2007 - 2021

It’s coming yet for a’ that …

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The claims and counter-claims of the opposing camps in the Scottish Independence debate have become very familiar – we must be almost word-perfect by now. It’s a bit like those primitive computer Ping Pong games. And we know where the Pong is coming from – the cynical attempts by the Better Together PR machine to manipulate our thinking by “presenting the facts” as they would have us believe. Well, that campaign was always about going nowhere, it is now going nowhere, and by now understood for what it is, it is a wearisome, whinging, spent force, which will offer opportunist sweeteners during its final-days’ death throes.

So are there any new insights? Well, as you would expect, the energy, creativity and far-sightedness are with the Yes movement. In that spirit, if you haven’t met him before, let me introduce you to Walter Bagehot. Now I can’t really do that, since he’s been dead for 137 years, but let’s have a look at why he was, and remains, highly-regarded as a political journalist and thinker.

In 1867, Bagehot published his best-known work, The English Constitution (note in passing, The ENGLISH Constitution, but we’ll let that be). In this, he examined and set out, in full explanation, how the Westminster-based government of Britain works. He is generally credited by defining the operation of British government, the world’s most powerful imperial, colonial government, and he praised much of what he found – endearing him to the many who had a lump in their throats at what they regarded as The Mother of Parliaments.

Bagehot correctly highlighted that the British government, astonishingly, rested upon an unwritten constitution. Not a scrap of a sentence, let alone a paragraph or two, detailing the right of Westminster to govern us, or the rights of any British citizen. Our present-day Westminster government, Commons and Lords, exists by mere habit and repute – “tradition”, as the sentimental would have it. Three hundred years of intricately-detailed laws have by now been enacted by a Parliament which itself has no written basis!

If we could warm up Walter Bagehot and bring him back to review our Westminster government process to-day, he would find almost all of it very familiar: the pomp and ceremony of its opening and the Queen’s Speech; the stage-managed procedure of debate, members complying almost automatically with their Whips’ instructions, Readings of Bills, review by the Lords – most of this is unchanged. He would certainly notice the late-20th Century innovation of a committee system and would probably commend it. He would remark, without a doubt, scathingly, about the absence of good oratory. And he would be astounded, extremely perturbed, to discover that Devolution had awarded Scotland its parliament, Wales its assembly and Northern Ireland its path towards restoring its measure of self-government, but that England had been accorded no such right, or facility! So alert to the way Westminster operates, he would immediately and with force of reason argue that, unchanged, Wsetminster cannot govern Britain and England, without major change.

Before we dismiss Walter Bagehot, however, as a toadying supporter of the then British form of government – in most respects, the Westminster government which dominates our lives to-day – let us look more closely. If you remove the rose-tinted spectacles from those who acclaimed his support for Westminster and look carefully at what he said, his thoughts make very interesting reading, in our own pre-Independence context:

Considering the limited lifespan and effectiveness of governmental systems, he argued: 

The whole history of civilization is strewn with creeds and institutions which were invaluable at first, and deadly afterwards.

My own contention is that Westminster is no longer capable of serving the people of Scotland (or many parts of England, but that’s for our cousins there to debate). Over its centuries, it has made some great decisions and too many lousy ones. It is riven with personal and corporate ambition and vested interest, extending to conspicuous and belatedly-proven corruption. Change in policies is driven mainly by the determination of incoming governments to reverse the policies of its predecessors (though Labour’s loyalty to several Thatcherite notions is remarkable) and by the need to reward its (mostly unseen) backers. It is profligate, corrupt, wasteful, sluggish, with a colossally-heavy Civil Service. It continues to behave with outdated ceremonial and colonial-style self-belief. And it lacks the authority of a responsible constitution. For much of the time, it does not represent and respond to the will of the people of Scotland. If we in Scotland cannot do better than that, there’s something very badly wrong.

It is often said that men are ruled by their imaginations; but it would be truer to say they are governed by the weakness of their imaginations.

The bleak and blurred horizons offered by the strange bedfellows of the “No” campaign prove the point. In marked contrast, the “Yes” movement, often fired by the energy, light-heartedness, vision and enthusiasm of the Scottish cultural awareness, post-Devolution, looks forward to an honest, pragmatic, hands-on future, in a wee country in which we, our children and the generations to come will do ourselves fairly, and proud – our way.

One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea.”

