Arc of Prosperity

Scottish Independence within the EU – with a Scandinavian Slant


A fax democracy?

Abandoned Fax Machine
Abandoned Fax Machine by Abhisek Sarda, on Flickr.
There was a rather odd article by professor Vernon Bogdanor, David Cameron’s former politics tutor at Oxford University, in The Guardian recently.

In the first half, he seems to argue that Scotland will have a lot of influence — although he makes it sound like it would be a bad thing because we might not always want to copy Westminster:

[T]he EU, despite its rhetoric, has not succeeded in establishing a common foreign or security policy. Indeed, in most of the foreign policy crises of the last 25 years – the first Gulf war, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Iraq war – the EU has been divided.

An independent Scotland, therefore, could decide its own foreign and defence policy. The SNP proposes that Scotland should become a non-nuclear state. An independent Scotland could, if it so wished, leave Nato. And we only have to look across the Irish Sea to appreciate that Ireland has considerable scope for independent policies. Whereas in 1914 Ireland, as part of the UK, was a combatant in the first world war, an independent Ireland in 1939 chose neutrality in the second. It makes a great deal of difference, therefore, which country one belongs to.

However, he then seems to change his mind and starts arguing that Scotland will become a fax democracy in thrall to Westminster:

Scotland would no longer send MPs to Westminster. Scotland would be represented in London not by MPs and by a member of the cabinet, the Scotland secretary, but by a high commissioner. So Scotland would have no political leverage over decisions made at Westminster.


An independent Scotland would have no right to a shared currency or shared social union. Its only right would be to propose them. It would then be up to the rest of the UK, a country in which Scotland would no longer be represented and would have no electoral or political leverage, to decide. The terms of independence could not depend on Scotland alone.

A yes vote would be a vote to disclaim the union. It would not then be possible for Scotland unilaterally to choose which aspects of that union it was able to retain. The nation would have to negotiate for what it now enjoys as a right.

The position of an independent Scotland negotiating with the rest of the UK would resemble that of Norway negotiating with the rest of the EU. Norway is in the position of a lobbyist – sometimes called a “fax democracy”, because the proposals of the council of ministers are faxed to Norway for its comments. But whatever these comments are, it is rare for the council to alter its proposals.

An independent Scotland would be a mere lobbyist in Westminster – and would also be in danger of becoming a fax democracy.

This is really odd. Professor Bogdanor seems to confuse the independence negotiations with life as an independent country, and it’s strange how he can even begin to see Scotland’s relationship with the rUK as similar to Norway’s non-membership of the EU.

Of course the independence negotiations will be conducted between Scotland and the rUK, not between Scotland and the UK (in other words, Scotland wouldn’t be represented on both sides of the table). However, we’re talking about a negotiation here (“a discussion set up or intended to produce a settlement or agreement” according to the CED), so obviously it won’t be a case of the rUK deciding the terms and conditions for independence unilaterally after receiving a fax from Scotland.

Once Scotland has become an independent country, it’s true Scotland will be represented by a high commissioner in London (Commonwealth countries tend to call their emissaries high commissioners rather than ambassadors). However, Westminster laws won’t apply north of the border any more, so Scotland won’t have any reason to fax comments down to Westminster. Of course some laws will have implications for Scotland, but that won’t be unique to rUK laws — no country exists in complete isolation — some Norwegian or Irish laws will also be of interest to Holyrood. This is one of the reasons why countries have embassies abroad.

The reason Norway is occasionally called a fax democracy is because Norway is part of the EU’s Single Market, but without being part of the EU. This means that when the EU makes decisions in this area (through the normal EU institutions — the Commission, the Council and the Parliament), Norway is not represented at all. All Norway can do is to send a fax begging the EU to take its views into account, but if the EU ignores the requests, Norway will still have to implement the decision. This would be almost like withdrawing the Scottish MPs from Westminster while remaining part of the UK.

It seems to me that professor Bogdanor hasn’t really understood that Scotland will be a completely normal independent country after independence. We won’t depend on Westminster any more. There won’t be any need to send them any faxes.

9 thoughts on “A fax democracy?

  • Bugger (the Panda)

    It never fails to amaze me that these highly academic analyses, H M Treasury, Oxbridge and Prof Tomkins, without touching the really biased “think tanks,” all make the fundamental error of assuming that Scotland will follow the same trajectory that the UK is taking and the rUk will continue to take.
    Of course we will not and the front rank chess pieces of Oil revenue, social policy and Trident should tell them that.

    The Treasury uses their datasets because they have no other. Academics follow in the footprints of failed prophets because they are afraid to think differently and be called false.

    Still the Labour Party parrots the mantra of neo liberalism because their marketing men point out to them that the SE of England is the field of victory or defeat.

    Lobotomised, the lot of them.

    We have more original thinking and objective analysis on blogs in Scotland than they have in all their think tanks, focus groups and broadsheets.

  • Now I understand why Cameron is clueless about Scotland. He got it from his politics professor at Oxford, who doesn’t understand basics.

    I think that one of the biggest con tricks is that an Oxbridge degree is an advantage in the business world. Obviously it is not. And from what I hear places like the treasury are full of them.

    The sooner we get out of the union, the better.


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