Democratic Case for Independence

Reproduced from my article in The Herald’s Agenda series

Agenda: Democratic case for independence

When the independence referendum was announced many of us were looking forward to a great debate.

Unfortunately it hasn’t turned out that way.

The differing approaches to the campaign have been striking. The Yes campaign has promoted a positive message for independence and a real vision of what an independent Scotland could achieve democratically, economically and socially. By contrast the Better Together campaign has deluged us with a stream of negativity much of which is simply scaremongering.

At its heart the debate should be about democracy and governance. So many issues we care about and the policies that affect our everyday lives are decided by the parliaments and the governments we choose.

Better Together would have us believe that as they represent the status quo only the independence side has to make a case for change. It is a false premise designed to deny the Scottish electorate the right to hear a positive argument from both sides. By definition an independence referendum is a judgment on the Union and Westminster governance.

The democratic case for independence is a strong one. After 300 years of Union, Scotland is still demonstrably a different society. Politically we continue to demonstrate that difference by frequently voting contrarily to the rest of the UK.

Devolution has served to underline that political difference. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties form the Government at UK level but can command only 16% of Holyrood seats.

Scotland has shown that we hold different views on many subjects including further education, the NHS, energy policy, public infrastructure funding, social welfare and nuclear weapons..

The Union is our reality but it is not normality. There are 50 countries in Europe, all are independent except Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Independence will ensure we get the Parliament we vote for and the Government we vote for, 100% of the time. The Union ensures we have only 59 representatives at Westminster out of a total of 650. We are frequently subjected to governments we did not vote for. Since the Second World War, UK governments have been supported by Scottish votes only 45% of the time.

Consider the nature of parliamentary democracy. Westminster’s first past the post electoral system allows parties to form governments with large majorities that are elected by little more than one-third of the votes. The Labour Government of 2005 gained a 66-seat majority with only 35.3% of the vote. It throws up anomalies too. Despite achieving a larger percentage of the poll (36.1%) in 2010 the Conservatives fell short of a majority by 19 seats.

The 2011 Holyrood elections by proportional representation (PR) required the SNP to gain 45.5% of the vote for a majority of nine seats. PR also gives voice to smaller parties who have little or no chance of being represented at Westminster. It took until 2010 for the Greens to gain their first Westminster seat. At Holyrood they have been represented in every Parliament since the Scottish Parliament was re-convened in 1999.

At present, Scottish votes are diluted by 11 times as many from the rest of the UK. Beyond the simple arithmetic there also lies the wider constitutional question.

An independent Scotland will replace the archaic, undemocratic Westminster system with its unelected upper house and Prime Ministerial patronage with a fair and representative system guided by a written constitution.

The democratic case for independence seems unanswerable. Until now Better Together has left it unanswered.

The Unionists either have to provide democratic justification for Westminster rule or present a case for the Union so overwhelmingly advantageous to Scotland that Scottish voters would consider it worth the democratic deficit.

Kenneth McNeil is a member of Business for Scotland, a co-operatively owned network for business people and professionals who believe Scotland will prosper as an independent country.

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