My view on Scotland’s constitutional future

If you haven’t read my previous post explaining what I’m trying to do here, feel free to take a look.

In this post I will set out the thinking behind my views on Scottish independence.

For what it’s worth, I think within a couple of decades the idea of the independent nation state will almost be completely alien. In a lot of ways, it already is. In an increasingly globalised world, countries are increasingly defined not in terms of their own peculiar characteristics but in terms of their relationships with other countries.

For instance, we think of countries as being members of transnational organisations. Countries are usually members of organisations such as the EU, Nato, the UN, the Commonwealth, any number of free trade blocs, special relationships… I could go on.

I have never heard it suggested that the SNP, or supporters of independence as a whole, would wish to do away with Scotland’s membership and / or use of such transnational institutions and agreements (though I’m aware that the SNP is opposed to membership of Nato — just making the point that it’s not the principle of such institutions that the SNP objects to). Nor should they. But unquestionably each of these in some way limits the independence of any country that signs up to it.

So what makes these institutions good (or at least tolerable) while Westminster is so bad? What I struggle to understand about the independence supporter’s position is why there is seemingly no part for Westminster to play in any plans for Scotland’s future.

To bring us back on to common ground, I should point out that my views are almost certainly driven by the same motivations that drive the feelings behind support for independence. Notably this would be the principle of subsidiarity, which means that decisions should be taken at as local a level as feasibly possible. As such, I would support an extension of the Scottish Parliament’s powers in many areas.

But it seems to me unreal to believe that there can be no role for Westminster; that there should be no reserved matters. One thing that is pretty neat about the UK is that most of it is made up of Great Britain, a relatively conveniently-sized island. It is certainly not too big to be adequately governed. It would seem quite silly not to take advantage of this geographical reality.

There are surely areas where the economies of scale trump subsidiarity. Foreign policy and defence might be one area, although I understand that many supporters of independence would find this difficult to swallow after the Iraq War (though a lot of people in the rest of the UK find the Iraq War difficult to swallow as well.)

National disasters could be another area. For instance, the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak which affected both Scotland and England with Cumbria, right on the border, especially hit hard. In such a crisis situation, if the government had to place certain restrictions, or even emergency legislation had to be passed, it would be more efficient (and less costly) for there to be just one government involved rather than have to set up meetings so that you could get multiple governments to agree to a solution.

I’m not saying that it would be impossible for multiple governments to agree. But it would surely be efficient enough to make it worthwhile for there to be a UK-wide system in place. And having two governments involved would only double the chances of there being a cock-up, there is the danger that there will be crossed wires and so forth.

Of course, we are in a bit of a crisis at the moment. Alex Salmond has made much about what an independent Scotland maybe might have possibly been able to achieve. This is mostly fantasy talk though, because we have no way of knowing how an independent Scotland would have coped (meanwhile one of an independent Scotland’s blueprints, Iceland, is facing quite acute difficulty at the moment — sorry for straying off the fluffy consensus-seeking territory there!). I suspect Salmond is only using the crisis to advocate independence, but as leader of the SNP that’s his job.

But there has been plenty of hand-wringing among commentators about how difficult it has been to get world leaders to agree on the best way to tackle this global crisis. What if some kind of major crisis hit the former members of the UK and the leaders got into a stalemate? You can say we have that in this globalised world anyway and there’s nothing we can do about it. But creating even more failure points is hardly a constructive way to approach this.

So that is, in brief, the thinking behind my view on the constitution — how I see powers being distributed between Westminster and Holyrood. I’m delighted to see that Adopted Domain has already written his take on this, and I think our viewpoints are quite similar. A good start!

14 comments

  1. An independent Scotland would have been free to choose whether to get involved in the illegal aggression of Iraq or not. The overwhelming majority of Scottish people did not want to get involved. As part of the UK, we had no choice.

