Comment: The spirit of cooperation in Wales shows a political maturity completely missing from Scottish politics
This month we saw the stark difference between politics in Wales and Scotland. From Cardiff Bay came the creation of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales and the cooperation agreement between Labour and the party that is its main rival for left of centre votes, Plaid Cymru.
Agreement and coalitions in Wales are not new but this one is a very significant and positive move that brings the dominant party of Wales and its nationalist rival together to support a radical and progressive, dare I say Corbynite, policy agenda in the here and now, but also to look to the long-term future of the country.
It shows a level of political maturity that is completely absent from Scottish politics. Can anyone seriously imagine in the current climate Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney sitting down to draw up an agreement with Jackie Baillie and Anas Sarwar? Or the Scottish Government willingly setting up a constitutional commission that wasn’t packed with place women and men whose role would be to simply deliver what the government wants?
The Commission in Wales is a very interesting initiative with genuine cross-party representation, including a former Tory adviser, Lib Dem Assembly member and Leanne Wood, former Plaid leader, plus academics, a journalist, the leader of the Welsh TUC, a former civil servant and a public health expert all recruited as members. This is a very serious and deliberately inclusive approach which puts the interest of Wales ahead of narrow party advantage.
In the aftermath of the announcement, I was struck by the limited media commentary and absence of any call from politicians for the same to happen here. Maybe it’s just a grim realisation that the origins of the Scottish Parliament – which was supposed to encourage cooperation and coalition across the political spectrum – have been consumed in the constitutional dogfight that sees every issue framed along Yes/No lines, leaving cross-party working, good governance, scrutiny and accountability as an incidental sideshow.
But let’s take ourselves to an imaginary world where our political leaders acted in the public interest and not out of sheer party self interest. A place where the mission to create a vision for the whole country’s future is seen as an inclusive, collective endeavour, not one that seeks to bring 51 per cent on board whilst ignoring the other 49 per cent. A place where all opinion matters, not where it is dismissed out of hand, no matter how sensible or credible simply because of your rosette.
In that imaginary world, let’s call it Scotland, we could have our own constitutional commission on Scotland’s future. It would recruit people from across the political spectrum – commissioners from Scottish universities, the trade union movement, business community, the media, law and political parties. It could be an exciting project, blowing a breath of fresh air into the fetid, toxic constitutional dung heap.
So let me suggest some people who could be involved. I don’t know all of them personally. I may not share their politics or even like them, but that is irrelevant. What is relevant and important is the seriousness of the debate and the rigour they would bring to the commission if they were asked to take part and examine in detail the best option for Scotland’s future. My list is not definitive or prescriptive but I hope it will stimulate debate about what could be achieved if there was the political will to do it.
Here is a pool of people who could make a real contribution if a balanced group was drawn from it:
- Michael Clancy from the Law Society
- Alison Evison, president of COSLA
- Jim Wallace, moderator of the Church of Scotland and former deputy first minister
- Rozanne Foyer, general secretary of the STUC
- Sir Geoff Palmer, professor of life sciences, Heriot Watt University
- Professor Ailen McHarg, Durham University Law School
- Louise Hunter, chief executive, Who Cares? Scotland
- Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance
- Jack McConnell, former first minister
- Alice Brown, chancellor of Abertay University
- James Mitchell, professor of politics at the University of Edinburgh
- Caroline Gardner, former Auditor General
- Douglas Robertson, professor of social policy
- Miriam Brett, director of research and advocacy for the Common Wealth thinktank
- Andy Wightman, former MSP
- Adam Tomkins, professor of constitutional law at Glasgow University and former MSP
- Neena Mahal, chair of NHS Lanarkshire
- Michael Russell, former MSP and constitutional secretary
- Anna Fowlie, SCVO chief executive
- John Foster, professor of history
- Darren McGarvey, musician and author
- Michael Keating, professor of Scottish politics, Aberdeen University
- Pauline Bryan, a Labour peer.
You might have other perfectly legitimate and credible nominees, but is this even possible in the current climate? Do our leaders have the vision and quiet, no-nonsense approach shown by Mark Drakeford in cooperation with Adam Price, or is it all about showboating, appealing to the base and to hell with what’s best for the whole country? Sadly, I think the latter is the case and that in itself is the real tragedy of our broken politics. However, as a socialist I’m an optimist, so maybe, just maybe...