I am writing as one of those English people resident in Scotland who is currently inclined to vote Yes for independence.
I have no Scottish ancestry and have no Nationalist sympathies. I came to Scotland in 1997, aged 33, simply because that was where I was able to find a job. I have, however, become increasingly disillusioned with the state of democracy in the UK and currently see a vote for independence as the least bad option going forward.
There are many other non-Scots residents in Scotland who feel the same as me, which is one of the main reasons why the polls give Yes voters a share of the electorate that far exceeds that of SNP voters alone.
If people like me, and there are many of us on both sides of the Border, are to be won back to a unionist position, something has to be done about the democratic deficit in the UK as a whole. Below are four points which I would regard as non-negotiable in terms of reforming our democratic institutions.
First, the current situation in which the Westminster parliament is both the UK “federal” parliament and the English “provincial” parliament is unsustainable. These two functions need to be separated or the Union will fall apart.
The cheapest and simplest way to do this would be to combine it with House of Lords reform and have one of the Westminster chambers as an English parliament and one as a federal legislature.
Second, restore the representative element to parliamentary democracy. Members of parliament(s) are supposed to represent their constituencies but this is currently undermined by parties “parachuting in” candidates. We need regulations that require candidates to be in some sense local – something like a five-year residency requirement prior to the election might work, though other systems might be possible.
Third, take the money out of party politics. The war chests of political parties are far too important and distort the democratic process. Party funding must be limited to membership fees only; all parties should be limited to state established membership fees with “unwaged” discount membership (for students, pensioners, the unemployed etc) topped up from tax revenue. This would make parties much poorer but that would be better for democracy if there were fewer special advisers and spin doctors – and politicians had to script their own speeches and sound bites.
Fourth, some form of proportionate representation needs to be introduced at UK level. Whether this would be a top-up system similar to that used in Holyrood or multi-member constituencies (based on traditional counties and cities) or some other system is not as important as the principal that the party representation in the various legislative chambers should reflect the support for the parties at the polls.
(Dr) Alex Woolf
University of St Andrews
The world and his wife seem to be joining in the debate on Scottish independence so may an obscure voice from Wales join in? I do hope your electorate will have the backbone to reassert its national sovereignty when it gets the chance.
There are obvious advantages in all the nations of these islands working together, particularly in world affairs and macroeconomics, yes, and defence too, but that can be done as well or better by independent and equal partners working together with mutual respect.
It suits Westminster to have the whip hand but it would be better for everybody if they had to negotiate policy with equals instead of dictating.
Waun y Felin