    The UK reaction to Foot & Mouth was a disaster, and caused enormous damage to Scottish tourism; far worse than the disease itself would ever have caused. (This is leaving aside underlying questions of legality regarding freedom of movement etc). An independent Scotland would have been free to devise a method of containment that suited our own circumstances. As part of the UK, we had no choice.

    Inevitably, and rightly, an independent Scotland would be in constant contact and discussion with Westminster about issues that concern us mutually. But let’s go into these discussions without one hand tied behind our backs.

  2. agentmancuso,

    A government in an independent Scotland would still be able to make decisions that certain people in certain areas were opposed to. Given that the UK’s involvement in the Iraq War was rubber-stamped by one Scotsman and bankrolled by another, it’s not entirely clear to me why an independent Scotland would automatically have better foreign policy. Meanwhile, it would be stupid not to take advantage of the UK’s size and shape which is more or less ready-made for efficient use of defence resources.

    Do you really think it would be a good idea for Scotland and the rest of the UK to take two different approaches to tackling a foot-and-mouth disease-style scenario? I don’t, particularly when the focus of the disease is right on the border! Inevitably governments will always get things wrong in the eyes of many, but that is a fact of governments in general, not a fact of the UK government only.

  3. I wouldn’t be against sharing some powers with Westminster post independence. But we would need to define what they were.

    Defence – no.
    Foreign policy – no.
    Tax and economy – no.
    Benefits and pensions – no.
    Broadcasting – perhaps, I would favour a continuing link with the BBC albeit under different rules.
    Energy – perhaps, in terms of transmission etc though it would need to be on different terms.
    Transport – yes, I can see good arguments for sharing a lot of functions on transport.
    Environment – yes, ditto. For example there’s not much point having a GM free Scotland if England goes the other way.
    Outer space and time – yes, unless we discover a time machine.

    The starting off point however would have to be does it work for us to share these powers? Is there an advantage in it for both parties? Much as it works with the EU. If it will benefit everyone it’s a good thing. But not if it benefits one partner at the expense of the other which is the way it works at present.

    What many unionists don’t really get is that independence would give Scotland and England the chance to work in genuine partnership where we shared similar interests.

  4. Great stuff Indy, thanks for setting out your viewpoint!

    I’m interested that you include time in the ‘yes’ category. Would that include daylight savings time I wonder? That is one case where I think Scotland and the rest of the UK may be happier determining that separately.

  5. Intrigued by your premise that multiple governments= more failure points. Are you perhaps tending towards the Wellsian solution to world problems- benign world dictatorship (“Things to Come”. “The World Set Free”?) How quaint!

  6. An independent Scotland would have a better defence policy because any Scottish government would know that sending Scottish troops to be killed in an illegal war at the behest of the US government would be electoral suicide.
    The fact the British PM happens to be personally Scottish is irrelevant: he was banking on the peculiar tolerance of the English electorate for grotty foreign wars.
    By removing Scotland from the Axis of Aggression, an independent Scotland would have much less to fear from Islamicist terrorism.
    An independent defence policy would would also include removing the obscenity of nuclear weapons from our country.

  7. Agentmancuso, That’s funny; I didn’t know English people were more inclined to support grotty foreign wars. Care to explain that? I seem to recall that the Iraq War attracted the largest public demonstration ever seen in the UK. You have still ignored my point that any policy in any area no matter where the parliament is based will have support in some quarters and opposition in others.

    It may be the case that the particular parts of defence policy you mention are less popular in Scotland than they are in the rest of the UK (I don’t know). But it begins to look as though you support independence because you believe that’s the easiest way to get the policies you like, rather than because independence per se is a good thing. That’s just gerrymandering. And as I’ve pointed out in a recent post, you could as easily chop up Scotland into bits where policy X is more popular than policy Y and so on.

    Elizabeth, I don’t think it’s controversial to point out that the more politicians you add to the mix the more likely discussions are to reach deadlock.

  8. How I view the constitutional future of an ‘independent’ Scotland…hmmmm…

    I am still neither for nor against an independent Scotland, haven’t yet made up my mind or been persuaded, though I have always tended towards the pro-independence side of the argument and am confident that within the next 10-15 years, Scotland will have voted YES to independence.

