Tartan stitch-up

26 Oct

The terms of the referendum on Scottish Independence have been announced. As a result, the phoney war is over and the parties are now engaged in laying out their case for Scotland’s continued place in United Kingdom or for Scottish independence.
Rather than rehash the arguments for and against independence, this posting will concentrate on two points. The first point is hugely under-celebrated but deserves to be shouted from the rooftops: the campaigns for and against Scottish independence are peaceful. We are aware of multiple secessionist and independence struggles around the world that involve insurgency and state repression. Indeed, Sri Lanka shows just how badly things can get out of hand: the violent suppression of a violent secessionist movement, the systematic denial of human rights by the state, and the displacement and cantonment of tens of thousands of citizens. Many Scots take their politics seriously, and have firm views on the independence issue, but the campaigns are entirely peaceful. Crucial in this has been the extension of devolved powers to Scotland over a decade ago. This experiment proved to be highly popular and has given an arena for pro and anti-independence discourses.
The participants in the pro/anti-independence debate have been too slow to celebrate the fundamentally peaceful nature of their interaction. There are complex reasons behind the lack of violence; many of them specific to Scotland and the UK and so not transferable to other locations. Yet exemplars do matter. The fact that a velvet (though obviously tartan-patterned) divorce could happen has the potential to inform other campaigns.
The second point is to highlight the very obvious elite-level stitch-up between the political parties in setting out the terms of the referendum. For many years, all of the opinion poll evidence has highlighted that Scots favour ‘devo-max’ or an enhanced form of devolution. In other words, they want to see more powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament (e.g., tax raising powers) but want Scotland to remain in the UK. They prioritise this over independence and the status quo. Yet, despite knowing this, the Scottish National Party (who lead the Scottish devolved parliament) and the UK government got together and agreed to an either/or question for the referendum. This is very obviously against the wishes of a plurality (even majority) of the Scottish electorate. To be fair, the SNP wanted the three options on the ballot paper but the Westminster government insisted on a simple yes/no question on independence or status quo. This is plainly anti-democratic and denying people what they want. Much of the evidence of deliberative democracy experiments (like town hall meetings and local consultation processes) finds that they build up citizen expectations but don’t deliver. In the case of the Scottish independence referendum, political elites came together behind closed doors and decided what people wanted.
As to the referendum itself, it will be rejected. The London-based media, the London-based political parties and London-based corporate interests will unleash a ferocious campaign against independence. While this risks being counterproductive, it will browbeat the majority of Scots into supporting the status quo. Pity they won’t get a chance to vote for what they really want.


One Response to “Tartan stitch-up”

  1. Malaiz 26/10/2012 at 7:11 pm #

    The second point is important and shows just how much elites/leaders care about popular choice, not just in the UK but all over the world. They will always find a way in getting us believe they listen to us. In truth, they seldom do. The prospects for independence are apparently grim. It would be great to have an independent Scotland that participated in Schengen scheme so that people like me didn’t have to go through the irrationally stringent visa procedures of the UK.

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