Sunday, 24 June 2012

After independence Scotland needs a second chamber.

There have been too many scare stories, opinions, preferences and noises from all aspects of society to make anyone believe we don’t actually require a second house, although Holyrood’s political leaders are on record that one is not necessary.

Individuals, nationalist, unionist and those with no political opinion have all voiced concerns about the dominance of a single party. It seems to be fine at Westminster, or in France where Hollande’s socialists just swept all chambers, but not in Scotland. Odd that.

Perhaps the reality is that Scots are more finely tuned towards democracy, it’s an ages old tradition here. It wasn’t always effective but we used to have clan councils, clan heads, chiefs and others would get together and agree, our seven Ri, or sub kings, would elect our Ard-Ri, or high king. Our old parliament was constructed of three “estates”, all of whom had to be won to a cause. Arguably Scots had one of the best of old world democracies.

It is fair to make the argument that more than any other nation on earth democratic principle and individual sovereignty is in our heritage, our psyche, our blood.

What we don’t need in Scotland is two elected houses that operate in contradictory fashion, as the US often has with Democrats in the Senate and Republicans in the house, this usually just ends in “horse trading” and more un-required money being spent on additional “bridges to nowhere”.

What we need in Scotland is a uniquely Scottish solution to our perceived issue. What we need is a second house which is funded by the taxpayer without requiring significant additional burdens to be borne by the taxpayer, better yet by reducing burdens we already have.

Proportionately we have somewhere around 150 “representatives” at Westminster, between commons and Lords. That’s approaching an all in bill, when they’re working for us 9-5 daily, of about £50 million a year for folk we “send south”. Simply transferring half that burden to a new second house of around 51 will create substantial savings of about 2/3 just by numbers alone, more when removing any need for a “London loading”.

How would a second house work, what would it do, and how would it interact at Holyrood are all excellent questions. Questions that are best answered individually over time, but suggestions might be that it would only review Holyrood’s proposed legislation for benefits to the Scottish people and affordability – is it properly costed or must other areas be reduced to accommodate the legislative proposals.

The second house might best work if it was remote from Holyrood, yet balanced with it geographically. Perhaps locating it in the old Highland capitol, Inverness might be an option. Placing it in a smaller building than Holyrood, perhaps a restoration or conversion of an existing historic site would be appropriate. If we choose this path and choose it well the budget could be small.

Meetings could be held in Inverness once each month; the principle office of each representative would be in their constituency.

These individuals could vote on the legislation by a simple majority, and it could be done either in Inverness or from their offices, all votes of each individual being subject to immediate publication. These individuals we elect could even be permitted to vote electronically – with today’s technology it would be simple. With the results public on such a small sample the opportunity for fraud would be almost nonexistent and if suspected could be quickly remedied.

It would also be important for the second house to be as devoid as possible of party politics. Only independents should sit there. The criteria for public campaign funding should be simple, comprehensive and elegant. Each candidate should have a set grant and be permitted no other funding. Private funding from any source to second house members, except perhaps from their pre-existing own business, should be illegal.

If our national leaders at Holyrood had the spirit to pass such legislation and enact such a second chamber it would stop much corruption in its tracks. It would advance cleanliness in Scottish politics by a considerable degree.

It would help arrest any potential of corruption, this second house, but it would also put the UK system to shame. It would be no toothless chamber, able to be ignored at whim, able to reform without a constitutional referendum. It would be a truly inclusive, geographically representational body for all Scots.

Orcadians would have five representatives, as would Glaswegians. There could be five more from the highlands, offset by another five from the borders. Each of our three largest cities could have five representatives. The Western Isles would have an equal voice to central Scotland. Such an inclusive chamber would go a substantial way to preventing or lessening feelings of disenfranchisement within our more remote communities.

Such an inclusive chamber could only serve to weld our nation together as one single polity. It will forever spike the Union guns about a situation in Scotland that might mirror the Irish, where some parts decided to found a new state allied and beholden to London.

