By Alex Robertson
The SCVO organised a debate in Glasgow this last week on the future of Scotland and it turned out to be more of a discussion resulting in a surprising degree of consensus and some out-of-the-box thinking.
The Umbrella body for voluntary organisations in Scotland got together a panel of 6 distinguished academics from Scottish Universities and invited them to present their vision for a future Scotland in a two hour session chaired by the SCVO convenor, Dr Alison Elliot, former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

After the panellists presented a dazzling array of opportunities and choices, the meeting was thrown open to the audience of some 30 or so and a debate ensued.  Actually it was more of a discussion, in calm reasoned questions and arguments, lacking nothing in passion or commitment.

My only regret is that nobody was writing down the visions being presented and discussed – it would make a valuable book as the referendum approaches.

As the discussion progressed, usually between audience and panel, but quite often between audience members and even parallel softly spoken conversations between audience members sitting close to one another, it became a demonstration of the highest level of communications between perfect strangers.

As the evening progressed, two strands of the dialectic began to emerge.  On the one hand was a range of vision, from how better to deal with an ageing population, and on to which Nordic model best suited a future Scotland, Scottish infrastructure options, social equality imperatives and how better to serve rural communities.

On the other hand a discussion quite naturally arose as to empowerment, how to make happen those vision choices, and how that related to Scotland having sovereign powers of choice and action.

The really remarkable thing for me was to watch the consensus emerge and flourish.  And never more so than when Professor Fiona Raitt of Dundee University Law School sparked a discussion on a Constitution for Scotland which offered the chance of marrying vision to action.

Bearing in mind the evening was hosted by the SCVO, it was scarcely surprising that the emphasis was on the Third Sector, but that did not prevent discussion on economics or governance issues.  But there is a space for similar debates to be held dealing with Commerce and Economics.

All in all it was a remarkable evening which exemplified Scottish aspiration and reason in equal measure.  There was no hostility, no smears, scares or silly name-calling, yet in just two hours we managed to explore loads of opportunities and how they might be made real.

If all our referendum meetings and debates are similarly productive, then Scotland will be the richer and wiser by 2014.

And yet, for me the real value lay in the rational roadmap which it revealed.

The choices are legion, and there is absolutely no shortage of vision and aspiration.  Nor is there a lack of perception that for any of this to make sense, to stand any chance of being translated into reality, Scotland needs the sovereign power to choose and act.  And the way to join these two aspects at the hip is for Scotland to have a written Constitution.

Several things were agreed in the outbreak of consensus.

First was that if an independent Scotland did nothing more than ape the ways and forms of Westminster then Scots would not gain the benefits independence offers.  We need to find ways to involve the Third Sector in the way we govern ourselves.  Rural communities, for example, are massively handicapped if all they have is the one person – one vote system.

The solution may well lie in establishing a bicameral system with the Third Sector providing at least half of the representation to ensure social equality in a revising chamber.

A great deal to think about and a massive incentive to think outside the box when it comes to Scotland’s future.


# IanCranston 2012-11-12 01:32
How about a senate, where all regions, not populations, have equal representation. The Northern Isles would have the same say and influence in the upper house as Lothian. To take this further, you could have diaspora representation in the Senate for Scots living in America, Australia etc just as with the Italian Senate , they have an Australian member living here in Australia.
# Macart 2012-11-12 06:24
An uplifting article Mr Robertson. This may be a way for the YES campaign to travel. Much like the SGs summer forums of recent years, perhaps a series of well publicised nationwide public discussions? Key members of the campaign in attendance on each discussion panel and open forum discussion as you have outlined above.

Worth a thought.
# Breeks 2012-11-12 08:33
What I would like to see is a well designed interactive website detailing the kind of options of which the Independnece referendum is only the first.
We all see repeatedly how much the BBC or Channel 4 enjoy their slick graphics. I'd like to see a drop-in web site which the public can access and appraise themselves of the issues. Learn both sides of the arguments without needing to commit to either.

It would be a safe way to develop thinking and ideas without imperilling the Indy referendum by dividing us along constitutional matters.

It would nice to see a feast of information, apolitical in presentation, but with informative links to local issues in a constitutional context.

I say apolitical, but we know anything informing the public will be castigated as anti-unionist, but we should see beyond that, and a develop an information 'hub' as informative and enlightening to Unionists as it is to Nationalists.

