Repeatedly in discussions on Twitter, which admittedly is not the place for subtlety, pro-independence Scots have told me that the thing that matters is winning the Yes vote – “Everything else” can get worked out post-indy.
This is indescribably foolish.
One, because presumably they are attempting to convince me to vote Yes, and I’ll vote for status-quo devolution if they’ve got nothing more in the pot to offer but “We want you to vote yes!” Telling me that this is the “wrong attitude” to take to the independence referendum? Well, fine, but it’s my attitude: you can’t convince me to vote yes by refusing to engage with me.
Two, because realistically: I understand that the proposed timescale for independence is two years after a “yes” vote wins. Assuming that the Yes vote does win, that means four or so years from today, Scotland would be an independent nation.
That is none too much time to begin the Constitutional Convention to discuss what form and structure the new nation should have.
I wrote about the work of the Constitutional Convention in the 1990s back in February, but it’s worth remembering here: that work took years, but it delivered the basis of the Scotland Act that created the Scottish Parliament. The Scotland Act 1998 has the European Convention on Human Rights embedded into it. If Scotland becomes independent, there’s every possibility that we could backslide from that without the same level of work that was invested in the 1990s.
The Electoral Reform Society is organising a People’s Gathering for July in Edinburgh:
In this time of change we ask real Scots: who should have power in Scotland?
Most of us agree should be governed by the people, for the people but do our politicians always know about or act in the interests of voters?
We are planning a ‘People’s Gathering’ – a one day assembly of ordinary people to find out what they think.
There are only 129 seats available, but anyone can apply to be part of it. I have: you should.
I am still undecided about independence. But the referendum will happen, regardless. And apparently, until the legislation about the referendum clears the Scottish Parliament, it will be an unregulated campaign:
The main Yes and No campaigns – and any other campaigns that spring up – are able to spend as much as they like, accept money from any source, including foreign donors, and are not obliged to declare their income or expenditure.
Existing political parties will still be governed by general rules on donations and spending, but the arms’ length campaigns, even if they get most of their money and support from the parties, currently exist in a legislative vacuum.
The two main campaigns say they’ll voluntarily follow the rules that are imposed on political parties (no foreign donations over £500, make public the names of donors) but there are no sanctions that can be imposed if they don’t, or if they fail to disclose information or distort the information.
An Electoral Commission spokeswoman confirmed that, because there was not yet legislation governing the 2014 referendum, campaigners would be free to accept foreign donations and were under no obligation to account for their finances.
“Essentially there are no rules in place to regulate them at the moment. At the moment, the referendum doesn’t exist legally.
“It’s quite unusual because there’s such certainty [about a date] although legally it doesn’t exist. It’s kind of strange. So we’re in uncharted waters, I think it’s probably fair to say.”
The three huge issues that foreign interests will have their eye on: oil, the banks, and the media. Oil is the biggest deal of them all, because there is no reason to suppose that after independence, the deal made by Donald Dewar with the Labour government to redraw Scotland’s maritime boundaries would stand. The banks: well, Alex Salmond may think it simpler just to duck the question by declaring that Scotland will continue to use sterling, but I think he’ll find that there is no way to dodge this one. Scotland will on independence get only a population-proportionate share of the debt, and an economy in very comfortable shape. Financiers may see a brand-new independent country as a nice ripe target for lots of good loans: we can bear in mind what happened to Iceland and to Greece. The media: who gets to own Scotland’s BBC properties? Will they be nationalised, handed over to a newly chartered SBC corporation – or will News Corporation get them?
And then there’s the nuclear weapons, which may not be a huge issue exactly since no one wants them except the Biggus Dickus types, but which are going to be a pain in the butt for the rUK Ministry of Defense if the yes campaign wins in 2014.
All of this would be need to be clear and settled before autumn 2014, and all of these areas are exactly where I wouldn’t want to see foreign interests donating to spin the debate their way.
But human rights are a huge issue which other interests may wish to erode – or use as a smokescreen for grabbing in other more lucrative areas. We have a basic standard of human rights in Scotland that needs to be front-and-centered in any claim for independence, because if Scotland becomes independent, the Scotland Act no longer applies unless a written Constitution says it does.
There is also a Radical Independence Conference happening in October 2012, but I’d rather see these issues mainstreamed into the Yes and No campaigns, not treated as a radical demand.
Patrick Harvie’s called for a Constitutional Convention, and says he’s been looking with interest at the way Iceland is crowd-sourcing its new Constitution. Whichever way the vote goes in 2014, something that got people thinking about how they wanted Scotland to be, is not wasted effort. In Westminster, the Tories and LibDems are striving to roll back human rights to the era of the workhouse: standing out against them is the right thing to do.
We should begin from the equality standards we already have – the Scotland Act, the equality legislation passed since then for Scotland by the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments. We should be going forward. not back.
Properly managed, working out what a Constitution for Scotland should look like is a project that “no” and “yes” and “undecided” can all get behind. And for the Yes campaigners who keep telling me that they don’t want to get into detail about policy because that might “alienate” voters: well, refusing to go into detail about what you want me to vote for is sure as death alienating to me.