By Mark McNaught
The release of Scotland’s Future has begun to put some flesh on the bones of what an independent Scotland will look like. However, further details on how a fairer, more egalitarian, and prosperous society must be developed not only to secure a yes vote, but to assure that a new Scottish democracy is not smothered by aristocratic and corporate plutocracy as Westminster has.
While many Scots have only begun to countenance what independence could mean, the furious cringe has not been definitively extinguished. Scots have been conditioned for centuries to believe that they are dependent on Westminster for any measure of well-being, and the Scots people ‘too poor, too weak, and too stupid’ to govern themselves effectively.
Given the traditional lower household incomes in Scotland, Westminster’s myopic London-centric focus, and the perception that the only way to make it in life is to move to the south-east of England, this cringe can seem borne out by reality. When a culture evolves with a lack of opportunities, and there is prosperity in other parts of the country, attributing it to some ethnic character defect can have a perverse credence.
While independence will provide Scots the necessary powers and sources of revenue to secure a better future, the adoption of specific constitutional structures must be binding on a ‘yes’ vote. As the furious cringe becomes extinct, Scots will increase their self-confidence see that they can actively construct a better future.
If independence simply means getting out from under one corrupt government only to be ruled by another, it will be a total waste.
Scotland’s Future is a good start, but this is not the time for the Scottish government to be timid. There is everything to play for, and showing how Scotland will be demonstrably better as an independent country is all many undecided voters need to vote ‘yes’.
Chapter 10 of Scotland’s Future sets out a framework for the adoption of a constitutional platform after a ‘yes’ vote, followed by a convention after independence to draft and ratify a permanent written constitution. While this commitment is very encouraging, setting out constitutional provisions before the referendum would go a long way towards convincing Scots to vote ‘yes’ and alleviate apprehension over self-determination.
A provision abolishing aristocratic privilege and committing to equality before the law regardless of social status would go far towards reassuring Scots that voting for independence will lead to a more egalitarian society.
While the Scotland’s Future envisages the UK Monarch as head of state, a constitutional convention may well decide that long-term retention of the monarchy is incompatible with popular sovereignty, and opt for an elected head of state.
A right for trade unions to organise and collectively bargain should be trumpeted as a core element of a written constitution. How better to show that the Scottish government will be bound to represent the interests of working Scots, protecting them from rapacious multinationals and unscrupulous employers?
A firm constitutional commitment to an effective and fair welfare state, assuring that all will be provided a minimum floor of material well-being, will also help to reassure Scots that independence will lead to a fairer society. Scots will be assured that they will have the basic means to pursue their lives and ambitions, rather than fearing the repugnant Westminster ‘strivers v. skivers’ policies like the bedroom tax.
A constitutional requirement that all privatisation be approved by referendum, after a public debate over the benefits and drawbacks, would assure Scots that they will have a say over the sale of their patrimony, rather than having national treasures sold off to investors who have no interest in public service.
Constitutional provisions on land ownership would help rectify the imbalance and concentration of wealth in Scotland. A majority of private land in Scotland is owned by a handful of families, including aristocrats and foreign oil sheiks. The land is often registered in offshore havens for tax-avoidance purposes, and they frequently receive government subsidies. A constitutional requirement that all land be clearly titled uniquely in Scottish public records, and that all property taxes be set by and paid to the Scottish government, would go far in moving away from feudalism.
These are but a few suggestions, and I have touched on many others in previous columns. However, it is important that Scotland’s Future be the starting point, with details filled in over the coming months.
Scots continue to have many legitimate questions which could be addressed by laying out the contours of a written constitution. The mechanisms to enact a fairer society need to be specified, so that Scots will have confidence the promise of independence will be fulfilled.