Review: A Better Nation: The Challenge of Scottish Independence

A book which takes Scotland, independence and future challenges seriously.

A Better Nation: The Challenge of Scottish Independence, edited by Gerry Hassan and Simon Barrow, Luath Press £14.99.

In 2014 I was one of several Fellows funded by the ESRC under the auspices of the Centre on Constitutional Change to carry out independent academic research into the possible effects of a Yes vote in the referendum on Scottish independence. A forces brat whose family eventually settled in Vienna, Austria, I was, although born British, absolutely an outsider to the UK and to Scotland. I moved to Stirling from Manchester in 2007 to take up a job, with no blood or soil ties to either Scotland or, despite being born there, England.

I was tasked with looking into the gender equality aspects of the referendum. What could an independent Scotland do with long-term social care and child-care to improve gender equality outcomes, and what could be done within the Union? My conclusions after a two-year programme of research were that countries who achieved better gender equality outcomes than Scotland through childcare and social care policies did so because these are complex issues that need you to be able to pull a lot of levers to elicit the necessary changes. You need to have constitutional control, a constitution that supports gender equality, control over workforce and taxation issues, a national system of rights and entitlements, and a strong feminist voice in policy making. All of these were really difficult to achieve in the Union, and independence would give Scotland the necessary levers for advancing such change (see footnote). 

Of course, an independent Scotland would not be a feminist utopia and might well decide not to improve childcare or long-term care for its citizens, or even that gender equality is a laudable aim for a nation. Independence would be necessary, but not sufficient, to achieve these aims.

Gender equality, childcare and social care are not even the things foremost in a voting citizen’s mind when they decide these things. But nevertheless, armed with the first stage of these findings I accompanied my academic colleagues on a series of roadshows, to provide impartial, non-political evidence. We counted it as a success if we pissed both sides off equally, and we nearly always did.

We always took a poll of the room to start and finish. Generally, at the start about 20% were pro-Union, 20% pro-independence and 60% undecided. By the end nearly all of the 60% had gone pro-independence, and some of the Unionists were undecided. 

‘Head’ and ‘Heart’ Scotland and Independence

Why am I telling you this story? Clearly the whole of the country didn’t agree, because in the end only 45% voted for independence: not enough of those undecideds were persuaded in the end (not least because they didn’t come to our roadshows).

I am telling you this story, and my part in it, because it shows that decisions about independence are a mix of ‘head’ and ‘heart’ decisions. Personally, I had no ‘heart’ to play: no blood and soil allegiance to either the UK or Scotland. The evidence convinced me that independence was worth the risk to maybe achieve gender equality in a country, if not for me then for my children’s generation as they grew up. Not enough of the electorate shared that conviction to swing the vote. 

One colleague at many of these road trips was Professor Ailsa Henderson – her and her team have shown that what stopped many possible converts from definitively voting Yes to independence was a sense of risk: risk about the political and economic future of an independent Scotland, about whether it would remain part of the EU, and if it was a ‘nice idea’ whether it would be worth the anticipated upheaval and economic chaos the Better Together camp convinced the nation would ensue.

Independence supporters can do very little about the ‘heart’ aspect. Henderson’s research showed that around 20-25% of Scots will always consider themselves ‘British’ before Scottish and would never vote for independence. The challenge in a future referendum for both independence and Union supporters is to persuade the other 75% of Scots that using their heads to assess the evidence results in a vote their way: in assessing the rational basis for risk, or risk aversion.

This book is for that 75%. The political, social and economic landscape have changed so considerably (not least because of Brexit) since 2014 that the issues in a forthcoming referendum will be different.

Hassan and Barrow have a strong track record in producing thoughtful evidence-based collections around the issue of Scottish independence that are not polemical or solely ideological (see Scotland the Brave?, 2019 looking at 20 years of the Scottish Parliament and its impact on society, and A Nation Changed? on the record of the SNP in office, 2017). 

They draw together in A Better Nation a well-informed mix of political commentators, activists, journalists and academics to weigh up the arguments and present reasonable and well-informed chapters. The authors aren’t afraid of big or complicated arguments, and all of them are experts in their fields. All of them write well and persuasively: communication of complex ideas is crucial to increasing the public’s understanding of the risks and benefits of independence versus the Union.

The structure of A Better Nation

Section One explores just how different the post-Brexit political terrain is. John Curtice shows the impact Brexit might have on voting behaviour according to our present understanding: there is no question that membership of the EU was a strong decider for many No voters in 2014. Marco Biagi outlines the strategic challenges of securing a Yes vote: this can no longer be an SNP project, the role of grassroots campaigners will be even more important than it was in 2014. Colin Kidd explores the urgent need for Unionists to move on from 2014, because the Better Together risk-led campaign will no longer work as well now that Scottish citizens have experienced the risks of leaving the EU against their wishes.

Section Two was the part I disliked the most but will appeal unreservedly to legal nerds. I dislike arguments about the legal and political process because they inevitably mix up process and outcomes. Unionists argue that because the legal process towards independence is uncertain, and that in itself is an argument against independence, which of course it isn’t. No country that has seceded has ever let legal process prevent that: if the political will for secession is there, legal process follows, not the other way around. Nevertheless, I am aware that some of my fellow citizens find these kind of arguments incredibly engaging. They will find plenty of informed analysis here from Ciaran Martin on the unavoidable political challenges, Andrew Tickell on the legal issues that have constitutional law students up late at night tearing their hair out, and Sionadh Douglas-Scott on how to tackle the issues of the risks of process in the transition to independence.

