25 February 2010

Thomas Jefferson on Scottish Independence...

As Scottish nationalists come, I’m of a Jeffersonian inclination. Politically, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past”. To quote Thomas Jefferson again, “the earth belongs in usufruct to the living”. Change is within our power. We choose to tend our garden or to leave it to seed. We choose not to uproot the savage plants which an entanglement with the British state cultivates – its trident missiles, its misadventures and militarism, the foreign wars, the detention of children. We consent, we culpably submit, as the guilty shadows of these thorns stifle alternative political possibilities. Scotland contributes to the atlas of despair written across Gordon Brown’s leathery phizog - ennui, weariness, inevitability. And Scottish Labour have the gall to beseech and lecture us, in the bowels of Christ, about how they are the only party concerned with 'fairness' and 'social justice'.

I’m not suggesting in any respect that the political tendencies of an independent
Scotland are given. Don’t lets delude ourselves with fruity tales of our virtue, blind to our vices. The projects of peace, of a just society are the work of many hands. Justice isn’t flown up to heaven forever – we have to shamelessly reach up her skirt and drag her home with us, realising that justice' lofty goals mean nothing unless we put her wisdom to work in small places. These are just some of the issues with which we must contend when thinking about Scottish independence. Such thoughts and considerations may be particularly in mind today, since the Scottish Government published its consultation on the draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill this morning, setting out the SNP's proposals for a plebiscite on Scotland's constitutional future.

The document is not simply independence or bust. Rather, it provides the framework for the conduct of a referendum, giving the people their say on two proposals. Firstly, extension of the powers of Holyrood, shy of total independence. Secondly, the whole kit and caboodle. The consultation partly concerns how the first question should be framed - should it invite a public determination on some sort of "full devolution" - or alternatively, should the beloved Calman report be dusted off and submitted to popular acclamation (or declamation)? Moreover, in an echo of the voting which preceded the Scotland Act of 1998, the Government propose asking two down the line questions, to be resolved by simple majority - and proposes that the public should consider voting "yes/yes". The consultation period will run for 9 weeks. Here is Alex Salmond talking to the document last week. I commend the motion to the House!


By way of a wee amendment to this post, as well as having adjusted the foregoing text just a little since this morning, here is the man again, talking to the Referendum (Scotland) Bill at its launch earlier today...


  1. Jefferson's three founding principles are more than relevant today:

    The people are sovereign.

    Every nation has to right to govern itself as it sees fit and to change that form of government

    The people remain free to amend and renew their form of government.

  2. You draw out a particularly interesting implication of a Jeffersonian constitutional approach, Mark, with which an independent Scotland would have to contend. It seems the received political wisdom (albeit at that slack level of concrete expectation) that an independent Scotland would hastily enact some sort of founding, constitutional document. Last year, I quoted the whole SNP proposed Constitution for Scotland - but a formatting change buggered it up and I've not the heart to go back through its umpteen sections and render them pretty and accessible.

    Nevertheless, that demand for constitutional law ought to be interrogated and subject to critical reflection - precisely for the Jeffersonian principle you mention third. While I'd expect the notion that a constitution represents an important thing for a dignified European state to possess ultimately to prevail in that once and future Scotland - the virtues of a more contingent constitutional order ought not too readily to be dismissed.

    Setting out these interesting considerations in a more thoroughgoing, reflective way still remains in my 'blogposts I ought to write' folder. Having warmed to my theme, perhaps I'll get around to it sooner rather than later.

  3. Lpw

    Thx for that, the SNP has much yet to do regarding a constitution and what it wants as a party and a Government when Westminster says yes we agree to Independence. It is pivotal that this work is done, debated and agreed for our future.


  4. CrazyDaisy,

    Althought I do intend to get into a little detail subsequently, just a word or two. There are a number of options and choices to be made - and as you suggest - we have to work up the tools and concepts to engage in such a conversation in a literate, intelligent fashion.

    One example of the sort of consideration which might be relevant would be fundamentally to change an independent Scotland's approach to international law. Although potentially controversially, we might consider shifting from a dualist to a monadic relationship between the domestic and the international legal order. Considerations of this sort would radically change the country's constitutional picture and of necessity, frame the considerations against which any fundamental law would have to be referenced.