Tag Archives: Democracy

The “Accidental Ignition” of a UK Wide Debate on Nuclear Weapons

19 Aug

As I sit writing this nuclear warheads capable of bringing about the death of millions of innocent civilians are stored in Scotland as part of the UK’s Trident nuclear weapon system.

This concentration of illegal weapons of mass destruction was installed in Scotland without the express consent of the Scottish people.

As part of the independence referendum campaign, the SNP, along with other political parties and many grassroots organisations, have made it perfectly clear that a Yes vote will lead to the removal of Trident nuclear weaponry from Scottish territory.

It is therefore not too much of a stretch to conclude that, given the political consensus amongst those in the Yes campaign, a vote for independence is also an express declaration by the Scottish electorate that they do not want to have weapons of mass destruction in Scotland.

In light of this possible outcome, many in the rest of the UK have been pondering the question of what exactly to do with all these weapons should they be banished from Scottish waters.

One possibility that has been suggested is that the rest of the UK government and the Scottish government could enter into an agreement to continue to base the weapons in Scotland following a Yes vote.

There would appear to be some merit to this suggestion. After all, the costs and risks associated with moving such a vast stockpile of highly destructive weaponry would be enormous and would take years of planning to put into practice.

The first problem with this approach, though, is that the Scottish government of the day would in all likelihood be morally bound to consult the electorate on such a deal, if it was ever proposed, before being able to allow the continuation of Trident in Scotland.

The second, and far more immediate problem, however, is that negotiations to establish such an agreement would take place within the framework of the wider negotiations about independence and thus put the Scottish government in an incredibly strong position vis-à-vis the remaining UK government.

Perhaps in slightly simplistic terms, this argument could be phrased along the following lines: “If you don’t agree to a currency union then you will not only have to find somewhere else to put your nuclear weapons, but you will also have to pick up the bill for doing so. Oh and by the way, the U.S isn’t going to be too chuffed about their main ally not having a nuclear deterrent so you better hurry up.”

The point here is not the specific bargaining chips (e.g. currency or lower debt repayments for weapons) but the wider point that significant implications are likely to flow from Scotland having such a strong bargaining position in the negotiations following independence.

With such a deal appearing not to be in the best interests of the remaining UK following independence, then, many have now started to look at the possibility of housing the UK’s nuclear weapons somewhere else in England.

Remember: the UK government has absolutely no policy on what to do with nuclear weapons in the event of a Yes vote – something that once again surely strengthens the hand of a Scottish government during negotiations. The UK government has explicitly stated on numerous occasions that they are not making contingency plans of any kind for independence and this includes making a backup plan for their nuclear arsenal. (I know, I know, I can hear you all taking your queue from the thousands of column inches that have been written on this point and screaming “But what about Plan B? Where is the Plan B? Surely you must have a Plan B? We demand a Plan B!”)

Given this self-confessed complete lack of advance planning by the UK government, one must rely on the work done on this matter from reputable think tanks and various other academic outlets (which the UK government never reads and certainly doesn’t think about because, please don’t forget, they are not making plans for a Yes vote.)

One such report, found in last week’s Guardian, is of particular interest. Compiled by The Royal United Services Institute, the report states that the option “given most credence to date” for storing the nuclear warheads is the Fal estuary to the north of Falmouth which offers “good shelter and a comparatively isolated location”

The study then goes on to acknowledge that there would however be safety concerns: “Introducing nuclear-armed [submarines] to Devonport will unavoidably introduce a new risk that an accidental ignition of one or all of a submarine’s Trident D5 missiles could spread radioactive material over some of Plymouth’s 260,000 inhabitants.”

Currently the nuclear weapons are based near Glasgow where the surrounding population is well over 1 million people. Nuclear warheads have therefore been transported along the M74 motorway to Glasgow before. Presumably the same accidental ignition risk exists whenever they are moved? And even if it doesn’t, shouldn’t the people of Scotland at least know a bit more about what this accidental ignition risk involves?

But don’t worry about complaining or protesting about this state of affairs whether you live in Glasgow or in Plymouth. The report makes it perfectly clear that it would make absolutely no difference: “Any local opposition might delay but not stop relocation.”

