Dissenting Radical

The Common Good: A 'Christian-Left' perspective on radical theology, progressive politics, authentic culture and sustainable living.

Month: April, 2015

What would New Articles of Union look like?

I’m just wondering what a new Articles of Union between Scotland and the rest of the UK could possibly look like, if such Articles could be negotiated and agreed between the two Parliaments. This is my attempt to imagine possibilities. Constructive comments welcome.

1. The United Kingdom
(1) There shall continue to be a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the ‘United Kingdom’).

(2) The United Kingdom is a democratic confederal Union consisting of two equal states:

(a) England, Wales and Northern Ireland; and

(b) Scotland.

(3) Each state regains its sovereignty, freedom, and autonomy, and every power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by these Articles delegated to the institutions of the United Kingdom.

(4) The United Kingdom under these Articles continues as a sovereign state in accordance with international law; it maintains all its existing treaty rights and obligations in accordance with international law.

2. Status of the Articles of Union
These Articles of Union shall be the supreme law of the United Kingdom; any Act of Parliament, treaty or other law that is inconsistent with these Articles shall, to the extent of inconsistency, be void.

3. European Convention on Human Rights
(1) Every person in the United Kingdom or subject to the jurisdiction thereof has the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, agreed by the Council of Europe on 4 November 1950, and the protocols thereto to which the United Kingdom has acceded or shall hereafter accede (‘the Convention’).

(2) No law may be enacted by the Council of the United Kingdom or by either Parliament that is incompatible with the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention, and the public authorities of the United Kingdom and of the states must, in carrying out their functions, respect and comply with those rights and freedoms.

4. Head of State
(1) Her Majesty and Her heirs and successors shall continue to be Head of State of the United Kingdom.

(2) The powers, duties, functions, privileges and responsibilities of the Head of State in relation to the United Kingdom shall be determined by these Articles, and the powers, duties, functions, privileges and responsibilities of the Head of State in each state shall be determined by the Constitution and laws of that state.

(3) Any change to the laws of succession, regency and exclusion must be approved by both Parliaments (the Parliament of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Parliament of Scotland).

5. Separation of the Parliaments
(1) The Union of Parliaments is dissolved. There shall be no Parliament for the United Kingdom.

(2) Upon the coming into effect of these Articles:

(a) the members of the House of Commons elected from Scottish constituencies and Scottish peers shall cease to hold office as such; and

(b) the members of the House of Commons elected from constituencies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and peers other than Scottish peers shall sit, according to the law and custom of Parliament, as the Parliament of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

(3) The Parliament of England, Wales and Northern Ireland shall have no sovereignty or legislative authority over Scotland.

(4) The Scottish Parliament shall have no sovereignty or legislative authority over England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

6. Council of the United Kingdom and Secretariat
(1) The United Kingdom shall be governed by a ‘Council of the United Kingdom’ consisting of:

(a) the Prime Minister of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (or some other senior member of the Government of England, Wales and Northern Ireland designed by the Prime Minister thereof), as President of the Council of the United Kingdom;

(b) The Prime Minister of Scotland (or some other senior member of the Government of Scotland designed by the Prime Minister thereof), as Vice-President of the Council of the United Kingdom;

(c) Four United Kingdom Secretaries of State:

(i) a Secretary of State for Foreign affairs;

(ii) a Secretary of State for Defence;

(iii) a Secretary of State for Finance;

(iv) a Secretary of State for Home Affairs.

(2) The United Kingdom Secretaries of State shall be appointed and removed by Her Majesty, in Her capacity as Head of State of the United Kingdom, on the joint advice of the President of the Council of the United Kingdom and the Vice-President of the Council of the United Kingdom.

(3) There shall be a Secretary-General of the United Kingdom, who shall be appointed by Her Majesty, in Her capacity as Head of State of the United Kingdom, on the advice of the Council of the United Kingdom.

(4) The Secretary-General of the United Kingdom shall keep the records and archives of the Council of the United Kingdom, prepare its business and correspondence, and perform such other duties as may be lawfully entrusted to him or her by the Council of the United Kingdom.

(5) The staff of the secretariat shall be seconded from the civil services of the two states in accordance with such regulations as the Council of the United Kingdom shall adopt.

7. Defence and Foreign Policy
(1) The United Kingdom shall maintain a common defence and foreign policy.

(2) The Council of the United Kingdom, acting through the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, shall be responsible for:

(a) foreign affairs generally;

(b) relations with the European Union, NATO and the United Nations;

(c) diplomatic and consular services;

(d) the negotiation of treaties on behalf of the United Kingdom, provided that:

(i) no matter especially concerning either state should be agreed without the consent of the Prime Minister of that state (or other designated Minister of that state), who shall have the right to be present in such discussions; and

(ii) treaties and international agreements of the United Kingdom shall apply only if adopted into law or ratified by both Parliaments, or, in so far as they concern only one state, by the Parliament of that state.