Section Three is more for people like me: those of us who vote with our heads who are asking: independence for what? And how would we get there? If ANYONE asks me again ‘but what currency will you use?’ (a process argument if I ever heard one) I will refer them to John Kay’s excellent chapter and refuse to comment further.

Similarly, the STUC’s Roz Foyer deals well with the economic arguments for the left, and Graeme Blackett deals with all the fiscal questions which occupy those of us worried about taxes and benefits. Environmental questions are discussed with knowledge and passion by Iain Black, Michael Roy and Karen Lorimer talk about a ‘wellbeing economy’ that will gladden the hearts of us hoping an independent Scotland would lead us away from the worst excesses of neoliberalism, and Susannah Fitzgerald deals with the issue of strengthening democracy: for me, gender equality aside, one of the more convincing and persuasive arguments for independence.

Section Four deals with the philosophy and practice of independence and if, like me, you love political theory arguments transposed into the realpolitik of the world, this will genuinely bring you intellectual joy. Ben Jackson places Scotland’s aspiration in a global context, Gerry Hassan writes cogently and movingly about ‘independence of the Scottish mind’ and its context in relation to the public sphere. Joyce McMillan and Lisa Clark capture the issue of the communication of complex political arguments that I raised earlier brilliantly: a playbook for campaigners on both sides on how to raise the standard of debate. Dani Garavelli tackles the difficult issue of the SNP incumbency and how you win fresh minds with old leadership.

Section Five deals with all the ‘but what about the rest of the UK?’ arguments that Labour, in particular, use to appeal to left leaning social democratic Scots for the need to fight for empowerment for the poor in Liverpool more than the wealthy in Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland. Gavin Esler discusses the impact Scottish independence could have on England, Paul Mason looks at the possible re-invigoration of the British left, and Sean Patrick Griffin looks at the issue of class, nation and state that occupies the Labour Party post-Corbyn.

Section Six is a brisk and encouraging discussion of the way frontiers, people and power could be negotiated by an independent Scotland. Craig Dalzell takes an informed view on Scotland’s potential in global trade, and Bill Austin explores the potential raised by technology and smart borders. Perhaps, as an internationalist, my favourite two chapters were Tanja Bueltmann’s arguments for a fresh approach to immigration and Kirsty Hughes’ assessment of the role an independent Scotland could play in Europe: this is exactly what citizens of a small, wealthy, outwardly facing country should aspire to.

Section Seven is for those worried about the risks a small independent nation might face geopolitically. David Clark addresses the issue of Scottish security in an age where warfare is increasingly fought politically rather than on the battlefields, and the arguments are usefully broadened by Philips O’Brien’s analysis of defence in an independent Scotland. Stephen Gethins looks at the seeds that have already been sewn in developing a distinctive Scottish foreign policy, and those of us who got caught up in the ‘bairns not bombs’ arguments will find much to think about in the chapter by Malcolm Chalmers and William Walker. The interesting question as to whether or not Scotland already has a feminist foreign policy is raised by Caron Gentry, and this section finishes with an optimistic view of Scotland’s possible role in peacemaking by Mark Muller Stuart.

Appropriately in a volume characterised by a huge range of voices and perspectives, it finishes with an enjoyable roundtable from some of the more interesting campaigners around, and a sober, thoughtful but hopeful endnote from the editors.

Buy this book, read it, and pass it to your undecided friends. And if you are a Unionist, read it carefully and prepare your arguments. They will need to be pretty persuasive if the quality of debate coming from these authors is anything to go by.


Policy Press | What Works in Improving Gender Equality – International Best Practice in Childcare and Long-term Care Policy, By Kirstein Rummery, Craig McAngus and Alcuin Edwards (

Comments (24)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. SleepingDog says:

    Gender equality, childcare and social care are biocratic concerns dealing with biological goods (as in values) but must also be considered in context of ecosystems and sustainability (a human population explosion has been generally harmful to most other lifeforms). I understand that incorporating these into the proposed Chilean Constitution was a popular demand, yet the proposal failed to win majority support, and I wonder if anyone cares to provide some analysis of why that happened?

    “In the summer of 2022, a proposed replacement constitution was submitted for national debate and general referendum, but it was rejected on September 5 despite having had the support of left-leaning President Gabriel Boric. If accepted, it would have significantly extended social rights to most groups, including full gender equality, designated legislative seats for indigenous representatives, given the government wider responsibility for social welfare programs, and added significant environmental supervision and control.”

    I agree about means and ends sometimes being confused. What is democracy (a means-oriented politics) for? How should a political constitution constrain democracy? How does it set out (a minimal set of) agreed values? Does the book offer insights on that?

    1. Gerry Hassan says:

      Those are great questions.

      The answer is yes. It does so partially. Talking about the difference between means and ends, and acknowledging trade-offs and difficult choices which are inherent in all politics – including independence.

    2. 220915 says:

      The South American commentators I’ve read mostly reckon the draft constitution failed to achieve majority support among the population because it was too unwieldy (388 articles and 57 transitional clauses), too ‘utopian’, and too socially prescriptive. The function of a constitution is not to decide any substantive matter, but to set out the rules by which substantive matters are to be decided in the state. Chileans, who have deep experience of living under highly prescriptive and utopian regimes like that headed by Augusto Pinochet were understandably wary of endorsing something similarly authoritarian from the left.

