Should the people of Scotland become completely self-governing?

The alternative question at the referendum should be: “Should the people of Scotland become completely self-governing?”

Here’s why:

I feel very disappointed by Nicola’s handling of the referendum bid. I seems to me that she and the SNP leadership are behaving in a way that is a mirror image of what is to be expected from the British State. It is a failure of the imagination and of courage. What will happen now is a tediously long-drawn-out process of eventually discovering how the legal and state establishments in both Scotland and England make of her request.

At very best, the outcome will be a re-run of the 2014 ding-dong battle between the YES campaign and the NO campaign, with various prestigious actors wheeled out say their bit and influence the outcome. Supposing this time YES gets 51% and NO gets 49 %, are we to think that that will be democracy in action? I don’t. Are we to think this will resolve the matter? I don’t. It means that things will go on exactly as before, with the bigwigs of the Scottish and British parliaments continuing to be the main actors on the stage, still governing the ever-more-centralised Scotland as before. That is not self-government. That is the status quo ante.

It is not democracy at all, in any significant way. It is another round of elective dictatorship. We the people are still the impotent audience.

We now know much more about ancient Athenian democracy than we did in 2014. See for example Robert Garland’s Athenian Democracy (2018) and Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Athenian Democracy from the Late Middle Ages to the Contemporary Era (2021, edited by Dino Piovan and Giovanni Giorgini).

In Scotland, and also in Britain, the referendum is simply a method whereby a dominant elite in a country attempts to get the population to go for a broad grain outcome they (the elite) want. It bears no significant resemblance to reorienting the way a people and a country are structured and what democratic power ordinary people have.

A referendum is simply a two-sided punch-up like a boxing match or Rangers v Celtic at the New Year. Divisive and unproductive, leading to piss-ups and violent assaults.

If the SNP leadership were really serious about democracy, they would ask the whole people what they really think and feel about a core set of dimensions and along a number of key vectors. They would combine a referendum question (reworded as I have suggested) with a serious investigation of popular opinion. In Scotland right now, they would invite each one of us to:

  • Rethink the relationship between direct popular participation, representation and leadership.
  • Rethink the relationships between women, men and children, getting to the heart of the sex, gender and power questions, not as something to scheme and metaphorically shaft each other about in the corridors of power, but to dialogue about in every family, street and community in Scotland.
  • Restructure and reorient Scotland’s government structure geographically. Why on earth have the SNP failed to abolish and replace the structures imposed over the last 50 years by the big is beautiful brigade? Why on earth do we still have Highland Region, Dumfries and Galloway? Wy do we still have Edinburgh and Glasgow burgeoning up and out? Big is NOT beautiful. The real purpose of these structures is to keep the population pinned down in front of their TV sets.
  • Let’s rethink and restructure the ownership and management of the Scottish landscape as if people and organic life actually mattered in the long term.
  • Let’s ask ourselves: do we really like the the unitary, highly centralised British state and can we look at how we can change it without installing customs and a border at Berwick.
  • What do we – each and all – actually think about the continuing farce, the medieval pageant and rip-off called monarchy, and the continuation of feudalism in the forms of inherited land, wealth and titles?
  • Let us ask ourselves what we actually feel about a schooling and higher education system based on ruthless competition for unequal rewards , and now also on exploitation of students from across the globe.
  • Let’s ask ourselves what we as people actually think about work and unjust income differentials and the lack of resourcing for lifelong learning.
  • Let’s ask ourselves about what kind society, and country, and ecology we want to create, and how long we think we might need to reorient and restructure it along sensibly agreed lines.
  • By rethinking the referendum along these lines, we the Scottish people might actually begin to take responsibility for our own self-government as communities and persons-in-relation, rather than allow ourselves to be treated as isolated individuals on a downward spiral.

Nicola, I have always liked and admired you as a well-grounded person who believes in social justice. But I am beginning to feel right now that you are behaving more like Alex Salmond or Boris Johnston. Is this the way you want your period of stewardship to close? I urge you to rethink the referendum proposals. Downgrade the independence theme and go for full self-government. Involve the people directly, and listen respectfully to their views. With women in the lead and good cooperative relationships with the people of the other countries of Britain and Ireland north and south. And our friends in the European Union and in northern and Eastern Europe. You can do it!

