Scotland – “A Terrible Beauty Is Born”, by Duncan Sutherland

Guest post.

Since Sunday morning, when the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, answered a question on a BBC Scotland television programme known as Politics Scotland concerning a House of Lords advice note which had been circulated on the subject of legislative consent in relation to legislation giving effect to Brexit which would have to be submitted to the Scottish Parliament, her answer has been picked up and spread around Europe by distinguished media organizations from ARD in Germany to La Stampa in Italy (not forgetting VilaWeb in Catalonia).

To the apparent astonishment of the interviewer, Gordon Brewer, who is not accustomed to getting direct answers to direct questions, Ms Sturgeon said that the legislative-consent motions giving effect to UK withdrawal from the European Union would not be passed by the Scottish Parliament and that Brexit could thus be blocked.

Under the existing constitutional arrangements, however, it is theoretically possible for the UK parliament to over-ride decisions of the devolved Scottish Parliament, although this has not yet occurred, as the consequences of doing so have always been considered to be potentially very serious. The First Minister has conceded that decisions taken by the Scottish Parliament would indeed probably be brushed aside in this unprecedentedly extreme situation, but the consequences of such a break with convention would no doubt add fuel to the flames in the present volatile atmosphere, which would, of course, suit her purpose admirably.

I should perhaps add that it is worth noting with reference to this technical issue that in the debate following the UK prime minister’s statement in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon Angus Robertson, the leader of the very large Scottish National Party group of MPs, which now constitutes the third-largest political force in that chamber and the only unified one of any consequence, delivered a quite remarkable speech in which he eloquently confirmed the rebellious rumblings emanating from Edinburgh. That is to say that he stated that, as 62% of the Scottish voting public had voted to remain in the European Union, every single one of the 32 local-authority areas in Scotland having returned a majority vote for Remain, the Scottish Government has, as the First Minister has made clear, absolutely no intention whatsoever of letting Scotland be removed from the EU even if that means holding another independence referendum. The ashen faces of the ladies and gentlemen on the government front bench showed, I venture to suggest, that they understand that in the present dangerous circumstances the Scottish Government will have to be treated with utmost circumspection, not least as that nice Mr Juncker in Brussels has apparently let it be known through his spokesperson that his door is wide open for First Minister Sturgeon.

It is a sobering thought that one hundred years ago a large group of moderate Irish nationalist MPs was present in the House of Commons in a period of national emergency. They had persuaded the Liberal government of the day to legislate for Irish Home Rule, but implementation of the legislation was suspended on the pretext that nothing should be done until the war with Germany was concluded. Unfortunately for the gentlemen on the government front bench, the people of Ireland did not agree, and, in consequence of this, moderation gave way to extremism, which produced an armed rebellion in April 1916, the Easter Rising, which was quickly suppressed but nevertheless succeeded in creating the Irish Free State in the following decade. Although Scotland is, of course, not on the verge of any kind of armed rebellion, it is in no mood to be fobbed off.

Brexit appears to have changed everything. As Nicola Sturgeon has said, the United Kingdom which a slim majority of Scottish voters elected to remain with in the independence referendum of 2014 “no longer exists”. As the poet WB Yeats wrote at the time of the Irish rebellion in 1916, “All changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born.”


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