In the recent referendum on Scottish independence 63% of those eligible to vote declined the opportunity to make Scotland an independent nation (c.2 million voted against and another 0.8 million didn’t bother to turn out).
On the face of it this might look like an overwhelming majority of Scots are in favour of continuing with the current arrangements for government in which the UK parliament grants some powers to the Scottish parliament. But support for the status quo is by no means as strong as the referendum result implies.
Along with every single one of the people who voted for independence (1.6 million of them) there are substantial numbers of No voters who are disillusioned with the way in which politics are done in the UK and would like to see reforms that make democracy work much better than is currently the case. In the last few days before the referendum even the cloth-eared members of the UK political establishment could hear the rising clamour of discontent as the polls narrowed and the result became too close to call.
In a panicky attempt to secure a No vote the main UK parties joined forces and made a promise to devolve more powers to the Scottish parliament. Lord Smith of Kelvin has been give the task of facilitating discussions and coming up with a set of recommendations of what this might involve. The Smith Commission will be meeting with the great and the good from political parties and civic institutions over the next few weeks to discuss the options and seek consensus on what should be done.
In recognition of the unusual levels of grass-roots participation in the independence debate Lord Smith has also asked for submissions from the public. I have no idea if anyone will read these submissions, let alone allow any of the ideas that they might contain into the discussions around the top table, but having been invited to contribute I feel that we should respond, ideally in our hundreds of thousands. As well as demonstrating to Lord Smith that the appetite for change runs wide and deep a deluge of submissions would remind the political establishment on both sides of the border that they are negotiating for us, the electorate, not their own party interest.
Earlier this week I sent the following submission to email@example.com :
“Our democracy is crude and ineffective. It no longer has the confidence of the electorate and it must be reformed. Your Commission has a unique opportunity to instigate reforms that will benefit the whole of the UK.
With this in mind I would like arrangements between Scotland and the UK to be developed around the following principles.
The union of the United Kingdom is officially acknowledged (e.g. by treaty) to be a voluntary partnership of nations, each of which may determine its own arrangements for government.
The sovereignty of the people of Scotland is made explicit (e.g. by statute).
The Scottish parliament has sole responsibility for all matters relating to the governance of Scotland, except those which are explicitly shared with the UK by mutual agreement. Shared responsibilities include:
- Monetary policy
- UK fiscal policy
- Foreign policy
- International organisations (EU, NATO, etc.)
- Common standards and services (e.g. vehicle licensing)
- Reciprocal access to separate services (e.g. NHS)
Scotland ceases to elect MPs to the House of Commons.
Parliamentary business in Westminster is categorised as UK (inc. Scotland) and rUK (excluding Scotland).
Any MSP may attend Commons debates on UK business.
An agreed number of MSPs (e.g. 59) may vote on any piece of UK business in the Commons.
MSPs’ voting rights in the Commons are assigned by an appropriate proportional method.
The Scottish parliament appoints members to the House of Lords by an appropriate proportional method.
Scottish members of the Lords may only participate in UK business.
The business of the Scottish parliament remains outwith the scope of the House of Lords.
The Scottish parliament appoints ministers to UK government departments in which shared responsibilities are administered.
Scottish ministers in UK departments work on behalf of and report to the Scottish parliament, not the UK government.
Existing UK taxes continue to be levied and administered in common across the UK.
The Scottish parliament receives a per captia share of total UK revenues (replaces Barnett).
The Scottish parliament has the right to levy within Scotland whatever additional taxes it deems appropriate.
The Scottish parliament has 100% control of all spending on all matters (Scottish and UK).
Scottish contributions to shared responsibilities are periodically negotiated and agreed by the Scottish and UK governments.
The UK Treasury facilitates borrowing on behalf of the Scottish parliament, up to an agreed limit that is subject to periodic review.
The Scottish parliament determines the timing and value of any borrowing that it may require, up to the agreed limit.
The UK Treasury is legally responsible for servicing all Scottish national debt.
The Scottish parliament is legally responsible for compensating the UK Treasury for all servicing costs associated with Scottish national debt.”
I’m not expecting much (if any) of the foregoing to become part of the recommendations of the Smith Commission, but if one politician or civil servant reads what I’ve written and it helps him or her to understand that we’re out here and we want radical reform of our democracy, then it will have been worth the effort.