2007 - 2021

Networking Popular Democracy


It’s an opinion rather than a scientific poll but I believe most support for Independence comes from the heart whereas the Unionist opposition comes from the head.

This is largely down to how few useful facts are available upon which to base sound judgements.  Discounting the zealots on both sides, most ‘head’ voters will opt to stay in harbour until the fog clears.

This is not to say they are happy with what passes for government at Westminster or the absence of any credible opposition on the horizon.  Indeed, many speculate how much longer the neoliberal elite of  the Home Counties and the City of London can continue to co-exist with Greater Britain. The impression is building that the Tory dominance is likely to continue without credible challenge until there is some major disruption.

What should be concerning us here and now is that this Unionist faction is currently hard pressed to find any  evidence to suggest that a Scottish government would do any better, Certainly the SNP has never made any serious attempt to explain why we would benefit from independence. At best there are a few vague assumptions none of which could be regarded as a well thought out policy commitment. We are left to speculate if this is astute political judgement or simply beyond the abilities of the present incumbents.

In such fertile ground to grow new ideas about popular democracy and more imaginative government there should be growing interest and support for independence. There must surely be  a huge group of ‘Heads’ who should be supporting independence but who remain unconvinced.

Even among the hearty ranks of the independence camp there is a substantial minority who share the common belief that the SNP is the vehicle to deliver a ‘Yes’ vote, but that it’s currently not up to the job because of this failure to deliver a design concept, let alone a blueprint or vision of independence.

Of course, it’s easy to criticise and running any kind of government during a pandemic creates additional pressures, but we didn’t have Covid for many years before and after 2014 and the last referendum made it abundantly clear that without an economic and financial policy the ‘Heads’ would vote NO again.

It is simply not credible that the entire resources of hundreds of well-paid MSPs, civil servants and research staff should not have come up with something more than Baby Boxes and a minimum price for alcohol. So, what conclusion can any of us draw other than that is the present administration is perfectly comfortable and has no intention to rock the devolution boat?

I sincerely hope this is unduly pessimistic and perhaps the Green Coalition will provide some much-needed traction, even so, there is something which we ordinary citizens can and should do which would add momentum to the independence bandwagon – but it comes with a price.

The price is the time and effort required to do the work we are paying our politicians to do and that’s to draft out the blueprint for Independence, discuss it among ourselves and then persuade credible numbers of us to vote for its adoption. Yes – that’s going over the heads of the politicians, doing their job and not being paid, but if we can attract just some of the many Scots who are both smart enough and public spirited enough then it can be done

Assembling the wisdom of many citizens and not leaving our future solely to politicians would tap a huge resource and with sufficient support the politicians would have to listen. –

Pie in the sky? Well yes –  if only a handful respond, but a revolutionary tool for Popular Democracy. If that aspiration going back to 1320 is ever to be more than just a hollow phrase, then we ‘ordinary’ citizens will need to work at it. Think of it as an insurance policy because if the SNP does have a cunning plan, then a Citizen input will gild the lily; if they have not then this will be the lily!

Report for Citizen Duty at https://constitutionforscotland.scot/ … the Hearts to debate the principles of popular democracy, comment and vote their preferences for the new Scotland and the Heads to propose the amendments to the draft model Constitution to make it happen.

Please, please don’t just leave it to someone else….

Ronnie Morrison is a Trustee of Constitution for Scotland.

Comments (22)

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  1. Malcolm Kerr says:

    Well put, Ronnie. Right on the money, and concise. Call to action which it appears the politicians are dodging.

  2. Blair Breton says:

    The case for Indian can and should have a fact based argument to couple with emotional. Such things as an Indy version of GERs, Border plans, currency, reserve bank, constitution et al

  3. Colin Robinson says:

    The trouble with any blueprint or vision of independence is that it would alienate at least half the voters.

    I suspect that MIddle Scotland – that silent centrist majority who don’t much mind whether the government sits in London or Edinburgh – don’t want things to change that much or that radically. It’s quite content with the Thatcherite ‘property-owning democracy’ that governments of all hues have since propped up with current and future public money.

