ADMIT it. Had you heard of Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown before he made his appalling statement referring to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as “the principalities”?

The MP for the Cotswolds has risen to the giddy depths of the treasurership of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, but otherwise has barely registered with the public, apart from a couple of rows over his links to China and his naughty-but-entirely-legal expenses debate a few years back.

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Yet in one sentence he has sprung to prominence, and the Old Etonian should not be allowed to forget that word principalities for some time to come.

What's wrong with 'principalities'?

In using that term he has displayed the typical Tory arrogance towards the other countries - Scotland has never been a prinicipality which is a territory ruled over by a prince such as Monaco and Liechtenstein - in the United Kingdom, just like his Tory colleague Penny Mordaunt MP and her remark about the devolved nations being territories, but I contend Clifton-Brown has also done the cause of Scottish independence a big favour.

He has not only laid bare the Übermensch mentality of the Tory backwoodsmen, but also inadvertently raised a colossal question which I believe will come to dominate political and legal discourse in the UK over the next two years – how could the countries of the UK go their separate ways?

More importantly, how can Scotland legally regain its independence? Boris Johnson and his Unionist cultists can revel in the knowledge that the Tory government with its 80-strong majority – they’re in power until late 2024, don’t forget - can simply refuse to allow Scotland to have a second independence referendum, the so-called Section 30 route. They will almost certainly be backed by the UK Supreme Court - itself a breach of the Act of Union - which was told in 2018 by Lord Richard Keen, the then Advocate General, that “the UK Parliament is sovereign, the Scottish Parliament is not". In strictly legal terms, he was right.

Why is Scotland not a 'principality'?

First of all, a small lesson for Clifton-Brown and the Tories on why Scotland is not, and never has been, a principality. 

We Scots are an ancient nation. What was recognisably Scotland was forged by the Union of the Scots and Picts under King Kenneth MacAlpin who began the process of creating Alba, the ancient name for the Scottish kingdom, around 843 – the date accepted by most historians as the foundation date of Scotland.

The Kingdom of England was wielded together by Aethelstan some 84 years later in 927, and unlike Scotland, the English surrendered their sovereignty to Cnut the Great in 1016 and then the Normans under William the Conqueror 50 years later. So we need no lessons in nationhood from the younger part of the Union. Oh, and the current monarch descends from Mary, Queen of Scots, whose son James VI became James I of England, which in historical terms makes Elizabeth Queen of Scotland first and England second. 

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The point is that Scotland was a nation-state in its own right for 864 years before the Union of Parliaments in 1707, achieved by the parcel of ignoble rogues for their own ends. We have not ever ceased to be a country in 1178 years, even when briefly occupied by the English under Edward Longshanks and Oliver Cromwell. 

In Scotland, most of us believe that the people are sovereign. That item of Scottish faith goes back a very long way, and was most notably expressed in the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. Sadly, since 1707, whether we agree or not, the UK Parliament with the monarch has legally been sovereign.

The question is how do we assert the sovereignty of the Scottish people? The First Minister has pledged a referendum before the end of 2023, but how is that to be delivered legally when the Tories are dead set against it, even as their own supporters would happily see England becoming independent. Democracy will triumph? Don’t make me laugh.

Forget Wales and Northern Ireland just now. Their situations are quite different, though they will also take umbrage at Clifton-Brown.

It is Scotland which wants independence as many polls, electoral and opinion, have shown. It is Scotland which must be "free by 23", and I believe it is time for the SNP government and its Green allies to start preparing the grounds for exiting the Union by going over the heads of the England-dominated Supreme Court to the international courts and the United Nations, which recognises that Scotland is a nation but allows only the UK a seat in its halls. 

So how does that happen?

I think the key to such an exit lies in the words of the Act of Union passed by the English and Scottish Parliaments. Nowhere in the Act does it say that Scotland will cease to be a country. Indeed, Scotland’s separate legal system and royal burghs were specifically preserved, with the national church and the education system preserved in other legislation.

The opening words of the Act of Union are specific: “That the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England shall upon the first day of May next ensuing the date hereof and forever after be United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain.”

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Given there is no "exit clause" in the Act, it is the word kingdom which is key. At that time almost every country was a kingdom, a word that I contend means "state". There were only a handful of republics, so kingdom and state were analogous. The UK was and is a unitary state now made up of four countries, and history shows us that such unitary states can come and go - the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the former Yugoslavia spring readily to mind, while the current Germany only became a unitary state 30 years ago.   

What those of us who believe in independence are trying to do is to dismantle the unitary state that is the UK, which is only accepted as a country by tradition. The Act of Union was supposed to create a partnership of equal countries, but that has not been the case in the 314 subsequent years and this kingdom, this state, is certainly not United now.

Perhaps Clifton-Brown’s silly intervention may make people think about Scotland’s real status within this unitary state, and our best lawyers must be put to the task now of making the case for Scotland before the ultimate judges of our nationhood – every other state on Earth other than the UK.