Whenever the issue of Hong Kong independence is raised there is a good chance that comparisons with other separatist movements will pop up in the debate. Scotland is just one of the more popular examples which can be used in this game of whataboutery.

The point is not even half as clever as those who use it think it is. The genuine and ever-expanding devolution settlement for the Scottish Parliament is a world away from the ever eroding ‘one country, two systems’ formula imposed on Hong Kong by China.

The Scottish Nationalist Party
The Scottish Nationalist Party. Photo: Wikicommons.

Furthermore, pro-Beijing voices use the suppression of separatists in other countries as justification for clamping down on freedoms in Hong Kong. Undoubtedly, many human rights abusing countries treat separatists appallingly.

However, this should not be the bar which Hong Kong measures itself against. The Chinese Communist Party and successive UK governments have taken very different approaches to challenging separatism within their borders.

Not that these blindingly obvious differences will stop this equation being made. The other day a rather amusing comment, along these lines, was made by a protester outside the Foreign Correspondence Club when they hosted pro-independence activist Andy Chan. The protestor asked: “Would the UK Parliament invite Scottish separatists to give a speech?”

As someone with a fairly good working knowledge of the British political system, perhaps I can help. The answer to this question is: Yes.

In the United Kingdom, we have free and fair elections, and this can often lead to a diverse range of political parties gaining seats in our parliament (and believe it or not, this includes ones the Government does not like!).

Unlike the Hong Kong Government, we do not ban candidates or parties from standing in elections for advocating — or not opposing sufficiently — separatist goals, as has happened with Andy Chan and numerous other young activists.

We do not ban political parties either, even the ones with little public support. At election time we have all sorts of parties standing from the bizarre Monster Raving Loonies to the vile far-right National Front. Not that these two examples are in anyway comparable to those decent and noble Hong Kongers, of all political persuasions, who are fighting for real democracy.

andy chan hong kong independence fcc protest
Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

When fringe parties or non-conformist candidates do win in Britain, as controversial as it might seem to Pro-Beijingers, we let them take their seats.

In the UK parliament, winning candidates must take an oath to the Monarchy (an outdated and unnecessary procedure in my opinion) but we are fairly liberal with this process. We do not, unlike the Hong Kong Government, concoct an oath-taking scandal to expel the winning candidates from office.

Pro-Beijingers would be right to question the sincerity of some of those honourable members currently sitting in the House of Commons. Some Members of Parliament even caveat their oath with: ‘I believe in an elected head of state, so I take this oath in order to serve my constituents’.

Veteran Labour parliamentarian, and staunch republican, Dennis Skinner has been mumbling his pledge for years and has become famous for his anti-Royalist heckles during the Queen’s State Opening of Parliament. If only Hong Kong politicians could enjoy this freedom.

YouTube video

As a result of our vibrant democracy members of the Scottish National Party (SNP), who advocate the separation of Scotland from the rest of the UK, have been elected to the British parliament in large numbers for many years.

This not only means that they can use the green benches as a platform to speak but their MPs can actually vote on legislation and even scrutinise defence and national security policy as part of our select committee system. Currently, the SNP have 35 seats which makes them our third largest party in Westminster.

Worse still, for someone like me who believes in the Union, the SNP are currently ruling up in Scotland! They have been in control of the Scottish Parliament since 2007, while in recent years Scotland’s First Minister, the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, has repeatedly threatened another independence referendum.

That would be like having Chief Executive Andy Chan backed by a Legislative Council stuffed with Hong Kong Nationalists and Youngspiration members. It would mean the possibility of actually having a referendum to decide who governs Hong Kong.

Legislative Council
Photo: LegCo.

This is what we did in the UK after the SNP won a majority in the Scottish Parliament back in 2011, and in 2014 55% of Scottish voters chose to keep Scotland in the UK.

But this is hardly a secret. Yet when I, as a British citizen, write or tweet about democracy in Hong Kong this is always thrown at me by Beijing lackeys.

As I have said before I am in favour of the Union, but being against one form of independence does not necessarily mean opposing all other separatist movements. Each case should be taken individually and considered within the context of each country’s political situation.

Furthermore, this is not an argument about the feasibility of independence in Hong Kong but rather about if and how this debate should be conducted. As I have written above, the way these sensitive subjects are handled in the UK and China are very different.

Belief in true freedom and democracy means supporting a people’s right to self-determination even when you think the status quo should be maintained.

If the Scottish people, via their parliament, would like to call for another referendum then there should be one. Like last time it should be a free and fair contest and if ‘No Thanks to Independence’ wins again we should still allow the debate to continue long after the result has come in.

In the meantime, London will not resort to kidnapping booksellers who criticise Tory cabinet ministers. A vibrant press, including new publications which advocate independence, will be allowed to flourish. Academics and artists will not have to self-censor out of fear of England’s invisible hand. And I for one will not be standing outside conference halls calling for Nicola Sturgeon to be de-platformed.

This is what it means to live in a free society – and such freedom should be offered to the Hong Kong people so that they too can openly debate their future.

Gray is a writer based in Taipei who regularly comments on Taiwanese, Chinese and Hong Kong politics. Previously he worked in human rights advocacy, and for many years was an activist for the UK Labour Party. Follow him on Twitter.