Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Say You Want A Constitution

Monday.  93 days of campaigning to go…

Mmmm, I love the smell of a brand new constitution in the morning, don’t you?

As Nicola removed the bubble-wrap, we breathed in the pine-fresh aroma and dreamed about the compliments visitors would lavish on us.  Actually, since most of the nations on the planet already have a constitution, the thing they’d be most likely to say was “What took you so long?”  Even that cheeky wee besom Hillary Clinton.

There was only one complication:  we had to help to create the constitution ourselves, because the Scottish Government had supplied only a basic structure, some guidelines and a consultation response form.  Sneakily, they’d made the form available electronically, forestalling the Better Together objection that we were too stupid to use a pen and would probably end up stabbing ourselves in the eye.

That just left the standard Alistair Darling whinge, “Do the people of Scotland now have to fill in a form before Alex Salmond will agree to govern them? This is worse than North Korea!”  One could imagine him harrumphing his irritation over the breakfast table, as his weary wife wondered what sort of sentence she’d get for beating him to death with a toast rack.

It’s all a far cry from the UK set-up, where the constitution consists of a Post-It note saying “Trust us, we invented cricket”.  Many also point to the Magna Carta, which has the minor drawback of being created 492 years before the UK, but did set an early example of doling out wealth and influence to the elite that is still religiously followed in present-day society. Nevertheless, despite his first-class Oxford PPE degree, the Prime Minister doesn’t know what “Magna Carta” means, or at least won’t lower himself to divulge it to chat-show hosts.  Nobody’s asked him about the Declaration of Arbroath, although it would be no surprise if he thinks it’s some sort of fishery agreement.   

Back at Labour HQ, Johann Lamont hadn’t yet found out from Ed Miliband what her views on the constitution were, so it was left to Jackanory Jackie Baillie to parade her gossamer-thin grasp of reality.  “This is the third time Nicola Sturgeon has recycled this speech,” she declared.  Yes, Jackie:  that’s called telling people what you’re going to do, then doing it, then telling them you’ve done it.  Give us a shout when your lot show any signs of getting past the first one.

It’s unlikely that Jackie will be giving the consultation process the benefit of her vivid imagination.  The draft constitution is an SNP initiative, and those things are as popular with Labour politicos as a dose of anthrax, unless they sniff an opportunity to nick the credit for them.  So Jackie pooh-poohed the very idea of nation-building as an irrelevance to Scots when there were Just So Many Unanswered Questions on start-up costs, currency, pensions, schools, hospitals and the exact price of oil on 24 March 2016.  Her party would never allow such questions to remain unanswered, mainly because they’d be happy to lie through their teeth.  

Johann, meanwhile, toddled along to Calton Hill for some alternative dabbling in constitutional matters, as we witnessed the latest headline-snatching milestone in the three opposition parties’ devo-whatsit plan.  Their actual proposals remained a twinkle in the eye, of course, but they’d found 31 people to stand on the National Monument steps holding big letters spelling out “MORE POWERS FOR SCOTLAND GUARANTEED”. If they’d arranged themselves in a different order the letters would have spelt out “DANGER, NO MORE POWERS FOR U SAD CATTLE”, but I suspect we’ll have to wait until next year for that.

Clearly no-one in the No campaign had attempted a consultation process with the maverick Gordon Brown, whose appearances in the public eye are becoming more frequent as we approach the release date of his new book Well, At Least I Abolished Boom.  His latest speech in Edinburgh cited a survey of Scottish 14 to 17 year olds which proved that, if you ask them the right questions, 46% of them will sound enthusiastic about a UK-wide curriculum and exam system. This figure had come down from 51% the previous year, but that’s our Gordy:  always a bit wonky with numbers.

Until you get him on his own in a car with a live mike it’s hard to know exactly what Gordon thinks.  However, the interpretation the press put on the speech was that, far from giving Scotland more control over its affairs, he favoured throwing the entire Scottish education system in the bin and handing it over to Michael Gove as a test bed for his crackpot experiments.  I fear Gordon is turning out to be something of a Trojan Horse for the No side.

Amidst all the confusion it was useful, if a tad chilling, to get some historical perspective from Quebec, where the Yes side lost the 1995 independence referendum by fewer than 50,000 votes and they’ve seen hee-haw in the way of “more powers” ever since.

Bernard Drainville, a mover and shaker in Parti Quebecois, was quoted in The Herald. “We weakened ourselves because the rest of Canada kind of assumed that losing makes the future threat of a referendum less credible.”  The piece also told us that “one of Canada's most prominent unionists”, Senator Dennis Dawson, had acknowledged that the referendum loss hurt Quebec. “But,” came the punchline, “he laid the blame firmly on his opponents for holding the vote in the first place.”

Wow, spooky.  Scotland, this could be your future.  Listen and learn.

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