I have been reading a book recently. It is called ‘A Short Guide to Starting a New Country’ and is published by Common Weal. This book outlines a four and a half year plan to enable a functioning independent Scotland. (It is a summary of a longer volume, written by Robin McAlpine, also published by Common Weal.)
The importance of this volume is not the details of the proposed plan, which will change anyway as the plan progresses, but that a plan is written down. We can see what happens without proper planning by observing the current travails of the UK government’s attempts to leave the EU. To both sides winning the 2016 referendum was the ultimate goal. Now, the result is that no one can agree on how to proceed with Brexit. Negotiations between Westminster and Brussels were stalled because the UK cannot be clear on what it wants: except that the UK wants much more from the EU than the EU wants from the UK. Guess which side has the stronger negotiating position.
In contrast Common Weal advocates starting planning a year and a half before the date of the next independence referendum. They envisage three documents being produced at least six months before a referendum;
- an Interim Constitution for Scotland,
- a White Paper detailing how an independent Scotland will function,
- an Implementation Plan describing how the White Paper functions will be achieved.
These three documents would be gold dust to independence activists and campaigners. Questions from the undecided at street stalls about pensions or the price of oil would already have been answered. ‘What if…’ questions could be explained. Independence representatives dealing with a hostile media would have a firm base to argue from. There would be no need for any ‘Plans B’.
However, I can see some political problems in the production of these documents.
We cannot allow a single political party to draw up a constitution but I cannot see Labour, the Conservatives, or the Liberal Democrats getting involved while opposing independence.
The Scottish Government in Holyrood is constrained by the UK Government. (Indeed, its very existence is at the whim of Westminster.) An SNP government would not be able to spend money recruiting constitutional experts and initiating a Constitutional Convention without legal opposition from other parties which would delay the process past the date of a referendum.
Funding could be found from elsewhere but then the Interim Constitution would lack the authority of a government publication and could be dismissed by opponents.
- White Paper
Governments use the Civil Service to draw up new White Papers. However a government is not allowed to use the Civil Service for ‘party political’ purposes. Drawing up a White Paper for a future independent Scottish government has party political written all over it.
Again funds will need to be raised and staff recruited to produce a document still lacking government authority.
- Implementation Plan
Producing this document suffers the same problems as producing a White Paper except that it requires recruitment of people with a different set of skills. An implementation plan needs project managers, and experienced ones at that.
I can point out these problems but I cannot supply solutions. These are political problems and will need political solutions. At present the only political allies of the independence organisations are the SNP and, perhaps, the Greens. There is some evidence of support among Labour members but not among their current leadership.
The 2014 independence Referendum was primarily a political campaign driven by the SNP. Pressure for a new referendum will come from the people of Scotland in resurgent ‘Yes…’ and ‘…for Independence’. However, we will still need the SNP in Holyrood to pass a new referendum bill and we will need the Westminster government to approve. So one of the tasks of the myriad independence groups must be to keep asking elected representatives what plans are being made. Demands for a new independence referendum are virtually inevitable; ‘waiting for the full implications of Brexit to become clearer’ will only decide its date.
‘A Short Guide to Starting a New Country’ should be read by everyone campaigning for a better nation.
Written by Tommy – Yes Pollok Convener