Category Archives: Politics, Scotland & Nonsense

Ironic Interventions

Ironically, the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, is the latest leader of an independent country to express concern over the prospect of Scotland becoming independent from the United Kingdom. Barack Obama and Tony Abbott have made similarly ironic interventions in recent months. Their collective view is that an independent Scotland would not serve ‘greater global interests’.

Whilst there are bound to be several reasons for this, we may hazard a guess that the crux would be an independent Scotland’s commitment to removing the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent from Scottish waters. This would force the United Kingdom to unilaterally disarm for an unspecifiable period of time, thereby ‘threatening global security’ and upsetting the existing international order.

There is also the concern that a diminished United Kingdom would not retain the same standing within the European Union, which would have an impact on the United States’ ability to strategically influence defence and economic decision making within a major supranational institution it cannot directly control.

Finally, the loss of softer powers; it has also been suggested that the United Kingdom would lose a degree of credibility in promoting itself as a model of democracy and justifying some of its military interventions in other regions of the world on that basis.

How could it hold onto that platonic ideal when one of the primary reasons cited for becoming an independent country is that the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangement delivers a permanent democratic deficit for the people of Scotland, with unjust consequences.

An inability to block the imposition of immoral and discriminatory welfare policies, to reject involvement in illegal wars, or simply to have the government you choose, is hardly the sign of a society that considers itself to be a beacon of democracy, personal freedom and social justice.

Scottish independence would be an opportunity to rethink the relationship between the elected Government and the people governed; it would be an opportunity to reconnect economics with morality, and place universal welfare and social justice at the heart of our political and economic decision making. It might sound too fantastical to believe, but only because we have been conditioned into thinking that way.

More than that, it would be an opportunity to usher in a new era of confidence in Scotland, as a country that is perfectly entitled to enjoy the very same rights that Canadians, Americans and Australians have enjoyed since becoming independent countries. Scotland is an innovative, intelligent and resourceful country that is perfectly capable of negotiating its own way in the world. Successfully.

The United Kingdom Government should be berating itself for refusing to respond earlier to the level of frustration and discontent within Scotland, and other parts of the United Kingdom for that matter, with regards to the political weaknesses, and economic failures, of the union. Had it done so, it may have been able to avoid a late surge in favour of a Yes vote in two weeks’ time.

The union does not deliver what it purports to deliver, nor could it without fundamental reform. As some unionist political commentators have repeatedly warned, the biggest threat to the continued existence of the United Kingdom is not Alex Salmond, but the union itself.

The people of Scotland should not be influenced into rejecting independence by self-interested world leaders, when the objective of independence is to achieve what is no longer achievable for Scotland within the United Kingdom.

If the choice is between serving the ‘greater global interests’ of manipulative, corrupt, self-obsessed, power hungry military superpowers – the United Kingdom included – or having the full range of powers to address the economic, social, moral and cultural needs and interests of the people of Scotland, whether Scotland should become an independent country should not even be a doubt in anyone’s mind.  

 

 

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Questions For Darling

In what respect is it better for Scotland that the people who live and work here do not have the right to make every key decision that affects the way we live our lives in this country?

Why is it better for Scotland that we have a permanent democratic deficit with respect to UK Government elections and are never guaranteed to get the UK Government that we choose?

Why is it better for Scotland that the Westminster Parliament holds absolute sovereignty over Scotland and the Scottish Parliament remains a non-permanent institution that could be abolished in a matter of days if the UK Government decided it wanted to do so?

Why is it better for the people of Scotland that billions upon billions of pounds are wasted annually on weapons of mass destruction and fighting illegal wars, rather than tackling child poverty, homelessness and creating meaningful and long term employment opportunities for school leavers, graduates and the rest of our workforce?

Why is it better that the people of Scotland are subject to the UK Government’s stigmatising, destructive and socially divisive welfare and immigration policies, rather than being able to shape our own immigration policies to suit our different demographic profile and economic needs, and our own socially inclusive and universal approach to welfare?

Why is it better for the people of Scotland that the UK Government dictates that Trident is kept in Scottish waters against our will and within close proximity of Scotland’s largest city?

Why is it better for the people of Scotland that we are forced to subsidise the cost of major UK infrastructure projects such as HS2 when the majority of the benefit will be reaped by the City of London, whilst corporation and income tax are effectively rendered optional for multinational businesses and the wealthy elite?