It is time Holyrood started clarifying the choices that will be available to Scots after a yes vote. A second chamber should be a choice of all Scots, enhanced democracy and democratic safeguards are difficult for the establishment to argue against. But they will.

Holyrood, it’s up to you, you have the voice, the authority, the coverage to initiate and disseminate policies that will get us excited, make us enthused and weld a brave new path for a resurgent nation, or you can do nothing and watch the dreams sink in a sea of privilege and political correctness.


  1. Another great article, Hazel. I do hope someone in Holyrood is paying attention to your "ramblings", because I sometimes think they could do with some advice – and they could do a lot worse than listen to you. Keep it going.

  2. Who says we need a second chamber? Where does this idea come from? Rhetorical question as it mainly comes from the politicians who have another chance at putting our money in their pockets while doing bugger all.

    We elect Members of Parliament to represent us in a parliament to do the job of running the country why would we need a second body? This is a serious question. I'm against a second chamber and really don't see any need for one other than jobs for the boys.

    However ... if you're looking for a way to assemble a second chamber just have those who came second in the election automatically elected to a second chamber. We could have two MPs; a Parliamentary MP and a Constituency MP. First past the post goes to Parliament to fill their pockets with my money and make a half arsed attempt at running the country while second past the post stays in the constituency to fill their pockets with my money and deal with constituency problems and attend parliament on a monthly or bi-monthly basis when the first lot are put on mandatory holiday. The second bunch can inspect legislation and make amendments but not create legislation.

    Just an idea but I'd rather not have more politicians.

    1. I fully understand about being careful with OUR (mine too) tax money, we all should be.

      Without a system of checks and balances, we will continue to experience the swings and roundabouts scenario we have had from Westminster. Without a doubt, theirs is a system which is NOT a model democracy.

      In an independent Scotland I expect us to strive for something better than we have had until now, dished out to us.

      Democracy is something that millions have fought and died for, and yet it fails to be delivered by London’s Palace of Westminster with its House of Commons and the UNELECTED upper house.

      I’m not advocating an accountable, untouchable, job-for-life second house such as this. I want ALL government representatives to be wholly accountable to us, the Sovereign People.

    2. Thanks for the response. Have you seen the proposed constitutions, by W Elliot Bulmer and the SNP? They both have the Westminster way built in and both only want one chamber. I ask again, why do we need a second chamber?

    3. Why? How about a scenario such as a full Labour majority shortly after independence and they decide to tear up the referendum vote. Without anyone looking over their shoulder, it's not unimaginable. Their raison d'etre is the perceived Big Trough in Westminster, not as we know, the well-being of the Scottish Nation. And I doubt that will change over night from the day of, to the day after the vote.

      Besides this, who will there be to moderate any act of legislative insanity on behalf an elected party with an unassailable majority. For instance, what's to prevent a future parliament taking us down another PFI, PPI crazy ride, or even side with a still Imperialist England and enter an illegal war?

      We need checks and balances.

      Remember, there will be no MPs or Lords to pay for in Westminster. There will still be the 129 MSPs. I'm advocating 51 members, 8 less than the current 59 MPs sent south. The price of freedom doesn't come cheap.
      And if it's real democracy we want to see in our Bright New Scotland, I for one am willing to pay for that from my taxes.
      We've seen the SNP lead the way in open government and behaving realistically with expenses. I would expect this to continue, and even legislation be put in place to prevent abuse of the system.

    4. You're using scaremongering to justify a second chamber? Really?

      If a party has an unassailable majority it would be because we elected them with one.

      In a previous response you say 'I want ALL government representatives to be wholly accountable to us, the Sovereign People.' That's fine but there is also an obligation on we the people to actively engage with them a lot more than just a cross on a bit of paper every five years or so.

      The reason the politicians pass the PFI, PPI madness is because we sit about scratching our arses when it happens (it's a lot more complicated than that I know but our inaction is a major part). We don't need a second chamber we at least need more voter interaction on policy OR we just say you're elected get on with it, even if it means more PFI, PPI.

      We don't need checks and balances we need accountability, and not just voted out at the next election accountability, we need legal you're going to jail accountability.