    It’s a good point that due to the EU/NATO/EC/Euro etc, we would not in fact be fully independent and I’m pretty sure that most people would agree that we’d be keen to be a member of at least one of the internationals organisations out there.

    But of the question of UK based independence? Doctorvee suggests some powers may not be removed from the authority of Westminster on the basis of practicality. I (kind of) agree. On defence and the military, I would be keen to keep the current set up, with it all being controlled as one unit. I don’t want a separate Scottish Army and a separate Former United Kingdom’s Welsh-Anglo Reservists (FUKWAR?), I want the British Army/UK Army/Isles Army, whatever you want to call it. Essentially, Scottish independence with an Entente Cordial (*more on this later) with the rest of the Former UK (FUKs?) on defence.

    This would then lead to questions of “who calls the shots when crunch time comes”. Whether that’s Westminster, or an inter-governmental committee that was set up who we give control to, I still believe we would all be in a better position with this kind of set up (I could go into specifics, but it’d be pointless – you get the principle).

    I also believe, as I’m sure many will agree, that after gaining independence, we would be keeping the sterling pound (¬£) for the foreseeable future, and again, I would recommend that we keep the current Bank of England set up (with at least one of the board of governors being selected by the Scottish Parliament). Then, if we chose to take on the Euro, keep the sterling pound or even a new currency ‘the Jock’ (pennies could be ‘jockles?), we could do so when we wished, but the stabiliy this would offer in the early years, I think, would be a reasonable way to progress.

    Then there is the issue of what we currently call a ‘national emergency’ – the attempted bombings in London and Glasgow airport and foot-and-mouth for example.

    As I detailed before(*), we would have some sort of agreement – an entente cordial, a council of ministers, some sort of mechanism – where when it was necessary, the two Governments would have an agreed council/team made up of the relevant minsters, advisers etc who would, as part of their jobs, take charge of such matters, making decisions as a whole. These would be agreed withint strict, set parameters which would (hopefully) avoid any political posturing or manoeuvers in order to deal with the serious issues. Again, this is where working with (not necessarily as a part of) Westminster would be, in my view, a sensible course of action.

    So to answer Doctorvee’s questions…

    “I am going to ask if everyone believes that different powers should be held at different levels. This could be Scotland as part of the EU, Scotland as part of the UK and the EU, or whatever other permutations you care to come up with. I have already noted that I think almost everyone agrees with the principle of this. Am I wrong?”

    You are not wrong. I believe, as do you, that the modern world no longer operates, in the main, as a planet made up of all independent nations. I believe we would be better served by being part of the EU (especially in our infancy as an independent nation).

    I have always been very sceptical of the EU as an institution, and don’ believe it is nearly as efficient and effective as it could or should be, but the principle of the EU is a good one for an independent Scotland, and as long as we aren’t forced into signing the (hopefully doomed) EU constitution, then I’m confident Scotland would prosper.

    I, however don’t believe we necessarily have to be part of the UK, though we can and should work closely with them within a new ‘British Isles Union’ (or something along those lines) within which we can gain and offer help when it is best for us all on very few, but very important issues.

    Day to day Government, such as schools and hospitals and transport etc, yes, should be part of an independent Scotland’s control, but we should have tools, mechanisms and trust enough to utilise the UK, the EU, whoever, with such links being embedded into our national plan.

    Over to you Doctorvee…

  9. Wow, and there was me thinking I had explained my position!

    Great stuff Political Dissuasion, a very detailed plan. I like everything you say and I think I agree with almost all of it.

