Over the next few weeks, I'm publishing 40 reasons I'll be voting yes to Scottish independence. Here are reasons 4, 5 and 6. See here for 1, 2 and 3.
4) Westminster or Holyrood?
“Westminster's a joke. It's full of numpties. It's got no idea what happens in the real world” - someone in Ullapool, April 2014
The choice Scots have to make is, in a way, simple: Westminster or Holyrood? With current constitutions, that's a choice between first-past-the-post and proportional representation; scrutiny by elected politicians with expert advice or by a House of Lords chosen largely through inheritance, patronage or faith. It's a question of a legislature typified by the Intelligence and Security Committee appointed by the Prime Minister it's supposed to hold to account or one with a Public Petitions Committee, for listening to the people.
If it's a yes vote, Scotland will have a new constitution. Given the level of political engagement right now, we can be pretty sure that it will be one which is if anything more empowering of people than the current arrangements. Certainly there is little chance of any steps away from the Charter 88 manifesto for a progressive constitution. Westminster, on the other hand, inspires no hope of serious reform.
The difference between the parliaments isn't just constitutional. Look at the percentage of female MPs (22%) vs female MSPs (35%) or the culture of sexist, classist bullying in what even the Speaker of the House calls a “testosterone filled place of yobbery”.
Consider the way Westminster is bound to the City of London and how the Treasury is the ultimate arbiter of all in British politics. Ask yourself how so many old Etonians rise to the top. Think about the scales of their relative expenses scandals. Our First Minister had a sub-letting muddle and resigned, MPs who systematically fiddled while the British economy burned still run the country.
Or look at the “unhealthy booze culture” of Westminster vs the cafe culture of Holyrood; the horseshoe vs the stand-off pews, two swords lengths apart. Consider the architecture: one designed to intimidate, the other to welcome. Look at the lobbying scandal, the stories of whips bullying MPs, the other lobbying scandal. And the other one... and the other one... and the other one and the other one...
These might seem like isolated matters. But added together they amount to a political culture. Holyrood is far from perfect. It's just an average Western European parliament. But choosing to be run from Westminster would be like sending your kids to a distant dysfunctional school, just because their granddad went there.
"The foundations of Britannia as a pompous, blue-blooded colossus would be shaken to the core." - Niki Seth-Smith, English journalist, 2014
Britain is a very damaged place. It languishes at the bottom of the European league tables on a whole sweep of crucial measures, yet still thinks it rules the waves. It has never got over the end of its empire. The Radical Independence Campaign has a slogan: “Britain is for the rich. Scotland can be ours”. The equivalents for Britain's other nations also apply. We were the world's biggest empire and were never conquered, the first industrial power and never had a revolution. Britain hasn't had a rapprochement with its troublesome past; we failed to have a teenage identity crisis and so need serious therapy in middle age. A yes vote can only help with this.
The left argument for independence is often characterised by its opponents as one which stems from some sort of bizarre ethno-exceptionalism – “Scottish people are intrinsically more left wing”. This is a paper tiger. No one thinks opinions are passed down in your genes. The problem is the British state. Yes, on some matters, it does incite somewhat different opinions in different parts of these islands. But English people are as oppressed by these institutions as are Scots. A yes vote is as much an opportunity for the peoples of the rest of the UK to demand reform.
6) Better Together and the way Britain does politics
“It is not enough for the No campaign simply to shout 'no, you cannae do that'. They need to come up with more.” - Nicola Sturgeon
It's popular in Scottish politics right now to deride the Better Together campaign. I think this misses the point. What's wrong with the No campaign is what's wrong with Westminster politics – it's just that many Scots are only seeing it in close focus for the first time. Fear-mongering ministers decreeing 'there is no alternative'; pouring scorn on any modicum of hope for something different; issuing statements though friendly reporters and thinking that the voices and interests of multi-billionaires are the same as the voices and interests of the people – this could all be a summary of Better Together. But it's their approach to all of politics.
If you don't like the fear-mongering over phone bills or pensions or space invasion, think about Blair's 45 minute claim. If you don't like the bullying over currency, think about ATOS. If you're shocked by the lack of evidence for treasury advice, consider the vast chasm where the case for austerity or NHS privatisation ought to lie. If you think they are negative, ask yourself the last time any of them inspired you about anything.
The Better Together campaign largely consists of ministers flying in to try to frighten people into voting no. This is exactly how they always 'campaign'. This is just a wing of the British state doing what it does to the English every day. The only differences are that with Holyrood, a different political culture is emerging and under the microscope of the referendum, people are starting to notice.
The difference in these political cultures was captured in a moment on STV news (below). Leading political journalist, Bernard Ponsonby, is accustomed to Scottish politics. Watch his reaction when he sees the behaviour of British ministers up close. Remember that this lack of accountability isn't abnormal – Cameron went 238 days without holding a single press conference last year. I tried to track down the equivalent figure for Alex Salmond. His office rang me back in five minutes, but struggled to understand the question - the access allowed to journalists is so frequent. "Barely a week goes by in which an invitation isn't sent out to the Scottish press" was the eventual reply.
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