How can it be better for Scotland that the UK government exploited Scotland’s oil wealth to subsidise UK debt and failed to invest a single penny of it in a fund to create a more prosperous future for the people of Scotland?  

In what sense is it better for the people of Scotland that our key decisions are taken for us by a government that has a track record of deceiving the people of Scotland with regard to its oil resources, used Scotland as a guinea pig for unpopular Tory policies and cheated the people of Scotland out of home rule in 1979?

If invited, would you be willing to help negotiate the terms of separation from the UK in the event that Scotland decides to become an independent country, and if so which currency option would you consider to be the right one for an independent Scotland if, as you insist, a currency union is guaranteed not to happen?

Why did David Cameron make a sneaky visit to Shetland this month?  

 

 

 

 

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Some Thoughts on Last Night’s TV Debate

I think last night’s debate between Salmond and Darling had a very predictable outcome.

It was made for TV and we are no closer to understanding the finer details of either side’s plans for Scotland. Salmond stubbornly refused to budge on the currency question and Darling failed to agree that Scotland could be a successful independent country. He also failed to articulate a better vision for Scotland than the reality we are living with today.

Whilst Salmond can be excused his refusal on the grounds that he simply cannot answer certain questions about independence until after negotiations have been concluded with the United Kingdom Government, Darling at least should have been able to inform us what additional powers the United Kingdom Government would give Scotland, should we agree to remain within the union.

Instead, he fluffed that particular question quite badly – because there are no definite answers yet to that one either – and he simply harked back to the completely meaningless line that we are ‘better together’ because Scotland enjoys the ‘best of both worlds’ as part of the United Kingdom.

To buy into the concept that we have the best of both worlds, as Darling appears to, is to agree that the devolved powers held by the Scottish Parliament, embedded within the constitutional arrangement of the United Kingdom, yields the optimum conditions under which Scotland is able to thrive and prosper as a country – surely that’s what it is all about, after all?

To reject it, as Salmond is urging us to, is to question whether there are aspects of the asymmetric relationship between the Westminster Parliament and the Scottish Parliament that limit the Scottish Government’s ability to achieve that level of prosperity.

The United Kingdom’s asymmetric model of devolution means that whilst the Scottish Parliament has control over a number of areas affecting life in Scotland, the United Kingdom Parliament in Westminster controls the rest of these areas and retains absolute sovereignty.

Whilst it probably wouldn’t happen, the constitutional doctrine of the Sovereignty of Parliament in Westminster means that the Scottish Parliament could be abolished in a matter of days, just as the previous devolved Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland was in 1972. The idea that we enjoy the best of both worlds is therefore as much a temporary concept as it is a false one.

The falseness of this concept is illustrated by the ugly corruption that runs through the United Kingdom Government and its supporting institutions, in the levels of social inequality that has left large sections of Scotland poorly educated, living in wretched poverty, with unacceptably low levels of life expectancy, unable to heat their homes in the winter, feeding their families from food banks, and with absolutely no hope of a better life.

In a country blessed like few others with an abundance of natural resources – the sheer extent of which is continually denied or played down by the United Kingdom Government – this state of affairs is nothing short of shameful. The United Kingdom Government should be embarrassed by the way it has deceived and failed the people of Scotland. Darling surely knows that as much as Salmond does, but it is only Salmond who wants Scotland to organise itself differently in order to make better use of these resources for the people who live here.

Other than having limited scope to manage some of the symptoms, the devolved Scottish Parliament has no power to address the root causes and restructure the political and economic frameworks that have led us to this point. This cannot be the best of both worlds, not even close.

Whilst Salmond definitely needs to sharpen up for the next debate and think about a different way of responding to currently unanswerable questions, I think Darling will struggle because he has already played his strongest hand in pressing Salmond over the currency issue.

Salmond has the strength of conviction that should see him through, whereas Darling is fronting a cause that he sometimes looks uncomfortable with, like a lawyer trying to get a result for a client, even though he knows it isn’t right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Defeat Independence with a Joke and an Inaudible Mumble

Alistair Darling and Blair McDougall should hang their heads in shame this morning, mindful not to let their Dunce caps slip off in the process.

Alistair Darling should do so because he likened the leader of the only democratically elected Government in the United Kingdom to North Korean Dictator, Kim Jong-il.

