The day after

Funny how things work out sometimes. I was reading Andrew Tickell’s superbly scathing analysis of the British political system and its attendant media circus and immediately realised how it complemented something I’d written last the previous evening in response to a purposefully provocative comment from my old friend Mike Fenwick. Responding to my observation that the Yes movement has one thing to campaign for. The one thing that will be on the ballot paper. Nothing can be chosen that isn’t on offer, Mike asked inter alia,

…are you sure you wish the people to have no say, none, beyond one vote on all the matters that will arise?

This, as both my regular readers will surely have worked out for themselves, relates to my insistence that the Yes movement must be absolutely focused on the constitutional issue and that contentious issues around policy have to be set aside in order that the Yes movement can unite to create a force such as is needed both to impress on the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government the need for urgent and effective action and provide the visible popular support for that action when it is taken. Mike, I am obliged to stress, was not seriously suggesting that I “wish the people to have no say”. He was deploying a bit of argumentum ad absurdum to make a point. That point being that we cannot just leave to chance and/or the politicians what happens after Scotland’s independence is restored.

My reply to Mike explains why his mock allegation is so absurd. It speaks of how the restoration of Scotland’s independence presents us with the opportunity to escape the corrupting British political system described so accurately by Andrew Tickell and do politics better. I recommend that you read Andrew’s column first and then the following copied and pasted from Facebook.

Of course I don’t “wish the people to have no say, none, beyond one vote on all the matters that will arise”. What a ridiculous notion. It should go without saying that the people of Scotland will be responsible for electing all the governments after independence is restored. And, of course, we will actually get the governments we vote for.

But prior to that the people will have their say in the formulation of a written constitution. The draft of this constitution, once passed by the Scottish Parliament, will have to be ratified by the people. So it’s just daft to suggest the people’s involvement in the democratic process will end with independence. If such a thing were even a remote possibility I doubt if either of us would be campaigning for it.

The default position in a democracy should be that nothing is ever left to the politicians alone. But think about why that is. It’s not because politicians are a breed apart and inherently wicked. It’s not the politicians that are the problem but the political system within which they are obliged to function. Anyone with some awareness of Scottish politics could, I venture to say, recount more than one instance of a decent and trusted individual who having served a few years in the British parliament had become as venal and slippery as those who lend that reputation to the entire political class.

Independence is an opportunity to do our politics better. Simply leaving the British political system behind will see an immediate and possibly considerable improvement. But that will not be enough. The constitution must be used to create a political system within which decent and trusted individuals can properly represent the interests of the people without being so corrupted as to serve only the system and themselves.

Leaving nothing to the politicians alone is an ideal which is very unlikely ever to be realised. It would require something close to a perfect system of direct democracy. Which in turn would depend on the constant engagement and active involvement of the majority of electors. Until that pipe dream takes on the solid form of reality there will necessarily be much that will have to be left to the politicians – although not the politicians alone.

Never the politicians alone. Because even the best constitution we can devise will not eliminate the possibility of error and/or malfeasance. Politicians are required because human nature makes functioning direct democracy as close to impossible as makes no difference. But there must always be people willing and able to maintain scrutiny of those politicians. The British political system is as rotten as it is largely due to a near complete failure of adequate scrutiny. In this the media, the people and the politicians themselves are all to blame.

We can do better. Indeed, it would be surpassingly difficult to fail to do better even without an effort dedicated to that purpose. I am confident that such an effort will not be lacking. Confident enough to be cautiously and watchfully relaxed about what happens “one day further” than Scotland’s independence being restored.



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5 thoughts on “The day after

  1. There needs to be much more discussion of this topic. We could quite easily win independence and end up with a political system that wasn’t much better for the most people than the one we’d just left. The interested parties and powerful factions that have held back independence in Scotland won’t dissappear in an independent Scotland. They’ll still be there the day after and they’ll they’ll have a strong interest in shaping the constitution to their own interests.