    This is the Scotland that the SNP doesn’t want to scare off with ‘blueprints’ or ‘visions of independence’. Best to keep things vague: vote for independence and things will be more-or-less the same, only better

    I also believe that keeping things deliberately vague and nebulous is also the strategy behind those who urge that now is not the time to worry about what independence will look like; get it first, then we can make what we will of it after the event (as if Scotland’s ruling elite – its haute bourgeoisie or professional class, its establishment – would allow that to happen).

    The watchword seems to be ‘softly, softly, catchee monkey’: proceed cautiously to capture a target without startling and causing it to run away.

    1. Blair Breton says:

      Your point strikes me as valid. The Brexit referendum was won on emotion so there is backing for the concept in history. That said the Union side will ask quest ions about currency, border, Scotland too wee and poor etc. Answers will be required.

    2. Axel P Kulit says:

      Hmm… She has done a marvellous job but is it perhaps time for here to hand the reins to someone else. Problem is WHO?

      Any blueprint has to energise the comfortably off Soft NO voter and soft YES voters. This can be done through greed or fear. Fear is likely to be more effective.

      Greed: after a couple of years Scotland will be able to afford to lower taxes and raise pensions etc etc
      Fear: The Tories will abolish Pensions and raise stealth taxes which will affect the middle class.

      etc etc.

      Now ita up to the creative people to come up with a good blueprint.

    3. Simon Taylor says:

      I think you’ve nailed it Colin.
      But surely self determination ( because that’s what it is ) , is an emotive position anyway.
      Middle Scotland is conservative ( with a small c ) . They like the idea of risk, the thrill of opportunities but , when push comes to shove, are not prepared to risk their comfortable Morningside or Newton Mearns lifestyles to achieve it. These are the people who will happily cheer on Scotland at Murrayfield, bedecked in their Tartan C U Jimmy hats and wearing kilts with Tartans that are aesthetic rather than genetic. These are the people that will put an Ecosse and GB sticker on their cars when travelling in France and identify as Scottish ( with a small s ) when challenged on foreign holidays . They want to be different to the English…but not TOO different. Brexit, the Pandemic and an increasingly insecure UK has challenged their status quo world. This is an opportunity. How do we improve things through Independence?
      The flip side to an Independence manifesto so rigidly set in facts is its inflexibility. Wrt the UK can any Unionists tell us what our pensions will be worth in 10 years, the ultimate end point of Brexit, food standards, trade deals etc. etc. With Independence as with change nothing can ( and should ) be written in stone.

      1. Colm B says:

        Much of the above comments are valid but only if independence in itself is the goal – you convince the relatively small number of middle class centrist voters to switch from No to Yes by convincing them that nothing will really change with independence. And surprise surprise, if that strategy is pursued, nothing will really change with independence.

        On the other hand, for many of us, independence is a means to an end – a radical transformation of society to one based on equality and real democracy. In which case the idea that you gain independence by shifting right and ensuring no meaningful social or economic change occurs just doesn’t make sense. On a factual basis, the big shift that happened in the 2014 referendum was that of urban working class voters who had up until then voted Labour but now saw independence as being about a more equal society (rather than the myth that all those Glaswegians, Dundonians etc. suddenly became Braveheart style super-nats). That process of winning working class voters over is by no means complete, and it’s the task that those who believe in independence as part of a process rather than a final goal, would be wise to focus on.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          But the problem most radicals have is that of winning over a Scotland that’s generally content with the status quo to their particular minority vision. My syndicalist vision of independent Scotland as a loose confederation of autonomous communities united only by the principle of subsidiarity excites me, but it scares the sh*t out of Middle Scotland as much as the vision of a good old-fashioned centrally directed socialist state does.

          Political idealism is dead; managerial pragmatism rules, okay! The SNP recognises this. Its vision of an independent Scotland is that of a pragmatically managed economy that doesn’t upset the general will of society by adversely affecting its mortgages, pensions, and spending power; that is, its vision is an inherently conservative one that chimes in with the social hopes of Middle Scotland.