And Blair McDougall should join him because he happily promoted Darling’s New Statesman interview, in which he was also reported to have said that the SNP represented not civic nationalism, but ‘blood and soil’ nationalism.

It doesn’t matter that the comment attributed to Darling was subsequently corrected by the New Statesman. What matters is that the Campaign Director for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom, McDougall, promoted the original version of the interview on Twitter, in which it appeared that Darling had made that comment.

Having corrected that part of the interview by attributing the ‘blood and soil’ comment to the interviewer in the form of a question, with Darling replying ‘At heart…’ followed by an ‘Inaudible Mumble’, we are left wondering exactly what he did say in response to the ‘blood and soil’ comment and why this blunder was allowed to happen in this first place.

And apparently, Darling comparing the First Minister of Scotland with the North Korean Dictator was simply poking fun at Alex Salmond’s comment on UKIP winning a European Parliament seat in Scotland, courtesy of English television beaming them into our homes every evening – ‘it was a joke, and should be treated as such’, according to a spokesman for Better Together.

In other words, the interview consisted of a joke and an inaudible mumble – and that would appear to be the basis on which the people of Scotland should be persuaded to reject the right to make all of their own decisions.

Many of the arguments churned out by the Better Together campaign are nothing short of nonsense, and ridiculous interviews by twits like this only serve to remind us that they should be treated as such.

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Cameron’s Christian Country Comment

Last week David Cameron delivered his Easter message.

In it he made the comment that the United Kingdom is a Christian country and he went on to say that we should be more confident about the country’s status as such.

His comment caused a bit of a stir among a fine bunch of learned fellows, who complained that it was factually wrong to make this comment and that it risked alienating other faith groups.

Others have come out in defence of his comment and argued that whether we like to admit it or not, the most recent census confirms that a higher percentage of people living in the United Kingdom consider themselves to be Christian, and that historically and culturally the country has been built on solid Christian values.

Obviously David Cameron’s point was not really about statistics and census preferences, nor was it about finding comfort and peace in Christianity. Mindful of the growing influence of UKIP and next year’s general election, it would appear to me that he was being quite cynical and was trying to reinforce a political point about the United Kingdom’s constitution.

Contained within the shiny Easter rhetoric that our society was built on the Christian values of hard work, honesty, compassion and kindness, was the blunt reminder that we have an established Church in this country which is a crucial part of the state driven, identity making machine.

The purpose of which is to forge a common sense of Britishness through creating, reinforcing and sustaining a myriad of cultural commitments, historical sympathies, legal responsibilities, religious duties, and many other forms of economic, social and political relationships.

David Cameron’s comments were criticised for failing to respect the fact that we are living in a plural nation. But the fact is, we are probably not living in a truly plural nation. It seems to me that being confident about our status as a Christian country is not too dissimilar to being dismissive of the claim that the United Kingdom is a plural nation. We do not have the political arrangements in place to support it.

Recognising true plurality is difficult to reconcile with upholding the fundamental details of our constitution, because doing so would threaten to erode the monistic and omnicompetent concept of sovereignty that underpins our thinking in these matters.

The crux of the problem for David Cameron is that the concept of sovereignty he cherishes is being challenged by certain emerging trends in international affairs, and the negative consequences of sticking with it in the face of change elsewhere are felt by other faith groups who still sit on the margins of our society.

The United Kingdom government appears to be unwilling to accept the inevitable outcome of globalisation as it continues to build a very intricate and complex web of transnational economic dependencies, and edges towards increased legal, political, and cultural integration into supranational institutions, such as the European Union.

The United Kingdom that David Cameron and the Conservatives believe in simply cannot contemplate this direction of change. UKIP have been quick to exploit that fact with a more extreme response, and their vision for the United Kingdom does not appear to be desirable at all.

It seems to me that reasserting the country’s constitutional commitment to a state religion is an indication of how resolute David Cameron is about holding onto his political ideals, rather than an appeal to the doctrines of Christianity as a source of moral authority to help shape our everyday thinking.

Contrary to what he wants us to think, it is not a lack of confidence that stops us from being evangelical about the United Kingdom being a Christian country; it is just that many of us no longer see the relevance of, or the value in, upholding the anachronistic politico-religious arrangement that underwrites that position. The Union has a fundamental problem here and has failed to keep up with modern thinking.

