, wrote a short letter in favour of leave based on democracy and sovereignty.

  2. Sorry, it was those on the remain side who struggled with sovereignty, not the leave side.

  3. I’m more looking forward to the rest of the UK being kept in by Scotland voting Remain. John redwood et al may just lose there taste for being ‘Better Together’!

  4. Calderwood,

    The irony is that that would be a truly democratic vote voting against democracy, a democratic vote that you do not have in the EU, It’s interesting that you have not engaged in the debate, which is the superficial norm.

  5. It’s good that you’re not part of generation Snowflake, but it’s not good when a wind-up is seen as earnest trite superficiality, as a there is no one over whom to have a gloating glow of superiority. Instead, the wind-up becomes wound down, unravelled. Been there, done that and it is a hollow undoing of sinnful self realisation.

    But there is grace in your admission, Calderwood. Just use your hard won democratic right to vote in the UK, as seems fit to you.

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