Gerry Hassan aspires to a “shared, pooled, dispersed version of sovereignty which cascaded power throughout Scotland, rather than hoarding it to Edinburgh” and insists that it’s a mistake to suppose we can’t begin to realise the aspiration this side of Scotland’s independence being restored. I fear it is he who is mistaken. And it’s a mistake all too commonly made within Scotland’s independence movement.
I have often remarked that if political causes were aided by cliches and bromides then Scotland’s cause would have triumphed magnificently long before now. One favourite among those of the #WheeshtForIndy persuasion is the old saw by which we are urged to keep our “eyes on the prize”. In response to this, I am in the habit of observing that if your eyes are fixed on the prize then you’re in grave danger of tripping over the various obstacles which litter the path to your goal. The obstacle Gerry Hassan stumbles on as his gaze is fixed on an imagined land of egalitarian perfection is the manner in which the British state is seeking to use Scotland’s Councils as a power base from which to attack the Scottish Government and undermine the Scottish Parliament.
It is decidedly odd that Gerry Hassan should fail to notice or take account of this as it is an aspect of our present reality much commented upon in the media. The implications of this effort to hijack our Councils and fly them into the ‘twin towers of our Government and Parliament are painfully obvious. As is the fact that inasmuch as the effort is succeeding, to empower those Councils in the name of better democracy inevitably is to empower the very forces which pose the greatest threat to Scotland’s democracy.
When Gerry Hassan says that it is a mistake to postpone the decentralisation of power within Scotland until after independence he disregards the fact that decentralise necessarily diffuses and dilutes power. The power that is needed to resist the British Nationalist onslaught threatening Scotland’s democracy and distinctive identity. The power that is essential if Scotland’s cause is to succeed.
It was ever apparent to me that it would take an extraordinarily powerful Scottish Government to even contemplate the confrontation with the British state which must be undertaken if the Union is to be dissolved and independence restored. To achieve our goal we would have to give our Government power such as we would be uncomfortable with under normal circumstances. Those who fret that this extraordinary power once granted might never be retrieved reckon without the written constitution which will come into effect once independence is restored. I am fully confident that this new constitution will do its job. I give no credence to any suggestion that the people of Scotland might ratify a written constitution which does not establish the egalitarian principles and structures that Gerry Hassan aspires to.
Democracy is pooled sovereignty. We start from the principle that every individual is fully sovereign in their own lives. To make society possible, we collectively agree to pool a portion of our personal sovereignty. The popular strength thus created is given agency by an elected Parliament and Government. The sovereignty of the individual becomes the strength of the people becomes the power of the state. The sovereignty of the state is the pooled sovereignty of its citizens. All legitimate political power derives from and ultimately returns to the people. The constitution establishes the rules which govern the distribution and use of this power.
Given all of the foregoing, it stands to reason that we must have the capacity to configure the pooling of sovereignty and all that flows from it in ways that are appropriate to prevailing or predicted circumstances. Wartime would be the most obvious example of this kind of reconfiguration for a particular purpose. We are more comfortable with such special distribution of power knowing that there is in force a constitution which absolutely requires that power ultimately returns to the people. That which the people give, the people can take away. Only the power freely given by the people can be legitimate. Only the people can legitimately remove that power.
Scotland’s present predicament is similar to wartime in that it demands a special configuration of pooled sovereignty and an extraordinary allocation of political power. Rather than talking about how we might better distribute power, we should be asking how we might draw all our power together. Only by doing so will ensure victory for Scotland’s cause. Only when Scotland’s independence is restored with the Union dissolved will it be possible and safe to realise Gerry Hassan’s aspirations.
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8 thoughts on “Collective strength and effective power”
Fine in principle, but I fear that today we are rather far from a model of democracy that is built upon the pooled sovereignty of individuals.
In any case, Hassan’s “vision” is based on the Green’s idea of local decision-making at all levels. That’s going to need the undoing of decades and decades of centralisation done in the name of efficiency, either in terms of power wielded or on monies saved in the delivery of “services”. It would take root and branch reform of administration and administrators to get anywhere near a level of local decision making that would affect any differences in the way the country is run.
