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opinion | Alex Pearlman

Scotland has a chance to redefine Western governance

Birthing a nation takes a lot more than sheer will for independence

A woman wore a kilt with the Scottish flag on it in Glasgow, Scotland on Aug. 16.AFP/Getty Images

After 307 years tied to the United Kingdom, the Scots next month will vote on whether to return to home rule. Polling in early August showed 54 percent of the populace against secession and 40 percent in favor. How the remaining undecideds will fall is anybody’s guess.

Either way, as recent examples in Europe, Africa, and Asia have shown, birthing a nation takes a lot more than sheer will for independence. Should the Scots vote “yes” Sept. 18, their new parliament will convene a constitutional convention to write a governing document, a massive responsibility. But, especially given the technology available, it would also be an opportunity to redefine what a Western government looks like — and what it values — in the 21st century.

It’s never too early to consider what that new governance should look like. If Scots do write a new constitution, below are three steps that recent history suggests shouldn’t be left out.


1. By the people, for the people. Iceland’s recent experience makes it clear that crowdsourcing government is the only acceptable way forward. Scotland must devise a way to involve everyday people in decision-making that is easy, user-friendly, transparent and logistically sound.

Iceland’s constitutional committee polled 0.3 percent of its population (1,000 random people) on draft documents, and some citizens even took it upon themselves to draft their own constitution, which was then submitted for consideration to the Parliament.

To emulate this process, Scotland would need to poll about 15,900 people out of its population of about 5 million. Still, its leaders should consider including anyone who wants to have a say. The possibilities for platforms and technologies are endless. If the referendum passes, Parliament should solicit proposals to develop a citizen-input platform. And if Parliament's First Minister Alex Salmond, the secession movement’s leader and the head of the Scottish National Party, is as serious about encouraging the digital sector as he claims, then this should be a priority.

2. Minority voices. As leaders in newly formed nations as diverse as Iraq, South Sudan, and East Timor have seen, partnering with a country’s minority groups is key to stability and an investment in the government of the near future.


The SNP has always been ahead of the curve in electing women to office, and Scotland’s parliament boasts an impressive percentage of female members, at just over 30 percent. The rest of Scottish government, however, is overwhelmingly white and male. That make-up feels antiquated today as Scotland has absorbed refugees through United Nations-supported amnesty initiatives and immigrants thanks to the European Union’s porous borders.

Salmond also has said that the new government will support talented international students who want to stay after school, skilled workers, and entrepreneurs with outside voices. With this kind of open-minded immigration policy, Scotland will, in just a short time, be far less homogeneous. Scotland should ensure that women and people of color are elected to public office. In doing so, they will be constructing a political system that doesn’t just represent Scotland today but the country a generation from now as well.

3. Privacy. In this time of personal data mining, profiling, lists, and paranoia about who’s spying on whom, there are still few written legal protections for online privacy. A constitution written from scratch will have to tackle this new frontier, considering issues like the future of drones, surveillance cameras, smartphone apps, internet searches, and hacking.

Scotland has a chance for a clean slate on rules surrounding privacy in a Western nation with deep roots in the dual values of personal freedom and government transparency. Laws that protect both personal data and assure safety and security are feasible. Scotland should take the higher road of honorable governance and avoid giving in to the sneaky, back-handed tactics of the US National Security Agency and other notorious global security agencies that refuse to confront this issue.


Salmond and his allies have done a terrible job laying out their plans for currency regulation, not to mention explaining which international trades and treaties an independent Scotland would sign on to. But there is little reason to think these concerns wouldn’t be sorted out — and none should stand in the way of a people’s right to self-determination. A constitution that is well thought-out and innovative while incorporating Scottish ideals would ensure that statehood benefits all.

Alex Pearlman is a freelance journalist based in London. Follow her on Twitter @lexikon1.