Friday, June 13, 2014
A Scottish Constitution Should Liberate Us Not Enslave Us II - Emulating the Swiss Example
What the Constitution Should Provide
I wrote recently about the leftist Holyrood consensus for a Scottish constitution designed to lock in the permanent power of the state to dictate to us over global warming, high taxation, foreign "aid", and general busybodying, even if we voted for something different. This is the SNP "aspiration we have for our country". We won't get any referendum to say whether we approve this straitjacket.
So I am putting in my twoppenceworth. This is my list of things that should be in a Scottish constitution designed to maximise freedom; to encourage economic growth; and to limit the overbearing power of government. This is the true Scottish tradition, going back to the Enlightenment. It may not appeal to our current apparatchiks but David Hume, Adam Smith, Gladstone and Sir John Cowperthwaite (the Scots civil servant revered in Hong Kong for letting them build a wonderfully successful city with no resources - simply by keeping government out of the way).
I'm assuming we remain part of the UK but quit the EU. Its my party and I set the rules.
In which case I expect a federal or indeed confederal UK to emerge. That suits me. I believe the separation of powers that such states have restrict arbitrary power and have been consistently the most stable and prosperous of states. As "confederal" means that power rests with the locals who can decide whether to be part of the unit, Britain has already become a confederal state. The very fact of Westminster accepting our right to a referendum confirms this (whereas Spain, Italy and Turkey are unambiguous in saying their citizens have no such right and the USA once fought a war against the principle). Even though it is not in the interests of either side in the current referendum to say so I am quite surprised that the enormous constitutional importance of this event has gone essentially unmentioned.
The basic mechanism of this constitution will be to limit the power of the state to bully us (rather than increase it as the SNP propose). Freedom and free markets work - this has been demonstrated across the world and throughout history.
Scotland should have a right to cantonal government. Areas where the locals can decide to suspend Holyrood legislation and costs (but not to institute new ones). Scotland is culturally far more diverse than England and from Orkney to the Borders there are regions which would like to be a little looser. Compare the freedom and success the isle of Man has compared to the culturally similar, marginally larger and historically more important Islay and you will see what opportunities they could have. (My guess would be we would have Glasgow and Edinburgh based cantons in the central belt, perhaps Lanarkshire to, Stirlingshire, Borders, Fife, Aberdeenshire, 2 or 3 Highland ones, Orkney, Shetland and several Islands or collections of Islands.
This recent academic study of the way Switzerland has been able to maintain a multi-ethnic society for 700 years, with a consistently remarkable level of internal peace and economic success (& a lack of empire building) concludes that it is a result of "Good Fences" ie that cantons can live together because they have the maximum level of devolution and were drawn on fair ethnic lines. Scotland has similar geographical divisions - not as clear as between Glasgow and Edinburgh but much clearer between the islands and mainland. In some ways we have less history of unity than Switzerland with only a couple of centuries between Orkney, Shetland and the Lordship of the Isles uniting with Scotland before the Kingdom united with England.
I am also going to suggest that, like Switzerland, we should have a right of referendum at both the Scottish and Cantonal level.
This is how they describe it:
....popular vote called to challenge a piece of legislation already approved by the Federal Assembly. If any person or group opposed to the new law manages to collect 50,000 signatures within 100 days of the official publication of the proposed legislation, the voters as a whole are given the chance to decide.
In most cases, a referendum is only called if those who feel strongly about the issue manage to collect enough signatures.
However, the authorities are obliged to hold a referendum if the legislation involves an amendment to the constitution initiated by the government, or any proposal for Switzerland to sign a major international agreement which cannot be rescinded.
In the case of an initiative or a mandatory referendum, there has to be a "double majority" for it to pass, meaning a majority of the people as a whole, and a majority of the cantons must approve it.
I'll make no bones of the fact that, as a supporter of small government being more efficient than big, I believe strong cantonal government that cannot be overturned without constitutional change (which would require strong popular support) would mean that much of the country would initially show both market freedom and economic success and thus, in time, all of it would. This is what Switzerland shows.
Vital to this is that borders of Scots cantons would have to be fair and thus initially approved by plebiscite and a constitution process existing which would allow new cantons to come into existence in future if the desire is there.
I don't propose a 2nd chamber - we have more than enough full time politicians here. I would be happy to see the MSPs and MPs folded into 1, all elected by a PR system. 60 odd people doing both jobs would not have the copious free time to come up with new bans that has been the preeminent feature of Holyrood. Obviously this can only happen when the rest of the UK adopts proportional representation too.
I suggest our Council of Economic Advisers should consist of 5 members appointed not by Holyrood but by the 5 Commonwealth nations that have, over the last 5 years, achieved fastest growth. That would be both independent and guaranteed to provide good advice. Their reports should be public.
