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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