by Alex Sloan
Whether Scotland will vote to leave the Union is the question on the minds of all politicians whether they are Unionists or nationalists. The problem is that the UK at present only has an unwritten non-codified constitution.
The UK constitution is a collection of laws, which can be changed to suit the diktat of the government in power, not a centralised written document as understood in the rest of the world. This perpetuates a hierarchical, top-down system of centralised government that obstructs rather than reflects true representative democracy.
This has enabled UK political parties to manipulate the rules (constitution) and Parliament cannot be held to account by the people other than at the time of a general election. In Parliament, the party leader with the most seats is appointed Prime Minister by convention, not elected by Parliament or the electorate. As Prime Minister he or she controls and appoints the executive, and thus essentially a party controls Parliament. The situation is further exacerbated and democracy diminished, by the “Whip system” on party MPs to ensure the outcome of a vote suits the party line. The fusion of powers currently controlled by the party leader in effect results in an elective dictatorship.
Nationalists have been advocating independence for many years. But as political parties they always shy away from changing the present system which allows them power through the supremacy of Parliament in the way described above. Scots did however (as did the Welsh and Northern Irish) vote for devolved assemblies, offered by a Labour party government in the hope of stemming the rise of nationalism.
The Unionists made a mistake. The desire for regional autonomy spread throughout the UK, even in England. This was illustrated in 2010 when the GE returned a hung parliament.
The Lib Dems with the Steele commission favoured a federal solution to the problem, but failed to convince the UK party to fight for it.
Then the unexpected happened, the “Expenses scandal” in 2009. The electorate were now questioning the entire political order of the UK. British politics was broken. None of the political parties could be trusted they could not be held accountable.
Here I quote from the foreword to the book by Richard Gordon QC, Repairing British Politics (2010).
A written Constitution is not merely desirable it is a constitutional necessity if Britain is to have true representative democracy. It would change our lives for the better by defining the overarching values which we consider inviolable. The result would be a more rational, humane and inclusive society based on greater citizen involvement.
The acceptance of a written codified constitution by the electorate of the UK would solve the problem of “broken British politics” and at the same time could remove a large number of Scottish grievances. If that is not possible the only way forward for Scotland is secession.
For that the Scottish electorate must be offered and accept a new Scottish political system, in the form of a written codified constitution. I submit that the SNP have realised this and need time to talk their way out of giving up the power gained by an accident of time (a majority in the recent election).
So the voters of Scotland are faced with two options:
a) The status quo, remain in the Union and endeavour to change the Westminster System which in the opinion of most of the electorate is broken and must be repaired.
With the advent of the Tory and Lib Dem coalition and the retreat of the Lib Dems from their federal solution, it is unlikely that British Politics will be repaired anytime soon.
b) The Scottish government persuade a settled majority to vote in a referendum for Independence.
Scottish independence is the political ambition of some political parties, advocacy groups and individuals for Scotland to secede from the Union and become a sovereign state, separate from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In Scotland the devolved government has performed reasonably well in spite of its restricted autonomy. Since their election to majority government in 2011, the Scottish National Party would appear to have the ability to bring forward the referendum they have advocated for so long. But they now appear reluctant to do so.
There is a need to provide the Scots voters with an opportunity to debate and understand the potential benefits which would be achieved with a written codified Constitution for Scotland.
The SNP for all of this century, and before, has insisted that the solution to the real or imagined problems of the union is independence.
The electorate were led to believe that a referendum on the subject was the only way forward. Until May 2011 an excuse was always available in that the other political parties opposed even allowing the Scots that referendum. They had no majority in the Scottish parliament and could be voted down.
Of those who bothered to vote in the Scottish parliamentary elections last May, a majority voted for Unionist parties and of those who voted SNP many clearly did so as a protest vote and not because they support separatism.
If the Scottish National Party are serious about returning sovereignty to the people of Scotland and establishing a truly representative democracy here, they must call a Constitutional Convention to debate and frame a written constitution for consideration and hopefully acceptance by a settled majority of the Scottish electorate. There is plenty of time to do this before we go to the polls in the next election under the present broken system.