(3) The Council of the United Kingdom, through the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Defence, shall be responsible for defence policy, and shall direct and command of the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom, of which Her Majesty shall be titular Commander-in-Chief.

(4) The raising, recruitment, organisation, discipline, pay and administration of the Armed Forces shall be determined by laws enacted by the two Parliaments.

(5) The regulation of territorial and civil defence troops, and of coastal and fisheries protection forces, shall be the responsibility of each State under its own laws.

8. Finance
(1) The United Kingdom shall maintain a common treasury and a common currency.

(2) The United Kingdom Secretary of State for Finance shall be responsible, in accordance with the regulations enacted by the Council of the United Kingdom, for the management of the common treasury and for preparation of the budget and estimates of the Council of the United Kingdom, which shall be adopted by a majority vote thereof.

(3) Each State shall be responsible for paying to the common treasury of the United Kingdom such sums as are authorized by the Council of the United Kingdom, based on distribution of burdens between the States according to their populations.

(4) The United Kingdom Secretary of State for Finance shall also be responsible, subject to such regulations as the Council of the United Kingdom may enact, for matters concerning the common currency, money supply and the regulation of the Bank of England.

9. Home Affairs
(1) There shall be freedom of movement within the United Kingdom, and the citizens of either State may live, work, vote, and hold office in their own State and in the other State.

(2) The Council of the United Kingdom may enact uniform laws throughout the United Kingdom with respect to citizenship and naturalization, immigration, extradition, asylum, passports and border security. The United Kingdom Secretary of State for Home Affairs shall be responsible for the enforcement and administration of these laws.

10. Co-operation
The Council of the United Kingdom may make proposals for co-operation on the following matters of mutual interest, subject to approval by means of parallel legislation passed by the two Parliaments:

(a) railways, roads and other forms of communication between the states;

(b) driver and vehicle licensing;

(c) postal, telephonic and internet services;

(d) harmonisation of tax rates;

(e) economic co-operation;

(f) scientific research;

(g) meteorological, oceanographic, coastguard and navigational services; and

(h) the joint funding of infrastructure projects.

11. Supreme Court

(1) In addition to any other jurisdiction conferred upon it by the constitution or laws of either state or by the Council of the United Kingdom, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom shall have appellate jurisdiction over all questions concerning the interpretation of these Articles or the validity of any law or treaty under the terms of these Articles.

(2) No alteration to the appointment, composition or tenure of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, or the privileges and immunities of the judges thereof, shall be made except by means of parallel legislation adopted by both Parliaments.

12. Internal Government of the States
(1) The internal government of ‘England, Wales and Northern Ireland’, subject to these Articles, shall until otherwise provided for by law be based on the existing statutes and other laws and conventions in effect.

(2) The internal government of Scotland, subject to these Articles, shall be conducted according to the Scottish Constitution, which shall be adopted by the people of Scotland in accordance with such provisions as the Scottish Parliament shall prescribe.

(3) Nothing in this Charter shall affect:

(a) the continuing existence or powers of devolved institutions in Wales or Northern Ireland; or

(b) the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement, 1998.

13. Secession
(1) Either state may leave the United Kingdom by a decision of the people of the state, by means of a majority of the votes cast in a referendum held in accordance with the constitution and laws of that state.

(2) If either state secedes, the United Kingdom shall thereupon be dissolved, and England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and Scotland, shall both be equal successor states.

14. Adoption and Amendment

(1) These Articles shall be adopted by parallel legislation passed by the United Kingdom Parliament and the Scottish Parliament and shall come into effect after having been approved by a majority of the votes cast in parallel referendums held in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and in Scotland.

(2) Any changes to these Articles shall be made only on the proposal of the Council of the United Kingdom, with the approval of both Parliaments, and subject to ratification by the people of both states in parallel referendums, to be held in accordance with the constitution and laws of each state.

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Good Parliamentarians

In a democracy we need our parliamentarians to be both leaders (people with vision, principles, wisdom, and a genuine passion for the common good) and representatives (people who share our way of live, our values, our hopes, our fears, and our experiences). These should be the criteria by which parliamentary candidates are selected. Parties will rightly differ on the sorts of principles they espouse and the sections of society they represent, but they should all be seeking to recruit, and to offer to the people, candidates who are worthy of our suffrage.