Comments (44)

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  1. Squigglypen says:

    And are you disappointed in the english government Mr Kirkwood? porn..groping…corruption..heavy drinking ..lying…
    I heard Nicola being described on Talk VILE….so back off with your disappointment..there are plenty english nonentities ready to knock her down. I wrote to her and criticised her for 15 years and still no independence. I shall now write and apologise to should you Mr Kirkwood.
    When we are independent..please god before I die…who knows what the Scots will vote for…might be SNP..might not..but it will be OUR choice.
    But till then please support the wee wumman…she’s a STAR! Thank heavens we’ve got her….We must protect her.

    PS..Betty Windsor is starting off early with the old ..’watch what you vote for’…well it won’t be you hen with your dreadful family.

  2. Jim Stamper says:

    Much of the factors which you have highlighted and many more, should be in a written, codified Constitution for Scotland. This constitution could be decided with the help of a Citizens’ Assembly following the vote for independence and prior to the actual date of independence. The Citizens’ Assembly could be advised by and take into account expert advice and public input such as in the ongoing website, where people can consider various proposed constitutional articles, suggest alternative options and comment and vote on these. The more people who participate in the website the greater the case for these opinions to be take into account. So please look at the website and participate, even if only voting to show support for the principle of the people’ s involvement in the content of the constitution.

  3. Graeme McCormick says:

    I appreciate where you are coming from and can embrace most of your hopes. However there are many aspirations peppered throughout the political firmament. The majority must not dictate to what some of us might consider outlier views.

    The Referendum vote is a highly personal one so the question must be as simple, general and inclusive as possible.

  4. Joe gibson says:


  5. Robbie says:

    Well said squigglypen, couldn’t agree more you’ve put into words which I believe most people will be thinking.

  6. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    Anent Mr Kirkwood’s list of proposals/actions, I think we, as a society need to distribute power and decision making far more widely, but, to echo Mrs Theresa May, but, in a different context, ‘Now is not the time’.

    And, by ‘now’, I mean during a campaign for independence. The issue is straightforward: do you want Scotland to be an independent country?

    There has been a great deal of work done by a number of groups and individuals which can form the basis of post independence discussion about the kind of constitution we want.

    To hold a debate now, along the lines Mr Kirkwood proposes gives the unionists huge scope for mischief making and delay.

    1. Tom Crozier says:

      Mr Kirkwood’s proposals are clearly intended to take up another few years of discussion while we forget, as he suggests, about Independence. I prefer to go for independence now.

  7. Blair Breton says:

    What you propose to my mind is way too complicated for mass consultation.

  8. Drew Anderson says:

    “…At very best, the outcome will be a re-run of the 2014 ding-dong battle between the YES campaign and the NO campaign, with various prestigious actors wheeled out say their bit and influence the outcome…”

    That was a bad start that you never recovered from.

    The 2014 campaign morphed from a straight choice between independence and the status quo, to between independence and all the (unfulfilled) promises of Broon’s notorious”Vow”.

    Do you really see Broon, one of your “prestigious actors”, or anyone else pulling a similar stunt (with any hope of getting away with it) this time?

    As for the rest; why should the SNP supply the Unionists with a comprehensive list of things to unpick? There’s no guarantee they’d emerge post-indy in a recognisable form; they may not be in government to enact their wishlist, or yours.

  9. 220701 says:

    I see where you’re coming from, Colin. I’ve a lot of time for the idea that independence is to be achieved not constitutionally, from the top down, but by people gradually taking back from external authorities more and more responsibility for public decision-making in their own communities until they are eventually independent of those authorities; that is, through community development that renders external authority redundant rather than by political coercion. The idea that 50-odd% of a population can impose its will on that other 40-odd% of that population is deeply problematic from a democratic point of view.

    Concerning the referendum question: the 2004 ‘checklist’ for referendums that François Luchaire from Andorra produced for the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the so-called ‘Venice Commission’) distinguishes four different kinds of referenda, which are

    1. the repeal of an existing constitutional provision (e.g. the Treaty of Union)
    2. a specifically-worded proposal (e.g. the Scotland Act of 1998)
    3. a generally-worded proposal (e.g. ‘Are you in favour of increasing the number of local authorities in Scotland from 32 to 320?’)
    4. a question of principle (e.g. ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’)

    The proposed referenda of the projected 2023 referendum is a question of principle.

    Luchaire makes three points about referendums on questions of principle:

    1. they can only ever be consultative (the answer to a ‘should’ question of principle doesn’t entail any mandate or ‘shall’ – they are, in effect, only large-scale opinion polls)
    2. they are the least democratic of the four basic types of referendum insofar as they leave the whether, what, when, and how of any subsequent action to the determination of the state apparatus rather than of the demos.

