This week is a busy one for the Commonwealth, with both the Commonwealth Games coming to a close in Australia and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting being held in London.
The Commonwealth is by any measure a good organisation. It does beneficial work in many different spheres: sport, culture, education, trade, development, and of course in my own field of democracy, good governance and human rights.
The Commonwealth is founded upon a great idea: that nations can achieve sovereignty and equality, while still retaining historical family ties, and while freely co-operating across a wide range of policy areas on matters of common concern. That’s exactly the sort of grown up relationship-of-equals that the Scottish independence movement is trying to create, and the Commonwealth provides a forum and foundation for it.
The Commonwealth’s common values are expressed in the Commonwealth Charter is a fine statement (alongside ECHR) of meta-constitutional principles that should underpin any future Scottish state.
There are moves to make the Commonwealth a slightly stronger and deeper union, or to develop a core ‘Union of Commonwealth Realms’ (the UK, Canada, Australia and NZ, but hopefully also including the Caribbean and South Pacific realms) within it. Potentially, such a Union of Commonwealth Realms could have three pillars: (i) freedom of movement between commonwealth realms, with freedom to live, study and work across in any member states; (ii) a broader free trade arrangement between Commonwealth Realms; and (iii) stronger defence and security co-operation.
All of this is, undoubtedly, a Good Thing.
An independent Scotland should be part of any such arrangement, and those who favour Scottish independence should support such moves. A Union of Commonwealth Realms – alongside other institutions like NATO and EFTA – could help to provide the broader, over-arching framework of free movement, free trade, and collective security, upon which a viable Scottish state depends.
The Commonwealth cannot replace the EU or EFTA They are not the same. They have different purposes. The Commonwealth cannot provide a substitute for free trade with continental Europe. As I have written elsewhere, there are limits to what the Commonwealth can do, and limits to the political acceptability of the idea of deeper Commonwealth union (although that might be changing). But the Commonwealth can be more than a useful adjunct. It can be a forum in which Scottish interests are furthered, through which Scotland can make a beneficial contribution to the world, and in which an independent Scotland can continue to co-operate and share with the rUK.
Those in favour of Scottish independence would be wise to drop their squeamishness about the Commonwealth’s imperial past, and embrace it as an organisation for a better future.