      It’s also interesting that the voters weren’t offered only a binary ‘Yes’/’No’ choice. President Gabriel Boric encouraged those who dislike the old constitution from Augusto Pinochet’s era, but who also had concerns about the proposed draft, to vote ‘No”, indicating that he’d be open to alternatives if the draft presented by the constituent assembly was rejected. That’s a choice we’re not being offered in the matter of constitutional change in our country.

      What is democracy for? Democracy has a negative function; it’s job is to minimise the risk of tyranny, including (ideally) the tyranny of a majority, and thereby maximise our individual liberty. It seeks to diffuse state power throughout the body politic to make it as difficult as possible for any party or community of interest to seize control of the state and wield that power. It is, as Churchill quipped, the worst form of government apart from all the others.

      As far as democrats are concerned, a political constitution shouldn’t constrain democracy in any way; it should rather enable it to the fullest degree. It shouldn’t set out ‘agreed values’, but should rather provide a mechanism through which the diverse values of the various communities that constitute our ‘nation’ can be accommodated equally, constructively, and more or less peaceably within the same polity.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Lord Parakeet the Cacophonist, so you consider General Augusto Pinochet’s terror-torture regime in Chile to be ‘utopian’?

        I doubt that many democrats are absolutists, and in effect any constitutional rules are likely to limit democracy in some way or other. Sure, elective democracy can be seen as a way of instituting bloodless coups, replacing an unpopular government with one not yet as unpopular. However, there is a positive side to democracy in its training function, through civil participation and dialogue, so that people become better at politics there, compared with living under systems which repress such activities (at least, that is an argument; there is some evidence that modern democratic trappings make people less aware of political propaganda, and maybe more complacent).

        But crucially democracy is limited by its humanism (a form of speciesism). This is why some modern constitutions write ecological constraints into their codes, typically referring to both ancient and modern justifications for doing so.

        1. 220915 says:

          Yep, Pinochet’s terrorist regime was utopian insmuch as it aimed at a state in which everything is perfect (which is a fairly standard definition of utopianism). His project in government was that of bringing about a national rebirth, a project that was inspired and informed by the spirit of Diego Portales and was to be pursued through the purging of Chilean society of the vices unleashed by democracy and, in particular, the erosion of all sense of civic virtue in Chilean public life. It was a utopian vision much along the lines of Plato’s ideal republic or, more self-consciously, French Bonapartism.

          I doubt many democrats are absolutists in respect of things like truth and justice. (I’m not sure how you can be an ‘absolutist’ in respect of something like democracy, which is a political process towards the realisation of values rather than a value in its own right; perhaps you could explain in what sense a tool like democracy can be ‘absolute’.) It would be disingenuous of any democrat to claim that values like like truth and justice are absolutes rather than contingent functions of our collective decision-making in an ‘ideal speech situation’; that is, a situation in which participants would be able to evaluate each other’s assertions solely on the basis of reason and evidence in an atmosphere completely free of any non-rational ‘coercive’ influences, including both physical and psychological coercion. Approximating our collective decision-making processes to such an ideal speech situation is one of the goals of democracy on the road to realising its overall aim of maximising our individual liberty.

          And I know you think democracy is anthropocentric and that other life-forms should participate in our collective decision-making through some process of ‘biocracy’. That’s all very well, but you’ve never explained just how that process would work. How could plants and non-human animals participate in any collective decision-making process except through the medium of human advocates, and who would appoint those advocates? You suggested somewhere that experts in the life-sciences should advocate for other life-forms. But which/whose experts? Who decides which/whose expertise is ‘true’ and which/whose is ‘vitiated’? Who accredits the experts? You?

          It’s difficult to see how even your ‘biocracy’ could escape the human in something (‘politics’) that seems to necessarily depend on human input.

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @Lord Parakeet the Cacophonist, I’m primarily commenting on this page to find out what of interest is in this reviewed book, that I might consider reading it. I’m not here to promote my blog (where you might find a sketch of my ideas on biocracy). Biocratic ideas are fairly common, as exampled above; you can find them also in the majority of recommendations that end Tim Lang’s book Feeding Britain: Our Food Problems and How to Fix Them, in international treaties and regulations (existing and proposed), and in works of fantasy (strong hints that biocratic themes will be central in current Tolkein blockbuster The Rings of Power). World-building is hard work, and one of my current lines of interest is in how deficiencies or sufficiencies in fantasy world-building shapes the politics of those worlds, particularly ecologically.

            I wonder if most of the contributors to the reviewed book would agree that there is strong evidence of conditioning in the UK electorate to believe in a model of politics that is mostly restricted to official parties and mediated parliamentary activity? Building a constitutionally-encoded biocracy will surely be complex and difficult, but no more so than our modern political-economic-social-technological systems (actually considerably easier, since virtually all of its working components already exist). It takes imagination; surely you agree that nations and corporations are imagined constructs that work by intersubjectivity? Hence my interest in fantasy, and always its depiction of dynastic monarchies. Obvious to political scientists and philosophers, royalty is commonly but wrongly depicted as ‘apolitical’ in mainstream British discussion (royalism is sufficient proof of reactionary, right-wing political ideology).

            What would put me off the book is that too many contributors are political insiders. Not that I would necessary disagree with the majority of their contributions, but that they might not offer much that is useful in taking my political thinking forward.