In another section of the report that looks at the wider context of the proposal to move the weapons to the South of England, the Royal United Services Institute observes that: “”The various challenges of relocation would probably trigger a wider national discussion in the [rest of the UK] on whether or not the strategic benefits of retaining nuclear weapons exceeded the costs involved.”

So there you have it. A vote for independence would not only be a vote expressing the democratic will of the Scottish people to remove nuclear weapons from their country, it would also trigger a wider discussion throughout the UK on whether or not retaining the weapons would be beneficial at all.

On the other hand, a No vote in September means… nothing at all. The weapons stay near Glasgow without the democratic consent of the Scottish people and the wider debate across the UK about the continuation of Trident is never held.

Instead, 80 Billion pounds of British taxpayers’ money will be spent on servicing these abominable weapons during an era of austerity at a base near the city of Glasgow where 33% of children live in poverty.

Independence and Democracy

4 Aug

Thanks for the Support

In my last post I came out in favour of independence (see here) and received a truly overwhelming number of messages from people who had taken the time to read my thoughts. Thank you all very much.

Rather surprisingly, my post led to a number of people contacting me to ask a variety of questions. From the No side in particular, many told me that they could sympathise with my views but remained unconvinced that in an independent Scotland would thrive as an independent state. “But how would it work?” and “how would we afford it?” were without doubt the most common of all the questions that I received last month.

Although I did try to answer some of these queries at the time, I decided that it would be far better (time permitting) to develop my ideas on the future of an independent Scotland via a series of blog posts.

So here we go.

The first of my new posts can be found below and is aimed at the “how would it work” line of questioning. It concerns the dire state of democratic representation and participation in Scotland. It is therefore firmly aimed at those who believe this debate should be conducted beyond the confines of a spreadsheet.

For those seeking in depth economic analysis and reassurances about finances, I am sorry to disappoint you this time round – perhaps this post isn’t for you.
That being said, for those of you who are looking for an economic analysis of the status quo in Britain today, please take the time to watch the first 5 minutes of this video. (Click Here)

If you would like to listen to some of the ideas circulating throughout the Yes campaign on how Scotland’s economy could flourish after independence, please watch the video to the end. It is 19 minutes in total. I would recommend anyone who finds themselves saying “I can’t vote Yes because I don’t know enough about it” to watch it and many others like it from the Common Weal Project. I intend to use future blog posts to build upon some of their ideas.

Independence and Democracy

Throughout the referendum campaign it has become clear that there is only one side making a compelling argument from the perspective of democracy. In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that those in favour of Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom have all but conceded the democratic argument to those in favour of independence.

I have never heard it being seriously argued that a vote for independence would render Scotland a less democratic country.

On the contrary, all of the most compelling arguments flow in the other direction and would include: the guarantee that Scotland will always get the government it votes for; the assurance that decisions impacting upon the lives of Scottish citizens will be taken by a parliament directly elected by the Scottish people; an electoral system based on a type of proportional representation; a chance for smaller parties – and even for parties not yet in existence – to flourish and contribute to the national discourse; the opportunity to draft a constitution fitting for the 21st century and the abolition of the absurd practice of allowing an unelected House of Lords that consists of hereditary peers, religious clerics and various other obscure characters to influence government legislation. (On that last point consider this: there are only 2 nation states on earth that have unelected religious clerics sitting in their legislature – Britain… and Iran.)

As a bare minimum, democracy must contain an element of dignity. The right to not only elect candidates who you believe will best represent you and your fellow citizens; but also the right to hold those representatives to account through participating in the robust political life of the community should be a profoundly empowering experience.

In Scotland, though, we are so far behind other European nation states when it comes to democratic representation and active participation that it is quite frankly embarrassing.

I have drawn upon these statistics in a previous post. I make no apologies for doing so again here.

Scotland currently has 32 local councils. The UK as a whole has 406.

This means that at a sub – national government level both Scotland and the UK are lagging far behind continental Europe when it comes to democratic representation.