And if Cameron feels the need to ensure that we do, he needs to explain why there is value to be found in a way of thinking that not only contains the seeds of religious and ethnic discrimination – and has had a profoundly damaging effect on the British psyche as a result – but is also incompatible with the United Kingdom ever becoming a plural nation in the proper sense, rather than just an increasingly irritable host of minority religious groups and ethnicities.

The Limited Effect of Education on ‘Eradicating Sectarianism’

I strongly believe in education as a powerful driver of social change.

Unfortunately there are times when education alone is not sufficient, and the type of change we need to see can only come about through radical reform of the framework itself which commissioned that education based response.

In its recent reply to the ‘Report of the Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland’, the Scottish Government declared that education remains central to its work to tackle sectarianism and has already committed £9 million up until March 2015 to help achieve that aim.

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0044/00445032.pdf

Some of that funding will be spent on supporting existing, and developing new, community based anti-sectarian initiatives that place learning and education at the centre. Whilst this sounds good in principle, the obvious question to ask is why so many government funded anti-sectarian initiatives have tried and failed to achieve the aim of ‘eradicating sectarianism from Scottish society’?

The question might be obvious, but the answer is not. Even if we make a start by trying to achieve clarity on what sectarianism actually means, we are not necessarily any further forward with respect to the aim of eradicating it from our society.

It is useful to remind ourselves at this point that it is not sectarianism per se that is wrong, despite the very premise of the Scottish Government’s anti-sectarian project, but ‘sectarian bigotry’, or ‘sectarian conflict’, and so on.

By definition, sectarianism is simply about having a rigid commitment to a particular sect – in this case we are mostly talking about doctrinal differences between Catholicism and Protestantism as sects of Christianity – and unless committing to one of these sects demands being disrespectful or hateful towards the other, then there is nothing essentially wrong with it.

Of course, grammatical perspicuity is important, however it doesn’t detract from an ugly reality, or dilute the bitterness often experienced in this context; nor would it ever imply that we do not have a difficult social problem that needs to be tackled.

It is arguably the case that what we typically perceive to be instances of sectarian bigotry in Scotland are more accurately described as instances of racial bigotry, with adherence to different religious sects often being an indicator of ethnicity, rather than of specific doctrinal preference.

Whilst we live in a multicultural society in which the coexistence of different ethnic groups brings certain claims to rights, there is no compulsion among politicians who are steeped in nineteenth and twentieth century thinking to reform the political order that is defined by the idea of a ‘nation state’ and its central role in shaping a unifying British identity, to which other nationalities and ethnicities are necessarily subordinate, and subconsciously perceived as a threat to the establishment.

This is the deep psychological space in which fear and distrust of otherness has been politically engineered for centuries. The key difference is between living in a society that reluctantly acknowledges a plurality of nationalities, many of which continually have to compete for acceptance, recognition, legitimacy and equality, and living in a society in which nationality is necessarily plural, with its citizens having the freedom to express multiple identities, and participate in multiple, autonomously structured, political communities.

British history provides the background to the religious and racial challenges we face today and the unchanging political order that sustains them. Teaching tolerance of different religions and ethnicities within a multicultural society is an important response; dismantling the framework within which there is little room or appetite for legitimising multiple identities and multiple political communities would be a much more significant driver of change, however far off that may seem.

Therefore, highly commendable efforts to educate sectarian bigotry out of our society may prove to have limited effect because they are being driven forward in isolation from radical political change. If their objective is to encourage tolerance and respect for different religious beliefs, then we may have to acknowledge that some ‘anti-sectarian’ initiatives are occasionally misunderstanding the problem, whilst others will only ever be able to scratch the surface.

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How Independence Could Address Religious and Ethnic Divisions

I tweeted an article this morning from the International Business Times, by Mark Piggott, which asked the question whether Scottish independence would fire anti-Catholicism. It reminded me that there are still some people who are concerned that minority religions and ethnicities could be further marginalised and discriminated against in an independent Scotland. I completely disagree with that. I also believe that minority religions and ethnicities could have a more prominent role to play in civic society.

Furthermore, if we think about how our current sense of having a common national identity is inextricably linked to nineteenth and twentieth century concepts of democracy, sovereignty and nation-states, we might actually begin to see how Scottish independence could point towards the eventual erosion of some historically embedded religious tensions and ethnic divisions in this country.