    Of the two, it’s the second of these weaknesses – the democratic weakness of the projected 2023 referendum – that should concern us most. Is it wise to give any external authority carte blanche with regard to what ‘independence’ will mean in practice in relation to our public decision-making? Should we trust an external authority (whether its based in Whitehall or St Andrew’s House) not to act in its own political interests, rather than in our political interests, in its shaping of our independence?

    Why won’t the Scottish government issue and commit itself to a prospectus for independence that tells us at the very least how it will proceed in the event of our agreeing the principle that Scotland should be an independent country, a prospectus that will itself become part of the referenda of the proposed 2023 vote? For example: that the Scottish government will organise a national assembly of 1,500 people, 1,200 of whom will be chosen at random from the electoral register and 300 chosen as representatives of civic institutions such as trade unions, chambers of commerce, universities, arts councils, charities, professional associations, religious institutions, to discuss and frame the core values on which our governance should proceed; that this will be followed by the organisation of a constitutional assembly, made up of 25 delegates elected from the national assembly, which will draft a state constitution based on the outcomes of the national assembly; that this draft constitution will then be put to a referendum; if rejected, draft constitution will be returned to the constitutional assembly for amendment; when accepted, the Scottish government would then dissolve the existing regime and the new constitution would come into force.

    That’s just the prospectus for independence I’d present; I’m by no means suggesting that it’s the one that the Scottish government should present. I’m suggesting only that it presents *something*, some specifically-worded proposal, so that we might have something substantive to vote on and not just some vague question of principle.

    There’s a lot of talk and wishful-thinking about what *should* happen in the event of a vote for independence, of citizens’ assemblies etc., but no actual commitment on the part of the Scottish government as to what the process of independence will be, no prospectus beyond October 19th, 2023. Is the Scottish government really asking the electorate to take a leap in the dark?

    1. Wullie says:

      Short answer, Naw the shouldnae.
      Reality check, half the Scottish people live 25 miles from George Square., not spread throughout the land as per the early 19th century.
      The industrial revolution changed everything. Beefed up parish councils are not any kind of an answer.
      Back to the drawing board.

  10. Me Bungo Pony says:

    Far, far, far too complex. We are to vote on whether Scotland should be an independent country. Any radical change to the constitutional make up of that independent Scotland is for the people to decide AFTER independence has been achieved. Any move to write off whole swathes of thinking before independence becomes a fact will only alienate many who are intending voting YES. Two phrases come to mind; “putting the cart before the horse” and “divide and conquer”.

    1. Me Bungo Pony says:

      Having read right to the end of the article, it appears the author is arguing for some sort of Gordon Brown-like Devo-max. We were promised that in 2014, and it didn’t make it past Cameron’s speech on the steps of Downing Street the morning after the vote. None of what the author desires can be delivered by this vote and certainly would not be guaranteed or honoured by the UK govt. It is a discussion for an independent Scotland, not for a campaign that seeks to place the sovereignty, that could deliver it, in the hands of the Scottish people.

    2. 220702 says:

      ‘Any radical change to the constitutional make up of that independent Scotland is for the people to decide AFTER independence has been achieved.’

      But what’s the prospectus for this happening? If the country does vote for independence, what process (if any) will the Scottish government then put into train that will enable us to then decide how – by what mechanisms – we will govern our public affairs? What politically does a vote for independence buy us? I know that, negatively, it will deliver anglophobes ‘freedom from the English’, but what will it deliver positively?

      1. Me Bungo Pony says:

        It will deliver the ability to make ALL the decisions that affect Scotland in Scotland, by the Scottish people’s representatives democratically elected to the Scottish Parliament with Scotland’s interests paramount. It will deliver the ability for the likes of Mr Kirkwood to campaign for the changes he would like to see within the newly independent Scotland.

        What I am beginning to discern from some of the responses in these threads is a desire for some kind of “dictatorship of the proletariat” where-by the likes of Mr Kirkwood and 220702 want their particular forms of government foisted on the Scottish people, for their own good mind, while suggesting they should not have independence if they don’t agree with them. It is up to the Scottish electorate to decide how they wish to be governed as contested through the democratic process and Parliamentary debate. Not for “revolutionaries” to demand they do as they are told …. “for their own good”.

