By Alex Robertson
Patrick Harvie said some interesting things in his absurd 2 minutes allocation in the BBC’s recent debate on Scottish Independence. Waxing eloquent on the independence benefit of being able to avoid being dragged into imperial wars, UK or American, he proposed that there might be a constitutional obstacle put in place.
That, of course, led him to go let the other shoe drop, and suggest that an independent Scotland should really have a written Constitution. Not bad for two minutes. And both suggestions have much merit.
Now Constitution writing is usually a mug’s game, waste of time, and a god-awful monumental diversion from what really needs doing. But in this case, it might be a brilliant idea. The trouble in embarking on that kind of malarkey is normally that it degenerates into counting how many angels can stand on the head of a pin, and links to reality and the real world and its problems and needs is tenuous to say the least.
It also has a tendency to spawn dissent and disharmony among those engaged in it. And, just to knock it decisively on the head, it attracts the barrack-room lawyer type of cove, which doesn’t do anyone any good at all. But just imagine the entire Scots nation being engaged in discussing the kind of Scotland they want and dream of, in the runup to the referendum as well.
Now that has attractions.
The other problem with Constitution writing is that is has always in the past been a top-down approach, with the actual writing being done by a pretty small bunch of people at the top, the result of which is then flung out to the people who are asked to ratify it in a referendum of some sorts, with little or no opportunity to discuss or propose different, or new wording.
But these days are gone, or can be made to be gone. Software and communications technologies have advanced greatly and it is now very possible to provide a draft text and farm it out in parts to remote task forces, who can in turn hold town meetings to discuss and revise their draft part, several times if necessary.
A central editor then takes the revised text bits in from the remote task forces, or work groups, and produces a new complete draft. This can then be distributed as a whole to the work groups who will hold a new set of town meetings, to discuss and revise and return proposed revised complete text to the editorial group.
Where possible, the editorial group will produce a revised draft complete version with, where needed, alternative versions of parts where no consensus exists. This can then be sent out to the work groups again, where a third round of town meetings will make their choices on the alternative sections and return the result to the editors.
The majority view will prevail and a final draft is issued widely for general discussion and comments, before a national convention is held to collect signatures in support of the final version. It works, and I have used it in preparing documents across several countries even, on complex matters and involving people with different backgrounds, interests and concerns.
And there is absolutely nothing to stop such techniques and technologies, using the web, to be applied here.
Just imagine. At the end of that we would have had more discussion on our new homeland across the whole country, all on a voluntary basis with little or no cost, than any BBC debates or rigged polls. Would it be binding?
No, but it would represent a formidable display of people power, likely to deter whoever gets the job of negotiating the Act of Independence and the associated negotiations. And it would be a gleaming display of democracy which would command the admiration and respect of people worldwide.
At a bare minimum it would be a Claim of Rights to outshine all others.
There is nothing to stop it happening but our own fear, and it is more than time for us to say goodbye to that ball and chain.
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