Pandas, Princes and Presidents

Back in the early 1970’s, the Tartan Army was the name given by the media to a shadowy group of pro-indy terrorists whose minor acts of aggression often coincided with by-elections where the SNP looked like having a serious electoral impact. Whether this group really existed, or was an extension of the British Security services, we cannot be sure, but by the 1980’s the Tartan Army had become the accepted designation for followers of the Scottish international football team.

Over the years this Tartan Army has shown none of the traits associated with followers of other international sides such as wanton violence and racism. In contrast, they have been distinguished by good humour and the creation of party atmospheres in and around football stadia across the world. Most recently, at Wembley, the Scots fans came up with the appealing new chant of “We’d rather have a Panda than a Prince”, a sentiment shared by many Scots (aye, and many English people too) and by a clear majority amongst pro-indy activists whether nationalists, greens, socialists or anarchists.

However we must accept that many people in Scotland, and they’re not all concentrated in Ibrox or Larkhall, have an affection for, if not the concept of monarchy itself, the current Queen. In Dundee at the time of the Royal Wedding, pro-monarchy sympathies were hard to spot in contrast to the red,white and blue which submerged St Andrews, but this was not the case at the Queens Jubilee. It may not have been as demonstrative as in England, but large numbers of Dundonians did want to mark the occasion. This contrast may demonstrate the possibility that, on the death of Elizabeth, pro-monarchy sympathies in Scotland may also wither and die.

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Monarchy on Trial, Dundee 7/6/12

For those of us who have always seen monarchy as the embodiment of class privilege, wealth inequality, and entrenched hierarchical power structures, this shift in public opinion cannot come quickly enough. However we still need to present a viable alternative (to a monarchical Head of State) which is truly radical and progressive and demonstrates our societal commitment to Community and Co-operation, to Equality and Ecology.

The structures of the new Scottish state will be determined in the process of drawing up a written constitution: a process which, according to the Scottish Government white paper, is to be open to as wide a segment of civil society as possible. This is to be welcomed. Some form of new constitutional convention which includes not just the great and the good of civil society, but as in the Icelandic experiment, ordinary folk from across the length and breadth of the country and from every walk of life must be convened immediately following the Yes vote.

Here must be determined the forms of the governance of Scotland, ensuring adequate checks and balances on government and state and, surely, confirming sovereignty as residing with the people of Scotland. This concept of popular sovereignty has long informed the political debate in Scotland, arguably from the time of the Declaration of Arbroath to the Constitutional Conventions of the 1950’s and 1990’s.

This fundamental principle necessitates the development of new democratic structures throughout society from central government to community council. A new balance must be achieved, whereby power shifts from the centre to the community, from the politicians and civil servants to the people.

Where credit is due to the Scottish Government, it should be given, but we cannot ignore the centralising tendencies evident since the SNP gained majority control at Holyrood: national police force, powers reserved to a tight cabal of ministers and so on. The creation of the Holyrood Parliament, perhaps accidentally, also diminished local democracy in Scotland with local authority functions either taken over by the Scottish Parliament or increasingly privatised as the cuts agenda bites, and with the role of community councils left in a form of limbo.

This problem must be addressed come independence, and bottom-up structures encouraged, vesting greater authority in the communities of the country rather than in the centre. If this decentralist approach is to be taken it becomes hard to see what role an elected President would have when direct, participatory democracy has become the goal.

A President, no less than a monarch, embodies privilege, inequality and hierarchy even if their role is merely ceremonial. Do any of us wish to pay for some political time server to sit at functions in Gleneagles or the like, hob-nobbing with other self-satisfied men in suits over their seven course dinners? If their role is also political as in the USA or France, real problems emerge as Presidents and Parliaments haggle over budgets and debt or borrowing requirements.

Separation of functions in the new Scotland must reflect popular sovereignty not the creation of new high heid yins with their trappings of authority and power. A president may have seemed a radical and progressive measure in the 18th or 19th century but at the start of the 21st looks increasingly retrograde and anachronistic. If we must have a head of state at all, then I for one would rather have a Panda than a President.

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