To see how this could be the case, we need to be very clear about what the Scottish Government is aspiring to in asking us to agree that Scotland should be an independent country. It comes down to how independence is understood.

The subtlety of the Scottish Government’s position on independence is not altogether easy to grasp. It is predicated on a much more refined and sophisticated understanding of what it means to be an independent country than the one slated, mocked and ridiculed by the Better Together campaign.

It is normal to hear the Better Together campaign talk about, and indeed exaggerate, the myriad of problems associated with isolationism and separatism. And to an extent they are correct – but that is not what the Scottish Government is aspiring to, and they know that fine.

The Scottish Government’s position on independence is not about rampant and destructive nationalism. It is about giving Scotland the opportunity to redefine its role within a very complex order of multi-tiered political communities, irreversible transnational economic integration and shared sovereignty within supranational institutions.

Michael Keating, Professor of Politics at Aberdeen University, provides an excellent analysis of what independence might mean within the type of post-sovereign world order that is beginning to take shape, in which the objective would not be to create a traditional nation state with absolute and indivisible sovereignty, but to have the ability to negotiate your own way in the emerging international order.

There are different ways of building on Keating’s analysis.

One is to think about the complicated relationship between becoming an independent country in this more modern sense – which would necessarily include redefining your role within various levels of transnational interdependencies, and sharing sovereignty within supranational institutions – and the gradual erosion of the traditional, more narrowly defined, state-driven identity of the country’s people.

The United Kingdom holds resolutely to the traditional concept of the nation state, incorporating the belief that parliamentary sovereignty is absolute and indivisible, and is the supreme source of authority within a territorially defined area. It is also that which drives our common identity, informs our culture and shapes our values.

Understood in the traditional way, there is significantly less space to embrace, let alone tolerate, the existence of multiple political communities without fear of challenging the absolute sovereignty of parliament, and allow minority ethnicities and religions to self-define without threatening the integrity of the common, state-determined, identity.

Working towards the more progressive, and newly emerging, post-sovereign conception of what it means to be a nation, and what that could entail for Scotland in becoming an independent country, we can begin to see an indication of how some of our traditional social divisions, deeply rooted in nineteenth and twentieth century political thinking, might begin to disappear.

Lord Robertson’s Cataclysmic Comments

Cataclysmic: a violent upheaval that brings about great destruction or brings about fundamental change.

You would be forgiven for thinking that Lord Robertson was talking about the tragic, ruinous and devastating consequences of a tsunami or an earthquake, when he used the word ‘cataclysmic’ in a recent speech at the Brookings Institute in the United States.

But what he was actually talking about is what would happen if the people of Scotland were to agree that it would be better to make their own decisions than have them made on their behalf by politicians in Westminster with entirely different interests and motivations.

What would be so cataclysmic about that?

The gist of Lord Robertson’s position is that the opportunity for Scotland to become an independent country has come during an era of international turmoil, and dismantling the constitutional framework that holds one of the Western world’s major military powers firmly in place would have globally devastating consequences.

Essentially, Lord Robertson is asking the people of Scotland to decline the opportunity to regain the fundamental right to self-determination in order to avoid tipping the world into a perilous and unsafe state. Scotland is so strategically important to the United Kingdom, and therefore to the United States, that independence, and the subsequent removal of the country’s nuclear deterrent from Scottish waters, cannot even be contemplated.

Global economic forces and international politics have conspired to create an underlying world order that terrifies the very people who have been responsible for producing it; we all know it is out of control, and Lord Robertson fears that removing one of the key pillars in that world order would force a very uncomfortable and painful rebalancing of power.

The importance of this point cannot be ignored.

However, it would be outrageous to think that the people of Scotland should be denied the opportunity to become an independent country because major political decisions taken elsewhere, over which we have had no control whatsoever, had produced a global state of affairs that could only be tampered with at our peril!

And it would be such a shame to think that an individual of Lord Robertson’s standing would wish to discourage independence, not by presenting compelling evidence to the effect that we actually are better as part of the United Kingdom, but by uniquely linking Scotland’s right to self-determination with a threat to world stability.

(Who would have thought that a country that is too small to survive on its own, and full of people not genetically programmed to make political decisions, could have such a powerful impact on the world stage?)

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Wisdom, Justice, Compassion and Integrity

The principle that moderate levels of economic inequality encourage growth may hold true in many cases.

