Alistair Bonnington: One-party state is an enemy of democracy

John  Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, to remove Susan OBrien as Chair of the Scottish Inquiry into child sex abuse. Picture: TSPL

John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, to remove Susan OBrien as Chair of the Scottish Inquiry into child sex abuse. Picture: TSPL

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NICOLA Sturgeon has failed to learn the first lesson, writes Alistair Bonnington

As a political party which bases its very existence on the cause of independence, it would seem reasonable to expect the SNP hierarchy to understand the concept. But the notion baffles them.

The recent move by John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, to remove Susan O’Brien as Chair of the Scottish Inquiry into child sex abuse, demonstrates the SNP’s naivete on this legal concept. Mr Swinney went on to meet those who claim to be victims of abuse and gave them guarantees on the inquiry’s conduct. So this SNP-ordered inquiry is to be “independent”, as long as a tame chair does as ordered. No mature legal system behaves in such a way.

Independence is vital to the set-up and workings of a democratic state. Each arm of the state – the executive, legislative and judicial bodies – must act without interference from the others. But this elementary first year law school rule seems to have escaped the SNP.

SNP politicians at Westminster and Holyrood are hardly independent. They slavishly follow what they are instructed to do. Dissent is not allowed.

So in Holyrood, legislative proposals brought forward by the SNP government are neither challenged nor given proper scrutiny by SNP MSPs. Their correct function here is to bring independent critical thinking to the government’s policy. But instead, government bills are afforded obedient adulation, no matter how flawed. This results in Scotland producing the lowest quality legislation in Europe.

I fear I must accept responsibility here. I taught Nicola Sturgeon when she was in law classes at Glasgow University. I seem to have failed to instill in her the most basic rules of how the institutions of government work in the free world. We tried to teach that a one-party government which tramples on the independence of the other arms of the state, and indeed the independence of its own members, is the very antithesis of true democracy. How sad that we failed.

• Alistair Bonnington is former Honorary Professor of Law, Glasgow University

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