            To briefly address your points, no, I don’t think biocracy escapes human politics, it would inform, constrain and direct it. Our current political systems use proxies and delegation and some form of meritocratic selection, so I don’t see that being any more of a problem in a biocracy. Advocacy is not the only kind of proxy if, and I believe this is true though I cannot prove it, the health of living systems can be objectively measured through proxies (somewhat like individual human health can be). You seem to misunderstand my point about democratic absolutism being rare: in fact democracy seems inevitably compromised by pragmatism as much as idealism (The Chartists got all their demands, eventually, except for yearly elections of MPs). The nature of collective decision-making has to reflect different classes and priorities of decisions. I disagree with your view that “As far as democrats are concerned, a political constitution shouldn’t constrain democracy in any way”, which is absolutist, impractical, ahistorical, possibly legally unimplementable and I guess absurd in the final analysis. It would deny international treaty obligations, logically keep every decision open at all times, renounce any past commitments and be unintelligible in a polity of any size.

          2. 220916 says:

            ‘What would put me off the book is that too many contributors are political insiders. Not that I would necessary disagree with the majority of their contributions, but that they might not offer much that is useful in taking my political thinking forward.’

            You should try reading critically rather than for information in order to take your thinking forward. Identify the arguments by which the writer seek to justify her/his conclusions and evaluate those arguments as to their logical soundness and evidential sufficiency. Pay particular attention to the coherence of the absolute presuppositions and structural concepts on which the writer’s arguments depend. This dialogical kind of reading or ‘hermeneutic’ simultaneously challenges your own thinking and obliges it to grow beyond the limits of its own current horizons. And read everyone critically, especially those writers with whom you currently agree.

            Every text has the potential to take you thinking forward. It all depends on how you read it.

            ‘…no, I don’t think biocracy escapes human politics, it would inform, constrain and direct it.’

            Well, you see, that’s exactly what would worry me. Our decision-making should not be constrained and directed by any ideology; it should take place in speech situations that are as ‘ideal’ as we can make them (see above). The very point of democracy is to diffuse state power throughout the body politic to make it as difficult as possible for any party or community of interest to seize control of the state and wield its power to direct or constrain us to act in accordance with its own particular ideology or ‘knowledge’. That’s the classic definition of tyranny, which is to be resisted.

            ‘…democracy seems inevitably compromised by pragmatism as much as idealism…’

            Pragmatism (the idea that our knowledge and values are functions of society and emerge through the dialogues or conversations into which we enter in our social intercourse) is the epistemological justification for democracy. Democracy is how we collectively shape our knowledge and values in a universe that’s bereft of any transcendent authority; that is, through discourse and mutual agreement rather than through coercion and tyranny (as defined above); by intersubjective/intercommunal negotiation in speech situations that are a free as possible from physical and psychological coercion. ‘coercive’ influences. Given that there’s no such transcendent authority that could validate our knowledge and values, we have to do it ourselves democratically.

            ‘It would deny international treaty obligations, logically keep every decision open at all times, renounce any past commitments and be unintelligible in a polity of any size.’

            I don’t see why democracy would deny international treaty obligations or any other form of agreement. Democracy does keep every decision and commitment we make ‘open’ insofar as it doesn’t ‘shut down’ the possibility of ongoing dialogue on any matter (no knowledge or evaluation is ever ‘final’ in a democratic regime), but this is no bad thing. And democracy would be ‘unintelligible’ or ‘impractical’ in any sizeable polity only where it didn’t function on the principle of subsidiarity, which I’ve discussed at length before.

          3. SleepingDog says:

            @Lord Parakeet the Cacophonist, your railing against the ‘tyranny’ of biocracy sounds like railing against the tyranny of the flesh, a refusal to accept that we are bound by biology and share a planet with other lifeforms whether we like it or not. Whereas your advocacy of unbounded democracy is advocacy for real tyranny, the tyranny of the majority:
            That is a major reason why political constitutions constrain democracy, and why international treaties are invoked, to protect minorities, or others disadvantaged in politics (like children who cannot vote, and future generations).

            If you feel ‘tyrannised’ by the life sciences and environmental constitutional protections, or by constraints that protect foreigners from your own nation’s actions, or by rights given to children and asylum seekers, I guess you might be in a minority yourself.

          4. 220916 says:

            I’ve been writing a lot about democracy recently. Here’s a post from another blog:

            If we are to have a shared public life that reflects what John Rawls calls ‘reasonable pluralism’ (a state of affairs in which divergent and mutually incompatible but equally legitimate conceptions, values, goals, and practices can coexist), citizens must pursue public debate with an absence of dogmatism.

            Rawls held that there could be a convergence among the adherents of all such opposing beliefs. His European doppelgänger, Jürgen Habermas, in his theory of communicative action, explores the conditions that would have to be met for such a convergence to obtain. Very basically, both held that the adherents of opposing views could nonetheless, from considerations of enlightened self-interest, agree on certain basic principles of justice that all reasonable citizens could share despite their differences and could be enshrined in the fundamental constitution of a democratic society. This state is what Rawls called the ‘overlapping consensus’ that makes a shared public life in a multicultural society possible.

            One condition for the possibility of such convergence is an absence of dogmatism, and achieving such a condition is very hard. This is because of the totalising nature of our various perspectives and, in particular, our various moral perspectives, the fact that they generate in us ‘felt’ entitlements to hold others to the strictures of the relevant perspective whether those others endorse the relevant perspective or not.

            Suppose my moral perspective condemns slavery as wrong. And suppose that your moral perspective permits you to own slaves. What am I to do when faced with your slave-holding practices, practices that I abhor? There are at least three options.

