Scottish independence: Academic labels independence democracy paper 'utterly fanciful' and 'dismal'

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A leading academic has labelled Nicola Sturgeon’s latest paper supporting the case for Scottish independence as “dismal, negative, uninspiring” and “utterly fanciful”.

James Mitchell, professor of public policy at Edinburgh University, criticised the paper published last week by the First Minister, stating the vision for an independent Scotland set out would be in reality a “little Britain”.

Publishing the paper, the SNP leader said Scotland within the United Kingdom faces a “significant and increasing democratic deficit that Scotland suffers as part of the Union.”

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She also said she would not allow “Scottish democracy to be the prisoner of a UK prime minister”, but admitted she would be willing to compromise with whoever is the new Prime Minister about a second independence referendum.

It comes after the UK Government asked the Supreme Court to throw out the Scottish Government’s request for a ruling on the legality of a Scottish independence referendum Bill after it was referred to the court by the Lord Advocate.

The paper, which argues independence is the central answer to the problems facing Scotland’s “democratic deficit”, was attacked by Professor Mitchell in a piece for Holyrood magazine.

In it, he states democratic renewal in Scotland would be “easy to imagine” without independence, providing it began with a reversal of the “SNP’s centralisation” and a focus on openness and transparency.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon released a new paper on democracy last week.First Minister Nicola Sturgeon released a new paper on democracy last week.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon released a new paper on democracy last week.

The academic said: “Much of the argument rests on the notion that the current SNP shares with many of its opponents that the Westminster Parliament embodies the notion of unlimited sovereignty to legislate on all matters, free of any constraint from underpinning principles of international law or human rights, and now also from EU law.

"This is utterly fanciful.”

He added: “The lack of self-awareness in [rightly] criticising UK Government for hoarding power and treating devolved institutions with contempt while behaving in exactly the same way with local government is breath-taking.

“It has nothing to say on local democracy. There is nothing on democratic innovation, nothing on how to advance the pursuit of 50/50 representation and ensure the multiform Scotland is given voice, not just amongst 129 members of a parliament, but throughout society and politics.”

Prof Mitchell said the current Scottish Government offers nothing on improving accountability, something he argues is “obviously lacking in a Government that prefers secrecy and less than full disclosure”.

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The academic said he believed the SNP had moved away from the ideas of “self-government” and was now a “straightforward, one-dimensional nationalist party”.

He said: “What is on offer is not a proposal to renew democracy.

"This dismal, negative, uninspiring document suggests that the SNP would recreate a warped and discredited form of democracy, an independent Scotland that would simply be a little Britain.

"A renewal of Scottish democracy is needed. It does not need to await independence.”

In the Scottish Government’s paper, it is claimed pledges of further devolution “would not resolve the democratic deficit because ultimate power would be retained by Westminster”.

The SNP’s Stuart McMillan said Professor Mitchell’s piece was evidence of the “desired effect” of moving the debate around independence on to what an independent Scotland should look like.

The MSP said self-determination for Scots was key, with Westminster “undermining a devolution settlement which is already too limited to meet Scotland’s needs”.

He added: “This has created a crisis that should concern everyone who believes in democracy – including Prof Mitchell.

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"This latest Scottish Government paper provides a wealth of evidence that decisions about Scotland are best made by the people who live in Scotland.

“Independence will end this democratic crisis by putting the power to decide Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands, with decisions made by governments the people of Scotland have voted for.”

Want to hear more from The Scotsman's politics team? Check out the latest episode of our political podcast, The Steamie.

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