There are good candidates in all parties, but sadly they are few – too many, it seems, are selected not for their character or abilities, but for their pliability. The result is a parliament of lobby-fodder, who put partisan politicking above public service and who vote as they are told; and that, in turn, means that laws and policies are not subject to sufficient debate, scrutiny and consideration, and we end up with bad decisions and costly mistakes.

The 2015 Parliament has serious work to do. We are in need of a root and branch reform, the scale of which has probably not been seen in living memory. So whichever party we are inclined towards, we should all demand parliamentarians with brains and backbone – people who will stand up for principles, and who will stand up for parliament as an institution.

Unfortunately, the current first-past-the-post electoral system makes it difficult to insist on good candidates, because we cannot vote against a weak candidate of the party we support. This, combined with the phenomenon of ‘safe seats’, results in lazy, characterless, insipid, unprincipled candidates who cannot even be bothered, when out canvassing, to explain their policies to voters.

 

There are institutional reforms that might be beneficial in bringing a better quality of candidate to the fore. For example, in any future reform of the electoral system serious consideration should be given to the case for allowing intra-party choice.

There’s a lively debate on the relative merits of AMS (Additional Member System, as used for the Scottish Parliament) and STV (Single Transferable Vote, as used for local Council elections in Scotland), and in the past I’ve usually been more inclined to AMS, but on this point STV seems to have the advantage: in principle, it enables voters to choose between competing candidates of the same party, which forces candidates to distinguish themselves from one another instead of just hiding behind a party label.

Another possibility is to use candidate-selection primaries that would force candidates to engage with the voters, even in safe seats, rather than just being imposed by the party hierarchies. However, there is are very few examples of primaries being used in parliamentary democracies, and there is a legitimate fear that primaries might increase polarisation and populism without necessarily leading to a better quality of candidate.

Whatever changes are made to the electoral system, this is a much deeper issue than one of institutional design. It is a matter for the political ‘flesh’ rather than the legal ‘bones’ of the system of government. What’s needed is not only a constitutional revolution but also a revolution in political values, such that a party would be ashamed and embarrassed to put forward a candidate of mediocre abilities and low ethical standards whose only qualification is that they are safe, reliable, obedient ‘lobby-fodder’.

Hug a Tory Day

The idea that ‘there are no Tories in Scotland’ is as ridiculous as it is false. The Tory vote in Scotland is fairly small, but remarkably solid: there’s a stable 15 to 20% of the population who are convinced and committed Tories. As the Labour and the LibDem votes collapse, and as former Labour voters increasingly move to the SNP, we should see the Tories some out of the 2015 general election relatively well. Whether they will win any seats or not I don’t know, but their vote-share should hold or slightly increase.

Much as I disagree with the Tories on the their core philosophy and in particular on their economic, fiscal and welfare policies, I’ve often thought that the Tories would do rather well out of independence. If only they were able to embrace independence (dropping the ‘Unionist’ part of their name and committing themselves to working under the constitutional rules of an independent Scottish state), they would lose their ‘anti-Scottish’ pariah status and would appeal to rural social conservatives who are turned off by the SNP’s relentless ‘progressivism’ as well as acting as the political brokers of establishment / business interests. If they were able to maintain a position of moderate and pragmatic conservatism, and to avoid the harsh doctrinaire Hayakism of some of their southern brethren, they could become an important countervailing and critical voice in an independent Parliament – and potentially even a coalition partner in an independent Scottish Government.

(I’m not sure how much I like the idea of Tories in government in Scotland, but I’ve always said that an independent state has to be a state for all its citizens, and that rightfully includes Tories as well as everyone else.)

It is a strange world

It’s a strange world. I am against nuclear weapons destroying the planet, and against denying climate change rather than trying to address it, and against fracking poisoning the water supply and causing earthquakes, and against wars that kill people in faraway places for not much of an apparent reason, and against economic policies that allow a handful of rich investors to rake in grotesque profits while ordinary working people suffer declining wages and loss of job security, and against torturing people, and against treating unemployed people or the sick and the old as if they were less than fully human – and somehow, for reasons I do not understand, this makes me the ‘radical lefty’. This shouldn’t make me a lefty. This should be normal ethical baselines of civilised interaction.

Five Quick Thoughts on the Leaders’ Debate (in no particular order)

1. With seven party leaders all vying for our votes the days of ‘two party’ politics are now well and truly over. They all know that they are unlikely to win outright and might need allies, and that makes them a bit less prickly and a bit more sensible. However, without proportional representation and a clear process for post-election government formation, the results in terms of who wins office might bear little relation to the votes cast, which could have deleterious consequences for legitimacy. If there was one thing all the seven leaders should have been able to agree on, it is that we need proportional representation as never before (although Cameron, Miliband, and perhaps Sturgeon, being the winners from FPTP, would need some convincing).