1.) Number of sub-national governments

– Austria: 2,357
– Denmark: 98
– Finland: 336
– France: 36,697
– Germany: 11,553
– Italy: 8,094
– Spain: 8,116
– UK: 406
– Scotland: 32

With such a small number of local councils comes the obvious problem of population size per local authority. Once again we are miles behind what one might consider to be the norm when taking a look at other European countries. The sheer size of local authorities in Scotland and the UK as a whole render local decision making all but impossible.

The average population size per UK council is 152, 680. In Scotland, its 163,200

2.) Average population size per council

– Austria : 3,560
– Denmark: 56, 590
– Finland: 15, 960
– France: 1,770
– Germany: 7,080
– Italy: 7,470
– Spain: 5, 680
– UK: 152, 680
– Scotland: 163,200

It should therefore come as no surprise to discover that turn out at local elections in the UK – and in Scotland in particular where we have a local council that is geographically larger than Belgium! – is so low.

3.) Turnout at local elections

– Austria: 73%
– Denmark: 69%
– Finland: 61%
– France: 64%
– Germany: 60%
– Italy: 75%
– Spain: 73%
– UK : 36%
– Scotland: 32%

The fundamental problem therefore is that decisions which influence everyday life in our local communities are taken far too far away from the people they are intended to apply to.

As Lesley Riddoch points out in her excellent book Blossom – What Scotland Needs To Flourish : “In Norway, Finland, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland and Belgium, towns like St. Andrews, Saltcoats, Kirkcaldy, Fort William, Kelso, Pitlochry or Methil and islands like Barra, North Uist, Westray and Uist have their own councils.”

But not in Scotland, the least locally empowered country in the developed world. Take Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany, for example. It has twice the population of Scotland and a total of nearly 24,000 elected representatives. Scotland as a whole has a grand total of 1,416.

According to the latest Scottish Household Survey, only 22% of Scots think that they can have any impact on the way their local area functions.

With such low levels of confidence in the capacity for citizens to actively contribute to their local communities, then, is it any wonder that turnouts are so low at election time?

One of the major – but by no means the only – problems here is a piece of Westminster legislation that was passed during John Major’s time as Prime Minister. The Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994 created the current local government structure of 32 unitary authorities covering the whole of Scotland.

As a result, it is only by virtue of different Westminster legislation or independence that any substantial change could be achieved. (Unless of course you are quite content with the status quo in which people voting to put a plaque up on a wall in Biggar have to send their council representative 40 miles down the road to South Lanarkshire Council to ask for permission.)

Remember: it isn’t normal to be this rubbish.

In addition to the absurd size of Councils in Scotland and the UK, another considerable problem here is that of money. Once again, by any measure of comparison, the UK and Scotland are far, far behind the norm when it comes to the revenue raising and spending powers of local authorities.

In the UK, local authorities raise 25% of their budget. In France the figure is 50% and in Switzerland it is 85%, with the wholly unsurprising consequence that turnout at local elections are much higher in those countries.

Moving beyond this then – because we cannot hope to be only average can we? – in Norway they have a similar population to Scotland but have 431 municipalities compared to Scotland’s 32. These municipalities directly run primary and secondary education, outpatient health, senior citizen and social services, unemployment, planning, economic development and the roads.

Remember: it doesn’t have to be like this.

You don’t even have to look at the Norwegian model. In Porto Allegre in Brazil, for example, there has been a hugely successful programme of participatory budgeting. Since the late 1980s, spending decisions in the city have been made by neighbourhood assemblies. Thousands of citizens from across the social spectrum with vast differences in income, lifestyle and family background take part in 24 annual assemblies where residents debate and vote for funding priorities. They also elect representatives who meet weekly to carry out the wishes of the community. They can decide, amongst many other things, whether to prioritise spending on fixing roads, building bridges or setting up a new day care centre for children.

Citizens are thus empowered at the local level to take decisions that directly impact their everyday lives and administer their democratically allocated resources at a local level. The result, as James Foley and Pete Ramand point out in their thought provoking book Yes: The Radical Case for Scottish Independence, has been drastic increases in popular participation, reduced corruption and inequality, and political education for the lowest socio-economic communities. Similar experiments are now underway around the globe in places like Venezuela, Ecuador and India.

