The UK’s Supreme Court, sitting in London, has ruled that Scotland may not hold a referendum on Scottish independence.
The judgment is un-surprising – but also interesting.
First, it reveals that the British Union is emphatically not a union, at least, not in any modern sense.
Ask yourself what would happen if England wished to hold a referendum on an English secession from the UK union?
By contrast, the EU is a union, freely entered into. You decide to join, and, as the UK has shown, you have a right to leave. And that right to leave can be exercised unilaterally.
By contrast, any country or region wishing to leave the British Union de facto needs English approval to do so.
And that’s the intractable asymmetry problem at the heart of a union between a large English backside and 3 Celtic pimples.
The judgment is also interesting in another way. At line 78 in the judgment, it was held that: “a lawfully held referendum is not merely an exercise in public consultation or a survey of public opinion.“
This is new. I dislike referendum(b)s, viewing their plebiscite-democracy character as being at odds with a system of representative democracy. The UK’s judiciary here is demonstrating its jurisprudential elasticity by this new categorisation of plebiscites as having a legally intermediate nature, but no good will come of it. Referendums are too intrinsically febrile, and too susceptible to troll-farm / mob-capture. A system of representative democracy moves more slowly and any change emanating therefrom will be less socially divisive and longer lasting. That is, if you don’t like something, you need to get out there, form a party, sell your ideas to the electorate and get into government on your manifesto. That takes real commitment and tends to weed out the bullfhitters. By contrast, voting in a referendum is no more onerous than voting in a bake-off competition. They should be banned.