  4. Andrew Fraser says:

    I am astonished that someone like Ronnie should write his opening remarks about hearts and heads. Who today would join a union where you are placed in a permanent democratic deficit, always at the mercy at what your partner decides? Ask Unionists to explain their position and the answers you get will demonstrate that they have a sentimental attachment to the Union based on things such as shared history or else that they actually believe the patently false ‘too wee, too poor’ line. Wanting to decide your own future is both normal and sensible. Subservience is not.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      But the nationalists are asking the people of Dumgall etc. to enter a political union (‘Scotland’) in which they will be placed in a permanent democratic deficit, always at the mercy of what the majority of ‘Scotland’ decides?

      Ask nationalists to explain their position and the answers you get will demonstrate that they have a sentimental attachment to ‘Scotland’ based on things such as shared history or else believe the patently false ‘too wee, too poor’ line in relation to its constituent communities.

      Wanting to decide your own future is both normal and sensible. Subservience is not.

      1. Andrew Fraser says:

        Where exactly is the nation of Dumgall? By trying to reduce things to the absurd you are telling us a lot about yourself, and it is not to your credit.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          I don’t know whether you’d want to call it a ‘nation’, but Dumgall is a political union comprising of a number of communities that are located in the western Southern Uplands. It’s currently ruled over from Edinburgh by a government it didn’t vote for; though it does have its own devolved administration, with limited powers, based in Dumfries.

          Some of us cite the latter democratic deficit as part of the argument for independence. But many nationalists poo-poo this idea, arguing that Dumgall would be too wee and/or too poor to thrive on its own.

          1. James Mills says:

            Nurse ! WE have another one !

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            1. The state of my mental health is irrelevant to the matter at hand.

            2. You really shouldn’t stigmatise mental ill-health by perpetuating it, even jokingly, as an occasion for insult or mockery.

            3. If you detect a problem with my comparison, James, then please explain wherein that problem lies. In what respects are the two cases not comparable?

  5. Alexis P Walrus says:

    I strongly question the notion that unionists are using their heads as regards Independence and pro indy people derive their decision from emotion.
    My experience is that pro indy people have used their heads to come to their decision via pragmatism and research or at least listening to others. Whilst I now avoid (unless pushed hard then I’ll dive in deep) discussions with unionists because it’s almost inevitable that when they’ve asked me all their questions and I’ve answered them they quickly become belligerent and aggressive (emotions) when they can’t respond with constructive or even sensible answers to my questions.
    So much has happened over the last few years as regards the Independence movement that perhaps the OP has forgotten that there never has been a time in the last three centuries when there was not a drive for Independence.
    It wasn’t Brexit, empty supermarket shelves, Boris Johnson other recent events etc that made the Independence drive happen. It was the intellectual principle and pragmatic decision that people have taken that the Government of one country should never be in a position to dictate to the country next door?
    It wasn’t right that Russia effectively governed countries of the Warsaw Pact, it’s not right (and detrimental) that a Parliament in London govern Scotland. If you trust someone to look after your business they will Rob you, it’s that simple.
    Once their decision is made Pro Indy voters may become passionate (emotional) about the need to achieve Independence but I don’t know anyone that arrived via emotions, and living in the same kind of social bubble as unionists do I know a hell of a lot of Pro Independence minded people.

    1. Hi Alexis
      thanks for this – and largely agree.
      The idea that the pro-indy voices are driven by passion and the cool-headed unionists are thoughtful is (imho) an outdated cliche. In fact when you look across the hyper Anglo-British nationalism; the Brexit fiasco; and a country being run by Dominic Raab, Boris Johnson and Priti Patel there is nothing ‘rational’ about that. In addition much of Project Fear was driven by heightened emotions, a refusal to debate and the instillation of fear in older people.

  6. Derek says:

    Almost not a week goes by where I learn for the first time that someone in my social and professional circles is pro-independence. There is often reference made to the ‘quiet no’s’. I wonder whether there are as many quiet yesses? In the limited exchange I have online with people who have no desire for Scottish independence, or who are not convinced, it seems that they focus on a single issue: cost. They seem to be uninterested or ambivalent to the other side of that analysis: benefit. This, in my experience, is capitalised on by the anti-indy supporters – some of whom are far from pro-UK. I feel that the campaigning towards a second referendum must be explicit about the costs and demonstrate the benefits. We don’t need to persuade everyone who was previously in the 55% – 1 fifth of them would be enough.