Sweden offers another striking example here. In Sweden only those earning over roughly £30,000 per year pay any taxes to central government. Instead, income tax is largely paid to local authorities a fraction the size of those in Scotland who run virtually all of the services within that area that are used by citizens. Only corporation tax and higher rates of income tax are paid to central government. There is therefore a clear link between tax paid by local citizens and the decisions taken by local citizens about which services that tax revenue should be spent on. The result is far higher levels of citizen engagement and participation at the local level.

As these examples have demonstrated, there are so many different ways in which Scotland could transform itself into a far more democratic system. Look at almost any other country in the developed world and you will see far greater levels of engagement in both local and national level politics. But in the UK everyone seems to just accept such abysmally low levels of representation and participation as something that is normal or, far more depressing in my view, unalterable.

The question before the Scottish people then is a simple one: do you want to live in a country where decisions that have a direct impact upon local communities are taken by people living and working in those communities?

If you do, then evidently the first step is to ensure that there is a Scottish Parliament in place with full powers to devolve decision making down to the local level. Otherwise, we are stuck in a Westminster system with absolutely no appetite for decentralised decision making and which consists of only 59 Scottish MPs out of a total of 650.

Of course change will take time, and many problems will be encountered along the way, but surely this is a small price to pay when compared to the absurd status quo of not even trying.

And this goes to a fundamental point in the referendum debate as a whole: In my view, it simply isn’t enough to say that you would vote for independence if there was a comprehensive blueprint for the radical transformation of local democracy in Scotland on offer from an existing political party (realistically the SNP) but since that isn’t on offer right away you will be voting No.

We shouldn’t be looking to the future based on the constrictive and highly undesirable democratic apparatus of the past. Look at those figures again – by any measure the situation in both Scotland and Britain today is fundamentally flawed and there is virtually no prospect of changing things via the Westminster route.

We live in one of the most centralised states in the entire world in which the political establishment are more than happy to have an obedient and largely disempowered population adhere to their “stand still while we try and fix you” style of governance.

We could be doing a lot, lot better.

Independence, for all its uncertainties, would definitely bring about a proliferation of new political parties, new interest groups and new lobbying initiatives as the people of Scotland set about the task of building and shaping their own nation state.

Furthermore, based on all that I have seen, read, heard, debated and discussed with many different sections of the grassroots Yes campaign I am in no doubt that there would be a groundswell of opinion in favour of major democratic reform moving forward after a Yes vote. Ideas about enhancing local and national democracy are widespread and gaining considerable levels of support throughout the country as town halls continue to be packed out every evening of the week.

And this is a crucial point: across the length and breadth of Scotland people have already demonstrated their appetite for local democracy. Every night town halls and community centres are filled to capacity with local citizens coming to listen and discuss the future of their country. This is an achievement of the very highest order and, in my view at least, absolutely refutes the assertion made by Johann Lamont, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, that Scottish people are “not genetically programmed to make political decisions.”

The return of the town hall meeting has shown that the people of Scotland are ready to participate in the political life of their communities. Just imagine what could be achieved if they were only to acquire the power to match that enthusiasm.

Rather than standing still while we wait on Westminster to fix us, we could, through a radically new democratic settlement, begin to think about fixing ourselves.

The Farage Phenomenon

26 Mar

With UKIP predicted to do well in the upcoming European Parliamentary elections in May, the exponential rise of Nigel Farage looks set to continue. Whether one considers his emergence onto the political scene as a welcome alternative to the entrenched 3 party establishment, or the recrudescence of that ever troubling mixture of right wing populism concentrated within one charismatic individual, the fact that his ideas and motives come in for far less scrutiny than others in the world of British politics surely merits further consideration.

Central to the Farage phenomenon is an ever-present disgust with all things European Union. Regardless of the subject matter of debate, the UKIP leader inevitably puts an anti- European spin on things with the result being that interviewers simply fall silent on accounts of having “heard it all before” and thus fail to press him further. Watch any interview you like of Farage and you will see the same tactic deployed with unfailing success. When he brings up Europe – as he is bound to do – interviewers seem to just switch off, allowing him to bang the same old drum unchallenged in the hope that they can move on to something else soon.