Constitutional Limits on the Power of Government
* A rule stopping the state imposing price and wage controls (this is lifted from Milton Friedman in the 1980s and while the argument here has been largely won political fashions do come round again.)
* Citizen juries, chosen in the same way as normal juries to take over some of the job of Holyrood committees, particularly when any constitutional proposals are aired.
* Over regulation - "Holyrood shall make or maintain no law which, under reasonable cost benefit analysis, imposes a cost benefit ratio more than 4 times greater than allowed in a significant & similar situation." It would be nice to be able to apply this to Westminster too. I am assuming we have resolved the EU problem.
* Failure standards - "Any government proposal shall have to contain failure standards including time to achieve, cost, employees required & pre-set performance standards. The right of citizens to see these standards in civil programmes shall not be infringed and in the event of failure the project manager and proposing Minister shall be made ineligible for public employment." This one is lifted from an episode of Yes Minister where it was agreed it would work and thus the civil service would bury it. It has never been heard of since.
* One of the major problems of government is the way criminal or incompetent governments can not just loot the state of the people's money but heap future governments with a "contractual" liability to pay more to their friends and them. Whether this is PFI or long term contracts for windmill power or indeed nuclear power or fraudulent contracts for aircraft carriers we don't need and haven't aircraft for.
I suggest a constitutional bar on one government contracting liabilities for 2 parliaments ahead in any circumstances and if contracting liabilities during the next parliament must get 2/3rds approval from the current one so that the probable winner of the next election (except in unusual cases like UKIP) would have accepted the liability in advance. That would also have to apply to increases in the national debt.
Wouldn't stop it when both government and opposition were idiots (as with our windmillery and a forth crossing that costs 8 times more than it ought) but should slow it down. Accountants will tell you that, due to compound interest, anything that takes more than 10 years (2 Parliamentary terms) to pay for is going to largely interest payments.
* Initially 10% of all government funding of science and new technology shall be by prizes, with specific winning conditions, available to any citizen rather than grants to approved persons without failure conditions. That if such prizes are independently shown to be more cost effective any increases in spending will go to prizes until they at least equal grants. (This is a simplified requirement for X-Prizes and thus a present to myself.)
* Government expert appointees - any applicants for posts requiring predictive advice must, for 3 years, have made such predictions, publicly reported, and been among the 3 most successful predictors and must continue to do so. So no more Chief Science advisors or economists who always agree with what the politicians want, always get it wrong and thus keep their jobs.
* Wasteful government - Establish two commissions whose job is to recommend practices that ought to be eliminated on the grounds that we can’t afford them, or never needed them in the first place.
1 - The commissioners should not be government employees, and ought to be paid no more than £100 a day consulting fee and £30 a day expenses. Let it be a typical commission, with 2 members appointed by the Prime Minister, 1 each from the 3 most important parliamentary committees, 1 by the house of |Lords and one by the finance minister of the fastest growing Commonwealth country (aka Singapore). The whole thing shouldn’t cost more than $2 million a year. Any federal position that a majority of the commission recommends for elimination is automatically unfunded unless explicitly refunded by Parliament. If Parliament doesn’t restore the position, that position is redundant and that task is no longer performed.
2 - A second Jobsworth Commission. This one is to consist of 100 persons, the first 50 chosen to match the population distribution and other fifty to be selected with no such loading. They are to be selected by lot from a pool of volunteers who have high speed Internet connection. The Commission meets on-line once a week for four hours. Once a year it meets in London, expenses to be reimbursed. Each commissioner gets a laptop computer and conferencing software, and the government pays for high speed Internet connectivity for the year. Same rules: if 51 Commissioners agree that a government regulatory activity is needless, then that activity is defunded, and those who perform that service are declared redundant. (Civil service rules for redundant employees apply.) Parliament can restore any of those activities and positions, but if it does not, it goes.
The Commissions probably won’t do a lot, but they will at least get rid of the ridiculously obvious, and over time the various government activities will be examined and debated.
Because so much of the benefit is over time it must be a permanent feature of our constitution.
* 17 right of referendums at both Scottish and cantonal levels, as discussed above.
* The right of referendums to include a vote, at each election, to raise or lower by up to 5% the maximum proportion of gdp the Holyrood state is allowed to spend. Currently the entire state is nearly 60% of gdp. If we are really the socialists the political class insist, we would vote to raise it. My guess is that we would vote to lower it until income tax fell to zero.
Might be difficult to cut it more unless this rule were also adopted at UK government level - but then if this system works as successfully as I think we would be an example to the whole UK (instead of an 'orrible warning as at present). The principle that the most successful cantons would be an example to the rest of Scotland implies a successful Scotland would be an example to the UK.