  10. I personally don’t think that the general English population (these days) are more inclined to foreign (mis)adventure than anyone else.
    However, I think it’s undeniable that the establishment classes are struggling with the UK’s post-imperial identity and a disconnection from this mentality would be achieved by the ‘break-up’ of the constituent parts.
    I, therefore, would be extremely wary of reserving (to whom?) defence.
    I’d be hugely interested to observe the creation of a new establishment in an independent Scotland in the cold, harsh light of the 21st century. As the old chestnut has it, power corrupts and the centuries old UK establishment (augmented by its clientel√©) needs to have its rotting digits prized from our throats.
    In areas where there is advantage in pooling our strength, and I agree there are some, I’d perhaps accept a ‘council of the isles’ sort of thing – where each nation has one vote.
    I agree that transport could be sensibly dealt with on an island-wide basis.
    There would undoubtably be co-operation on some scale in criminal matters (although I’m sure that would be the case with independence).
    I’m not sure that a representative from the Scottish Parliament sitting on the board of governers of the B of E would make a whit of difference.
    If there were representatives from N.Ireland (initially), Wales and Scotland who could jointly veto decisions on, for instance, interest rates, that would provide a bulwark against the kind of blinkered, metropolocentric thinking that has cost us time and again.
    Generally, the areas I see pooled sovereignty making sense are defined by our geography. For almost everything else, I think it more appropriate that it’s dealt with at national, European, or international level.

  11. Doctor,

    I mean that no matter how big demonstrations in England were against the invasion of Iraq, English voters seem no less inclined to vote for parties that supported said invasion. In Scotland, there has been a significant shift towards parties that condemned it.

    It’s self-evidently true that policies tend to be more popular in some places than they are in others. But Scotland is a distinct legal entity; parts of Scotland are merely administrative conveniences, so talk about ‘splitting Scotland up’ is nonsense.

    I support independence because it is an expression of the politics in which I believe viz. bringing government as close to people as possible. I don’t really believe that an independent Scottish government would follow my line of thinking in many other regards, but on the issue of foreign policy, I’m with the majority for once.

  12. As an Englishman I support an Independent Scotland, no more would we in England have Scots MPs voting to keep ‘top up fees’ in England, only for their brethren in Scotland voting to have no fees for Scotland’s universities.

    Who knows we in England may even get Free prescriptions, as I am sure should the matter come to Westminster, Scots MPs would be ‘good little boys’ and vote for whichever way the Government told them. (In my view keeping prescription charges in England).

    Further if Scotland did become Independent, I trust you would be only to glad to accept your share of National Debt, or even as most of the problems of late were caused by Scottish banks HBOS, RBS, maybe you should take the lions share caused by your fellow Countrymen, and fellow Country banks.

    As for a different time zone. Who says all us English want to stay one hour ahead of GMT, all year round? Why the Government in Westminster! Run by ?? Scots!!

    In regard to the BBC, why we may even get at last a BBC England, instead of ‘Regions’. Which has lead to the case of having a programme about ‘The History of Scotland’. When will we get ‘The History of England’? Probably never, because England does not at present exist for the BBC.

    Come an Independent Scotland the case for a BBC England would be unstoppable. At the very least it would stop the present unworkable ideas of splitting England into ‘Regional Governments.

    The reason? Because Labour is anti English, and wish us to go away, and pay our taxes and be happy to be marginalised.

    HOME RULE FOR ENGLAND!!! ALL OF ENGLAND

  13. I notice since my comments no one else has written anything on this subject. Meanwhile we see England being destroyed by the corrupt Scots in charge (Darling!, Brown!) Even Salmond has had his hand in the till, true so have English MP’s. But who has been running the Government? Who has to take the blame? Sorry to say it’s the Scot’s.

    Independence for England, then see us go back to being a good country, deciding our own fate, not in the hands of a Country who has no love for us, ie the Scots.

    We did very well before the Union, Scotland was in a very bad financial state before the Union. Scotland has gained most from the present set up, England has not. Even when you take into account that the North Sea oil area could be partially English under present internationally agreed rules, and maybe we should have harped on about English Gas? Never did did we? The sooner we are free in England the better. As the SNP DJ said at a recent party I attended in Scotland. ‘Freedom and Independence for Scotland’, to which I replied ‘And for England too’! England, underrepresented, overuled, over taxed and under appreciated.