But why should he be let off the hook so easily? Surely any government or opposition politician who so blatantly regurgitated the same banal arguments at every possible opportunity would eventually be pressed further on his or her viewpoint? And yet, despite offering nothing but pseudo – intellectual babble at the best of times, the central tenets of Faragism seem to have all but escaped further scrutiny.

The first observation here is that when one whittles down all the inflammatory rhetoric, the fundamental point being driven by UKIP is that the institutions of the European Union are unfit for the purpose of regulating daily life in Britain. In their view, the British Parliament must be restored to its former glory, taking decisions for the people of Britain that are untainted by the unwelcome meddling of Brussels bureaucrats. Absolutely crucial for all those of a UKIP persuasion, therefore, is the notion that the will of Parliament is sacrosanct: if the British Parliament wishes to prevent prisoners from voting, or suspend migrant’s rights to benefits, it should be able to do so without any outside interference.

Likewise, then, if the British people elect a government next year that is opposed to a referendum on EU membership then surely UKIP, that last great bastion of parliamentary democracy, will have to unreservedly accept this outcome. After all, it would be beyond even the most incoherent and inconsistent of political parties to lament Westminster’s lack of power on the one hand and then claim that the legitimate will of that institution is somehow deficient on the other.

With this in mind, I have for some time now been at a loss to explain why Miliband and Clegg don’t just come right out with it and say that there will be no EU referendum under a Labour or Lib Dem government, instead of this “in the event of a substantial transfer of powers” nonsense. After all, such a move would be unlikely to diminish Labour’s lead in the polls to any appreciable extent (and it couldn’t really get any worse for the Lib Dems) given that the European question is unique amongst contemporary issues by being of immense importance yet of minimal interest to the average voter. Those inclined to vote Labour will do so regardless of whether it opts to continue supporting the EU or not.

Additionally, short of an outright Tory majority in 2015, both Labour and the Lib Dems pledging not to hold an in out EU referendum would all but guarantee that none will take place for the next 5 years, thus forcing UKIP to either come up with a new strategy or discredit the very parliament in which they seem to place so much faith.

The fact that nobody ever bothers to ask what UKIP’s response would be to a government directly elected on the basis of a manifesto that excluded an EU referendum is the first great mystery here.

The second is the complete lack of follow up questioning and analysis of UKIP’s immigration policy. Farage and his followers are adamant that unrestricted immigration from Eastern Europe has placed tremendous strain on public services and infrastructure in large parts of the country and that a controlled system of immigration is needed in response. “Our local authorities are under increasing pressure to deliver more services for less. How will they cope with another major increase in demand?” claimed Farage in a 2013 UKIP policy paper. In order to achieve this control, that all-encompassing solution of a withdrawal from the European Union is advocated.

While this all may sound reasonable given the free movement of persons inside the European Union, one often forgets to factor in the great number of Brits who are working or living in other European countries. Estimates vary from anywhere between 1 and 2 million as to the number of British citizens currently living in other EU member states. Now, even if one were to take the lowest estimate of 1 million, what would these people do in the event of a UKIP backed UK withdrawal from the European Union? Well, for a start they would no longer be European Union passport holders and thus face the prospect of requiring visas to travel to the continent. While there is every reason to believe that the re-introduction of visas would apply to everyone, there can be little doubt that those working in other EU member states would definitely be required to obtain some form of working permit or visa given that they would essentially be third country nationals from a non EU member state.

Although this possibility is likely to be laughed off as scaremongering – one would readily admit that there would probably be some way of reaching an agreement with our European partners about British nationals abroad should Britain leave the EU – we should still be asking Farage how this would be achieved in practice.

To make a comparison with the Scottish independence debate here, it has long been alleged by the SNP that an independent Scotland would automatically retain EU membership post-independence and this assertion has prompted many to question the leadership of the Yes campaign on how exactly this could be achieved. “What is the legal basis for this assertion?”; “Do you have it on good authority that this seamless transition to continued membership is so definitively guaranteed?” and “Have the heads of state of other EU member states expressed their consent to this continuation of membership for Scotland?” are all questions that are commonly asked of Salmond and Co.

