Scotch Myths 5: Countries Need to be Defined in Advance by Powerful men
I might be alone in this but I am suddenly deeply drawn to the debate about the constitution of an independent Scotland. It is exciting, filled with possibilities, inspiring even. Pity it’s only in my head.
Because what I hear from the outside world depresses me. We have Unionist Politician demanding to know how many soldiers Nationalist Politician is going to have in an independent Scotland. Then Nationalist Politician tells Unionist Politician to stop worrying because we’ll keep the Queen as head of state. Then they set about each other as Unionist Politician demands to know what currency Nationalist Politician is going to foist upon us.
I watch this with growing resentment. Is an independent Scotland meant to be a democratically-founded nation or is it to be stitched up in a negotiation between a gang of professional politicians and even-more professional civil servants? What if every Scot in the country wanted to mint a new Scottish currency. Would we be overruled on grounds of convenience? If there was a strong majority in favour of getting rid of the archaic concept of Monarchy would we be overruled? Is the constitution of our country a matter for Powerful Men and not a subject for discussion with citizens?
Let me be absolutely clear – I have no issue with politicians stating their favoured solutions to the many constitutional conundrums ahead. It’s just that surely there should be at least a hint of ‘in my opinion’ as they do. Things like ‘in my opinion we should have an airforce base’ or ‘my preference is for Sterling’.
If there is one overwhelming reason for disillusionment with the British state (in my opinion) it is that over centuries it has developed the self-certainty that the big decisions must be made behind closed doors and the public kept at arms length at any cost. You the public don’t understand defence. You the public don’t understand economics. You the public don’t understand the importance of the monarchy. So away back to your TV talent contest and we’ll let you know when we’re done.
My hope for Scotland is that it is something more than this. I’d like someone to say one simple thing: the constitution is for the people to decide. A democracy which is born as an oligarchy will forever regret its birth. Those who wish to make a claim about the shape of the constitutions should do so – in the year after Scotland becomes independent we should all be given time to make up our minds. We should then vote in an election on the basis of what options are put on the table. A democratic constitution is surely not such a leap.
And then (almost more objectionably) I hear Unionist Politician demand ‘and what rates of tax will people have to pay once Scotland starts on this social democratic route?’. What a patronising and insulting question. I answer you this – tell me today if and when you’re going to bomb Iran and I’ll tell you what our future policies will be. Which country must answer for the things it is yet to do? The decisions in a democracy are made with at least some reference to that democracy. To ask political parties that don’t yet exist to make policies for times that we can guess about for a country not yet born and which has not yet had an election brings only shame and embarrassment to the questioner. We are not some colonial backwater unfamiliar with the concept of elections; we know the meaning of ‘manifesto’.
Britain doesn’t know what it’s going to do tomorrow never mind in three years’ time. That’s why George Osborne set up the Office for Perpetually Revised Statistics (‘the Government today admitted that everything it told us was going to happen to the economy last week is now not going to happen, but by way of reassurance it has now told us something completely different which is now definitely going to happen’).
What will be the constitution of an independent Scotland? Scotland will decide. What policies will Scotland pursue? Scotland will decide. Return to your port and your cigars and patronise us no longer. A country is not defined in advance by an elite or expected to answer for its own future. Not a proper country.
So are we to be a proper country?