Independence is a process not an act

1 Nov

Scottish Independence through a process of incremental powers




The idea of national sovereignty is increasingly becoming redefined, as nations form unions, federations, groupings and alliances. Nevertheless it is from a position of national sovereignty that these decisions are made and from within the nation state. The nation state historically is a political construct formed over time in which incremental acts of national popular will are reflected in a process towards Independence. The idea of Independence as an evolutionary process is illustrated through the following (brief) examples drawn from Canada, Jamaica, Australia, India and Ireland. Though Scotland was never quite a colony nevertheless it has acquired political characteristics of governance that can be called a culture of ‘coloniality’.


Canada is an early example of the transition from a self-governing (home rule) British semi-colony into a fully independent state through an evolutionary process. Like Australia, Canada acquired sovereignty over a period of several years making it almost impossible to give a particular date for Independence. Andrew Heard offers this explanation:

‘The Supreme Court of Canada reflected this uncertainty when it said that Canada’s “sovereignty was acquired in the period between its separate signature of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and the Statute of Westminster, 1931…”

However, the development of this independence had its roots before 1919, and was not actually completed until well after 1931.

Indeed, symbolically-important legal traces of Canada’s colonial status were only shed with the passing of the Canada Act by the British Parliament in 1982’.

From A Heard 1990

Undoubtedly there were periods of doubt, uncertainty, frustration and disappointment yet Canadian Independence was realized.


Jamaica became a colony of Britain during the Cromwell revolution and remained so until 1962. However after a series of major labour riots in the late 1930s Jamaica gained universal suffrage and home-rule by the mid 1940s. The 1950s saw Britain deal with the clamour for Independence across the West Indies by introducing a Federation (1956) but with substantial variance in population and little sense of common values (save for cricket) the Federation collapsed when Jamaica voted in a referendum (1961) to pull out and go it alone. So in August of 1962 Jamaica declared Independence but kept he Queen as head of state. (When Jamaica pulled out of the 10 member federation

,the Oxford historian and PM of Trinidad and Tobago Dr Eric Williams declared ‘one from ten leaves nought’)!

So for Jamaica the journey was long and hard-fought yet the people declared their sovereign will and it was realized.




Australia assumed a de facto form of internal-federalism with a first stage Independence (self-rule) by the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act of 1900. However the more formal legal dejure Independence came much later partly by the Statute of Westminster 1931. This Statute granted increased sovereignty that was not formalized by London until the passing of the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act of 1942.

Although this 1942 Act was assumed to grant full Independence it took another 44 years (1986) until Australia held supreme constitutional sovereignty preventing Westminster from repealing or preventing any Acts of the Australian Parliament. This final legal Independence was created by the passing of the Australia Act 1986 in Westminster and Canberra and signed into law by the Queen.

To this day Australia does not have an Independence Day but rather it celebrates Australia Day.

So from these examples there is no single all encompassing act called Independence The de facto Independence in practical terms ie utilitarian /functional sovereignty was established way back in 1900. Australia assumed the functions of independence incrementally prior being granted the status.

The idea of an incremental acquisition of power over time is a genuine alternative to a ‘one- time act’.


India had several political setbacks and indeed suffered many acts of British brutality before acquiring its hard-fought Independence in 1947.


Nearer to home, the Irish people didn’t allow one or two political defeats to stifle their process of Independence. From the Irish Home Rule Act of 1914 (enacted in 1920) to the Irish Free State of 1922 the 1937 republic of Ireland act and finally the 1948 Act demonstrates again that independence is a torturous process; a process of struggle.


Indeed, the enactment of sovereignty doesn’t end with a change of flag and a new anthem (not Flooers please).

It continues through the broadening of public engagement in governance, greater economic opportunities and fairness, deepening the opportunities for development through education and greater commitment to international peace and the protection of the environment.


The Scottish Referendum setback is an incident in time: history will record it as part of the great virtuous journey towards that most fundamental act of social justice: the sovereignty of the people expressed through a liberal democracy.


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