And yet, on the issue of a UK withdrawal from the EU, that would at least raise the prospect of visa requirements for British tourists and workers abroad, there seems to be a complete lack of will to ask the most obvious of questions. Just how would we continue to travel and work in the EU as nationals of a non EU Member State? Wouldn’t we be in a similar position to the Serbs or the Turks in this regard? Wouldn’t the price for keeping Brits abroad visa free be that we keep Europeans in Britain visa free too? And if reciprocity is indeed the solution, what is the point in leaving in the first place? These questions should at least be posed.

Looking inwards, what would happen after a UK exit from the EU if say 5- 10% of all Brits living in Europe decided to come home for various reasons. The probability of this taking place may not be so far-fetched, particularly when one considers the administrative burden and/or financial loss that may be incurred by those living abroad who have their status as EU citizens revoked. Well, even by conservative estimates, that would be anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 Brits coming back home after the UK left the EU. How then, exactly, would public services and infrastructure that is already under immense strain according to UKIP cope with an influx of tens of thousands of people? Surely the fact that they are British is irrelevant to this debate: a person using public services or travelling on public transport does so irrespective of their nationality.

Is it therefore official UKIP policy to discourage Brits from coming home too quickly after the UK leaves the EU? How long would it take to filter 100,000 Brits back in to the country in a controlled manner? What number of Brits coming back home post EU exit would place an unmanageable burden on public services?

Now, to my knowledge at least, these sorts of questions have only been put to Nigel Farage on the odd occasion here and there and I cannot for the life of me come up with a reason why they are not fired at him relentlessly. Surely if it is appropriate to ask the SNP about possible border controls with England then it is worthwhile asking Farage about a potentially large number of Brits flooding their own country after we leave the European Union? Remember, we can’t possibly cope with another influx of people to this country. So why hasn’t anybody asked him?

The great failure with regards to scrutinizing UKIP can thus be condensed into two as yet drastically under-asked questions:

1.) If the British public voted to stay in the EU by electing a government that explicitly excluded the possibility of an EU referendum, what would UKIP’s future entail now that the European question had been put to bed for the foreseeable future?
2.) What would happen to both Brits abroad and Brits seeking to come home in the event that Britain left the European Union?

When reading the seemingly endless droves of commentary and opinion that bang on about the need for the main 3 political parties to respond effectively to UKIP I am almost entirely without explanation as to why these two elementary points are almost always neglected from the conversation. If EU membership really is in the national interest, as the Labour and Lib Dem leaderships say it is, then why don’t they unreservedly commit themselves to it by rejecting an in out referendum, thus stopping UKIP in its tracks. And if public services and infrastructure really are as bad as Farage says they are, surely the only sensible thing to do would be to discourage or even stop thousands of Brits from coming home if we did leave the EU. Unless of course Mr. Farage believes that we can cope with any number of British people pouring into the country, just so long as they are British.

Regardless of the probability of the abovementioned scenarios ever occurring, it is surely in the interests of holding policy up to practical scrutiny to ask the self-proclaimed non racist party that brought you bongo bongo land these sorts of questions.

And so, with the stage set for tonight’s big debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage on Britain and the EU, it is hoped that the pro-European leader of the Lib Dems will at least be able to put the central policies of UKIP under the kind of scrutiny that they deserve.

Then again, it is Nick Clegg….

Independence and Democracy

11 Dec

Over the course of the independence campaign the Yes side has relentlessly regurgitated the fact that 91% of Scottish MPs voted against both the cap on welfare payments and the imposition of the bedroom tax earlier this year, with absolutely no effect on these policies being implemented in Scotland.

The crucial point being made by those in favour of voting yes, therefore, is not just that the British electoral system has resulted in the people of Scotland being staggeringly underrepresented in the Westminster decision making process; but also that this has led to an entirely unsuitable, Anglo-centric policy programme being imposed north of the border against the will of the electorate.

Now, regardless of whether one ascribes to the idea that Tory policy is tailor made for England, there can be no doubt that at present, by virtue of their place within a UK state that overwhelmingly rejected amending first past the post, the possibility of the people of Scotland gaining an enhanced level of democratic representation anytime soon is simply non-existent.