2. Likewise, the days when politics happened in London and the ‘Celtic Fringe’ could be ignored are over. Britain has changed. Scotland and Wales are finding a distinctive voice. But we still don’t have a system for resolving these differences. The plans on offer – implementation of the Smith Commission and English Votes for English Laws – simply don’t do enough to rectify the situation. The reconstituting of the UK could be a major issue after the general election, especially if the SNP hold the balance of power, and it would be good if they talked about it a bit.

3. They are not all the same. Genuinely different policies, perspectives and priorities were on offer, from lunatic xenophobic right wing fucknuttery to pretty radical eco-socialist politics, and lots in between. The economic left-right dimension has definitely returned. We had major party leaders talking about wages, poverty, job security, housing, and other bread-and-butter issues as never before. There’s a growing sense that neo-liberalism let us down and that the economic model that benefits the rich is failing most of us. There’s a clear line of separation on general economic approach between UKIP, the Tories and the LibDems, on the right, and the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens on the left. Labour are in the centre now, although Ed Miliband was at his most convincing on issues of living standards for ordinary families and would probably like to move further to the left if it were not for the risk of alienating soft-pink liberal voters in Southern England.

4. In terms of presence, charisma and confidence, Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage came off well (I mean, I don’t like him or agree with him, but he was good at playing to the gallery), followed by Nick Clegg, and Leanne Wood, with Natalie Bennett and Ed Miliband bringing up the rear. Natalie Bennett is nothing compared to her Scottish Green counterpart, Patrick Harvie. I warmed to Ed Miliband a bit when he spoke about substance, but his style is flat and he comes across as weak and a bit brittle. David Cameron stood aside from all this, just looking very, very smug. Of course, none of this has very much to do with how good they would be at actually running the government: good salesmen are not necessarily good statesmen.

5. The questions were a bit limited in scope, covering only economy / finance / employment, health, education / student debt / youth opportunities, and Europe / immigration. There was nothing about the environment or sustainability, constitutional issues, human rights, social issues, or foreign policy. Maybe these will be covered in the next debate. I thought the interjection from the audience member who tried to ask a question about homelessness was the best part of the debate; they should have answered her.

A good song for Good Friday

I hear the crying of the hungry
In the deserts where they’re wandering
Hear them crying out for Heaven’s own
Benevolence upon them

Hear destructive power prevailin’
I hear fools falsely hailin’
To the crooked wits of tyrants
When they call

I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all

I hear the sounds of tearing pages
And the roar of burnin’ paper
All the crimes and acquisitions
Turned to air and ash, and vapor

And the rattle of the shackle
Far beyond emancipator
And the lowliest
Who gather in their stalls

I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all

So while you sit and whistle, ‘Dixie’
With your money and your power
I can hear the flowers growin’
In the rubble of the towers

I hear leaders quit their lyin’
I hear babies quit their cryin’
I hear soldiers quit their dyin’
One and all

I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all

I hear the tender words from Zion
I hear Noah’s water fall
Hear the gentle Lamb of Judah
Sleeping at the feet of Buddha

And the Prophets from Elijah
To the old Paiute Wovoka
Take their places at the table
When they’re called

I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all

Doxy and Praxy

“Much of Christianity has not emphasized actually ‘following’ Jesus…we haven’t based our religion on following Jesus and doing what he did. We’ve largely emphasized ‘worshiping’ Jesus.” So that’s what you came here this morning to do, worship Jesus? You do know that Jesus never told you to do that, right? He never told you to worship him, he told you to follow him. One of the most clever ways to avoid actually doing what he did is to make Jesus an object of worship.” – Richard Rohr

“Instead of getting people to agree with certain assertions about various dogmas, doctrines, or “truth claims,” progressive Christianity focuses more upon following a certain, radical way of life; namely, following the counter-cultural, subversive, and life-giving teachings and example of Jesus. The focus is more upon the religion OF Jesus, his actual beliefs, teachings, practices, ways, and lifestyle, than on the religion ABOUT him. In other words, Progressive Christianity focuses more upon orthopraxy (right behavior, actions and relationship) and less upon orthodoxy (right doctrines and beliefs). This is not to say that progressive Christianity is not concerned about orthodoxy. It’s a matter of emphasis. Progressive Christians would rather go to their graves having done their best to live rightly and follow the teachings and example of Jesus, than to have “believed all the right things about Jesus,” but fail to demonstrate or live-out those beliefs.” – Roger Wolsey