            1. I could try to persuade you out of them.

            2. I could try to force you out of them.

            3. Or I could simply tolerate our differences.

            The last option is a non-starter. My moral perspective entails an absolute prohibition on slavery that applies, not just to myself and those who share that perspective or adherents to that doctrine, but to everybody. From my moral perspective, slavery is intolerable.

            The first option is almost equally unlikely. The committed slave-holder and the committed abolitionist might argue until the cows come home and never reach moral consensus. Nor would their failure require a failure of rationality on either of their parts; the conclusions of each could equally be the product of sound reasoning, only from radically different fundaments. Rational consensus and rational dissensus are equally open to rational beings as real possibilities.

            Which leaves us with the second option, in which we each feel entitled to force the other to change her/his practices and/or resist the other’s attempts to force you to change yours. This, I’d argue, is the state we actually find ourselves in today: moral struggle among even highly rational beings is nowadays as likely to end in discord, fragmentation, and/or the domination of one party by the other as in an overlapping consensus of the Rawlsian variety.

            Is there a way out? Or are we condemned, as some postmodernists insist, to perpetual strife, fragmentation, and tyranny?

            In his theory of communicative action, which is in effect a theory of democracy, Habermas sets out some conditions that must be fulfilled before an ‘ideal speech situation’ can occur towards the realisation of an ‘overlapping consensus’. In sum, these are:

            1. Every subject with the competence to speak and act is allowed to take part in a discourse.

            2. Everyone is allowed to question any assertion whatever.

            3. Everyone is allowed to introduce any assertion whatever into the discourse.

            4. Everyone is allowed to express their attitudes, desires and needs without any hesitation or reservation.

            5. No speaker may be prevented, by internal or external coercion, from exercising his rights as laid down in 1-4.

            These ‘rules’, which essentially aim at the removal of all power-inequalities in our public decision-making, would form the basis of all democratic discourse in the public sphere and have substantial implications, not just for the way our political processes and procedures are organised and policed, but also for education and its role in the cultivation of our communicative or democratic competence.

            The significance of Habermas’s theory (and those that have since sought to improve upon it) is that, in accepting it, I represent to myself that I am not entitled to hold another to even my deepest moral commitments unless that other in effect entitles me to do so. By accepting some such constraint on my relations with others, I view even my deepest moral commitments as commitments, in the first instance, for me alone.

            That is not to say that they must remain commitments for me alone and that I can’t propose them as commitments for us all. But if I am to achieve moral community with those with whom I stand in deep disagreement, I have to be open to revising my moral commitments in such a way that we together can negotiate a set of mutually binding agreements about the conduct of our shared lives. I have to allow others as much say in the constitution of that order as I demand for myself. And, of course, the other has to do the same for me.

          5. 220916 says:

            ‘…your railing against the ‘tyranny’ of biocracy sounds like railing against the tyranny of the flesh, a refusal to accept that we are bound by biology and share a planet with other lifeforms whether we like it or not. Whereas your advocacy of unbounded democracy is advocacy for real tyranny, the tyranny of the majority…’

            You’re not reading what I write, SD, and are consequently railing against a straw man. Democracy refuses nothing except the privileging of anyone’s knowledge over anyone else’s in our collective determination of truth and justice. Democracy of course includes in its discourse the scientific community in all its theoretical diversity; it just refuses to privilege any of its theoretical perspectives in our collective decision-making. Biocrats of all shades of opinion are equally required to submit their arguments to the collective judgement of the demos like everyone else in a democracy.

            And did I not say that ‘Democracy has a negative function; it’s job is to minimise the risk of tyranny, including (ideally) the tyranny of a majority, and thereby maximise our individual liberty. It seeks to diffuse state power throughout the body politic to make it as difficult as possible for any party or community of interest to seize control of the state and wield that power.’?

          6. 220917 says:

            And here (hot off the press) is the draft of a book review I’m currently writing for a philosophy trade journal that may be pertinent to our discussion of democracy:

            One of the Scotland’s biggest challenges is how to transition successfully from past and current demographic patterns, in which most Scots have identified and continue to identify as white, to a stable multicultural democracy in which no single ethnic community is in the majority and in which no group dominates any others.

            Two excellent new books can help us navigate this challenge: Yascha Mounk’s The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure (Penguin Press, 2022) and Justin Gest’s Majority Minority (Oxford University Press, 2022). Both address the current situation in the USA; however, their observations and arguments can be extrapolated to apply to society generally.

            Mounk argues that justly managing increasing demographic diversity will be difficult. Most of the world’s democracies are, after all, highly homogeneous, with one ethnic group making up the overwhelming share of the country’s population. The simple fact of the matter is that the world has never built a multiethnic democracy in which no particular ethnic group is in the majority and where political equality, social equality and economies that empower all have been achieved. This is the work ahead of us, and Mounk’s project is to provide us with a conceptual foundation and suggest some practical actions that will help us in this task.

            Majority Minority also grapples with how we can grow more diverse without succumbing to authoritarian nationalism. Gest notes that politicians across the world are using fear of ‘others’ to whip up support for their quest for power, with the dangerous consequence of fully entrenches the domination of a majority political faction or ethnic community subgroup.

            Both Mounk and Gest make the interesting point that demography is not destiny. Both ethnic and political affiliations aren’t ‘natural’ but are inevitably the result of the work of political entrepreneurs, which may be reasonably challenged.

