The Crimean and Scottish Referendums compared

One of the oddest things about the Western response to events in the Crimea is the assertion that the referendum on whether the people in the Crimea wanted to join Russia or not was “illegal” in international law.

This writer can find no reference in attested international law relating to the conduct of referendums.  There is no mention of referendums and their conduct in the United Nations Charter, for instance.  If there were, it would doubtless spell out the minimum conditions necessary for a referendum result to be binding on the people affected.

The conditions for the transfer of a whole people from one international status to another would most likely be the most stringent – a minimum proportion of the electorate actually voting (e.g. 75%), a minimum proportion of those who voted voting for a change, e.g. two thirds.  These two proportions would mean a bare one vote majority of the electorate in favour of the proposed change would suffice.  Most people would think this far too small a majority for a step which would transfer almost half the electorate into another state against their will – different passport, different rights of travel, different tax authority, different laws.

The Scottish Separation Referendum, September 18th 2014

Yet this bare minimum will not have to be met in the forthcoming referendum on whether Scotland should remain in the United Kingdom or break away to form a separate independent country.  All that is needed for this momentous step is a majority of one of those casting a vote.

Residents of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (even Scots) will not have any say, let alone a vote on the issue, although their security and livelihoods will be greatly and adversely affected by a vote to separate Scotland from the United Kingdom.  The Sunday Telegraph in its editorial of 30th March said, “the people of Scotland  (who are they exactly?) have a perfect right to choose independence”.  That’s rubbish.  This referendum is absolutely not just about the people on the electoral rolls in Scotland.  It’s about all British citizens in the United Kingdom.

Who has managed, or rather mismanaged our affairs to bring about this particular referendum, a constitutional monstrosity which makes the Crimea referendum look like a model of democratic propriety?

The first Scottish vote on Devolution, 1979

The first proposal for a Scottish Assembly, which was actually voted on, was contained in the Scotland Act of 1978.  This was devised by the Labour government as a way of shoring up its vote in Westminster elections, in the light of the threat from the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP)[1].  The referendum in 1979 resulted in a 51.6% vote in favour of an Assembly – with 48.4% against.  However only 63.8% of the electorate voted, so the proportion of the electorate in favour (32.9%) fell well short of the 40% stipulated by the Scotland Act.

After its election in 1997, the Labour government brought forward another referendum on the devolution issue which was approved by a majority of 74.3% of those voting, being about 44.6% of the electorate, still decisively less than 50%.  The Scottish Parliament, the first for 292 years, was duly opened by the Queen on 1st July 1999.  In the Scottish general election of 2011, the Scottish Nationalists won 69 seats out of 129 on a minority of the votes (45%) and formed a government without the need for other parties’ support.  The SNP leader, Alex Salmond, continued as First Minister and immediately set about providing for a referendum on complete separation from the United Kingdom.

The Edinburgh Agreement of 15th October 2012: Collapse of the UK Government’s authority

This was signed by Alex Salmond as Scottish First Minister and David Cameron as United Kingdom Prime Minister.  The fact that under the devolution settlement of 1998 constitutional matters were deemed to be the exclusive province of the UK government, seemed not to matter a jot to the UK Prime Minister.  In the usual prideless manner of the English functionary class, he allowed himself to be dragged 400 miles north of the British capital by the minority leader of 8% of the UK population to fix the arrangements under which that leader would break up the UK itself.

The undemocratic nature of the Scottish referendum arrangements

While there is no precise definition of “democratic” to suit all circumstances, there are some simple tests of what is undemocratic.

Arguably the most fundamentally undemocratic arrangement would be one where a substantial proportion of those profoundly affected by a proposed change – in for instance their national status – had no say in making the change.

A second fundamentally undemocratic arrangement is one which proposes a change in national status of a person and citizenship rights attaching to that status on the basis merely of a one vote majority of those voting, rather than, as provided by other countries in constitutional matters, by typically two thirds of those voting, or a majority of those affected, whether voting or not.

Not only are the citizens of the UK not currently on the electoral roll in Scotland excluded from the referendum, but to add insult to injury the following categories of foreigner resident in Scotland are eligible to vote:

  • Republic of Ireland
  • All 26 other EU countries (French, Romanians, Latvians, etc., etc.)
  • Commonwealth citizens

In other words, the list of qualifying people is the same as that for the European and local government elections.  So in a close result, a handful of foreigners would have a decisive say about the very nature of the United Kingdom.

One might have thought that a British Prime Minister would have had the simple guts to insist that, as in British general elections, only British citizens would have a vote on something which affects them more than anyone else in the world.

Consequence of Cameron’s surrender to SNP demands

The terms effectively agreed by Cameron on October 15th 2012 and the feeble Electoral Commission[2] which is supposed to monitor those things, are fundamentally undemocratic on both the above principles.  This makes the arrangements for the Scottish referendum an appalling travesty of democracy.

