University Challenge

Whenever I mention my respect for academics and how I always think of myself as inferior to their knowledge and intellectual discipline, some of you get in touch to tell me off. I have not to be so doubting about myself and be more sceptical of academia as a title like professor doesn’t bestow common sense whatever else it represents. (I’d best be careful here as I’m interviewing one tomorrow for batemanbroadcasting…)

Well tonight I find myself quoted as part of an academic paper on the referendum. Me…in a proper university study…and I’ve only got a few Highers.


It’s called Scotland and England from a union of parliaments to two independent kingdoms and is written by Professor Anthony Carty, Sir YK Pao Chair of Public Law at the University of Hong Kong Law Faculty and Professor of Law at the School of Law of the University of Aberdeen and by Mairianna Clyde, Associate Lecturer in Arts at the Open University.


They challenge the assumption of the British government’s lawyers who asserted that independence means that when Scotland leaves the Union it leaves the rUK intact as continuator state. Those are the same lawyers, Crawford and Boyle who famously said the Union extinguished Scotland and we were absorbed into greater England. I contested that view on the blog and part of my post is used here to provide an initial counter to the government opinion, as you can see on Page Three. I’m the ‘veteran political commentator’.

Here is the link to the article which is published by Oxford Journals on behalf of the London Review of International Law Advance Access

I think you’ll find it not only demolishes the British case but chimes with everyone’s understanding of what really happened at in 1707. I quote part of the conclusion.

In 1707 the Union’s purpose was to secure freedom of trade and commerce in an imperialist, mercantilist age. But today we are managing contraction and decline and free trade and security are provided by other transnational structures such as the EU, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the UN. The Union has served its original purpose and is increasingly viewed as an anachronism but more so a dangerous one, an impediment to democracy, prosperity and security—and no longer an aid to negotiating the opportunities of the modern world as Scotland attempts to re-build her post-imperial, post- industrial economy.

Have a read at the rest because I think this is an authoritative alternative view which makes sense of our constitutional history and has an important bearing on the referendum. (Will it appear in the mainstream?) And no jokes about Professor Bateman…please.


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21 thoughts on “University Challenge

  1. Dont ! Disprove it
    I take great delight in telling ‘proud’ Naws that the UK thinks that much of them, it thinks they contributed nothing
    Spoil sport

  2. Excellent,the conclusion from page 27 resonates with me in particular as all the strands of the Yes story are knotted around what Crawford and Boyle opinion mean in practice.

  3. There’s a good number of angels dancing on a pinhead in all this. They key point is not what academics think, but what the governments of other nation states think. Governments are by and large lazy; they like what is familiar; the rest of the world is not going to be concerned about what happened in 1707. In particular, the US will want stability in Britain above all else, and will probably be first in line to sign up to recognition of rUK as continuator.

    So you can take it as read that rUK will be recognised as continuator state (which is why Yes is not making a bigger fuss about it). The possibility of disputing the rUK=successor state position is there, but it’s not a particularly high card in Scotland’s hand. Indeed, it is much less valuable than the New State= clean slate option, which allows Indy Scotland the choice of being debt-free if it wishes.

  4. Oh there’s no doubt that Crawford and Boyle’s opinion was guff. It was merely a vehicle to allow Westminster to continue on its preferred geopolitical path. They know it, we know it and pretty much I’d suppose so do most of those experts in other countries who advise on international affairs for their own administrations.

    The people who really need to know are the uninformed of our own country. They need to be aware that they have one and that they don’t need to ask anyone’s permission to have an identity or choose a path of self determination.

  5. You need not be a genius to work out the truth for yourself. Just read the historic facts. The Kingdom of England annexed Wales in 1284, (Statute of Rhuddlan). It annexed Ireland in 1542, (Crown of Ireland Act). In 1603 the Scottish King inherited the crown of England but could not form a United Kingdom, hence the designation, “James I & VI”. Then, (1688), The English parliament deposed James II but, being an independent kingdom, that did not depose the Scottish Monarchy. Hence the Jacobite uprisings from 1688 to 1745. So The English Kingdom really needed a Treaty of Union and in 1706/7 it was signed by only two independent Kingdoms. Now go and read Article I of that Treaty – it clearly only unites only the royal realms, (Kingdoms). Now read Article III. It does not unite the two existing parliaments it clearly states it creates a totally new parliament for the two already united Kingdoms. As to the myth of Nothern Ireland – the whole of Ireland was already part of the English Kingdom since the Crown of Ireland act 1542. Thus what Scotland is disuniting is NOT the Royal Realm but is the Parliament of the United Kingdom. There cannot be a United Kingdom parliament when it serves only the three country Kingdom of England that signed the Treaty in 1706/7.

  6. Well I think we should ask Mr Junker how many of the European Union states have been extinguished or perhaps the states that formed the old Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

  7. I like the phrase- ‘The first partner has become the last colony’.

    For me, this sums up the change in attitude towards Scotland which has occurred in the last half-century.

  8. Ronald McDonald’s performance on Scotland Tonight last night was proof positive that academics are no less prone to letting their opinion colour their judgement on an issue as emotional as the referendum. Although I think Prof Tomkins has done a perfectly good job of demonstrating that over the past couple of years…

    Still, it’s telling that Big Mac is the academic most often quoted by Better Together.

  9. An important thing to remember is that all of this is “made up”, kingdoms and countries and nations and laws are human fictions and alternatives can also be made up.

    To be a professor of law or of the constitution is not the same as being a scientist, who is at least nominally interested in truth.

