Independence - A Simple Alternative

Independence was to be a miracle cure for all Scotland’s ills.  However, now that Scots have decided against breaking away from the rest of the UK, we need to think again.

The Scottish National Party won the 2011 election against a backdrop off collapsing opposition and an electorate determined to make Labour pay for years of failure.  They did not win it on an independence ticket as there was only passing reference to a referendum in their manifesto.  That said, many of us hoped for big improvements and, for a time, it looked as if our prayers would be answered.  

Devolved powers are extensive and cover the things that most affect our daily lives.  Health, education, transport, enterprise, agriculture, planning and justice are all controlled from Edinburgh. Unfortunately after a promising start, strong nationalist personalities re-asserted control over SNP policy. Once dubbed the Tartan Tories, the SNP now competes head on with Labour for left-wing votes.  As a result Scotland continues to fall ever further behind England with Westminster getting the blame for all our ills.

Before offering solutions it is important to consider recent milestones in modern Scottish political history.  The 1997 Devolution Referendum allowed the political elite to form the 1998 Scotland Act to suit their own agenda.  Rather than improving Scotland’s democratic system, it created a brand new set of problems; the 1998 Act placed barriers between the Scottish and English parliaments; Scots were not made responsible for their own budget; it had no second chamber; it was overstaffed with 129 MSPs for only 73 constituencies; it sits for only one and-a-half days per week, over £100m annually and voter turnouts are low.

In recognition that mistakes had been made, the Calman Commission was formed in 2007 to carry out a review. Their report, published in 2009, was aimed at “deepening devolution and increasing fiscal responsibility.” Few contributed but it formed the basis of another Scotland Bill which received Royal Assent as the Scotland Act 2012 in May of that year.  Once again, the public paid scant attention as yet more impenetrable legislation was added.

However, it is not just Scotland which is in the grip of political meltdown, all across the UK the status quo is under pressure.  The present high level of dissatisfaction with politicians has had many contributory factors; handouts to buy votes; consultations to provide a predetermined answer; minority driven legislation; uncontrolled immigration, European diktats, the list is endless. However, irrespective of what caused it, we now find ourselves in a fluid and potentially very dangerous situation.

Recovery is possible and the starting point will be the re-engagement of as many people as possible in an active civil society.  It happens in other countries and it used to happen here as well.  Paying councillors simply created fiefdoms of incompetence for those with the loudest voices.  It is time to replace bloated bureaucracies with enthusiastic stakeholders working together for the common good.

The Scottish parliament has developed many of Westminster’s faults and must devolve more power to those it serves. We also believe all MPs should be allowed to vote freely and be subject to recall by their constituents as detailed by the Free Parliament campaign. 

The present system is simply not fit for purpose. There are 129 MSPs elected under a first-past-the-post and proportional voting system for just 73 constituencies.  A number of responsibilities are devolved to the Scottish parliament and some are reserved to Westminster. We therefore have a further 59 Westminster MPs who cannot take part in Holyrood proceedings, just as our MSPs cannot take part in Westminster debates.  Every Scot now has three MPs plus one MEP.  This is confusing, it is inefficient and it embeds division.  Holyrood was also hobbled with proportional representation to prevent its legislation overcoming Labour’s Scottish power base.

Simplification:  The roles of MPs and MSPs should be combined and their number set to match the number of constituencies available.  We would then have 73 MPs elected by first-past-the-post, able to go to Westminster.  With appropriate timetabling, MPs could easily share their time between the two parliaments.   

Quality Control:  The Scottish parliament has acquired an unfortunate reputation for profligate and lightweight legislation. The surest way of addressing this would be by the addition of a revising chamber. Members of the second chamber would be selected from their constituency for their experience and track record.  A non-political revising chamber of people from the community would address two significant problems. The growing disconnect between politicians and those who elect them, and politically motivated poor quality decision making driven by a constant battle to get re-elected.  

Now that Scots have rejected breaking away from the UK, the first priority must be to a fit-for-purpose solution allowing all sides to work together for the common good.  Combining the functions of MPs and MSPs makes sense in many ways. It would provide simple and cost effective means of governance, it would help heal the divisions with England and ordinary people would actually understand how it worked. 

This solution will not satisfy the Nationalists, however nothing short of full independence ever will.