However in the United Kingdom, one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, doing nothing to tackle the very high levels of inequality that exist has encouraged the emergence of a society riddled with extremely hard to shift social problems.

The longer it goes on this way – the United Kingdom government will never dismantle the economic and political frameworks that brought us to this point – the less likely things are to get better. So we need to ask the question, seriously, in what respect is Scotland better remaining part of the United Kingdom, when the United Kingdom has been in social and moral decline for generations?

It is one thing to trumpet the temporary trackers of economic success, such as low interest rates, low inflation and low unemployment, as Alistair Carmichael, Secretary of State for Scotland, did today; it is fine to talk about the security, stability and certainty that being part of a larger and more diversified economy offers; but it should never, ever be forgotten that these are the very conditions that have conspired to conceal the true extent of the corporate greed, fraudulent trading and immoral practices that have been propelling the United Kingdom forward for years.

Independence would not be a magic wand, nor does anyone seriously believe that; furthermore, even if an independent Scotland were able to build a new society in which economics and politics had not been granted permanent exit from the moral space of reasons, as is the case in the United Kingdom, other new social problems would be likely to emerge in the future to take place of the old ones.

It is worth reminding ourselves that economic inequality and social injustice, to the extent that we experience them today, are not inevitable, except within states and societies that consciously choose to organise themselves in certain ways; the United Kingdom is an excellent example of that way of organising things.

Although not a quick fix, independence could create the right conditions for Scotland to positively redefine itself and start to eradicate many of our existing social problems. This should not sound too good to be true, but it does. Why is that?

It is partly because we lack the belief that we could be doing so much better as a country, and there are some unscrupulous politicians within the Better Together campaign who are desperate to keep us feeling that way; but largely because some of our most basic economic beliefs and social values are partly constituted by the politically manufactured institutions that have been stubbornly holding the United Kingdom together well beyond its sell by date.

Regrettably, many of us are now at a point where we can no longer make a confident judgement about the authenticity of the beliefs we hold and can no longer recognise that the source of our social values is to be found within the complex web of capitalism, consumerism, cronyism, corruption, elitism, entitlement and greed, that sits immediately behind the façade of security, stability and certainty (the very things we are being asked to choose by the Better Together campaigners!).

Disdain for those living in poverty and needing government help, because they are bone idle and have become an unaffordable drain on our economy; suspicion of those unable to work due to illness, because they are a burden on our elitist society, and probably at it; fear of increasing integration into the European Union, because Westminster would not be able to call the shots and because it permits immigrants employment rights and benefits we would rather they did not have.

Making life as comfortable as possible for corrupt bankers and financiers because their skills are vital to the prosperity of the City of London and elitism is economically efficient; invading other countries because military intervention is required to deliver them a modern democracy similar to our one.

These are politically manufactured bull shit British attitudes.

They are dangerous and manipulative, but they have served an important purpose for successive United Kingdom governments. The question is: do we just keep going along with them because we don’t yet know which currency we will use in an independent Scotland, or how long it would take to process our application to join the EU? Are you being serious?

There is no disguising the fact that many of the institutions we consider to be supremely and quintessentially British were created to justify the United Kingdom’s imperialistic thinking, whilst many others now exist to encourage us to remain subconsciously wedded to the false and damaging world view created in Westminster, and unashamedly promoted by its band of job’s worth politicians, including the ones living it up in Holyrood and still pretending to care, really care, about economic equality and social justice.

It is this world view that still underpins the union today and is the reason why so many of our deep rooted social problems remain, despite all of the showy efforts to tackle them through the use of meaningless initiatives, such as David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’. British politicians have forgotten what the concepts of social justice and equality actually mean, despite their rhetoric to the contrary.

Westminster’s puppets in Holyrood are keen to argue that the Scottish Government already has the powers it needs to eradicate the high levels of inequality we have in this country; it just chooses not to use them. But that is an illusion. It is too simplistic to think this way. Eradicating inequality cannot be achieved by exercising more of the powers we have at our disposal. Nor would further devolution achieve this. It would just be more of the same way of thinking, within the same set of restrictions and the same end results.

What Scotland needs is the confidence and the creativity to think differently about how it organises itself, and the boldness to return economics and politics to their rightful place within the moral space of reasons.