        1. 220702 says:

          ‘It will deliver the ability to make ALL the decisions that affect Scotland in Scotland, by the Scottish people’s representatives democratically elected to the Scottish Parliament with Scotland’s interests paramount.’

          But will it? That’s the point. We don’t know. That ‘ability’ isn’t part of the prospectus that’s being offered to us in proposed referendum. We’re just being asked to give out opinion on a question of principle.

          It is indeed up to the Scottish electorate to decide how they wish to be governed as contested through the democratic process. But there’s no prospectus for what that democratic process will be.

          All I’m demanding of the Scottish government (in return for my vote) is that it tells me how it will organise our subsequent self-determination in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote. If I agree with that prospectus, then the government will get my vote; if I don’t, I won’t; if the government doesn’t offer any such prospectus, then I cast a blank vote, the same as I did the last time.. I’m demanding absolutely nothing of the Scottish electorate; how its other members vote is entirely up to them and none of my business.

          Why are you so resistant to holding the Scottish government’s feet to the fire for greater democracy in the referendum, when the balance of power will be in our – the electorate’s – favour? Once the government’s been given its independence, it will be too late – the balance will have swung back in its favour.

  11. Colin Kirkwood says:

    First, I want to reiterate my admiration for Nicola Sturgeon. Yes, we are indeed lucky to have her. The unpleasant reality of what is going on at Westminster is indefensible, but it is not my concern right now (though it is a concern).

    As an Irish Scot, one of my deepest concerns is to avoid a Scottish version of what happened in Ireland in the last century, with DeValera’s gang killing Michael Collins, et sequelae. That was followed by three quarters of a century of authoritarian, reactionary and mysogynist “Catholicism” in the south; and a ruthless anti-Catholic “Protestantism” in the north, et sequelae . I fear the recrudescence of that violence in Ireland. That fear is not ungrounded. And I fear what may happen in Scotland should there be a very close result (either way) in a re-run independence referendum conducted on narrow YES/NO lines.

    If you want to achieve good ends, you need as far as possible to use good means. That is why I argue that we must locate authority in the hands of the people of Scotland, and not in the hands of their elected representatives, nor in the hands of the government of a devolved parliament whose powers can be taken back by the Westminster Parliament, and the crown-in-parliament, at any time.

    I argue for a process whereby all the Scottish people can engage with the issues of self-government, as if they were adults, and not be led by the nose by the SNP (of which I am a member), or the Greens (to whom I frequently give one vote), or the Lib Dems, or Labour, or the Tories , or Alba (none of whom I wish to disparage).

    The crude independence YES or NO question minimises the dignity and reflective power of the people to determine anything significant. We are in danger of being left with a John Bull elite facing a Tartan elite across a bloody ditch. I also fear that a merely legal/technocratic process is likely to result in a NO vote which throws away the efforts of a whole generation at a stroke.

    If on the other hand the people of Scotland carry the day on the alternative question I have proposed (which I believe is likely), then the people of England, Wales and Ireland, North and South, might begin to think: we want an opportunity of self-government too. Then, we are into very different ball-game. And the British General election, which will follow shortly, can take on a new significance not entirely unrelated to the proposal made by Nicola Sturgeon.

  12. SleepingDog says:

    I feel this is a mixture of pie-in-the-sky topping, some nuggets of things I can agree on, and some messy and contradictory fillings.

    For a start, it seems that participatory direct democracy was essentially a full-time job for the third of the Athenian elite selected by lot. And they had a lot less to worry about. (also they were quite keen on invading and despoiling other people, enslaving them, oppressing anyone not in the elite, and executing dissidents)

    What is the franchise supposed to be? Are we discussing children without enfranchising them? That comes down to one difference between direct democracy and collective decision-making: in the latter you can have distributed authority, taking into account the views of people who don’t have the vote/franchise in your country.

    I also find the “Let’s ask ourselves” sections rather patronising. Given a useful definition of politics as something like “how we arrange to live in groups large enough to contain strangers”, people will be already be thinking about politics a lot, I imagine. No need for a kick up the bum from Colin Kirkwood.

    And who decides what “sensibly agreed lines” are? Or a “serious investigation of popular opinion”? Overall, I feel the article comes across as plaintive, subjective, and (curiously considering its content) rather isolated.

    1. 220702 says:

      Forget about Ancient Athens, which is about as different to our current human condition as you can get! Think Rojava, which is contemporary!