Accordingly, in what some might describe as a shocking betrayal of fence sitters everywhere, I am of the opinion that, from a democratic perspective at least, the argument in favour of independence is overwhelming.

Allow me to explain…

For all that remains uncertain about the concept, independence would unquestionably bring about a far more representative form of government by virtue of the Scottish Parliament`s infinitely more proportional electoral system. Whilst this shift in and of itself would not immediately solve problems of democracy at the regional and local levels, it would surely enhance Scotland’s democratic credentials at the national level.

Independence would also, in my view, lead to a proliferation of new political parties from across the political spectrum. The SNP are the obvious example here: hanging together out of necessity rather than through choice, it would be sure to fragment into parties more suitable to the political ideologies of its members and supporters following a yes vote next year.

A Scottish Parliament composed solely of directly elected politicians would also bring an end to the absurd mechanism of an unelected second chamber in the national legislature. Despite being the one time flagship policy of golden boy turned Cameron’s toy Nick Clegg, House of Lords reform has been all but abandoned with more and more peers joining that most unnecessary of establishments on a regular basis.

Without really pushing this point any further, surely the fact that Britain and Iran are the only two countries on earth where clerics automatically sit in the legislature is enough to highlight the problem here?

And what about the Queen? Surely an independent Scotland wouldn’t be so drunk on democracy as to abolish the status of the hereditary monarch – especially with so much pro royalist sentiment in the air?

Well, perhaps not immediately.

For all that deeply troubles me about the retention of an unelected monarch as the head of state, it may be something that those of a republican persuasion simply have to tolerate initially in an independent Scotland. The prospect of having what will in all likelihood be the chinless figure of Prince Charles as head of state for a wee while certainly won’t swing my vote either way.

Ideally, an independent Scotland should have a referendum on the retention of the monarchy at some point – something that was for a long time the SNP’s position until they capitulated to perceived public fondness for the Royals. At the very least there would be the potential for a debate on the retention of an unelected monarchy north of the border post independence; something that is beyond fantasy within the UK as a whole at the moment.

From a different perspective, it is certainly feasible for the status quo, should it be allowed to continue, to produce profound consequences for the people of Scotland in the relatively near future with regards to Europe.

As is well documented, the Conservative party have indicated their desire to hold an in/out referendum on the nation’s EU membership in 2017 should they win the next general election. The great danger here, then, is that the people of Scotland could vote overwhelmingly to remain in the EU following a no vote in 2014 and nevertheless find themselves outside the EU by virtue of the remainder of the UK voting to leave.

So, with the prospect of Scotland being dragged out of the world`s largest free trade bloc by virtue of its continued place in the UK, the question has to be: should the current problem of blatant underrepresentation be tackled via independence or be left in large part up to the wishes of an English electorate that appears to be increasingly susceptible to Faragism?

You could actually leave UKIP out of this completely since this is not just a problem for those of a pro-European perspective – there is after all no guarantee that the people of Scotland would vote to stay in the EU in the event of a referendum on the issue. The crucial point is simply that a question of such importance for Scotland should be decided by a majority of the people in Scotland, and I would insist on this being applied to any process of joining the EU post-independence as well.

Admittedly, the simply sketched out arguments above are in no way novel. There is always the danger that the argument from democracy is open to the charge of being too idealistic and not of relevance to the vast majority of Scots who are more concerned about things like economic stability, growth, jobs etc. By way of response, however, I would contend that a state with a strong democratic foundation and a properly functioning, representative electoral system would be a good place to start when trying to address all of these concerns properly.

By way of summary then, independence would bring about the following situation: A parliament composed of politicians directly elected on the basis of proportional representation; the removal of hereditary peers, racketeers and clergymen from the legislative process; localised control over the great European question and a potential referendum on the retention of the Queen as a symbolic head of state.

In the alternative, if Scotland were to vote no, what would the chances be of even one of the abovementioned reforms taking place in any of our lifetimes?

As I see it, a more democratic country might not lead to a better future, but it certainly wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

That being said, I might still vote no. Back on the fence…

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