Independence would not solve all of our problems quickly; but it would offer an opportunity to start again, on Scotland’s terms, and with wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity at the heart of what we are trying to achieve.

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Barking Up the Wrong Constitutional Trees?

David Cameron visited Edinburgh today, where he reminded the people of Scotland that a vote for independence in September would be absolute and final; separation would mean there would be no going back, whereas remaining within the United Kingdom could mean an enhanced devolution agreement. Take from that what you may.

The entire debate has been framed in terms of the people of Scotland having to make a decision between only two options – become an independent country, or stick with status quo unionism. A bewildering mix of argument and counter argument has followed, largely focused on how many extra pounds (or otherwise!) people would have in their pockets at the end of every month, and which big companies would definitely stay and which ones would possibly have to relocate due to obscure European laws.

Whilst all of this has been going on, there has been a resurgence of interest in the idea of some form of federalism as a possible third option. Former Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and former Labour First Minister, Henry McLeish, have been a couple of its higher profile proponents outside of the Liberal Democrats. But how seriously can we take this idea? Would it really offer a better solution for the people of Scotland than independence or unionism? Are September’s options based on out-dated ways of thinking? Is independence the biggest threat to the union, or is it something else?

Henry McLeish declares himself to be “a unionist at heart” in his recent book, ‘Scotland: The Growing Divide’. Despite this, he argues that the union in its current form is not fit for purpose and that it needs to be reformed if it is to survive; but to achieve this, a new way of thinking about sovereignty and statehood would be required otherwise we may not be able to avoid the inevitable dissolution of the three hundred year old union.

The reason why reform is not likely, according to McLeish, is that Westminster has become so insular, so insecure, and so lacking in confidence, that it is unable to embrace the political and economic changes that are exerting significant pressure on the old ways of organising nations, states and political communities.

The views developed by McLeish, and to a lesser extent Brown, draw on some of the ideas contained in Michael Keating’s ‘Rethinking Sovereignty’, in which he argues that twentieth century political thinking about nations, sovereignty and statehood was dominated by the assumption that realising a nation’s claim to self-determination necessarily involves the creation of a separate, independent state.

According to Keating, some political scientists now recognise that there are other constitutional arrangements capable of accommodating the right to self-determination. However, these arrangements would involve rethinking the very idea of sovereignty and if we can do that successfully, we can avoid being locked into a way of thinking that cannot see past the alternatives of independence or status quo unionism.

The classical concept of sovereignty is indivisible and absolute. The Parliament in Westminster is founded upon this principle. So whilst it grudgingly accommodates devolution – because devolution is nothing more than a delegation of powers – it cannot countenance power sharing, as this would require sharing sovereignty.

Keating goes on to say that post-sovereignty thinking understands sovereignty to have multiple sources, rather than being something which is derived from a single source of authority. It is a relationship negotiated among sovereignty holders, and is embedded in a range of wider transnational structures, including international trading agreements, international human rights regimes, the European Union, and so on, within which citizens can legitimately claim to have multiple identities.

In Keating’s view, constitutional pluralism offers the best way of making sense of nationhood, living with diversity, and respecting the flexible boundaries of political communities within the context of global economic change and interdependencies.

As such, and to return to Henry McLeish’s position, there might actually be a better way for the people of Scotland to achieve self-determination and address uniquely Scottish problems within the United Kingdom, than leaving it entirely. But the reason we have not been given this option, despite a strong desire for change, combined with recognition of some of the benefits of being part of the union, is Westminster’s obsession with exceptionalism and the principle of the absolute supremacy of Parliament.

Rethinking sovereignty would mean rethinking the union and the principles upon which it has been founded; rethinking the union would mean progressing towards some form of constitutional pluralism or federalist solution with subnational governments.

So perhaps Alex Salmond and David Cameron have been barking up the wrong constitutional trees all this time; perhaps the choice between only two options would not yield the best possible outcome for Scotland, or the United Kingdom. Perhaps we do need to look at the enormous shift in political thinking that is occurring in front of us and be willing to embrace a new concept of sovereignty within a modern context.

But none of that is likely to happen, at least not in the time remaining, and that is why we are locked into two alternatives; and it is why status quo unionism will remain at risk, even if, in the unlikely event, there is a No vote in September. As Henry McLeish puts it, the biggest threat to the union is not Alex Salmond, but the union itself.

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