            So, how might the current white hegemony be challenged in Scotland so that we can achieve a stable, inclusive, and egalitarian constitutional democracy in conditions of maximal diversity? We might argue, after Gest, that Scotland has structural advantages that make it possible to reimagine its nationhood and reconcile the Scottish population as one people. These include the fact that our many non-white groups are themselves incredibly diverse and do not form or present a single ‘other’ against which ‘we’ can be polarised, despite the best efforts of political entrepreneurs to frame Scottish politics in polarising ‘Yes/No’ terms. One of the tasks in building a pluralistic democracy is to deconstruct all such binary oppositions in Scotland’s ongoing political discourse.

            However, Gest’s and Mounk’s diagnoses fail to capture the true depth and scope of the problem in Scotland. They both primarily approach the political challenges that flowing from diversity and dissensus as if they were largely contemporary and driven mostly by the fact that increasing numbers of nationals are foreign born. But Scotland has grappled with significant and persistent disparities in opportunity and outcome throughout its modernity. Establishing a truly pluralistic democracy will require not just integrating new (and relatively new) Scots, but also giving all our communities—including marginalised communities of long-standing—equal
            political and economic power. This is a task at which Scotland has fallen short for centuries.

            Mounk and Gest start their books by recognising that humans have a tendency to form groups and turn against outsiders, a dynamic that can spur anarchy, domination, and fragmentation, especially in states in which the most powerful group fears it is losing power. It is easy, Mounk writes, to think that society ‘will forever be characterized by a clash between the historically dominant and historically oppressed’, that culture wars, though undesirable, are natural and inevitable.

            Both are also concerned that our states will struggle to remain democratic while our societies grow more diverse. He spends time on comparative empirical case studies of ‘immigrant incorporation’ (integration/assimilation) and ‘demographic transitions’ (changes in the racial/ethnic composition of nationalities).In Bahrain and Singapore, he writes, demographic change has been met with political suppression. In Mauritius and Trinidad and Tobago, increased diversity has made ethnic identity central to politics, leading to irresolvable social tensions between different ‘tribes’.

            But Gest also explores more positive outcomes of ‘incorporation’ and ‘transition’ scenarios. He argues, for example, that in Hawaii and New York City, immigrant and other marginalised communities have achieved more or less full social inclusion and more or less equal access to social opportunities. Gest sees both of the optimistic cases as templates for the world at large. The successful resolution of social conflict arising from diversity, he writes, is contingent on whether the nation equally enfranchises the its constituent communities and whether its ongoing redefinition of national identity is inclusive or exclusive. As a country grows more diverse, U.S. policymakers, he says, should actively redefine their country’s identity to clearly include non-white people (‘non-white’ not in the sense of skin-colour, but in the broader sense or not belonging to a country’s dominant ‘tribe’ or majority).

            If we want to build a democratic Scotland, we must prepare in our preparation for independence for a transition to full power sharing across all segments of society. We need to muster now, in our transition planning, the institutional and cultural resources needed to achieve this broad shift.

            Contemporary politics makes solving this problem even more difficult. On the right, the Scottish establishment is trying to resist power sharing and has captured a substantial swath of the Scottish government apparatus going forward into independence. On the left, radical activists seek total victory over old ways of doing things and have embraced practices of naming, blaming, and shaming that don’t exactly call people into the project of participation and collaboration. Meanwhile, the anglophobic far right within the nationlist movement seems bent on sabotaging a peaceful transfer of power from Whitehall to St Andrew’s House, which is the bedrock of any democratic system. The persistence of this drift in Scottish politics will make it difficult to construct a democracy.

            Gest and Mounk offer some valuable prescriptions that can help everyone. Gest calls on our political leaders to use ‘connectedness’ and nor just GDP as a criterion of good governance. Policymakers, he writes, should ask three related questions when making decisions:

            does this decision ‘reinforce or break down social boundaries between people’;
            second, can this decision be ‘adjusted to strengthen the sense of connection between people’; and
            will this decision enable people to ‘trust this institution more and participate in its efforts’.

            If broadly applied, they argue, this framework will foster processes of decision-makings that help our communities better coexist and more fully engage in the political process.

            Mounk shares Gest’s interest in connectedness. He calls on activists and policymakers to turn their political system into the governmental equivalent of a public park. The public park, he writes, is ‘open to everyone’, ‘gives its visitors options’, and ‘creates a vibrant space for encountering one another’. He writes: ‘The best thing you can do to advance the lived reality of a thriving diverse democracy is, quite simply, to get out of your own bubble. Seek out opportunities to build bridges to members of other groups.’

            Mounk recognises that achieving this will require real institutional change, including the implementation of ranked-choice voting and multi-member constituencies, both of which would help to reduce polarisation and the under-represention of minorities. He also suggests that political activists should deeply rethink their strategies for political rhetoric in order to lower the dialogical temperature between communities. Gest adds that political leaders should work to avoid ‘rhetoric-induced panic’ over issues like climate change, pandemic, and migration, and instead develop messaging strategies that ‘construct unifying narratives about the nation and its identity’.

            Mounk writes that: ‘as polarization in many democracies intensifies, and extremists attempt to poison the tone of the public debate, there is a growing temptation to turn politics into a Manichean struggle between “us” and “them”.’ To counter this, he offers principles for political speech, including ‘be willing to criticize your own’ and ‘don’t ridicule or vilify; engage and persuade’. These principles are reminiscent of Habermas’s rules for democracy.