That’s why we are being told by Alistair (the man who, with his next-door-neighbour, presided over the worst financial catastrophe in British history), Johann et al that we had better crawl back into our grey flannel nightshirts, huddle in the familiar gloom, give up these silly notions of bringing a new integrity and direction to Scotland, and let Those Who Know Better continue to make decisions for us. They just don’t get it, there’s no joy, no exhilaration in their future Scotland – and they are scared stiff of losing control of the present, tawdry, hopelessly-outdated and inefficient system, the only one they know, and which has made them what they are.

The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.

Exactly. And in a few days (or, if necessary, in a very few years, for what those of us who favour Independence for Scotland have begun, will not end until our aim is achieved), we will have that deep and thrilling satisfaction and responsibility. The “No” harpies have been saying we can’t. Just watch us.

Aye, that Mr Bagehot knew a thing or two.

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  1. JimnArlene says:

    “It is often said that men are ruled by their imaginations; but it would be truer to say they are governed by the weakness of their imaginations.”
    The no camp in a nutshell.

  2. Optimistic Till I Die says:

    “It is often said that men are ruled by their imaginations; but it would be truer to say they are governed by the weakness of their imaginations.”
    The no camp in a nutshell.

    I don’t think this is quite true – it is the ‘silent majority’ who really lack imagination, especially the Grannies and Grandads like me who swallowed hook, line, and sinker the imperial myths and know every word of Rule Britannia. It is for them that much of the unimaginative No campaign was – and still is – oriented towards, with Alistair Darling still parotting (rather uncomfortably) his familiar refrain, expecting it to strike a chord with those closeted behind closed doors. This week I expect nostalgia, war heroes, and shared battles to come to the fore alongside more economic doom and gloom (cataclysmic doom and gloom if Lord Robertson gets a word in).

    Incidentally, I wonder why Andrew Marr did not ask Alistair Darling this morning about the possible impact of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) on the Scottish NHS. Overall, he gave the impression of laying in to both AD and Alex Salmond but his choice of words and focus on particular topics indicated his (possibly unconscious) bias and letting Alistair of the hook with this topic was a serious omission given how important the NHS is.

    1. Iain Hill says:

      Let’s just focus on Thursday and ignore the rest. The saddest thing is that the real facts are now out concerning most of the scare stories, but that does not seem to deter the BBC and MSM from regurgitating the same questions and the Nomen spouting the same lies yet again. Undisguised lying and propaganda seem now to be the standard.

      When it is over, there will surely be a day of reckoning for the press. Comments in all the newspapers from people down South show they too are distressed by the collapse in credibility of once respected institutions.

      Their focus is wrong anyway The over 60s I know, inc 2 in this house, are voting Yes!

  3. benmadigan says:

    Interesting article but I just want to say Go on Scotland – Focus only on YES

  4. Stephen Watson says:

    Caroline Lucas, our only Green Party MP in the House of Commons has made a number of points:

    In her recent September Conference speech:

    “After four years at Westminster, people often come up to me now and ask whether I’ve got used to it…

    Used to it? The weird and wonderful traditions that make it a cross between Hogwarts and a Gilbert and Sullivan Comic Opera?

    The barracking and routine dishonesty?

    The way the lobbyists for the energy companies and arms companies swan around, knowing they’ve practically bought the place?

    I can reassure you, Conference, that, no, I have not got used to it.”

    In a discussion about families and parliament:

    “She is not the only parent calling for progress. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who has two children, told The Independent that rather than being a “beacon of best practice” Parliament is an “institution stuck in a past century”. A mother is not allowed to breastfeed in the voting chamber, take a child in, or be entitled to automatic maternity cover. There is no crèche on site [there is a nursery] and working hours – though improved – are still deemed unsociable. On Mondays, the House sits until 10.30pm and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays until 7.30pm.”

    And discussing her first day in the commons:

    “The new MPs were shown some of the ropes – the coat-hooks, with their pink ribbons on which to hang swords, the chamber, where they were formally inducted, and which was never meant to hold 650 MPs – in fact, it can’t, and one of the many things they were told was how to secure a seat on the green benches for a day: turn up for 8am prayers, receive a prayer card, and mark a seat with it. “I mean, what a weird way of allocating things!”

    It’s like a sitcom …

  5. Iain Hill says:

    The lack of a written British constitution, codifying our rights and responsibilities – for tradition read self interest.

  6. Listen to your elders

    I hear the sounds of ancient voices
    Don’t be confused by the choices
    For all the children of the clan’s
    The time is now for joining hand’s
    For too long we have been polite
    Now is the time to show our might
    It’s a simple thing to choose
    There’s nothing real to lose
    It will soon be time for celebration
    A Scotland as a Sovereign Nation
    James Dow

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