  7. Tom Ultuous says:

    When people go on about the economic cost I ask them “If you had the chance to sign yourself out of an asylum would you decide to stay locked in forever because you didn’t have your bus fare home?”

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      And they then, I presume, reject your hyperbolic analogy.

      1. Tom Ultuous says:

        No, they say the price of bus fares these days is nobody’s business.

  8. SleepingDog says:

    The heart is not a decision-making organ, as far as I know. And why should hearts all go one way, and heads another?

    You might be better representing the complexity of human social decision making by looking at complexity theory, or if you are concerned with how individuals make choices, looking at cognitive biases: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_bias

    But most perhaps it is simply the case that people have differing values (even if they vary over time, and can conflict in various ways), and priorities (which also vary over time), have finite resources to devote to optimising decision-making, and varying amounts of will to apply to (often hard) decisions. The idea of citizens’ assemblies is to partly address these aspects hampering human decision-making.

    Presumably data analysis of social media and online (and offline) activity has already produced clusters of attributes that have been processed into a number of personality profiles specifically tailored to the question of Scottish Independence, possibly characterised with further biases or stereotypes, but with at least a limited scientific basis of correlation.

    Significant research has gone into how and why people join movements, how tipping points are reached, how influence works to change minds. We know that social change happens, after all. There are usually instigators of change, and patterns of suasion.

    There is no separation of emotion and rational decision making. Emotions are how we assign value. Without value, there is no point in making any decisions at all. What you need is a functional theory of mind that corresponds to observed behaviour. In general, there will be cases where a person will have an idea of what they feel they should do, which conflicts with another idea of what they would otherwise prefer to do (maybe nothing in each case). One of the significant differences is that a person may feel more negative about an action that brings about a worse state of affairs than an inaction. This is perhaps the ‘better the devil you know’ option. The problem that many have tried to highlight is that the Union (or the UK, or British Empire) is a devil that many people living in the UK do *not* know, which is why many activists want to educate people about that devil, and why there is a reactionary backlash against wokism and the British culture wars. On the other hand, discomfort due to, for example, cognitive dissonance (roughly speaking, things don’t add up), increased exposure to external or new good examples, discovery of internal or old bad examples, rational processing of the trajectory of the status quo into hell, generational renewal and uncovery of corruption and deceit, all feed into notions that ‘something must be done’, at some point a revolutionary something (according to conversion theory, at crisis point/stage a person becomes willing for a one-way personal revolution).

    Indeed, Bella has featured some personal stories of such conversions.

    Another interesting question is what makes some changes of mind (semi)permanent, or at least one-way? What ratchet effects may apply? This is fertile discussion ground for the benefits of codified constitutions. And constitutionally, we should examine the nature of the current British Empire, looking beyond the UK to its colonies, tax havens, governing and non-self-governing territories, its client states, its diplomacy, and reflect on how an independent Scottish model would be radically different.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      No doubt, social decision-making is a complex process. And, if you want to manipulate it and, in so doing, engineer the ‘right’ decisions in accordance with your special interest, then it’s no doubt important to understand that process. The science of social decision-making is ultimately the science of marketing.

      The whole thrust of liberal democracy, however, is to make social decision-making immune from manipulation by special interests; that is, to keep the decision-making process – the market – free. Thus it impedes the process by filling its constitution with all manner of legal checks and balances that are designed to prevent ‘right’ decisions from emerging and tyrannising society as a whole.

      So, what liberal democracy needs is not a functional theory of mind of any kind, but a constitution that ensures as far as possible that no ‘truths’ can come to monopolise our collective decision-making, that our collective decision-making takes place in a free (unregulated) market of competing opinion.

      (BTW Hasn’t the old Cartesian category of ‘mind’ been superseded in our postmodern discourse? Has it not gone the way of ‘phlogiston’?)

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