      Direct democracy isn’t beyond the people of Rojava. Why do you think it would be beyond the people of Scotland? Because we’re too busy (doing what?) to get together in our neighbourhoods and workplaces to participate in making the decisions that affect our lives in those neighbourhoods and workplaces and monitoring the implementation of those decisions?

      And children should of course be involved in making the decisions that affect their lives, as per the two key principles of democratic schooling, which are democratic governance and learning autonomy. Why shouldn’t they? Democratic governance involves the active participation of the entire school community, including the children, in the various collective decision-making processes that define the school. Learning autonomy enables students (rather than the state, say, or other educational authorities) to manage their own learning process.

      And the difference between direct democracy and collective decision-making isn’t that direct democracy excludes people while collective decision-making doesn’t; it’s that direct democracy is a set of processes that, as per the example of Rojava, facilitates genuine collective decision-making (i.e. decision-making in which everyone who is affected by the decision being made has an equal say, to the exclusion or marginalisation of none). Collective decision-making is the end of direct democracy; direct democracy is a means of collective decision-making; they are not an ‘either/or’. Why do you think they are?

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Lord Parakeet the Cacophonist, it wasn’t me who keeps introducing Athenian democracy, read the article. And if the Wikipedia page and translation are correct, Rojava aka Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria has a fully-encoded constitution which made of the same elements I have been talking about elsewhere (preamble, values, governance structure etc.), with the democratic slice of optionality between the must-do (mandamus) and the must-not (ultra vires), in about 96 articles if the linked source is authentic.
        In other words, those decisions are already made and not up for continuous democratic debate.

        Why are you against a fully-encoded constitution like this one? Why do you prefer the UK theocratic quasi-constitution with its Henry VIII powers and imperial character?

        1. 220703 says:

          But you now get the relationship between direct democracy and collective decision-making, right?

          There’s nothing wrong with having the processes by which we make our collective decisions formally codified (as per Rojava, for example), providing a) that codification is itself agreed collectively and b) it can evolve democratically as an expression of general will of the collective. Likewise there’s nothing wrong with leaving it uncodified, as a matter of changeable custom and convention (as per the historical example of St Kilda), providing that the custom and convention on which its based is itself an expression of the general will and not of any special interest or knowledge-community.

          As I said elsewhere:

          ‘…collective decision-making is when all the stakeholders in the matter being decided come together in conditions of an ideal speech situation (i.e. a speech situation that’s free of all external and internal coercion) and hammer out a consensus or inclusive ‘general will’ (as opposed to merely an exclusive majority will) through open dialogue. Direct democracy is a set of processes by which communities of stakeholder with diverse interests and experiences might approach or approximate to that ideal speech situation.’

  13. Peter Swain says:

    What exactly is the difference between being “completely self-governing” and being independent, for goodness’ sake?

    1. 220702 says:

      The difference that Colin is positing is that between a society in which we all actively participate in managing our public affairs (‘self-governance’) and one in which our public affairs are managed by our betters (those who know best).

      Self-governance isn’t guaranteed by having our own wee independent Westminster in Edinburgh. But greater self-governance could be demanded as a condition of our supporting the Scottish government’s quest for independence, especially when our bargaining position is strong in the run-up to the referendum and the government needs all the votes it can get. I’m one of those holding out for greater self-governance in return for independence.

    2. Me Bungo Pony says:

      “Fully self governing” is not necessarily the same as “independent”. What Mr Kirkwood is effectively arguing for is the Devo-max Gordon Brown promised us in 2014. It would leave Westminster in charge but Mr Kirkwood does not tell us how that would impinge on the extent to which Scotland would be “fully self governing”. He lists a whole host of things he’d like this “fully self governing” Scotland to enact, but what if Westminster (still ultimately in charge) limits Scotland’s ability to do all he’d like? I’m sure he is sincere in his desire for the country he says he’d like to see, but it could only be deliverable in a “fully independent” Scotland that is not beholden to the govt of another country. Especially one whose representatives in Scotland would be doing all they could to limit Scotland’s ability to do what it would like. The “dead hand of Westminster” if you like. It is an argument for an independent Scotland, not one seeking to achieve that status, thus allowing it to debate and reform anything the people desire.

      Which brings us to “number soup” guy. He is conflating personal independence with national independence. His argument is he would not vote for an independent Scotland unless it basically dissolved itself. Unlike Mr Kirkwood, I don’t believe “number soup” guy is sincere in his arguments. He is here to muddy the waters, make the simple seem complex, confuse the situation, be a pain, any number of negative things. At best he is a “do unto others before they do it unto you” Libertarian. At worst, an agent provocateur. Whichever, there is no point in engaging with him.

