Open Letter from Scottish Civil Society and Other Leading Figures on the UK Political Crisis
We, the undersigned, wish to express our deep concern at the current crisis in UK politics. Democracy requires robust debate, respect for facts and for the key institutions underpinning our democracy. Currently our democracy is under attack by some of those who should defend it, and our politics is failing.
We welcome the Supreme Court’s unanimous judgement this week defending parliamentary democracy against an executive acting improperly and thereby potentially avoiding scrutiny. We are also pleased that Scotland’s most senior court played a key role in this process.
However, we condemn the response of the prime minister, Boris Johnson, both his failure to apologise for his unlawful prorogation of parliament, let alone resign, and his assertion that the Supreme Court’s eleven justices were wrong. We also condemn attacks from the government front bench at Westminster on parliament itself. Unlawfully suspending parliament is a legal, political and moral error – to accuse the re-opened parliament of moral failure, in the face of the disregard shown for democracy by the government, cannot go unanswered.
Like many others, we are also deeply concerned at the inflammatory and toxic language used by some. Divisions have grown across the UK, notably in England, since the leave vote in 2016. Now is a time for respect and reasoned debate. We find particularly inappropriate, Mr Johnson’s comments on Jo Cox who was a passionate democrat and campaigner for remain.
The UK’s reputation abroad – in Europe and beyond – lies in tatters. In Scotland, home to the Enlightenment, the undermining of the UK’s democracy and our reputation abroad looks simply toxic. Here, a large majority voted for – and still support – remain. Yet while the Brexit process has unfolded in the last 3 years, with little attention paid to Scotland, Scottish politics has remained democratic and not facing the sort of crisis we see at Westminster.
We call on Mr Johnson urgently to set an example by ending his, and his colleagues’, populist and inappropriate rhetoric and to act from now on to defend, not undermine, our democratic institutions.
Westminster has legislated against a no deal Brexit on 31st October. Mr Johnson must accept that. We need a route out of the deep UK crisis and that will require an extension to Article 50 – if the European Union will agree on that. That will give us time to hold both a general election and a people’s vote to consider whether, in the face of what we now know about a possible Brexit deal, the UK wants to go ahead with Brexit or not. It is time to end this crisis, not dig more deeply into it. By having both an election and a people’s vote we can bring representative democracy and direct democracy together again and begin the long but vital process of rebuilding a functioning democratic politics and ending divisions, anger and the risk of violence.
Professor Sir Harry Burns, Professor of Global Public Health, University of Strathclyde
The Rt. Hon Lord Campbell of Pittenweem CH CBE PC QC
Brian Cox, Actor
Professor Richard Demarco CBE, Artist
Professor Emeritus Sir Tom Devine, University of Edinburgh
Dr Richard Dixon, Director, Friends of the Earth Scotland
Vanessa Glynn, former Chair, European Movement in Scotland
David Gow Editor sceptical.scot, former European Business Editor, the Guardian
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock
Dr Kirsty Hughes, Director, Scottish Centre on European Relations
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard
Mark Lazarowicz, former MP (Labour) for Edinburgh North
Dame Mariot Leslie, former diplomat
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke, former Secretary of State Scotland and former High Commissioner to Australia
Christine De Luca, poet
Rt. Hon. Henry McLeish, former First Minister
Jeremy Peat, Economist, Journalist and Visiting Professor at University of Strathclyde
Kevin Pringle, former SNP communications director
Baron Robertson of Port Ellen, KT, former Secretary of State for Defence, former Secretary General, NATO
Bill Rodger, Treasurer, European Movement in Scotland
Grahame Smith, General Secretary, STUC
Prof. Chris Smout, Historiographer Royal of Scotland and Emeritus Professor, University of St Andrews