Dissenting Radical

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

Month: July, 2015

And this the Dutchmen know!

I wonder if anyone, anywhere, in Holyrood or Westminster (or, for that matter, in Cardiff Bay or Stormont) has heard of the Statute of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

This Statute is the constitutional instrument that regulates the relationship between the European Netherlands and the two countries of the Caribbean Netherlands.

It provides for full internal autonomy for each country, except for in matters of defence, foreign relations, nationality, orders of chivalry, the flag and the coat of arms, regulation of shipping, immigration and extradition. These are handled in a co-operative manner, with representatives from the countries of the Caribbean Netherlands joining the ministers of the European Netherlands in the cabinet.

The statute cannot be amended without the consent of all the countries.

If such an instrument were adopted in the UK, it would give us a chance to rebuild the UK as a decentralised confederation of equal states. I think this would satisfy most of the demands of the Scottish independence movement – demands for autonomy and for recognition – while also being something that most Unionists could accept.

In contrast to other models of federalism (e.g. Canada, Australia), it would also provide a way around the problem of England’s disproportionate size. There would be no need for an additional ‘federal Parliament’. Westminster would become the Parliament of England, except when joined by representatives of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments for the discussion of ‘United Kingdom-wide’ affairs. In this way, it would satisfy English demands for EVEL and for more say over their own national affairs as well.

Adopting a ‘Statute of the United Kingdom’ modelled on that of the Kingdom of the Netherlands would also provide an underpinning meta-constitutional structure for the state that would strengthen guarantees of democracy and human rights, while still allowing different forms of internal governance to develop in each country.

This might be the healing compromise. This might be the win-win solution.

Of course, it would take is some real statesmanship to make it happen.

[Unfortunately, I can only find the text of it in French or Dutch. I will add a link to the English text when I can find it.]



How and Where?

How to get through the day, seeing the destruction, greed, injustice and inhumanity that surrounds us?

How to avoid either collapsing in despair under the weight of it all, or carelessly shrugging it off and saying, ‘not my problem’?

How to keep the pressing walls of despair and defeat away?

How to live in the world as it is, while living for the world as it should be?

How to find the glimmers and cracks of light breaking through the engulfing darkness, and to magnify them into blazing torches?

How to be a source of hope and encouragement, when any rational calculation would see the situation as hopeless?

Where is grace, in the midst of the Greek debt crisis?

Where is restoration, in the life of those who have been imprisoned to feed the corporate prison industry, or tortured for their dissent to the harsh logic of power?

Where is healing in the life of those who have been poisoned by fracking chemicals?

Where is peace, in the countries torn apart by war?

Where is joy, in those who suffer the pains and indignation of poverty, so that profits of the financial markets are undisturbed?

Where is love, in a capitalist system that treats human beings only as ‘factors of production’ or ‘units of consumption’, and never as whole people?

Where is resurrection, to give new life to all this terrible decay, and to bring wholeness out of corruption?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

If someone came to you and asked those questions, how would you answer them? What sort of advice or answers could you give?

I’m not seeking a resolution to the problem of evil – I think I’m quite content, in principle, with a view that we have to be God’s agents in the grand project of redeeming and restoring the world (thanks, N. T., for sorting that one out!).

But I don’t know what this means practically, in the jagged line between a loosely-defined but tightly-held faith that is at root deeply optimistic and a psychological tendency to anxiety, despair and pessimism.

Hope, truly, is a virtue. Perhaps hope is what is needed to see the ‘where’ and to answer the ‘how’.

If God really did raise Christ from the dead, is that in itself a sufficient reason to live hopefully, and thereby to be empowered to work constructively for the betterment of the human condition, even when all seems hopeless?

Is that the answer to the fracking, the bombing, the usury, the violence, the exploitation, the corruption, and the destruction? Not that ‘we all go to heaven’, but that ‘God has put the world right, is putting the world right, and will put the world right’, and that in that ontological reality all we need to do is to find our allotted corner and do what we can to improve it, confident that in the end all will be well? Is that it? Is that sufficiently convincing?


I have recently been studying the 1946 Constitution of Ceylon.

It might seem strange to study a ‘dead’ Constitution. But to a scholar of comparative constitutional law, the Constitution of Ceylon is a very interesting specimen. The text of the Constitution has a certain clean, elegant beauty; its design and draftsmanship are simultaneously minimalist and thorough.

It is also an important ‘transitional fossil’ in the evolution of the Westminster Model, bridging the gap between the first generation (e.g. Canada 1867, Australia 1901, South Africa 1909) and second generation (e.g. Kenya 1963, Malta 1964, Mauritius 1968) Westminster constitutions.

Sir Ivor Jennings, one of the principal architects of the Constitution, wrote explanatory book on the Constitution of Ceylon that is a masterpiece of mid-twentieth century British Imperial constitutional thought, revealing both the genuine goodwill and the rather blinkered paternalism and elitism of British thinking at that time. Jennings was absolutely adamant, for example, that ‘communalism’ (the representation by quota or reservation of specific ethnic groups) should be avoided, and that a system of disciplined, inter-ethnic, programmatic parties should provide impetus to the system of government through the leadership of the Cabinet. The whole system of government was to be imported from Westminster, with only the scantest regard for local circumstances.

The Constitution got off to a reasonably good start in the late 1940s and 1950s, when the country seemed like a model of ‘dominion-style’ independence. However, as Harshan Kumarasingham’s excellent book, ‘The Political Legacies of the British Empire’, points out, the stable party system and disciplined form of Cabinet government envisaged by Jennings failed to develop. Parties remained factional and personalistic, clientelism and patronage dominated, and inter-communal tensions could not be buried. Ultimately the Constitution of Ceylon – unlike that of India, where Nehru and the Congress party embedded the norms of Cabinet government – failed to take root.

Nevertheless, it seems from the records that the British Government showed a more enlightened attitude to Ceylon then than they show towards Scotland now. There was none of the spite and scorn that characterises the current Tory (and Labour) attitude to Scotland. Neither was there a fear of ‘border posts’ or ‘bombing runways’, or whatever other scare stories the Unionist press might eagerly circulate. After Celyon’s independence, co-operation continued. There was a financial agreement and a military agreement that looked very much like the sort of arrangements for Anglo-Scottish relations that Salmond was proposing in 2014 as a form of ‘indy-lite’; sovereign statehood on fair and equal terms, but not isolated or acrimonious ‘separation’.

Furthermore, the time between adopting the Constitution and becoming independent was less than two years, with the Constitution being put in place first, and then being amended by an Independence Order.

So ultimately the lesson of the Constitution of Ceylon is, in my view, twofold: (i) that becoming independent from the UK is – in constitutional, legal and even practical terms – much easier than the opponents of Scottish independence would have us believe. It’s all been done before (and Ceylon is not, by any means, an isolated example); and (ii) that making democracy work well afterwards is much harder.

Perhaps we should not be so scared, in Scotland, about independence, and much more wary of how we design our institutions for the post-independence situation.