Democratic paradox a right royal fudge

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HAVING downloaded my copy of the Scottish Government’s white paper to my Kindle, I decided to prioritise the chapters that, in particular, tackle the fundamental changes that are possible under an independent Scotland.

I think we all must agree, “Building A Modern Democracy”, as a heading for chapter ten, encompasses that idea more than any other.

Although I commend the paper in many respects, I find it baffling that it contradicts itself in one important regard. 
The chapter celebrates values which are at odds with those enshrined in earlier chapters, with the notion, “Scotland will remain within the Union of the Crowns with Her Majesty the Queen, as our head of state”. Followed by, “but we will have a modern, written constitution”, as an almost ­immediate admission of its own contradiction.

As if to emphasise the government’s unease, it states on page 43 that, “On Independence, Her Majesty the Queen will remain our head of state. Scotland will be a c­onstitutional monarchy”, ­before adding, breathlessly, “for as long as the people of Scotland wish us to be so”.

But this earlier uneasiness is met in chapter ten, on “Building A Modern Democracy”, with a complete contradiction of that spirit where we read liberally scattered promises to “elect” and build a “modern European democracy”, “based on the sovereignty of the ­people”, in the “best interests of the people”, with “equality and human rights” to the fore in a “Scotland fit for the 21st century”.

Our new nation is to be, we are told, a country where we no longer tolerate ­“democratic deficits” ­hanging like guillotines over “the rights of citizens”.

The message contradicts ­itself fundamentally.

Either you retain an unelected, unrepresentative and unaccountable monarch as your head of state, or you have one that is elected, like most modern European democracies, whereby the ultimate sovereignty rests, not with a feudal relic, but with the ­people. 

That principle is surely in keeping with this modern age of democratic deficit, where the people of Scotland are ­denied their sovereignty and citizenship as subjects of Her Majesty. 

The SNP government’s stance on the monarchy, therefore, smacks of ­political opportunism and/or ­cowardice. Either way, it makes a mockery of democratic principles. It is trying to face both ways at once on this issue and does not persuade in either regard.

So we witness Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon’s promiscuous references to “the Union of the Crowns” of 1603, a “social union” and a “shared Queen”.

Whereas the Tories, the Liberal Democrats and Labour are royalists through and through, the SNP was supposed to be different. Now fearful of alienating the opinion of conservative Scots in its North-east heartlands, it ­surrenders democratic principles to insist Scotland must keep the monarchy.

If I were a monarchist, I would not trust the SNP to retain the monarchy as its ­involvement is subject to “so long as the Scottish people want it”.

As it is, I favour a modern democratic republic and, as a result, I do not trust the SNP either.

Fiona Donaldson

South Gyle Mains

Edinburgh

Mark Bevan writes (Perspective, 12 December) that a ­written ­constitution would enhance our human rights after ­independence.

As Michael Kelly points out in the same issue (Perspective) written constitutions are usually difficult to change 
(witness the American one), which may box a country in, making change hard.

Our unwritten one, being flexible, means it can easily adapt to changing circumstances (and has done).

There are arguments on both sides, but to use this as an argument for independence, is a bit thin.

William Ballantine

Dean Road

Bo’ness, West Lothian

THE referendum polling data reported by Eddie Barnes (your report, 11 December) must give the independence campaigners pause for thought.

There is more than a ­passing resemblance between the weighty Scottish Government independence white paper and the Labour Party’s 1983 unsuccessful election manifesto, which was condemned as “longest suicide note in history”.

Like that manifesto, the white paper is full of ambitions and radical breaks from past policies but it clearly fails to convince the middle mass of the population which has a modest investment in ­continuing stability and ­relative prosperity. 

What confidence these middling strata might have in the independence project is further undermined by the various groups congregating around the independence cause who seek to promote even more radical changes.

Whatever ideas and plans for an independent Scottish state the SNP has, it additionally proposes that a new constitution will be framed shortly after the achievement of independence that may lead to outcomes radically different from those put to the electorate in next September’s independence referendum.

The Yes campaign is doomed to failure unless it can gain the support of the middle sector of society. ­Labour failed to do this in 1983 and got 30 per cent of the votes cast in that general ­election.

Understandable national sentiments in Scotland will likely give the independence campaigners a higher figure than this in the referendum ballot next year and separatism will continue to have some support in Scotland.

But it looks as though there is good reason for the majority of the Scottish electorate to have profound doubts about risking their futures with a Yes vote in the independence referendum on 18 September next year.

Norman Bonney

Palmerston Place

Edinburgh

Professor Greg Philo (Letters, 12 December) refers to possible Scottish Independence as “setting up a new country”. Many of us see it as restoring a rather old country to its rightful place in the modern world. 

David Stevenson

Blacket Place

Edinburgh