    Reading up on how other countries have shaped constitutions and with what limitations would be instructive. One could do worse than study the American case, written in reaction to the corrupt British system but full of compromises that advantaged some and not others and which with time has become increasingly dysfunctional (although still wildly more functional than the British system).

    The American experience is also very relevant because Scottish thinkers were hugely influential, notable Hume and Smith on Madison, and their thoughts on the ever-pressing issue of factionalism and how to contain it remain very relevant.

    Interesting writing on American constitutional issues and its failings can be found here:
    https://balkin.blogspot.com/

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  2. Here is where Peter and I started, a post I made on his page:

    “There are, and will always be, many instances where post-indy, unlike now – we need a second chamber in the Parliament – where it will be the Sovereign people who can call our MSPs and Government to account – it’s not yet on many agendas for the changes we need, but it is one of the issues the Yes movement (I hope) can come together on, plan for, and campaign for. It’s a 300 year old lesson we just haven’t learned yet.”

    Without delving further – at the minimum it is an ability for the people to hold their MSPs and Government to account that I see as the most critical aspect – ie;, when things go wrong. And for me it has to be a position which is hard wired into the system – the Constitution. How much further it goes is a matter for debate (Could a Second Chamber simply examine legislation – or itself legislate at the furthest extreme?).

    Of one thing I remain sure that debate needs to start now, not “the day after” independence. It is now we must put any current or future politician on notice, indeed on a warning, that they can be held responsible for their actions, and have it embodied in matters going forward – (random thought) – perhaps an agenda item in a Constitutional Convention.

    That leads to the central post from Peter and the one from Alan. Do we currently have the calibre of politicians in whom we have the utmost faith to be leaders in the negotiations that will follow independence, “the day after”?

    Can they from the outset be held to account for the negotiating position they may adopt? (Think white paper 2014 or a while later the Growth Commission – as examples of how leaving them to their own devices may be far from the nest option.)

    And Alan is correct – just as the narrowing of the polls gave rise to The Vow, for sure any similar pattern will see plans laid by those we currently view as”the opponents”, albeit ironically they have as much vested interest in any outcome being positive over time (at least all those who choose to remain in Scotland.)

    Peter – I am fully aware of the need for singular focus, but events have consequences, hard as it is in these dispiriting times, we have to be prepared for “the day after”.

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    1. The ABSOLUTE horror of horrors would be for Sturgeon and Harvey to negotiate our terms of withdrawal from the TOU , we already had the white paper author Wilson I think proposing WE pay england billions in compensation WTAF , england has been stealing Scotland’s resources for centuries without a backward glance and this is the thinking by TRUSTED advisors , EH NAW

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  3. The Charter 88 list is quite good if one edited it a little so it applied to Scotland rather than the UK as a whole (and if one adds getting rid of the monarchy, for reasons well-documented by Tom Nairn): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_88. We are where we are of course because Charter 88 reforms were never implemented. in 1997 Blair and Brown had the best opportunity in a hundred years to push through reforms and all they did was put lipstick on the rotting corpse. And maybe that was inevitable. I suspect the UK state is incapable of significant reform. Its constituents parts (and that includes England) will only become modern democratic states separately but independence by itself guarantees nothing but opportunity. One has to create the opportunity and then seize it.

    My answer to your question: “Do we currently have the calibre of politicians in whom we have the utmost faith to be leaders in the negotiations that will follow independence, “the day after”?” Hell no! Even if the politicians were of a ‘high caliber’ (whatever that is) it should not be left to politicians alone. It’s if nothing else there’s a conflict of interest. This is far too an important an issue. There would have to be broad participation in framing the political and legal structures of the new state to ensure proper representation, transparency and accountability are cemented into the foundations and to give it legitimacy.

    Some politicians are better than others but I am inclined to Peter’s view of politicians “It’s not the politicians that are the problem but the political system within which they are obliged to function.” There’s a Catch 22. Holyrood is bastard child of the British State. How is a bad system going to give birth to the good? How are our politicians who are already captured by interests and factions going to give birth to a system that guards against such?

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