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Networks defeat hierarchies; a new constitution (40 reasons to support Scottish independence, 30 & 31)

As technology makes the world flat, centralised unions are too cumbersome, while the prospect of the chance to write a new constitution in this new world is too important to reject.

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay
18 June 2014

30) The world has become flat

The most important fact is: not for the first time in 2011, the network has defeated the hierarchy.” Paul Mason

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  Wikipedia - one of many networks to have defeated giant hierarchies in recent years

In March this year, Compass Chair Neal Lawson and former Danish Culture Minister Uffe Elbæk declared the world to be flat. They were not confirming the suspicions of dubious mediaeval geologists, but rather trumpeting the arrival of a paradigm shift in which “the old icebergs of state and corporation are dissolving into a fluid sea where action only becomes meaningful in concert with others.”

Driven by digital technology, the changes in the ways that people interact with the world are profound, and demand revolutions in how we constitute our politics. Paul Mason puts it like this: “Horizontalism has become endemic because technology makes it easy: it kills vertical hierarchies spontaneously”.

Those of us who believe that there is a vital role for democratic organisation through the state need to respond to these changes, because we can be sure that those who wish to exert control through capital will. It's no longer good enough for government to embody a sort of distant constitutional paternalism.

The British state is an archetypal example of such a creaking hierarchy – of a large, centralised power structure, too cumbersome to sail those fluid seas to the new world. What we need instead is the flexibility of flotillas – energetic and nimble governments, held close by their people and collaborating in networks to evade corporate capture. If “the network defeats the hierarchy” we need to work together not through a centralised union, but in a web of nations with both our neighbours and with friends around the world.

Given the choice between keeping power close or leaving it further away, I always would have opted for the former. But in an age when politics is defined by the fleet of foot little guy beating the blundering bureaucracy, any case for centralising power at the mother of icebergs – Whitehall – melts away.

    31) A new constitution

independence offers the prospect of a new, inclusive, democratic Constitution that recognizes our diversity, our freedom, and our equality.” the Scottish Secular Society, backing a yes vote

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  The opening passage of the proposed interrim constitution for Scotland

In Scotland, the people are sovereign”

That's the first line of the SNP's draft constitution for Scotland. The final version will be penned, if it's a yes vote, by a constitutional convention which will gather together people from across society. The draft also includes proposals for environmental protections, and bans on nuclear weapons and involvement in foreign wars unless they are sanctioned by international law.

Constitutions matter. They define the relationships between people and power. They outline how we organise ourselves as a community and they codify a national story which tells the people that power is rightfully ours - or someone elses. From questions of power, all others stem.

Of all the constitutions in the Western World, Britain's is perhaps the most absurd. Uncodified, the only people who feel ownership over it are those it ought to hold to account. It empowers not the people, but parliamentarians.

It's hard to decide which part of it is most damaging. Is it the Lords? The fact that most of the people appointed to our second chamber are chosen by those they are supposed to be holding to account? Or the anachronism that 90 of them are there because of inherited titles? Is it the fact that we hold the dubious distinction of being, along with Iran, one of only two countries on earth to reserve places in its legislature for clerics, or the fact that the church we have failed to separate from the British state isn't even the national religion of three of the four countries in the union?

But the Commons is hardly a contrast, with first-past-the-post protecting the established and so the establishment, the Remembrancer protecting the City and the deference to the monarchy.

But it's not just the prospect of no longer being governed under a set of archaic rules which thrills me. It's the fact that, in a time of rapid change in the world, Scotland would have the chance to establish the newest constitution on earth. And its not just the content of the document that matters – though it does. It's the process of getting there, what that story tells people about their place in politics.

The chance for the people of Scotland to come together and define a new set of rules for how we will run our country, to arrange our institutional sails so they can catch the winds of the new world – and, for the first time for any British people, to do these things for ourselves – is a hugely exciting prospect. It brings the opportunity to define what a modern, forward looking democracy looks like. It creates an chance to build institutions which hand power to people rather than building walls to keep them out. It's a prospect filled to the brim with opportunity, and we'd be fools to turn it down.

openDemocracy and Red Pepper are hosting "The radical case for Scottish independence" in the Houses of Parliament on the 26th of June. Join us.

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals


To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.


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