      1. 220703 says:

        ‘…thus allowing it to debate and reform anything the people desire.’

        But *would* we be thus allowed? That’s the guarantee democrats should be seeking in return for agreeing to make Scottish government independent of the UK: that national independence will mean greater popular self-governance, if you like; that it won’t just mean the transposition of the so-called ‘Westminster system’ of government to Holyrood, which will leave us as citizens no better off in democratic terms.

        (Also, beware that you’re beginning to slip into fallacious ad hominem argument with your speculations about our characters. Don’t try to deflect; stick to the substance of the discussion.)

    3. Jennifer Houston says:

      Many politicians, including some in the SNP, think we should be dictated to by unelected international bodies. What we’ve seen in recent years is more to do with the Davos conference than the will of the people. (Davos/ World Economic Forum is formed of the world’s top 100 companies, bankers and politicians from all over the world. It is utter corrupt and undemocratic, yet we see folk like Greta Thunberg praising it.)

  14. Colin Kirkwood says:

    If the vote on 191023 is on the wording: should Scotland be an independent country?, I will be voting yes. Here, I am arguing for an alternative wording: should the people of Scotland become self-governing?

    I am not arguing for Devo Max, nor for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

    Please read my contributions to the discussion. I am arguing for real democracy in the new Scotland, for representation at all levels to be underpinned by the right to direct democracy or full popular participation. And a commitment to social justice as a substantive reality, not an item of rhetoric. And dialogue. And non-violence.

    Independence is not enough: do you recall that line from The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil?

    I do not want to hand power to a self-selecting and self-contained elite.

    Tomorrow is independence Day in the USA. Look across the pond, and what do you see? Greed, individualism , racism, misogyny, excessive competition, lying in public place, the rich lining their pockets, and poor people thrown to the wolves. Children being shot in schools. A culture of consumerism. Independence is not enough.

    1. Me Bungo Pony says:

      I don’t doubt your sincerity at all Colin, it’s just that what you want is a discussion for an independent Scotland to have. It is, as I said, putting the cart before the horse. We shouldn’t be linking the basic concept of an independent Scotland with one particular vision of it. That only risks alienating many people who have their own views that may differ from yours.

      It should also be noted that small, liberal democracies are not fertile ground for “self selecting, self contained elites”. You can’t hide in Edinburgh like you can hide in London. Small W. European democracies are among the least corrupt in the world because politicians require the electorate to trust them while their lives are relative open books.

      You also, in my opinion, have to be wary of devolving to much power down to too many micro authorities. It can lead to strong personalities “dominating” the community with little opposition. Think Boss Hogg from the Dukes if Hazzard for an extreme example for illustrative purposes. I could just see local, sometimes corrupt, dynasties etc forming as people don’t want to upset the Laird, or Big Shuggie in more urban settings. A strong central govt is necessary to ensure the rule of law is adhered to throughout the country and people are protected from the likes of Big Shuggie.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Me Bungo Pony, yes, I had hoped someone would make the point in your final paragraph. From studying Contemporary Issues in British Politics and various other sources we get evidence of how the middle classes can dominate civil society, generally people with resources, comfortable in meetings, and pensioners with time on their hands. It is another form of self-selecting elite, a tendency descending at local level into government by busybodies, blowhards and bigots. I can see the attraction for some. Even if you select by lot, what type of person gets elected to jury foreperson and runs the meetings? Doing a little online searching on the Rojava experience, I found this anecdotal account interesting:
        “At one assembly I attended, villagers gathered in a spartan town hall to debate their affairs. An old man began by retailing all the decisions of the previous meeting. The audience grew restive with boredom until a very young co-chair gently stopped him.”
        My understanding is that the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria had to set up strict checks and balances to counter some of these tendencies, to get younger, women co-chairs being normalised for one. They have apparently three official languages (Kurdish, Arabic and Syriac), and perhaps they don’t have the issue of trans people applying for reserved chairperson roles to complicate things, points I make to underline the lesson that we cannot simply take the rules of another polity wholesale and apply it to Scotland.

        1. 220703 says:

          So, what is it about Scotland that neighbourhood and workplace assemblies (and their subsidiaries) couldn’t be conducted democratically like the are in Rojava. Are Scots too stupid to be able to implement basic checks and balances to ensure that everyone has an equal say in the matters being decided? That’s not been my experience in community development. I’m sure it’s not been Colin’s (much vaster) experience either.

