For Scots of my generation, the days before devolution are barely even a distant memory. I can’t remember a time without our own Parliament – I can vaguely remember the sight of jubilant Labour supporters on GMTV one morning in 1997 and understanding that something had changed, but my next political memory is of the first election to the Scottish Parliament. While the big political issues growing up – Iraq, for one – tended to be based on Westminster, the most important services of government have always been run from within a reasonably short distance of my home.
This makes it all the more ridiculous to be told that Scots are incapable of self-government. By what logic can we run our own healthcare system, our own police and legal system, our own education system, but not maintain a defence force in the manner that other small nations do? What argument is there to say we should control public spending, but without the responsibility of raising funds?
The argument that Scotland is best served within the union is most easily dismissed with a simple glance at the structures of the British government.
Here’s a thought experiment: imagine for a second that a new, unpopulated island was discovered, and you were given the authority to design the perfect system of government for the hordes of arriving migrants. Would you choose to have an unwritten constitution, able to be amended at a whim? Would you choose to have an unelected second chamber, with an aristocratic class keeping lifetime hereditary seats? Would you provide space within this chamber for bishops?
Would you provide a hereditary monarch with the right to lobby the elected leader on a weekly basis on their favoured issues? Would you keep some of the most important powers of government, such as the power to declare war, as a ‘royal prerogative’, effectively allowing the Prime Minister to act without the support of Parliament? What about the legislative veto held by Prince Charles (yes, really)? Or the ‘mediaeval, unaccountable Corporation of London’, which exists beyond the authority of Parliament, and where banks and financial companies elect the local council (yes, really)?
The British state in its current form is archaic, to say the least, and serves nobody but the Westminster political class. Yet it is completely resistant to change. Look at the reluctant offer of electoral reform – the miserable compromise of the Alternative Vote offered knowing nobody would want it and, if they did, it would have only a small effect. The only serious constitutional change we’ve witnessed has been as a direct result of the tenacious demands for self-determination on the ‘Celtic fringe’, areas of Britain with which the Westminster class know little to nothing about. Even then, the concessions of devolved administrations were only given in the hope that it’d stop the inevitable – the final, and overdue, break-up of the British Empire.
The current arrangement between our nations serves none of us. In Scotland, we decide how to spend our money, but without the responsibility or accountability of raising it. We’re simply handed our pocket-money from London, an amount which bears no relation to how much Scotland contributes to the UK treasury, and told to divvy it up as we see fit. David Cameron serves as Prime Minister, despite his party having only a single MP in Scotland. Meanwhile, the English watch, confused, as Scots MPs vote on laws that have no effect on their own constituencies. Who does this serve? Not the people of Scotland, certainly.
The end of the Union would be an opportunity for democratic renewal in all of our nations. In Scotland, we’d be free to create a written constitution suitable for a modern, democratic state – already our partly-proportional system is a vast improvement on the Westminster model. The Welsh and Northern Irish would consider their positions within the Union, and likely seek vastly improved powers. A federal system for the rump UK, sharing only defence and foreign policy, would be one possibility.
And for England? The loss of their Union, and of the ‘British’ identity, would provide a rare opportunity for reform. The outdated structures of Westminster would simply have to be changed – something which seems impossible as long as the British state continues. Would Labour and the Lib Dems unite to force some form of a proportional system, to prevent Tory domination? The idea, anyway, that England would vote Conservative governments in unopposed for eternity is clearly nonsense. What’s more realistic is that, without the guaranteed Scottish contingent of MPs, Labour would be forced to enter a genuine period of renewal and offer a real alternative to Toryism in order to become electable.
Surely it is a self-evident statement that the future of any nation is best shaped by democratic control within its own borders? The Union which binds our nations, with the monstrosity of Westminster at its centre, holds us in outdated tradition and forces mutual antagonism. Independence changes this. Independence allows us to meet as equals, and as friends. And in doing so, we can all finally fully embrace the liberal democracy, the merits of which we proclaim to the rest of the world.