Call it a foible, but I’m always very careful with my language. I always ask for a cola at the bar rather than a coke, I always make sure I use the correct term of Britain, Great Britain or UK depending on the situation and I always refer to Scotland the nation rather than Scotland the country.
That was my approach before today at least. However, as has been pointed out to me (by James), Scotland is actually, or at least can accurately be referred to as, a country. Consequently, I may have to rethink some things.
“A country is a region legally identified as a distinct entity in political geography. A country may be an independent sovereign state or one that is occupied by another state, as a non-sovereign or formerly sovereign political division, or a geographic region associated with sets of previously independent or differently associated peoples with distinct political characteristics” – Wikipedia
You can understand therefore that my mind is now all aflutter with regard the latest suggested independence question from the unionist camp:
‘Scotland should be an independent state. Agree/Disagree’
For me, the word ‘state’ conjurs up images of US states (e.g. Nebraska) or rogue states (e.g. Libya), neither constitutional arrangements that I would equate with the SNP’s ambition of an independent Scotland. France, to me, is not a state, Brazil is not a state, they are countries, and that is what Scotland should aspire to be, glossing over the fact, of course, that it is one already, apparently.
So, my initial reaction to this new suggested question was to consider that the following would be a considerable improvement:
‘Scotland should be an independent country. Agree/Disagree’
However, as above, and no doubt in many a person’s mind (albeit not mine), Scotland is a country already, so what exactly would we be voting on? Lawyers, lick your lips now.
The leaders of both sides of the debate may not always act like it, but a basic requirement of whatever the independence question turns out to be is that it should mitigate any risk of legal dubiety or public confusion. I have to gloomily conclude that the inclusion of ‘country’ risks inducing that very problem, though I still personally rail against the term ‘state’.
Alex Salmond’s supposed preference (assuming he really does prefer to just have the one question as opposed to two), is as follows:
Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?
The ‘agree’ element of the question is supposedly loaded, though those objecting didn’t seem to mind so much when the remarkably similar devolution question was asked: “I agree that there should be a Scottish Parliament.”
Perhaps therefore, the optimal question and the best compromise is as follows:
‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent state?’ Yes/No
The panel that came up with the question announced today are Lord Stewart Sutherland, Dr Matt Qvortrup and Ron Gould, as set up by Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives. Male, pale and stale one could argue, but independent experts nonetheless, albeit with singularly biased paymasters.
I suspect, as subtle and insignificant the differences may to many appear to be, that to “agree” or not to agree will not be the only question for this particular question, but a debate around ‘country’ versus ‘state’ is only really just getting going.
For me, I’m knackered just thinking about it, and given today’s self-searching revelations about what is a country and what isn’t, I’m dropping my opinions for now and just going to sit back as the debate ensues.
With a cola, because at least some definitions are still dependable.