As it stands, if turnout on September 18th were the average of the devolution referendums in 1979 and 1998 – about 63%, one third only of the Scottish electorate could precipitate the following consequences:

  • The whole Scottish electorate, about 4 million people, plus their children, would be claimed as Scottish citizens, and no long eligible for a British passport and British consular services abroad.
  • Those in Scotland who already have British passports would not be called on to surrender them, but renewal would automatically require them to re-affirm their British citizenship[3].
  • Those in Scotland who do choose to remain British would come under pressure from the Scots Nats to revoke their British citizenship, or be excluded from a range of jobs in Scotland.
  • Those Scots living in the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland who chose to opt for Scottish citizenship could find themselves excluded from the top ranks of the UK Armed Forces, the Police and the Civil Service, possibly even the BBC.
  • Those Scots living abroad, essentially under the protection of British embassies in case of trouble with the local authorities, would most likely hold on to their British citizenships and passports, but may feel they have compromised their Scottish identity which today is perfectly compatible with British citizenship.
  • Scottish passport holders would have to pass through the foreigners’ immigration channel at Heathrow, Cardiff, Belfast, Manchester when travelling to and from Scotland via the UK.
  • Given the SNP’s stated policy of encouraging immigration, there would be no alternative to installing border checks along the England-Scotland border to ensure that immigrants did not use Scotland as a backdoor to England.
  • An independent Scotland will find itself outside NATO and the EU and will have to establish a new currency and central bank.  Any idea of an independent Scotland  retaining the Queen as head of state will have to be agreed with all 16 of the countries of which the Queen is head of state.  This will not be automatic and will take time.
  • Specifically UK assets in Scotland, notably the Royal Navy nuclear submarine base at Faslane and the RAF base at Lossiemouth will have to remain under UK control, probably using the sovereign bases in Cyprus as a model.
  • The future Scottish navy and airforce will be shrunken affairs – the Republic of Ireland, often cited by the Nats as a model for their idea of an independent Scotland, has 8 patrol boats, no fixed wing aircraft, and 13 helicopters.
  • Likewise, without the full complement of teeth arms: Royal Artillery, Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Engineers, Armoured Corps (tanks and light tanks)[4], Intelligence, Signals, not to speak of Air Transport Command, the three battalions which the SNP propose to retain will constitute in effect a gendarmerie only capable of operating in Scotland and as UN peace-keepers.  Not many opportunities for the Scottish martial tradition to offer a rewarding career there.
  • The removal of the four regular battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland from the British Army’s order of battle may well be positively welcomed by some who feel that in the successive Defence Reviews, Scottish battalions have been protected at the expense of the rest of the British Army, some of whose regiments have been forced into over-drastic amalgamations.  These could be reconstituted if the 4 regular Scottish battalions were withdrawn.
  • Contrary to Alex Salmond’s comforting words about negotiations after a vote for independence, Scottish negotiators will not be confronted by the usual soft Foreign Office types, but by MPs at Westminster representing the UK people.  These will be adamantly opposed to giving the departing Scots an easy ride, a sort of divorce dowry – help into the EU, NATO, UN, WTO, generous pensions arrangements and so on.  The attitude will be, “You have made your bed, now lie on it”.
  • If as the polls presently indicate, the Scots electorate vote, “No”, there will be a bright future for Scotland in a United Kingdom with revitalised manufacturing and fishing industries offsetting the decline in oil revenues.

Scottish independence – a feeding frenzy for lawyers

All this terrible disruption of the most fundamental of all human rights – people’s nationality, freedom of movement, national defence –  is for what?  To assuage the vanity of one man, Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP,  who evidently relishes strutting on the world stage[5], being fêted by assorted minor states, talking a lot at the UN, telling the Scottish people that the soft English will concede anything if you make a big enough noise.  Not this time though.  The extraordinarily mean decision by his Scottish government to charge students from the rest of the UK university fees, while they charge EU students nothing, like “their own” students, will disincline the rest of the UK to grant a departing Scotland any favours[6].

Unpicking arrangements stretching back hundreds of years will take years of uncertainty and dispute, generating huge fees for the legal establishments in Scotland and England, impoverishing all UK citizens.

The Crimea – a simple process by comparison

Why are Obama, Cameron, Hague and co so fussed about the Crimea’s referendum which, while not perfect, registered 97% approval to leave the Ukraine on an 82% turnout, i.e. 80% of the electorate in favour?  There is no way the Scots electorate will vote even half this for leaving the UK, yet we hear nothing of concern from Obama about the undemocratic nature of the Scottish referendum and the daily harassment which opponents of it are subjected to on Twitter and Facebook.


No Scot needs to be deprived of all the advantages of British citizenship or career opportunities in what is still a major military and economic power in the world.


Please will readers implore all those they know who have a vote or whose family and friends have a vote to use that vote on September 18th to reject the destructive, undemocratic proposal to break up the United Kingdom.


[1]  The SNP obtained 5 Westminster seats in 1974.

[2]  Long overdue for abolition and replacement by an efficient organisation dedicated to upholding representative democracy in the UK.

[3]  It should not be assumed that the English, Northern Ireland and Welsh people would waive this requirement, any more than they would agree to a currency union with an independent Scotland.

[4]  It is not known if the SNP have considered the future of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards which currently operate Challenger 2 main battle tanks at the British Army base in Bad Fallingbostel.

[5]  Salmond recently led a Scottish trade delegation to China, complete with photo-opportunities with a Chinese vice-premier.

[6]  Ironically, if an independent Scotland successfully applied to join the EU – which might take 10 years if Croatia is any guide – English, Welsh and Northern Ireland students would, under EU rules, pay the same as Scottish students, i.e. nothing.

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