      A second chamber is just another layer of government - no matter if it's populated with independents and ordinary people - and in the end will act like another layer of government. But if there are laws which the politicians know about saying 'Hey, you sell all our Gold Brown and we will put you in jail when we find out', or 'Tony, illegal wars mean you're in Barlinnie if you're found guilty in a trial' might not stop them from doing things against the public interest but at least they wouldn't do it with impunity.

      At the end of the day, what I'm saying is if you want a second chamber maybe we should look to ourselves, the voters, rather than try and make up institutions to take responsibility for us.

    5. I like your sense of humour. Politicians passing laws to penalise their own folly or greed.

      Let's just agree to disagree.

    6. Geein up hen? So you don't think you or I as voters and as citizens of Scotland should have a more active role in the running of the country? We just elect them and they do what they want? To be on the safe side we elect some more to look at the first lot we elected? What about the second lot we elect? Shouldn't we elect someone to watch them?

      What happened to Sovereignty of the People? If we get together and demand politicians put certain things in place or have certain responsibilities built into law they're going to just say 'Naw, we're in charge, you're just voters, sod off'? If we say the people demand accountability enshrined in law without repeal from politicians they're going to ignore it?

      I think we're all a little too set in the way of the current political set up where politicians do what they want. If you believe in the Sovereignty of the People then you should surely believe that the people tell the politicians not the other way around.

    7. We both agree on the sovereignty of the people, it appears we don't agree on how to settle that loan of sovereignty on our elected representatives.

      I see that every institution dealing with money, as practised by man, has auditors and watchdogs. I believe this should carry forward into parliament in the form of a second house.

      I accept and respect your arguments, but I don't agree with them, in that there is no need for a second house.

      So let me repeat, let us agree to disagree.

    8. That's the problem with modern debate Hazel; no one is prepared to dig deep into subjects and discussions but bail out with 'agree to disagree.' If neither of us have our arguments and proposals validated or invalidated by full discussion there is no resolution. As can be seen from my comment below due to some arguments here and elsewhere I am now not one hundred percent against a second chamber, but I am even more in favour of the people of Scotland being more involved rather than elected people. Thanks for taking the time to comment on my comments.

  3. Hazel -the question and necessity of a second chamber to my mind depends to a great extent on the written constitution adopted by an independent nation.

    From my point of view the second chamber and superior chamber should be the people of Scotland.

  4. Brave New Scotland says "We don't need checks and balances we need accountability" What on earth to you think accountability is in government but checks and balances? And the prime reason we need a second chamber based on geography is to prevent the populous central belt from becoming Scotland's equivalent of the Home Counties of England controlling everything. In the bigger picture this is precisely why Scotland needs a proper written constitution!

    1. Michael, I think you'll find they are two different things. Checks and balances tends to be about limiting the powers of any government body with another government body (three seems to be the most common; and if Scotland were to go down that path of more than one chamber three branches would be the option I would prefer), while accountability is collars getting felt when people get up to no good.

      The UK has a second chamber and no doubt there are 'checks and balances' in place but I don't see, as one example, Tony Blair being held to account for what a lot of people consider an illegal war in Iraq.

      I'm not 100% against a second chamber (if you read my first response you'll see I proposed a 'second chamber' variation) I just don't think it should be more politicians making more rules for themselves, but the people of Scotland being more politically active - even if it means some form of compulsion - and the people of Scotland deciding and ruling on what the elected politicians can and can't do, and making sure that there is proper accountability of the politicians for their actions.

      To paraphrase, with great sovereignty comes great responsibility. If the people are sovereign it must mean something and must include responsibilities which are carried out by the people.

      And I'm all for a written constitution but the only two available - one from the SNP and a 'model' constitution from W Elliot Bulmer - are pretty much the Westminster system enshrined. I think, but am not 100% positive - that they both suggest only the one governing body with no second chamber.

    2. I think we know the Lords are a toothless, jobs for the boys set up, and absolutely the type of institution to be avoided.