I note both Jeremy Corbyn and Jacob Rees-Mogg claiming that the people of the UK are sovereign. Corbyn refers to “the people in whom the sovereignty rests”, while Rees-Mogg appears to acknowledge the people as the source of all legitimate political authority when he say “sovereignty comes from the people to parliament”. This is interesting because it runs totally counter to the concept of parliamentary sovereignty which underpins the British state. It contradicts the tenet that political authority derives from the Crown.
Has there been some seismic shift in the constitutional foundations of England-as-Britain? How might such a momentous transformation have occurred unnoticed until a couple of British politicians let slip the new truth in the heat of parliamentary debate?
The answer, of course, is that there has been no change. The British political elite has not undergone some Damascene conversion to the concept of popular sovereignty. What we are witnessing is not enlightenment, but expediency. It suits the purposes of the main parties of the British establishment to arrogate the authority of the people as both advance positions and pursue ends for which neither has an clear mandate.
We may be sure that this new-found enthusiasm for popular sovereignty will evaporate quickly enough whenever the evident will of the people is inconvenient. Indeed, Corbyn immediately shows signs of backsliding when he says “there is no consent in this house to leave the European Union without a deal”. There’s more than a hint in that remark of parliamentary sovereignty being reinstated.
Such is British politics. Such is the duplicity and the hypocrisy of it. Such is the systemic disdain for the electorate. The will of the people is reduced to a mere gambit to be deployed as circumstances dictate before being put back in the box until needed again.
Scotland can do better.
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