* No government funding of Sockpuppets - Illegal for government to give any money to any charity that, in the last 5 years, has advertised for more government. That isn't a charity's job and the conflict of interest is clear. Similarly make a legal requirement that any funding from outside the Scotland of any "charity" that has pushed a political opinion be registered and subject to a 50% windfall tax - half of this money to be earmarked for organisations committed to reducing the size of government. In the same way, over the next 5 years, be 10% as much money as our state donated to pro-government charities should be donated to organisations promoting smaller government.
The same ban should apply to any government department, quango or council and they should be limited to spending not more than 1/2% of their budget on PR/press liaison /raising awareness or such activity under other names.
Government funding of "charities" that lobby and advertise for more money and power for the ministries funding them are one of the great and growing problems of modern society. Unfortunately they bare a problem that the press, who regularly use "news" produced by them, virtually never mention the existence of the problem.
* I would like to see a defence in Scots law to the licence fee for the BBC government broadcasting monopoly. The BBC Charter specifically requires that they be "balanced". The ECHR requires that people not be forced to pay for propaganda they disapprove of. If it can be shown that the BBC is censoring my party (UKIP), censoring and lying to promote the "catastrophic global warming" scare or spinning to promote whatever new pointless war is being pushed then I should, at the very least, not be forced to pay for it.
There is undisputed academic evidence that the more of a state broadcasting monopoly exists, the more governmental failure, corruption and nepotism is likely to exist, worldwide.
* There is a historic Scots extension of civil law - that a law which has been in abeyance for many
years falls. I approve of anything that reduces the size of our legislation and would like to see that is some form.
* To an extraordinary and almost entirely unreported extent the pressure groups and political "charities" in Britain have been nationalised. ASH is 98% funded by the state. The catastrophic warming supporting Royal Society gets a £50 million bung. Almost every lobbyist that gets airtime on the (state funded) BBC, or most newspapers, turns out to be a government funded "sock puppet".
The Scottish government should be constitutionally forbidden to use our money to fund propaganda campaigns. Further than that - any organisation using money from other governments (for example almost all "environmental" campaigners are 70% funded by the EU) should be legally required to say so in all productions (as Limited companies are currently required to identify themselves) and pay a levy of 10% of what they spend here to be given to private organisations promoting alternative views.
* The Scottish government should fund broadcasting of genuine political debates (ie ones where both sides get to speak and the subjects are chosen by popular demand). To be broadcast weekly in hour long programmes, rather like Question Time but considerably cheaper and not limited to approved speakers. Since the time of ancient Greece, free debate has been a necessary and perhaps even sufficient condition of a free society. Unfortunately the British broadcasting monopoly has left the gatekeepers deciding what opinions may and may not be publicly discussed, to our great detriment.
* A duty on the Holyrood government to ensure any grants or payments to the cantons are proportionately either within 15% of its proportionate tax contribution or of its population. (The ability to withhold cash by central government, or of the politically connected to lobby for extra has been the bane of local politics.)
* And I would also add these from the original 10 amendments making up the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution, a document signed by a disproportionate number of people of Scots extraction and which reflected the views of the Scottish Enlightenment. Some are no longer relevant (quartering troops) and some I would not defend (arms) but these are necessary:
4 no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause
5 Trials by due process and no double jeopardy
6 the right to a speedy band public trial
7 the right of trial by jury shall be preserved
10 The powers not delegated to the Scottish and UK governments by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the Cantonal law, are reserved to the smaller tier of government respectively, or to the people - and unlike the USA here this right comes from but is constantly ignored, we really mean it.
I'm sure others will have other suggestions. My bottom line is that a constitution is there to restrain government power not to give them more, as the SNP's proposals do. I would not pretend that this will create a Utopia. Indeed I'd hate a Utopia (at least anybody else's idea of it as I suspect others would hate mine).
On the other hand, while we have achieved miracles in the physical sciences over the last couple of centuries, government seems no more competent than then. Indeed it is much more parasitic, spending nearly 50% of gdp now as against under 10%, 150 years ago and regulating out of existence far more of the nation's wealth than is actually left. Clearly the potential for improvement is enormous and a Scotland which achieves even a small part of that potential will be an example to all of Britain, indeed all of the world. Countries which, over the long term, manage to role back the macroparasitism that is big government, while not encouraging the microparasitism that is common banditry, have historically always found the world to be their oyster.
Orson Welles came up with the single most memorable, wrong, line in movie history:
"In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."
- In fact they are extremely rich with the world's highest per capita rate of scientific citations per capita, matched by only 1 other. They also had peace because they were too tough to mess with.
Scotland, is the other country matching Switzerland's world's highest, per capita, rate of scientific citations. Potential other nations would kill for. However Switzerland has politicians nobody has ever heard of because their Constitution doesn't allow them to do anything, whereas Scotland has a surfeit of preening politicians trying to bestride the world stage like midgets. Politicians who think it is their job to dictate every aspect of our nanny state.
Not coincidentally Switzerland is much richer than us and arguably (I would argue it) freer and more democratic. Lets change that.