A longer guest post today, from Martin Burns, who blogs here. We don’t normally publish old stuff from elsewhere, but this deserves a bigger audience. 

The Pragmatic Argument for Independence

Let me describe to you the kind of country I’d like to live in.

One that can happily announce that legislation coming in at the New Year will introduce free vaccines, higher parental leave benefits (already 16 months split between both parents at 80% of salary), tax exemption for private tutors, and more job security for temporary workers.

While maintaining a national AAA credit rating.

This is a fictitious utopia right? The economic orthodoxy is that you just can’t do these things together. You have to face stark choices in the current global economic climate. (Gently leaving to one side that nuclear weapons never seem to be part of that choice).

OK, let’s make it even more Utopian. Imagine a constitution that opens like this:

Chapter 1 Basic Principles

Article 1

  1. All public power in proceeds from the people.
  2. Our national democracy is founded on freedom of opinion and on universal and equal suffrage. It shall be realized through a representative and parliamentary polity and through local self-government.

Article 2

  1. Public power shall be exercised with respect for the equal worth of all and for the freedom and dignity of the individual.
  2. The personal, economic and cultural welfare of the individual shall be fundamental aims of public activity. In particular, it shall be incumbent upon the public administration to secure the right to work, housing and education, and to promote social care and social security and a good living environment.
  3. The public administration shall promote the ideals of democracy as guidelines in all sectors of society. The public administration shall guarantee equal rights to men and women and protect the private and family lives of the individual.
  4. Opportunities should be promoted for ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities to preserve and develop a cultural and social life of their own.

Chapter 2 Fundamental Rights and Freedoms

Article 1

  1. All citizens shall be guaranteed the following in their relations with the public administration:
    1. freedom of expression: the freedom to communicate information and to express ideas, opinions and emotions, whether orally, in writing, in pictorial representations, or in any other way;
    2. freedom of information: the freedom to obtain and receive information and otherwise acquaint oneself with the utterances of others;
    3. freedom of assembly: the freedom to organize or attend any meeting for information purposes or for the expression of opinions or for any other similar purpose or for the purpose of presenting artistic work;
    4. freedom to demonstrate: the freedom to organize or take part in any demonstration in a public place;
    5. freedom of association: the freedom to unite with others for public or private purposes; and
    6. freedom of worship: the freedom to practice one’s own religion either alone or in company with others.
  2. In the case of the freedom of the press the provisions of the Freedom of the Press Act shall apply. That act also contains provisions concerning the right of access to public documents.

Article 2

All citizens shall be protected in their relations with the public administration against all coercion to divulge an opinion in any political, religious, cultural or other similar connection. They shall furthermore be protected in their relations with the public administration against all coercion to participate in any meeting for the formation of opinion or in any demonstration or other expression of opinion or to belong to any political association, religious congregation or other association for opinions of the nature referred to in the first sentence.

Article 3

  1. No record about a citizen in a public register may be based without his consent solely on his political opinions.
  2. Citizens shall be protected to the extent determined in detail by law against any infringement of their personal integrity resulting from the registration of information about them by means of electronic data processing.

Article 4

There shall be no capital punishment.

Article 5

All citizens shall be protected against corporal punishment. All citizens shall likewise be protected against torture or any medical influence or intervention for the purpose of extorting or suppressing statements.

Article 6

All citizens shall be protected in their relations with the public administration against any physical violation also in cases other than those referred to in Articles 4 and 5. Citizens shall likewise be protected against physical search, house searches or other similar encroachments and against examination of mail or other confidential correspondence and against eavesdropping, telephone-tapping or recording of other confidential communications.

Article 7

  1. No citizen may be deported or refused entry to the country
  2. No citizen who is resident or who has been resident may be deprived of his citizenship unless he becomes at the same time a national of another state, at his express consent or because he has taken employment in the public service.

Article 8

All citizens shall be protected against deprivation of liberty in their relations with the public administration. They shall also in other respects be guaranteed freedom of movement within the Realm and freedom to depart the country.

So yes, absolute Utopia, right? Couldn’t possibly exist. A pipe dream.

Except that all the above is currently true of Sweden. That’s the actual opening of the Swedish constitution (with ‘the nation’ substituting for when Sweden is mentioned by name). And a news write up of actual upcoming Swedish legislation. And the actual Swedish credit rating.

A small, northern European nation, not particularly blessed with natural resources (compared to Scotland’s abundance of mineral wealth and 25% of Europe’s renewable energy potential).

They did this simply because the people of Sweden insisted; through political will. Their values – like Scotland’s – tend towards valuing society over money. It’s the kind of country where (as one of my UK-expats-in-Sweden friends expressed) you may never be stinking rich, but you’ll never be allowed to entirely drop through the net.

The Better Together people (at least, the better sort) are concerned with achieving these kinds of benefits for all of the UK. Which is a wonderful objective that I entirely support.

I believe a Bartlet quote is in order here:

That’s the ten-word answer my staff’s been looking for for two weeks. There it is. Ten-word answers can kill you in political campaigns. They’re the tip of the sword.

Here’s my question: What are the next ten words of your answer? Your taxes are too high? So are mine. Give me the next ten words. How are we going to do it? Give me ten after that, I’ll drop out of the race right now.

(source, the ever wonderful West Wing Transcripts)

So, Better Together types: tell me what the realistic path is to achieving this kind of society, with these priorities, and I’ll commit to voting ‘No’ right now. Hell, make it convincing and I’ll join your campaign.

But I doubt very much whether you can, because the UK’s political momentum is entirely in the opposite direction; to deprioritise equality. The political weight of the UK is behind moving away from what I want. Under any population-based system, Scotland will never be able to act as a counterbalance to UK-wide movement.

However, as a small independent nation that can set and follow through on priorities and policies that match our own needs and wishes, we can achieve this in one part of the UK at least.

What, you’d rather achieve it nowhere?