Politics - Policy & Ideas - Scotland

2007 - 2021

Radical Indy Conference 06: The Future Is Not Clear

“For Scotland… I see poverty, NATO, a 200 year old Queen, and Hibs winning the Scottish Cup…”

Can we at least start off by agreeing on one thing; this isn’t the Middle Ages. Up until now the constitutional debate has been carried out as if this is the Crusades and that, after battle, the country that remains is the victor’s to do with as they please.

Since we all know this isn’t true could we put away our fake armour for a second and consider what would actually happen if there was a vote for independence? First there would be a series of negotiations, between Scotland and the remainder of Britain, between Scotland and the EU, between the rest of Britain and the EU and so on. Then there would need to be the development of some sort of Scottish constitution, if nothing else to identify who is a citizen, who can vote and the arrangements for electing and running a parliament. Then we will need to elect a parliament and let it get on with its job.

It is of the utmost importance to Scotland’s future that we have a simple, clear and unambiguous framework for understanding what independence means. Until people can think sensibly about what would actually happen in the event of a Yes vote we will all be trapped in the alternative universe which is passing for a debate just now.

In this alternative universe people who have not yet made up their mind about independence keep e-mailing me with questions. Could we not join the euro or have our own currency? How much harm do I think slashing corporation tax might do? Would abortion laws change?

Somehow we have managed to create a debate in which democracy has been written out altogether and we’ve all turned into astrologers. All three of these questions can be answered only by a democratically elected parliament. It is for neither independence negotiations nor a written constitution to make these decisions without reference to the democratic will of the people.

Surely this is self evident? Surely we would all be outraged if our laws were fundamentally changed without our permission? I have heard people say that these decisions might not be made by this SNP Government. Can we be clear on this – they will absolutely definitely and under no circumstances be made by this SNP Government. They can be made only by a democratically elected parliament elected by the people on the basis of manifestos written to explain how each party seeking election would use the powers of that parliament. Any other approach would be utterly abhorrent.

What is crucially important to me is that if Scotland did vote to be independent, these people who don’t agree with independence or the left-of-centre pitch are every bit as much a part of that new country as me or anyone else. I don’t really want to be part of a country that stitches up the constitution with no reference to them.

A paper published by the Scottish Independence Convention suggests that a “Team Scotland” approach should be taken to independence negotiations with all political parties and others such as employee and employer representatives included too. And then it calls for a democratically produced constitution. And it sets out the principle that each stage in this process should do as little as possible to constrain the next – negotiations should not limit the constitution, the constitution should not limit democracy.

Does this mean the people of Scotland would not be allowed to ask legitimate questions about what independence means in practice? No. In fact, it means that we could get much more clarity on the smaller number of necessary transitional arrangements and then we can put the future back into the future conditional tense where it belongs. If, could, might, or, would like to.

The No Campaign can still talk about the difficulty of the decision a little down the road where we will have to decide whether to leave sterling and if so what options there are. The Yes Campaign can keep talking about the sorts of things that could be achieved with independence. The SNP can still propose to stand on a platform of cutting corporation tax if it likes.

But the people of Scotland would no longer be treated like dafties. We wouldn’t have to pretend the future is certain when we know it isn’t. We would not have to pretend that either Scotland or the remainder of the UK would somehow skip over renegotiation with the EU when they will not.

We can reject the assertions either that independence will be anarchy with society falling apart or that the process of becoming independent is something we’ll barely notice. We know these things aren’t true.

There is no campaign – marketing, advertising, political – that is designed to “lead people to the truth”.

In any campaign there is bound to be an element of intentionally misleading the subject (I just changed my insurance and it really wasn’t simple). But everyone involved – including the media – has a responsibility to make sure that people have at least enough of a framework to make a good decision.

Bluntly, when people are e-mailing me asking me questions about the future that no-one can sensibly answer to help them come to a decision, I fear for the quality of that decision. After all, if the ability accurately to predict the future is fundamental to the legitimacy of a nation state, Westminster would have been abolished in 2007.

We have two years of this to go. If you are reading this and feel that just now neither side is really giving you what you need to make a good decision, make your voice heard.

Ask for a simple statement of what has to be decided when and by whom. Use it to understand what you’re voting for and what you’re not voting for. Good decisions come not from more and more information but from good information.

Let’s shift the debate out of the Middle Ages and into the Enlightenment. For all our sakes.

Robin McAlpine is director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation

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Times and details for all the Radical Indy Conference sessions, including Robin’s, can be found here.

Tickets can be bought here.

Comments (6)

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  1. Douglas Thomson says:

    Now we’re getting somewhere – an acknowledgement that:
    a/ the unionistas are asking detailed questions about the future only to split the support for independence, and to put a whole lot of uncertainties into the minds of the uncommitted and
    b/ Because they have such a solid grip on the mainstream media, they’re setting the agenda.
    It’s always a nonsense to try to have the SNP set out every detail of life in 3 or 4 years time; and also to imply that the uncertainties are any bigger than they would be with the present constitutional arrangements. The truth is that, in the face of undeniable future uncertainties, we will always do better with our own hand on the tiller as opposed to someone else’s. This is the view that must be hammered out there.

  2. picpac67 says:

    I’m encouraged by the fact that more and more people are talking about the need for a constitution for an independent Scotland. A constitution is fundamental to providing statutory checks and balances on government, parliament and other agencies of the state. In simple terms it’s the people’s agreement – among themselves – about the kind of political, legal, social and administrative rules they wish their society to be ordered by. That’s why it’s crucial that they are fully involved in drafting it and that it is they who sign it off in a national referendum.
    No state can claim to be a democracy unless it has gone through that process – ergo the British state is not a democracy.