            Mounk’s most striking suggestion, however, is the counter-intuitive one that has to do with immigration policy. He argues that advocates of diverse democracies should embrace tight controls over borders. ‘There appears to be a tight empirical link between border enforcement and public views of immigration,’ he writes. ‘Roughly speaking, countries that have weakened their determination to control their own borders have seen attitudes toward immigration turn more hostile. By contrast, countries that have strengthened control over their own
            borders have seen citizens grow more welcoming of immigration.’

            Mounk’s view is heterodox from the perspective of his ideological community of democratic pluralism, and he deserves credit for offering it. He is also right that the time is here to revisit our approaches to immigration, which is at the root of many of the challenges in postmodern politics. Libertarians and neoliberals see immigration as a great boon and evidence of the health of the country’s economy and political institutions, but both the nationalist right and the left are dissatisfied with the present system. The former sees and presents immigration as a threat to the nation’s integrity as an ethnic unit, while the latter sees and presents any attempt to manage it as a wrongdoing to immigrants.
            Building a truly pluralistic Scottish democracy must begin now, before the event, with an investment in political institutions that protect people in their private lives and empower them in the governance of their shared public life, institutions that no longer conform to the intellectual paradigms that led us to believe that we could advance the rights of all while reserving power to the few and that the best outcomes emerge when experts govern ‘for’ rather than ‘with’ the rest of the citizenry.

            In creating such political institutions now rather than simply reproducing the existing Westminster system of government locally (as the Scottish government is currently doing in preparation for independence) will, in the process of doing so, necessarily renovate Scotland’s political culture, institutions, and economy so that each is fully inclusive, participatory, and effective, rather than leave the status quo in place. This won’t be easy, but a first step would be for the Scottish government to set up a democracy commission, whose membership spans the diverse partisan viewpoints, geographies, and demographics emerging Scotland, tasked with framing the structure our future governance and the transition to that structure. To convene a citizens assembly, in other words, selected by a processor sortition, say, that would draft the constitution of a future Scotland.

            Some of the structural innovations that Gest and Mounk suggest such a democracy commission might consider are: ranked-choice voting, multiple-member constituencies, term limits for members of the judiciary, universal liability for national service in the performance of civic roles, and the redistribution of advertising revenue from large media companies to support local journalism. These innovations, they both argue, would reduce the distance between representatives and represented, create stronger incentives for elected officials to be responsive to the entire population and not just their own communities of interest, and more fully include that diverse population in shared self-government, all of which would require different demographic groups and political factions to share power effectively and to develop more productive and less adversarial ways of structuring how we hear and work through our disagreements to achieve workable, functional, and stable resolutions.

            The prospect of independence offers us an opportunity to renew Scotland as a pluralistic democracy. As Mounk and Gest make clear, it will take a lot of work and creativity for us to achieve that renovation its people deserve. But that work must start now, before the institutional structures that will define post-independence Scotland, and which the Scottish government is currently framing in preparation for its independence, are set in stone. Otherwise, that opportunity will be lost.

  2. florian albert says:

    Will this collection of essays make a significant impact on Scottish political life ? I doubt that it will. It was published five months ago and does not seem to have done so thus far.
    ‘A New Scotland’, edited by Gregor Gall and published the following month, does not appear to have done any better.

    It is worth asking – in matters of policy for changing and improving Scotland – how much was achieved by the avalanche of books, articles and TV programmes which appeared in the run up to the 2014 referendum vote.

    The success of Sinn Fein, which has been making real political progress in the Republic of Ireland, has been based around its housing policy; It has produced proposals which have energized voters. The left is Scotland has, so far, had no similar success.

    1. Gerry Hassan says:

      Thanks for your sceptical comments Florian.

      You are under the misapprehension that this is a book written for and focused upon the left. It is not. So in that sense your critique of the left’s impotence and habit to talk to itself – which I in large part agree with – is irrelevant in this context.

      What is integral here is encouraging an intellectually honest, rich, nuanced conversation abt independence and Scottish politics and public life – and in that the book has already been a small success picking up all sorts of positive reviews, notes and facilitating discussions beyond the echo chambers you refer to which would not have happened without it. All of the above is part of a ongoing conversation involving politicians, public figures, the wider policy community and more in Scotland.

      And yes politics and policy deliberations need to be grounded in real stuff.

    2. dave says:

      Hullo florian. Re: INDEPENDENCE. There are a great number of BRILLIANT posts and articles on Bella Caledonia to cover that. However the 53% of NO voters do not understand them as these posts and articles are just too sophisticated. What the 53% NOs need to know are two critical pieces of information presented very simply. Once they have them the YES vote will be at least 85%.

      to be continued.

    3. dave says:

      Continuation # 1.
      So Florian, the 2 critical pieces of information are:

      1) The true economical condition of Scotland.

      2) The true culture ( history ) of Scotland since 1707.

      Both of the above are BLACKED OUT by the 600 English Westminster MPs. The English owned 95% of Scottish media. The BRITISH F.M. NU-S.N.P. Leader Sturgeon. The NU-S.N.P.s under Ian BLACKFORD. That leaves just two ALBA MPs representing Scotland at Westminster standing up for we Scots.

      to be continued.

    4. dave says:

      Continuation # 2

      The English aristocrats’ advisors know that by a BLACKOUT of that information they will win F.M. Sturgeon’s referendum probably by a very narrow margin. With F.M. Sturgeon on their side the BLACKOUT will continue.

