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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The democratic surplus

On the 19th September, it’ll all be over bar the shouting, though I suspect there’ll be a lot of that.

I’ve purposely not engaged in much face to face debate on the matter other than with fellow Yes supporters – I know, pointless indulgence, but some become too animated for me.

For those prepared to accept that neutrality is now suspended as an option, the information necessary to reach an informed decision has been freely available for a long time and many, if not most, are tiring from the custard pie approach to fact trading. There are less than 6 weeks to go and I am saving my energy for the last fortnight.

This apparent negativity, supposedly a trait peculiar to my stubbornly oppositionist cousins, isn’t down to any lack of passion for the matter at hand, though, anything but. Nobody is going to change my mind and I am not about to attempt to browbeat those who openly declare their opposition as I’d have no more chance than they. Bombarding a political opponent generally has the opposite of the intended effect. Early agreement to disagree is the best approach to my mind. Please don’t construe any latent civic-minded magnanimity here; I’m not like that. It’s just that I find nothing upsets a mortal foe more than indifference to their views.

I pay no attention to opinion pollsters who in April 2011 were giving Labour a 10 point lead in Scotland and yet still claim that their margins of error are in tiny decimals. I don’t necessarily believe they are that far out on the Yes/No side of things – though the preambling questions and general methodology in their polls present a perpetual intellectual challenge here - but I am convinced their assessment of the intentions of the legendary undecided is flawed. It seems not to have occurred to them that many may well be merely politely invoking the principle of the secret ballot and saying nout. Given the febrile atmosphere that will exist, or at least threaten, whatever happens, this might be for the best. But above all, I’m not about to listen to those who need the validation of others’ opinions gleaned from statistically meaningless samples to inform their vote. Can people not make their own minds up on such a binary and fundamental issue without checking their mobile for guidance? If it’s democracy they want, they’re missing something vital.

Everybody has – or at least should have – their own reasons for voting as they presently intend. My experience is that while details may be broadly the same, individual perspectives differ wildly, even amongst those who agree with each other. Some nationalists, particularly some in the SNP, get up my nose and cite all the wrong reasons. Some of my best friends are unionists.

I could rabbit on from now to polling day and beyond about just why I believe Scotland should indeed be an independent country. If I was forced to offer one random line of argument only, it would probably be to point out that Burkina Faso, a dreadfully impoverished but resource rich country, with a fortieth of the per capita GDP, is somehow  independent and nobody seems to be complaining, let alone suggesting re-absorption by France.

The economics and much more have been tossed back and forth from political trebuchets for what seems like an eternity. Accuracy has been a secondary consideration and casualties have been largely amongst spectators and commentators – Salmond and Darling are still standing while many an academic,  business person and celebrity, never mind less accomplished politicos, have been flattened by their own rhetoric and hubris. The issues that make the difference are likely to be, to our political classes anyroads, trivial and narrowly personal, selfish even – perhaps so, but ain’t that the way?

The decision we are being asked to make concerns no more or less than how we wish to be governed. Most political narratives these days have it that the primary urge of all societies should be to have more democracy, and who could argue with that? And just as in the campaign for devolution, the primary objective is to address what is now seen as a democratic deficit.

Like so many nationalists, I was never content with the devolution settlement; not just because it wasn’t enough, but because, as we know, it was rigged to ensure that nationalists could never form a government. Ask the fathers of devolution how that went. Westminster couldn’t even rig a safety device in its own invention, yet another reason to doubt its competence to rule.

Unlike a lot of my fellow travellers, though, I can’t join in the generally uncritical applause for the devolution model itself. I’m surprised it has been so popular in the Highlands particularly because from the   perspective of many small communities on what are called the peripheries, well recognised processes of decline are grinding away relentlessly, faster now that we have three governments from Westminster through Holyrood to Inverness now fully geared up to cutting spending, even while we are being told the UK economy is back to pre-Crash levels now that London’s property market is booming again.

Holyrood has of course achieved a lot, and it was better than nothing, but in its present form, it contains an essential imbalance. In 1999 we were given what amounted to a fully functioning government in terms of apparatus, but with one hand tied behind its back when it came to major decisions, particularly economic ones. As a result it had spare capacity and by heck have they learned to utilise it. The state now intrudes in our lives in a way unimaginable a decade ago. 

We now have more political representation than is tenable or useful. We have Community Councils, Regional Authorities (nee, The Coonsil), Holyrood (see; Toon Coonsil), Westminster and Europe – with China and the US keeping us right. We have too much government and I’d like one less. Westminster would be a start. My hope is that independence will address a democratic surplus that is choking us to political death.

published in Am Bratach, August 2014