I may be one of the people Lesley Riddoch is referring to when she says,
Yessers worry (more privately) that side-stepping the pivotal issue of independence, means citizens’ assemblies (CAs) will be pointless talking shops.
I am definitely a “Yesser”. Although I’m not known for keeping my concerns private; and my concern isn’t that Citizens’ Assemblies (CA) will be “pointless talking shops” – not in any general sense. It is merely that my enthusiasm for CAs is tempered by the fact that they bring nothing meaningful to the “pivotal issue” of Scotland’s constitutional status. In that regard, it is inevitable that they will be seen as a bit of a distraction – particularly by those Yes activists who have a sense of urgency about the constitutional issue perhaps not shared by Lesley.
Let me be clear; I am very much in favour of Citizens’ Assemblies. I think it is a superb idea. As is anything which promotes or facilitates popular engagement with and participation in the democratic process. The CA concept has much in common with the kind of second parliamentary chamber that I have long favoured. A Delegates Assembly, rather than being directly elected and thereby embroiled in party politics, would co-opt members from qualifying organisations such as trade unions, professional associations and single-issue campaign groups. CAs are similar enough that it would be odd indeed were I to support one and not the other.
But the constitutional issue is, as Lesley allows, pivotal. Everything turns on it. Literally, everything. There is no issue of Scottish public policy, no facet of life in Scotland, which can be divorced from the constitutional question. It is inevitably so given the fundamental nature of constitutional politics. Underlying everything is the matter of who decides. The question of where ultimate power lies and whence legitimate political authority is derived. Every policy debate eventually comes down to the question of who decides.
Which is why ‘Yessers’ such as myself worry when we read reports of ‘big names’ gathering to discuss the principles and practicalities of CAs. We worry that, among those ‘big names’ there may be more than a few of that ilk which insists we can have any kind of independence campaign we want so long as it is positive and good-humoured and receptive and constantly explaining itself and happy and clappy and BritNat-hugging and so on. We worry that, as so often happens, a good idea will suffocate under an accumulation of well-intended ‘guidelines’.
We worry when we see headlines such as that in The Herald on Monday (8 July) proclaiming ‘Citizens’ Assembly ‘is not about whether Scotland should be independent’. We are only slightly reassured when the co-chair of the CA explains that this is due to the fact that all of the things relating to independence that the CA might discuss, such as whether Scotland should have a second referendum, have already been decided. We still worry because, sensible as the limitation David Martin imposes on the CA’s remit may be, we are all too aware that other limitations and ‘guidelines’ can be made to appear just as sensible.
We worry that David Martin’s remarks appear to have have been prompted by a perceived need to reassure the CA’s Unionist critics. We worry because we know where this kind of pandering to British Nationalist whining leads.
We worry not least because David Martin couldn’t resist having a pop at the First Minister as he spoke to the Unionist press. We worry that he may have opened the door to Unionist ‘criticism’ of CAs solely intended to derail or sabotage the project.
We worry, not about Citizens’ Assemblies, but about what will be left when the ‘big names’ are done fiddling with them.
And, of course, those of us not stubbornly blind to the looming threat that ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism poses to Scotland’s democracy are concerned about distractions and time-wasting.
“Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation!”
So said Alasdair Gray, paraphrasing Canadian poet Dennis Lee. Words that are etched on the minds and hearts of independence campaigners as indelibly as they are inscribed on the Scottish Parliament’s Canongate Wall. But there is a concern that some may have lost sight of the fact this better nation has yet to be created. They behave almost as if the job were already done; as if we were actually now living in those early days rather than yet aspiring to that better nation.
As people get excited about Citizens’ Assemblies and other progressive developments which mark the distinctiveness of Scotland’s politics, a word of caution is advisable. Being independent is our children’s responsibility. Becoming independent is ours. Obviously, it’s great if we can give our children a bit of a head start. But we must never lose sight of the fact that the things we build today are lacking a solid foundation.
Never forget! So long as the Union maintains its grip on Scotland, everything we have and everything we hope to leave as our legacy to future generations can be swept away with a wave of jealous Britannia’s hand. Our first and most pressing priority must be to #DissolveTheUnion.
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