Why is a Republican Perspective Important?

“The idea of sovereignty of the people extends to many aspects of our lives. If we, not parliament in Holyrood, are to be sovereign, then parliament must be restructured to allow this.” Iain Robertson looks at monarchy, republicanism and democracy in an extended version of his contribution to this Saturday’s Radical Independence Open Forum ‘Beyond the White Paper: A Radical Vision for Scotland’

Forum info under Events on this site or


It is worth reminding ourselves of the founding principles of the Radical Independence Campaign:

  • Green and environmentally sustainable.
  • Internationalist and opposed to Trident and war.
  • For a social alternative to austerity and privatisation
  • A modern republic for real democracy.
  • Committed to equality and opposition to discrimination on grounds of gender, race or sexuality.

To me, Republicanism is at the heart of democracy. To have a republican perspective is to put the Sovereignty of the People as the founding principle of any democratic structure. To many, republicanism equates only with the ending of monarchy and, they claim, our monarchy is largely symbolic, so why bother?

In the first instance, our monarchy is a very real, and largely hidden from view power structure. The pomp and circumstance is for public consumption while the business of government by the unelected and unaccountable and the unseen goes on in alliance with parliamentary collusion.

Secondly, putting the principle of the sovereignty of the people into practice goes well beyond merely abolishing any monarchy; it is concerned with control, at the lowest possible local level, of all aspects of our life – the political, the economic, the environmental and the cultural.

522636_10150943213149015_555859014_9852099_1395333835_nReturning briefly to the monarchy itself, Senior Royals can refuse Royal Assent to parliamentary bills (Usually only the threat of this is needed and parliament will alter the bill in advance. The Guardian report of 15 Jan this year exposed numerous examples of where the royals had been ‘consulted’ in this way. This is in addition to the revelation last year that Prince Charlie alone had had 36 private meetings with govt ministers since 2010.)

But perhaps it’s most anti-democratic feature is the operation of the Privy Council. This unelected, 500 member body comprising of representatives of the military, the established church, peers, the city of London as well as leaders of the main parliamentary parties meets monthly and exercises real power.  It only needs a quorum of 3!

More serious even than that, it can and does act independently of parliament and even the courts. It has authorised the continuation of phone tapping, justified the use of illegal interrogation techniques (torture) within the UK and NI during the 70’s and. In the late 1960’s the inhabitants of theUK controlled Diego Garcia Islands were forcibly removed to make way for a US military base. Twice over the next three decades UK courts declared this illegal and twice the Privy Council overturned the ruling. Not even parliament can overturn a high court ruling without changing the law itself. The privy council has the power to ignore the law and that deeply anti-democratic power is retained if we retain the monarchy.

Independence under the crown is a mirage.

Democracy within a monarchy is an illusion.

Given that the abolition of the monarchy with its the panoply of crown powers is essential for real democracy to take root, what other conditions are necessary for democracy to flourish? Again the idea of sovereignty of the people, which is embodied in a genuine republicanism, is very useful. Suppose the monarchy were abolished tomorrow, would that give us full control over our lives?

Would we, for example, have control over the land, how it is used and the wealth that is generated from it?  No, because ownership derives mainly from the fuedal past with capitalist acquisition grafted on. Fewer than 500 people own around two thirds of Scotland’s territory, control its use and appropriate the wealth that derives from it. If we decide to replace the idea of private ownership with that of public custodianship and further state that decisions about land use will be be made at local level then we open up the potential for development of Scotland’s vast tracts of land that could reverse the continuing rural population decline and expand the economic growth.

The idea of sovereignty of the people extends to many aspects of our lives. If we, not parliament in Holyrood, are to be sovereign, then parliament must be restructured to allow this. One idea is that elected representatives should be subject to recall where they break their mandate or ignore the wishes of the people. In other words, politicians need to be accountable, not once in five years, but in the here and now. Can you imagine MPs being so willing to follow Blair like sheep and vote us into an illegal, unpopular war if they the next day hundreds of constituency assemblies began moves to have their MP recalled and perhaps dismissed?

Housing and transport could likewise be democratised. Why should these not be put, where appropriate, under local control? Imagine if the next housing development in Dundee were to have the design of the houses, with the advice of architects, under the control of those who were to live in them? Where to position doors, switches, power points and cupboards. The level of thermal insulation.

Likewise with food. None of us has any control over where it comes from, whether the producer is paid a fair price and whether or not it is healthy for us. Most of the time we don’t even know what is in it. We should all be alarmed at the growing trend of global food giants to patent GM animals, cereals, fruits and veg. They hold growers and consumers alike to ransom. They decide what to grow, where, how much to pay the grower and how much to charge us.

Independence alone will give us none of these things. Our ruling classes would much rather that the UK stays as is but have their plans drawn up to retain power in the event of a Yes vote. Senior military figures have floated the idea of seizing Faslane and having it declared Crown Property in the event of a Yes vote.

The real contest is not about winning the Yes vote (though, of course, we work to get it), it is about who has the sovereign power – the people or the ruling class in alliance with the crown powers of the monarchy?

We have to begin now implementing republican ideas and arguments to create the structures that will democratise our society and empower us. And we have to have an internationalist perspective. We need allies throughout these islands and beyond. Make no mistake, the other side, including the monarchy, are well down the road to drawing up plans to keep the power to themselves.

Some argue that all this should be put on hold until after the referendum (‘don’t scare the horses’) but I argue that it is far more dangerous to us to ‘keep the horses in the dark’. The Scottish people need to be made aware of the likely responses of our ruling class to a Yes vote, otherwise there is going to be confusion, disillusion and anger against us for having kept quiet.

Following a Yes vote there is going to be a dirty war and if we are not prepared we are going to lose, especially if we don’t have the people on our side because we didn’t say. Forewarned is forearmed, so let’s get saying what needs to be said.

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