    I notice, and keep noticing, and wish to share the observation so that you will also notice, that Prof Curtice habitually opens a pronouncement with ‘The truth is …” before giving his OPINION, not “the truth”.

    We’re humans. We don’t know the truth. Even professors. Especially professors, who have more to lose than the rest of us if someone else has a more demonstrably plausible version of the truth.

  10. Thanks, Derek. But we deserve a pat on the back for recognising your worth, don’t you think?

  11. Derek,
    I have worked with academics all my working life, having come into a profession as a late entrant myself. They are in a well protected environment and do not live in the same neck of the woods as the rest of us. I have often thought it might be a good idea for all putative university entrants to work for a year or two before going into the leafy quadrangles, to give them a sense of reality.
    It is perfectly obvious that the Act of Union was signed in different times. It could not get through any modern parliament as it discriminates against Catholics. It was signed when the English wanted to expand their empire and had the effect of preventing us from getting one, then our best brains went into the business of supporting the British Empire with the good education they got here. The world has changed massivley since then, not the least in the matter of the two catastrophic world wars and the decline of industrialism in the West. It is a dangerous anachronism, and there’s a fair few dangerous anachronisms in the Houses of Parliament that want to defend it and keep it going! I would love to see it revoked or abolished or whatever it is you say.

  12. My mother taught me many long years ago Derek that knowledge is only useful if you have the intelligence to use it. I have known many in the academic world who were dumb as posts.

  13. What an enjoyable read! ‘Professor’ Bateman deserves recognition for making this available to us. My suspicions are confirmed to have a basis in history, and the past and current rhetoric is forensically unmasked (you don’t have to be an academic, but in some cases it clearly helps).

    But couldn’t we have done with some of this beforehand or in different form? I could just see it unfolding on the telly as quite a spell-binding programme by our professionally neutral ‘national’ broadcaster.

    Please make sure this information/opinion is well circulated.

  14. Derek, your writing is a lot better than a lot of graduates. I have 2 degrees and can’t articulate my thoughts as as well as you can, so please don’t belittle your efforts. After all, it takes an intelligent mind to understand the nuances of this debate.

  15. I asked my wise old dad who was a dominie what he learned at university – reply ” how to read my daily newspaper “.

    I thought this a flippant answer until proper adulthood, then it dawned, if you can understand all the sections of a broadsheet, you are truly educated. So as journalist, Derek, take heart.

    How he would have loved to dissect the spurious articles over the last two years.

    • The purpose of university education is not knowledge per se but to teach what makes knowledge dynamic, penetrating, and powerful, and these are the skills of critical thinking, close reading, ideas and evidence-based argumentation. Or, question, question, question! Without questioning we don’t understand.

      The level of debate that the referendum has inspired in Scotland has been astounding, and far exceeds what most university students manage to attain doing the average degree, with ordinary people motivated to ask: What is this exactly? What does it mean, really? Where do they get these ‘facts’ from? Are there other facts? Are there other things going on here? Are there other ways of understanding this?

      Derek’s blog is one of the most vigorous, original and searching on the internet.

  16. Optimistic Till I Die

    As a retired academic I can confidently assert that most academics are only experts in their field (though often willing to pontificate on other matters). I can also state with confidence that, with the exception of the physical sciences, the theories of academics, whatever their strengths, are continually subject to challenge and revision. They are not written in tablets of stone and what prevails at most points in time is a social consensus where the vast majority of experts are in agreement. When the consensus is faced with a potential rupture experts can be found to argue both sides of the coin. That is what makes life interesting for academics if confusing for the lay person,. It also means that where the current Independence debate is raging all expert claims have to be treated with a pinch of salt. They are probably accurate in one sense, but likely to be selective and open to interpretation (and misinterpretation).

    Facts and figures drawn from any of the social sciences, economics in particular, are thus almost irrelevant as what is at issue is whether or not the citizens of Scotland should elect their own government and withdraw from the treaty of union. You can pick and chose economic statistics to your heart’s content and be satisfied with the conclusion but the deciding factor is ‘What do you feel is right for you.’

    Academic arguments are thus largely a distraction as all they do, if they are presented objectively and reasonably, is point out that there are alternative courses of action that can be taken. One should bear in mind that even when discussing mind boggling sums of money at a national level these translate into very little at the individual level unless one is on the breadline, and compassionate policies ought to remedy such problems rather than exacerbate them. In other words, if the ordinary voter is not overwhelmed with academically loaded information presented using unduly emotive language they can apply common sense and reach a valid conclusion. If scientifically valid information is presented as part of an emotionally loaded argument one can bet this is a politician or a journalist at work and it ought to be treated with scepticism as academics almost invariably avoid emotive terminology in their reports.

  17. You got quoted in that paper Derek because you used your journalistic gift for clarity to speak truth to power. Something others, both in academia and the media, were not doing. Yours was the best example of the views being expressed in Scotland in the debate. Academics in need of a citation or example are not sniffy about where they get it if it is germane and functional as your words were.

    There is one direct quote in my PhD thesis because it expressed a point in so apposite a manner I could only degrade it by rewording it as I did for every other citation in it. I made no apology for it, my supervisor and my examiners did not cavil or object.

    Academics, unless they be French philosophers, love clarity of thought and writing. You have developed that in your chosen field of work. Another thing about us academics, in a world of specialists you develop a respect for expertise wherever you find it. By using your words you are being accorded the respect due to an expert practitioner of your art. You deserve that respect so don’t think academics deserve your respect as some higher form of human. They deserve it, if they do, from one expert specialist to another.

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