        2. Me Bungo Pony says:

          I read your link to the Rojava story. Ànother anecdote told of one co-chair of a local council being a Sheik (just a tad elite) flanked by black uniformed guards. If the experiment is not already compromised, the seeds of its demise may already have been planted.

          1. Me Bungo Pony says:

            I have also done reality check. If Scotland is atomised into 320 micro-authorities (as someone suggested), that makes just under 17,000 people per micro-authority. Where do 17,000 people meet? You would need 320 large stadiums. One for each micro-authority. And, if they ever did meet, how do 17,000 people come to a decision? How is the debate conducted to allow 17,000 people to have their say? Direct Democracy sounds great, but I feel it would soon degenerate into rule by those and such-as-those who turn up, set the agenda, make the decisions and divvy up the good jobs among themselves.

          2. 220704 says:

            I don’t know. In what sorts of venues do micro-authorities of 17,000 Royavan’s meet?

            The answer is that they don’t. They meet in the real communities of their own neighbourhoods and workplaces to take decisions on matters that affect them collectively. ‘Bigger’ decisions, in which more than one community has a stake, are referred to more general assemblies made up of delegates from all the stakeholder communities, assembled on the principle of strict subsidiarity,by which decisions are made as locally as possible by those whom the decision most directly affects. In this way, district councils are subsidiaries of neighbourood/workplace councils, regional councils are subsidiaries of district councils, national councils are subsidiaries of regional councils, and international councils are subsidiaries of national councils.

            I’ve always thought that direct democracies like Royava are structured a bit like the Women’s Institute, ‘confederally’ as Öcalan calls it, through the organisation of which power flows from the bottom up rather than from the top down. Though all sorts of checks and balances need to be built into the structure and constant vigilance maintained in order to ensure that this direction of flow isn’t stymied or reversed.

            The whole point of direct democracy is that decision-making assemblies are small and local enough to enable everyone’s direct participation in them.

  15. David+B says:

    Thanks for this article, Colin. I’ve been reading a fair bit of Murray Bookchin recently and trying to follow what’s happening in Rojava, so this echos much of what I’ve been thinking.

    If I’ve understood it right, the central argument here is that humans have become alienated both from nature and one another, and the only way to create a truly free and ecological society is through direct democracy, face to face decision making, and human scale communities (as opposed to a centralised, bureaucratic state, which dehumanises its citizens). I would certainly like to see these principles embedded in any proposed constitution. I think this is vital if Scottish independence is to be truly liberatory, rather than just another nationalism.

    1. 220703 says:

      The ecological argument is a modern accretion. The classic case for direct democracy is the liberal one that it hinders the accumulation and abuse of power (‘tyranny’) by elites by means of distributing that power equitably and inalienably throughout the body politic and preventing its concentration in the hands of private individuals and private corporations (‘communities of interest), including political parties.

      I don’t think the governance of Hazzard County in rural Georgia in the early 1980s was by direct democracy. A better fictional example might be found in Max Hertzberg’s East Berlin series of crime novels, which are set in a counterfactual GDR that’s transforming itself from a Marxist-Leninist planned society into a grassroots democratic republic, in which participatory democracy, citizen’s movements, and decentralisation are part of a new political landscape.

      1. Colin Kirkwood says:

        In my earlier paper (Adults Learning, Democratisation and the Good Society) I in effect accept that Me Bungp Pony and Sleeping Dog and others have a very important point about the need to combine genuine/radical decentralisation with a strong centre. For me the strong centre needs to be about moral and ecological, social and yes religious vision, which I sometimes call orientation or re-orientation. In Ancient Greece there was a series of great visionary leaders who created that orientation by sheer courage, intellectual capacity and far-sightedness. At the moment, in Scotland, three factors stand in our way. One is people desperate to line their own pockets. Another is the libertarian addiction to sex, drugs and alcohol . And the third and worst (because most powerful and world-pervading) is capitalism red in tooth and claw. It is capitalism which appeals to our longing for excitement, by using sex, drugs/alcohol and rock n roll to sell us just about everything. That’s why in that paper I argue for replacing the state with organised communities at every level, taking all media, all banking, all work and all income into the hands of the organised communities at different levels. You need a strong centre, with strong leadership and a strong vision to take charge of those tasks. That in my mind is what we need people like Nicola Sturgeon and Joanna Cherry for. But I would draw them from a far wider range of sources than just one political party.

