The STUC was in high dudgeon today following the publication of the Scotland Bill, describing it, confusingly, as “not even the end of the beginning of progress to meaningful additional devolution”.
Reading between the lines of their press release, they seemed upset because they didn’t get to see the Bill before it was published. Having been at the launch and had the chance to chat to a few weary-looking civil servants, I suspect that was because it was only finished at about 2am yesterday and then rushed off to the printers to be produced in time for David Cameron to wave it around chummily on the Our Dynamic Earth stage.
Anyway, I was actually quite interested in the STUC’s suggestion that the Bill should now be subject to a citizen-led consultation process, in order to ensure that all the non-politicians who threw themselves into the referendum campaign can have their voices heard.
I was interested because I’m not sure I agree. Nor am I entirely convinced that the apparent deluge of Yes campaigners signing up to stand for the SNP is unequivocally a good thing.
The brilliant thing about the referendum campaign was that it steamrollered the politicians and became a phenomenon totally beyond their control. People organised their own events, got their own groups established, went round their mates’ houses to debate the issues and expressed themselves in umpteen different ways, from music to drama to comedy and much else besides.
There has been much political harrumphing since 18th September about the need to maintain this momentum, but it all seems to aim at getting the campaigners to play the politician’s game: whether by joining a party, taking part in a consultation process or standing for election. Just today, there was a Guardian story about all the mavericks who are choosing to stand for the SNP in order to achieve independence – but mavericks tend to cease being maverick-y once inside the system.
It’s worth saying that I do admire those who are choosing to stand, or seek selection as a candidate. Politics is a tiring, demanding, dirty business and I respect anyone who’s willing to put in the hours and take the abuse that seems to go with party politics, especially when you’re giving up a perfectly comfortable and pleasant lifestyle to do so.
But I worry when I read all these mavericks talking about the need to recognise the realpolitik of the situation and to maintain discipline in order to win the bigger goal of independence. Politics already suffers from too much discipline. The reason so many people dislike politicians is that they all sound the same, toeing the party line in order to maintain order and, they would argue, advance the greater good. But this is to confuse the interests of a political party with the interests of the citizenry. It is in the interests of a political party to preserve discipline so they don’t get trashed in the press and made to look unruly. But it is in the interests of the public to have proper debates and to have politicians who are willing to tell us what they actually think.
I don’t know if the STUC will get their citizen’s jury. If they do, I do not believe it will re-ignite the pre-referendum energy. Nobody who is now enjoying a well-earned sit-down, having spent months standing on platforms to declaim their beliefs or trudging the streets delivering leaflets is likely to fling down their Sudoku puzzle and cry, “At last, the opportunity I’ve been waiting for! To the barricades, friends, to analyse clauses 25-39 of the Scotland Bill!”
I hope Scottish politics is truly changed forever, and I wish all those with the gumption to stand for election the very best of luck. But I also hope that at least some of our mavericks stay on the outside, doing their own thing.