      Therefore it is imperative that the critical information gets out to all Scots. It must come from the ALBA, ISP, RIC parties and every other true independent party or groups with the Bella Caledonia at the front.

      What is the critical information ? It needs to be spelled out.

      to be continued.

      1. 220915 says:

        I admire your optimism, dave, with regard to what needs to be done to win ‘No’ voters around to voting ‘Yes’.

        Might I suggest, however, that it’s not so much a case of No voters being too stupid to understand the arguments that the independentistas deploy in support of their proposition for independence as a case of their understanding and rejecting those arguments?

        Which is the ‘true’ economic condition of Scotland? Economists differ on this; there’s no clear-cut truth of the matter, the jury (as they say) is still out.

        Which is the ‘true’ culture of Scotland? The people who presently constitute ‘Scotland’ own a wide variety of different cultural heritages. Who, in your judgement, are the ‘true’ Scots and who are the ‘bogus’ Scots from a cultural point of view?

      2. Alec Lomax says:

        Dave, how many votesd did Alba, ISP and RIC parties get at the last Holyrood election?

        1. DAVE says:

          Zero Alec.
          How many times did the British NU-S.N.P. Leader Sturgeon Stand up for Scotland ? ZERO. How Many times did any NU-S.N.P. elected members stand up for Scotland at Westminster ZERO again.

          Who did stand up for Scotland at Westminster = TWO both ALBA members.

          How many NU-S.N.P. Members at Westminster sat in silence with heads bowed, embarrassed, ashamed in silence as TWO ALBA members were kicked out of Westminster for standing up for Scotland ? ALL OF THEM.

          So all votes for the NU-S.N.P. were WASTED. !!

        2. In Aberdeen Donside ALBA registered just 2.1 per cent of the list vote where the party leader Mr Salmond is its lead candidate.

          The party polled 0.8 per cent in Orkney, 1.3 per cent in Hamilton, 1.5 per cent in Clydebank and Milngavie, and two per cent in Angus North and Mearns.

          There is no such thing as RIC parties.

          1. dave says:

            Thank you for the breakout voting numbers for ALBA. Yes, my inclusion of RIC was an error. The overall point is that all parties and groups which actually do want independence must get the true economic and historic facts of Scotland out to all Scots which the NU-S.N.P. have blacked out.

            Thanks again.

          2. 220916 says:

            Like I say, dave, I admire your optimism.

    5. DAVE says:

      Continuation # 3

      England collects all Scottish taxes and revenues therefore giving it complete control of Scotland’s wealth. By means of a BLACKOUT all factual information is erased. With the compliance of F.M. Sturgeon they never have to worry about the majority of Scots ever finding out..
      However here is the easy method to arrive at Scotland’s true wealth which is enormous.

      Scotland’s population (pop) is 5.6 million (mil). Only countries around that 5.6 million number will be used in the calculation.

      Norway: pop 5.4 mil # 2 wealthiest country in the world (WCW)
      Erie also known as Sothern Ireland: pop 5.0 mil # 4 WCW
      Denmark: pop 5.8 mil # 8 WCW
      Finland: pop 5.5 mil # 14 WCW

      None of those countries have anywhere near the VAST resources of Scotland. In fact any two of them combined can’t match Scotland’s resources.

      The latest English GERS report reports Scotland’s deficit ( LOSS) at 22.7 thousand MILLION pounds ( 22.7 BILLION ) making us one of the poorest countries in the world. That is IMPOSSIBLE. Scotland cannot be thousand of times poorer than the 4 wealthiest countries above.
      Why ? Because none of these 4 have anywhere near SCOTLAND’S resources.

      to be continued.

      1. dave says:

        Continuation # 4

        Scotland’s resources: OILFIELDS- North Sea( Scottish Waters)….Natural gas….Renewable resources-Wave and Tidal Energy….Wind Farms…..Electric and Nuclear Power Stations….Textile….Harris Tweed….SCOTCH WHISKY….BEER….FISHING….FORESTRY…..WATER….AGRICULTURE….BEER….FOOD….MINERALS…. TOURISM.
        With the exception of tourism all of the above are exported ALL OVER THE WORLD. Aberdeen is the oil capital of Europe. England collects all revenues and taxes in the TRILLIONS of pounds and also receives additional benefits as most of these resources are exported through English ports. So while unemployment on the Clyde is very high it is the opposite in English ports.

        The CRITICAL information above is BLACKED OUT by not only the English Gov’t and it’s controlled media but by the NU-S.N.P. SCOTTISH GOV’T AS WELL.

        So while the British NU-S.N.P. Sturgeon, with her pretend DO-NOTHING independence campaign (consists of only protests on behalf of Britain/England) TRILLIONS of Scottish pounds are collected on a continual basis and transferred to London.

        We must use any and all means to get this critical economical information to ALL voters.

        F.M. Sturgeon’s plan is to hold a referendum, but only when forced to, and by BLACKING OUT Scotland’s true economical state she will get a NO win result. While 95% of we Scots are kept poor F.M. Sturgeon and her husband NU-S.N.P. CEO Murrell whom she APPOINTED are raking in huge thousands of pounds from Westminster.

        PROOF: In almost 9 LONG, LONG years she has kicked the can and done absolutely ZERO for independence.

        SCOTLAND as a SOVEREIGN NATION, simply has to do BARBADOS DECLARATION. That can be done to-day.

        to be continued.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.