The options would be limitless.
# Jim Johnston 2012-11-12 08:53
I do like your idea of a book,(or essay ?), Alex.

Could attendees through Dr Alison Elliot be persuaded to contribute articles for a collective publication ? I would certainly buy it.

It would be a valuable publication which may stimulate who knows what further out of the box "seed ideas" on Scotlands future.

I think the last time such an exercise in collective thinking was undertaken it eventually came to be called the Declaration of Arbroath
# UpSpake 2012-11-12 09:53
Well Alex, if you are suggesting that there are a variety of other ideas 'out there' which might impinge on the curent views of what independence might mean for Scotland, then I agree with you.
For some time it has become obvious to me that maintenance of the Pound Sterling, the Bank of England, in fact, allowing the purse strings to be controlled by London falls far short of independence in my mind.
With the majority party in Scotland only offering this Devo Max proposal then perhaps its high time others stepped up to the plate with radically different ideas on how a future independent Scotland might operate.
Voting Yes and allowing the SNP view of independence to gain traction will give us independence of sorts but we will still be tied to a Union, the European one so will be be independent at all ?.
# davemsc 2012-11-12 12:23
The Republic of Ireland was in currency union with Sterling from 1918 until it converted to the euro in 2002. Did this make Ireland any less independent than they thought? Of course it didn't. Similarly, the countries in the post-war Sterling Area were still independent of Westminster (ie New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, etc.). So this argument is not a credible one, since countries across the world are in currency union, or have 'pegged' currencies. It does not make them non-independent.
# Glasgow 2012-11-12 10:10
At all?

You for real?

Of course it will.
# theycantbeserious 2012-11-12 10:29
Independence for Scotland and its' people, and then using the voice independence gives us mould Scotland to meet its needs. But first we must vote YES in 2014 or we will have no voice (again) and no control over our needs and aspirations. Without independence this is all academic.
# Galen10 2012-11-12 10:29
@UpSpake Whilst we are all aware of your narrative that the SNP are "only" offering devo-max, not true independence, and that membership of the EU also means we would not be truly independent, your views don't get any more persuasive for their constant repetition.

There are (as others have often pointed out) plenty of examples of countries using or being tied to the currency of another. The idea that this renders them somehow less independent, or not fully independent is simply risible.

Similarly, what the SNP may be offering the Scottish people for an independent Scotland, whilst interesting in the abstract, is only an indication of what their chosen options MIGHT be in the event they form the government of an independent Scotland. There is absolutely no guarantee that they will.
# Breeks 2012-11-12 13:21
Just a question about currency - I apologize if I suggest something stupid, but I'm not an economist.

Between keeping the pound or adopting the Euro, why don't we go back to basics and have a Scottish currency adopting the gold standard? We could have our own mini currency, tied to gold rather than Sterling or the Euro. We could trade with either using conventional exchange rates, and while gold prices fluctuate, they always have done, but still set the standard for currencies well enough in the past.

I presume it's a daft suggestion, but can anybody tell me explicitly why? Wouldn't a Scottish currency tied to the price of gold provide the very stability we'd be looking for, and protect our small economy from destabilizing influences like collapses in the Euro or Sterling?
Gold is the same tangible commodity it ever was, but economies which do well, East or West, buy gold.
Scottish £'s using the Gold standard. Anybody tell me why wouldn't that work?
# richardcain2 2012-11-13 07:40
For one thing, you would have to have a stockpile of gold sitting in Edinburgh which was equal in value to all of the money in circulation. This would be very difficult to acquire in the first few years as a new nation.

I agree that we should have a new currency, but the easiest way to accomplish this would be to have it pegged to Sterling for the first few years. Then, once we've found our feet, then we can float.
# The_Healthy_Skeptic 2012-11-12 15:03
I feel loads of you are missing the point on What Constitutes Independence.

Autonomy = Independence

without this we are not.

simples...(to quote a meerkat)
# sneckedagain 2012-11-12 18:50
Why doesn't Upspake just go off and join UKIP instead of relating to us ad infinitum his dislike of the EU.

I am broadly supportive of the EU, a far from perfect but entirely voluntary coalition of which, as a result of our position trapped in the UK, we are presently a part.
Until we can escape the trap we can sensibly entertain no opinion on whether we remain in the EU or not.
Should we waste time vociferously arguing different positions on the EU before we escape the trap we could significantly lessen our chance of escaping the union trap at all.