        Some of those functions in the past were fulfilled by organised religion. So one of the biggest challenges before us is how to take up the challenge of moral vision for living on this beautiful but desperately fragile planet. We need, to put it simply, to modernise, transform and learn how to reinvent and pluralise small ‘r’ religion. It is a daunting task . But it can’t be shirked. And time is running out. That is why what Scotland now goes for is so important. If only John Macmurray and William Robertson Smith were still with us!

        1. SleepingDog says:

          @Colin Kirkwood, if anyone is interested, BBC Sounds comedy-history podcast You’re Dead to Me has released an episode on Ancient Athenian Democracy:

          I was struck by the phrase “This is a system which requires your constant input.” Apparently some people got addicted (others had to be paid to participate).

          I am not sure what you mean by small ‘r’ religion. Is that some Gaia thing? I am confused about the apparent contradiction between your support both for direct democracy and for the necessity for political leaders, although these and some of your other statements are presumably dealt with in your paper.

        2. 220703 says:

          That’s where you and I would part company, Colin: over the need for a strong centre. Pluralism requires that we disempower the centre in favour of the diverse communities it would hold within the the orbit of its particular ‘vision’. Pluralism requires that society is decentred or unanchored in order to allow people to proceed differently in cognitive, evaluative, and practical matters and thereby go their own way into a social diversification that affiliates each not to all but to such kindred spirits as chance may offer.

          We don’t need people like Nicola Sturgeon and Joanna Cherry or whoever to ‘take charge’ of our public affairs, to ‘point the way’ and ‘keep us on the strait and narrow’. That’s the ‘escape from freedom’ that critical theorists like Erich Fromm and Herbert Marcuse warned us about.We need communities to develop robust processes of direct democracy through which we can all participate locally in the governance of our public affairs and which, at the same time, safeguard us against the inequalities of power that foster and enable the emergence of ‘great visionary leaders’. And this regime of direct democracy can’t be imposed ‘from and by a strong centre’ nationally; it can only emerge from and through the grassroots ‘taking charge’ of its own affairs and their governance locally.

          1. Colin Kirkwood says:

            I recognise and appreciate that you and I have a lot in common, and I find myself frequently agreeing with the way you put things. When I say vision, I do mean broad grain vision, not specific, particularistic pointers. Part of pluralism surely is being able to accept differences of view and seeking common ground where possible. I don’t like being told: do this, don’t do that. But I do like like to know where I am with someone in a very broad-grain, orientational way.

            I remember, 50 years ago, first meeting a guy called Rob Hunter in the then mining town of Staveley in Northeast Derbyshire. We did a lot of very good things together, and that partly resulted from the fact that both of us felt we didn’t agree on everything, but we were able to tolerate our differences. And the creativity came both from what we had in common, and the differences we grew able to tolerate! I eventually published a book about it which came out just before the COVID lockdown, and we met again, by that time both in our mid 70s. I included in it a very long contribution from him. Over the years I appreciated more and more how much I had learned from him. The book is called Community Work and Adult Education in Staveley, North-East Derbyshire, 1969- 1972. Good wishes and thanks. Colin.

      2. David+B says:

        Thanks 220703, I’ll look up those novels.

        Yes, a modern accretion. But nevertheless fair to say that there’s a link between tyranny (or at least exploitation of human by human) and destruction of ecosystems?

        1. 220704 says:

          Well, I come from a place where both the drive to dominate ‘nature’ an the drive to dominate ‘man’ have to do the will to power, which in capitalist society expresses itself in the appropriation of whatever is ‘other’ as commodities through their colonisation or domestication. The trick is to rebuild from the wreckage of capitalism (which is structurally unsustainable and self-destructive and will ultimately collapse into general crisis under the weight of its own internal contradictions) more democratic ways of working and being through which the will to power is constrained to express itself in more creative and less destructive ways, and to develop those more democratic ways of working and being in anticipation of that collapse. The trick is community development and education, in other words, to build democratic capacity and resilience from the grassroots up. People like Colin and Rob Hunter – and thousands like them – are inspirational heroes in this enterprise.

          1. David+B says:

            Strongly agree.

  16. Jennifer Houston says:

    Yes they should. But it is clear that many politicians think that Scots should be so called “global citizens” whose lives are decided behind closed doors at Davos and elsewhere…. and that’s not independence.

    1. 220706 says:

      Indeed, those closed doors should be opened.

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