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International Law on Self-Determination, and Scotland




The SNP built its submission to the Supreme Court around an appeal to the International Law on self-determination. However, this element of International Law is not intended to apply to democracies, or to justify the fracture of democratic States!


(Pic: AFFG at our Great British Union Day Rally, George Square, Glasgow, 1-5-21.)


Scottish nationalists often make reference to Scotland's supposed "right of self-determination under International Law".


For example, the UN "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights" was signed by the UK in 1976.


Article 1.1 states:


"All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."


The SNP's submission to the United Kingdom Supreme Court in September 2022 was based upon this point and quoted that article; as if Scotland is somehow denied "the right of self-determination", the right to "freely determine our political status", and the right to "freely pursue our economic, social and cultural development." (You can find its submission at tinyurl.com/efxauu6h )


Clearly a supposed denial of self-determination does not apply to a country which self-determined in 2014 to stay in the UK; and subsequently self-determined in the General Elections of 2015, and 2017, and 2019 to send representatives to, and to participate in, the British Parliament; and which self-determined as part of the UK electorate in 2016 to leave the EU; and which even has a devolved Parliament to further exercise political self-determination.


The Example of Canada

Fundamentally, the International Law which upholds the right of self-determination is referring to people without democratic means to pursue their political life.


Furthermore, this legal matter has already been considered, and adjudicated upon, in the Anglosphere.


In 1998, the Canadian Supreme Court addressed this point in relation to Quebec, which had held a referendum on 30 October 1995 to separate from the rest of Canada.


The Court considered the question: "Does international law give the National Assembly, legislature or government of Quebec the right to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally?"


The Court concluded:


"a right to secession only arises under the principle of self-determination of people at international law where 'a people' is governed as part of a colonial empire; where 'a people' is subject to alien subjugation, domination or exploitation; and possibly where 'a people' is denied any meaningful exercise of its right to self-determination within the state of which it forms a part.


"In other circumstances, peoples are expected to achieve self-determination within the framework of their existing state.


"A state whose government represents the whole of the people or peoples resident within its territory, on a basis of equality and without discrimination, and respects the principles of self‑determination in its internal arrangements, is entitled to maintain its territorial integrity under international law and to have that territorial integrity recognized by other states.


"Quebec does not meet the threshold of a colonial people or an oppressed people, nor can it be suggested that Quebecers have been denied meaningful access to government to pursue their political, economic, cultural and social development. In the circumstances, the 'National Assembly, the legislature or the government of Quebec' do not enjoy a right at international law to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally."

Reference re Secession of Quebec, 20 August 1998, at

(3) Question 2, tinyurl.com/3afdu587


Substitute Scotland for "Quebec" and the UK for "Canada" and it applies exactly to our situation.


Scotland and its people are not "colonial subjects", or "oppressed", or "denied access" to modern democratic expression, or treated "unequally", or "discriminated against" – despite what some Scottish nationalists like to fantasise.


Note also the paragraph which states that, in this case Canada – and in our case the United Kingdom – "is entitled to maintain its territorial integrity under international law and to have that territorial integrity recognized by other states." The "right of self-determination" is not intended as an excuse to fracture democratic States.


The International Law which upholds the concept of self-determination is not relevant, and does not apply, to Scotland's situation; and the UK is entitled to maintain its territorial integrity.


We addressed this matter in our Busting Indy Myths Part 17, on 10 August 2022:



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