Or, in a word or two - gies a break.
# Piemonteis 2012-11-12 19:36
Snecked Again, I don't understand what your idea of a forum is if it isn't for contrasting views to broaden and move forward debate. One key aspect of Newsnet Scotland is precisely that it is a forum for a variety of viewpoints over a number of issues which, in general, involve the political realties of Scotland and, particularly in this period, the independence process.

I would answer Upspake by saying that EU membership of an independent Scotland would give the country sovereignty without isolation. However, there are many on here and in Scottish society who are sceptical about the EU and as long as that remains the case, it will be an important issue over the next few years.

The same should be said of currency, NATO, the constitution; and even head of State and Federalism, if these issues are deemed important.

I also notice that, in arguing against the argument, you yourself have put forward your argument for the EU, thus joining the debate.
# tilly 2012-11-12 19:25
O/T (slightly).

From the Herald:

As Others See Us:
The view from the United States.

To me it seems to be a very myopic view.
# Wes Wemyss 2012-11-13 02:12
There is obviously a need for this kind of debate as we get closer to the referendum. A Yes vote will mandate the Government to begin negotiations with Westminster on the dissolution of the Union and division of our shared resources. How much longer might it take before Scotland is independent and what form might the constitution of the new State resemble?
Back in the 80s, with Thatcherism scourging our communities, we had a beacon of hope in Radical Scotland magazine - a non-ideological forum for discourse which undoubtedly created the pressure wave that allowed John Smith to restore the Labour Party's commitment to Devolution.
# sneckedagain 2012-11-13 10:51

You miss the point entirely.
There are a number of issues on which we cannot have any effect until we are independent. Arguing about them now is a waste of effort.
The only sensible position to be taken by any person supporting independence at the moment is that the people of Scotland will be consulted about continued membership of the EU after we achieve independence.
To try to insist at the moment on the adoption of a Scotland stays in or a Scotland gets out position is damaging and uneccesarily divisive.
# Edward Harkins 2012-11-13 20:08
I was one of the participants at this event. My recollection is markedly different from yours Alex. I find that refreshing and intriguing – what a forum should achieve?

One overwhelming lesson for me was on how the seemingly universal consensus among the participants was that the political professionals (for that it what they now are) and our political processes have and are letting us down.

I suggest there was an underlying tone that our politicians and political process are going to ensure that the referendum is a messy, unproductive and possibly destablising affair.

I’d support Jim Johnston on his suggestion, ‘ Could attendees through Dr Alison Elliot be persuaded to contribute articles for a collective publication ?’ Only issue would be how do we… ahem… constrain those who measure their contribution by it’s length - a bit like that went-on-too-long-and-often audience member at the back of the forum ;-)
# tartanpigsy 2012-11-13 21:39
Not sure who knows about this, coming up in about ten days. Won't make it myself due to work commitments, but looks like it will be the type of event we need more of.
# Mad Jock McMad 2012-11-13 22:53
But who elects the SCVO?

Are they not in the main CEO's of their organisations with their own set of vested interests to protect?

For SCVO to attack members of an elected parliament as is indicated by the 'messy comments' of Edward above ... I am sorry but there is a campaign which already opens it doors to all comers and is inclusive called 'Yes Scotland' where I trust the SCVO have involved themselves in making their views clear on the sort of Scotland they wish.

As for a bicameral system; has little to do with the Scottish Parliamentary tradition or constitutional norm of being a unicameral body. We have a bicameral system in the UK Union with a non elected second chamber and we all know what a total failure that has been riven as it is with corruption and self interest.

An independent Scotland starts from the position of being a representative democracy where sovereignty lies with the people not the crown or parliament or the SCVO.
# graememcallan 2012-11-14 19:04
What a thought provoking, refreshing and fantastic article - well done, Sir;-)))
# Edward Harkins 2012-11-22 13:43
I watched aghast at the national humiliation today that passed for Opposition questioning at Holyrood First Minister's Questions (including the Leader of the Opposition being asked to mind her language after a 'Pinnochio' jibe) I was reminded of what I posted above:
"One overwhelming lesson for me was on how the seemingly universal consensus among the participants was that the political professionals (for that it what they now are) and our political processes have and are letting us down.
I suggest there was an underlying tone that our politicians and political process are going to ensure that the referendum is a messy, unproductive and possibly destablising affair."

Going by today, the participants at the SCVO event were right on the button about 'messy' and 'unproductive'.

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