    A democratic constitution states as its first principle that “all power derives from the people” (two-thirds of the constitutions of the countries of the EU state this – the main exceptions being the old monarchies). As Robin McAlpine correctly says, a constitution must not be set in stone; it must include the provision for it to be updated. Any change to the constitution – including a total revision – has to be approved by the people in a mandatory referendum.

    Any modern constitution that respects the right of citizens to have a real say in the decision-making process (NOT mere top-down consultation exercises) must include the basic elements of DIRECT democracy: the initiative and the referendum i.e. the right of the people (if there is sufficient support for the idea i.e. a prescribed number of signatures of support) to either propose new legislation or challenge laws that have been passed. So in addition to the mandatory referendum on constitutional change, there would be provision for optional referendums. The constitution would define the rules for these. In some American states, there is also the “recall” option – a vote to withdraw the mandate of an elected official.

    Drafting an efficient and effective constitution takes time. There’s no “off the peg”, one-size-fits-all, solution. It has to be tailor-made to fit the specific characteristics, history and culture of the state in question. Two years is not too long for such a process. I suggest it should start now. It would send a salutory signal to the people and the parties that the Scottish people intend to take their democracy seriously. It’s all about power relationships; who has the right to do what. The reins need to be in the hands of the people. It is their right to decide – by majority – what kind of country they wish to live in: one in which there is social and economic justice, or one in which the system is run primarily for the benefit of the few, as at present.

  3. Macart says:

    Good article and I find myself agreeing with pretty much all of it. How and ever there is that sticky subject of the media. Whether broadcast or print all of the mainstream media are very much biased against Scottish independence. There will be no fair hearing, no good news stories, no favourable asides, no Salmond success stories. The next two years, just like the past five, will be a relentless onslaught of negativity against the FM, the SNP, the YES campaign and the independence minded voter. Anyone who has any interest in this debate at all is more than aware of the political stances of the media on these islands.

    The chances of fair and objective journalism or in depth reporting and clinical diagnosis of either side’s argument happening are about precisely nil. Still since we are making wishes for near miracles, I’d like to see Stranraer play in the Nou Camp for Christmas. 🙂

  4. martinthorpe says:

    “A paper published by the Scottish Independence Convention suggests that a “Team Scotland” approach should be taken to independence negotiations with all political parties and others such as employee and employer representatives included too.” Classic trade unionist jobs for the bhoys cobblers. What one might ask for those poor sods like me with an opinion but no job. No dues no voice huh.

    I don’t know whats worse the “motherhood and apple pie” article or the inane responses. Look folks, sadly its not going to happen OK, not enough of Scotland’s bloated public sector workforce are going to feel sufficiently scared of loosing their jobs/pensions to vote YES. They’re idiots but thats the reality. So the big question that pro-indepence folks (like me and you) have to deal with is where do we go after a NO vote. At the very least we need to hammer home to those that will vote NO that this will be remembered, and that they will be collectively held responsible for the shit-storm that will envelope us (not to far) down the line. The “debate” thus far has been way, way to polite and “civilised” and consequently the undecided will end up going with the devil they know. It’s time to get real and nasty, and tell a few home truths, not just to power but to society as whole. Scotland within the UK is buggered, absolutely buggered. The degenerative malaise that affects the entire UK is concentrated ten fold in its extremities – I just got back from Newport, South Wales, the place is a dystopian hell-hole but boy did it remind me of central Scotland. Airy fairy “debate” in these pages and the broadsheets conducted largely by tenured sods and time servers will never do the issue at hand justice, as a nation we are up to our necks in shit; our banking system is bankrupt, we have little or no industrial base, our education system is a farce, our infrastructure is collapsing, as a society we are riven by divisions of class, ethnicity, religion and social outlook that run very, very deep and even if by some miracle we do get a YES vote that’s just the beginning of our problems, merely trying to stop an independent Scotland from following the trajectory of the gangster state that is the Irish Republic will be herculean effort in itself.

    1. martin, now ye’r talking !
      The brainwashing garbage being spewed out onto our t.v.’s by the Westminster establishment is horrendous; most of it is complete and utter lies. The rest of it is deception & cover-up of the establishment horrors on/within society. The poor get buggered by the wealthy suga-puffs; literally !
      Switch-off BBC news & STV news; both are establishment whores/liars.

      As for your statement ‘after the no-vote’; you are looking at this with ‘Yes’ eyes. You need to understand the ‘Yes’ vote is already guaranteed; it’s the ‘undecided’ vote we need to encourage to vote ‘Yes’, and that will be done by the ‘Yes’ vote basically ‘sitting it out’, and letting the reality of the ‘situation’ convince the ‘undecided’ vote to vote ‘yes’.
      I mean it’s a no-brainer; voting ‘no’, to stay in the union, means we get buggered harder than we’ve ever been buggered before; and by the very people (elite wealthy establishment),who the BBC & STV news are covering-up! Here’s a list of the prospects of a ‘no’ vote;
      Higher gas/electric bills. Lower jobs opportunity.
      Higher unemployment. Lower individual & civil rights.
      Higher rates of homelessness. Lower opportunity to social mobility.
      Higher dependency on benefits. Lower amounts of benefits.
      the lists of horror goes on-and-on, if we vote ‘no’.
      Vote ‘yes’, and avoid the destruction of our lives in Scotland.
      Vote ‘no’, and you vote for horrendous austerity like Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal. Scotland cannot afford to vote no!

  5. Andrew lyon says:

    Hi robin,

    Like your comment about inability to predict future. In such circumstances a key question becomes how can a nation (or any other institution) make decisions. Information yes, but what is the moral compass by which the existing paradigm can be superseded rather than strengthened. Seems to me learning and wisdom must be part of this. Wisdom I take to mean taking as much of the context into account as is possible before making a decision and holding such decisions lightly.

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