So my question to you is how is the idea of collective strength reconciled with the reality that (western) governments in general are very much not interested in being the expression of pooled sovereignty but are more interested in ruling rather than representing.
That probably rambled a bit too much so to put hopefully succinctly: What use is collective strength and effective power when the Scottish Government has steadfastly refused to engage with the likes of the Yes movement and has opposed any attempt to establish the sovereignty of the people – Martin Keatings springs to mind?
To answer your question, collective strength is latent. It is potential. The reason (western) governments are as they are is because we, the people, have lost the knowledge of how to combine – as Alexis de Tocqueville would put it. We have used the strength we have. We have instead allowed that (potential) strength to be used by others. We elect proxies every four or five years and then leave them to exercise the power we allow them in ways we never intended that it be used.
Although it’s a term in common use, there is no such thing as people power. People – or rather THE people – don’t have power (not quite the same as saying we’re powerless). The people have strength. That strength must be harnessed, processed and directed in order to become effective power – the power that effects change. That’s what political parties are for. But people are lazy bastards. Mostly, they can’t be arsed with the day-to-day grind of running a political party. So they leave it to others. And, of course, the ones who volunteer tend to be the ones who have an agenda all of their own.
It’s all downhill from there. The people no longer own the parties that wield the power. The parties that are owned by the people are easily kept from power because… you guessed it! They’ve lost the knowledge of how to combine. The knowledge that Alexis de Tocqueville observed is essential to functioning democracy.
Nothing changes until we – the people – relearn the art and science of combining to reclaim our strength. Then how to combine to turn that strength into power. Then how to combine to ensure that the whole thing doesn’t slide back into fractured dysfunction.
Where are all the rabble-rousers? Where are the mass demonstrations? Where is the civil disobedience? Where is the combining?
Martin Keatings little game was massively ill-advised. The sovereignty of the people isn’t something to be established or proved. It is something to be assumed and asserted and defended. You NEVER ask if the people are sovereign. You state that the people are sovereign and defy any bastard to contradict you. You act as the sovereign people and defy any bastard to try and stop you. Unfortunately, Martin wouldn’t take a telling. I have no sympathy for him. He rejected a lote of very sound advice from well-meaning people. So, fuckim!
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Well, as Gerry Hansard might say: “Mange tout Rodders, Mange tout”.
Keeping the largest, most centralised local councils in Europe, with the least power, is a means for Scottish independence via some undisclosed form of collectivisation…..
I’d vote for Satan if he will resurface my road. If the potholes get much deeper we’ll be meeting him soon, anyway. And that’s a predictable outcome from a decade-long central government freeze on local taxation.
Your life can’t be up to too much, if you expect to meet the Devil, before long!!!
As to the large Local Councils we have in parts of this country….. who made these?
It was the tory Sec State, Michael Forsyth, who “invented” this mushed set up in the late 1990s.
He forced thru the abolition of the Regions and District councils against the interests, and the views of the ppl of Scotland.
He forced it thru, by the votes of English based tory MPs in House of Commons.
They came into effect in 1996.
The following year, Forsyth, and every other tory MP was wiped out in Scotland. Not a single tory MP remained in Scotland.
It’s rather unfortunate, those Forsyth council creations weren’t wiped out, too!
That was a classic case of English MPs forcing thru an unwanted policy on Scotland, simply because they could, and it suited them to do so.
Any pro Union person complaining about these new councils, has a nerve to mutter anything.
They want another country to do as it pleases in this one.
That is what they want, and this what they get!
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How does the National think it’s appropriate to use this as its main webpage headline:
“Daily Mail editor slaps down Speaker over ‘sexist’ Angela Rayner story“?
Has it become as much of a sensational extremist violent language rag as the DM itself?
I flinched a bit when I saw that. Copied from the Herald, perhaps?
The Herald seems to have cleaned up its act a bit, its headline and on the main page was:
“Daily Mail editor rejects Speaker’s call over Angela Rayner story“.
Maybe the National poached the headline writer of the Herald for some stupid reason.
The editor is right of course, what was the Speaker thinking?