Scots The Noo – People or Peasants?

Scots The Noo – People or Peasants?

Social historians tend to divide the past into two distinct periods: the time when most people were dependent on their masters for their identity and political opinions; and the later time when they were free to express their individuality and take private positions on public issues. 


The first situation is one in which people were “peasants” in the medieval sense, while in the second they were “people” in the modern sense.

The Battle of Culloden illustrated this difference as the Jacobite Army was in many was a medieval-style body. It was recruited by clan and, when the men died on the battlefield they were buried in mass clan graves – the Mackintoshes here; the Macphersons there, and so on. The Hanoverian Army (in which the majority were Scots, incidentally, and many not even British) was individually recruited, paid and buried or, if they survived, discharged to make an individual life wherever they could. But in the “medieval” Highlands, if you were born a Macpherson, you were a Macpherson for life. Most Scots imagine that “a modern, progressive Scotland” is a place where even a Macpherson is free to live his or her life as an individual. Not so, or at least not if the politicians—both Labour and SNP—have anything to do with it.

We have an electoral system that divides us onto “people” and “peasants”. Elections to the Scottish parliament return 73 constituency MSPs and 56 so-called “list” MSPs. In voting for the former we are treated as “people”, but for the second as “peasants”. Our constituency MSP is directly voted for by all the electors of the constituency, usually around 60,000 of them. We can write to our MSP, and expect to get an answer. We can, if we are lucky, have some hope that he or she will represent our interest with the powers-that-be. In my experience, MSPs tend to “take your opinions on board” and leave it at that. I have heard about exceptions, but never encountered one myself. But this low standard gets dramatically worse when we consider the 56 “list” MSPs.

Their existence implies that we Scots are peasants as much as we are people. We cannot elect those people. We are able to choose from an approved list provided for us by our “betters”, the political party managers. The people on the list are appointed, not elected. I have written about this in my book, The Justice Factory: Can the Rule of Law Survive in 21st Century Scotland? Here is a short extract:

The “list MSPs” bring democracy into disrepute. They have power without responsibility. In the present (2020) coalition between the SNP and the Greens, the six Green MSPs, without whom the government would not have a majority, are all appointed list MSPs. Not one of them was personally elected by individual voters in an actual constituency. In the single-member constituencies the Greens got 0.6% of the national vote. Yet these six party appointees hold the balance of power in the parliament. Without them, this year’s budget would not have passed.

It is they who have enabled the government to continue with the legally controversial Hate Crime Bill. That is completely undemocratic. (p. 366)

The peasants vote for seven seats, in the eight “regions” of Scotland, in which the average electorate is about half a million. Hardly anybody knows who their “list” MSPs are. The members certainly do not know any but the most notable personalities in their huge constituencies. They represent nobody except the party hierarchies. They might as well be Peers. They take few popular concerns to the centre of power and they have few responsibilities beyond pleasing their superiors in order to ensure they get another term as an MSP at £64,470 per year, plus expenses. It is a top-down gravy-train, whereas the first-past-the-post one is a bottom-up system in which the Member has a lot of work to do keeping in touch with voters and satisfying them that he or she is worth re-electing. That is the democratic approach, whereas the “list” system is a bureaucratic one.

The “MSPs for the peasants” are elected by something called the “d’Hondt system”, which was chosen by Donald Dewar when the parliament was being designed. He wanted to make sure Labour would have a permanent majority. That piece of gerrymandering has come back to bite its architect’s corpse, because now the Labour Party looks as if it will be out of power forever, and the gravy-trainers of the SNP will replace them as the immovable obstacle that corrupts Scottish democracy. Worse still is the fact that hardly anybody outside the elite has the faintest idea how the d’Hondt system works. I don’t. Do you? An electoral system that is beyond the understanding of the average voter is an obvious democratic abuse of the most serious possible sort. It is worth remembering that when the Scottish Constitutional Convention met in 1989 to make unofficial recommendations for a new parliament, it stated that the new voting system would have to have six specific features of which number 4 was “that it is as easy as possible to understand”.

On that criterion alone, this parliament has been a failure. It was established to address the “democratic deficit”, but in practice has only increased that deficit. The lack of political momentum for change among the political/bureaucratic elite suggests that this arrangement suits the new Establishment even better than the old system did. The only way to oppose this is to support the Alliance for Unity (A4U), which is a non-party grouping that intends to utilise the “list” system by putting up independent candidates for election in “peasant” super-constituencies in order to defeat the SNP or Green incumbent careerist and gravy-trainer. If the A4U candidate looks unlikely to do that, the plan is to invite all its supporters, of who there are already a large number, to throw their electoral weight behind the candidate most likely to oust the SNP or Green.

An undemocratic and cynically gerrymandered political system calls forth such unsporting tactics. Let us all hope for the future of Scotland, that they succeed, and we can return after May to a more grown-up approach to devolved politics.

The views are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Scottish Libertarian Party.

Ian Mitchell’s book is called “The Justice Factory: Can the Rule of Law Survive in 21st Century Scotland?” (Ian Mitchell, 2020). The Foreword was written by Lord Hope of Craighead, ex-Lord President of the Court of Session and Deputy President of the UK Supreme Court. Alan Page, Professor of Public Law at Dundee University, wrote the Introduction to Part II. He is the author of the standard reference work, “Constitutional Law of Scotland”. Mitchell’s book has been endorsed by Ian (“Stone of Destiny”) Hamilton QC, the renegade nationalist, and Adam Tomkins, who is both an MSP (Tory) and Professor of Constitutional Law in the University of Glasgow. Further details here:

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1 Comment on "Scots The Noo – People or Peasants?"

  • Ian – I’m a social libertarian myself but hesitate at being bracketed with that former ornament of the Revolutionary Communist Party and founder of ‘Living Marxism’ and the institute of ideas, Baroness Claire Fox. I’m thinking of starting the People’s Unaffiliated Party (PUP) but keep putting it off. Your exegesis is fundamentally on point, however. The list MPs form an unaccountable secondary squadron, the pretence being that it would allow no single party to prevail, though the reality was than in the wake of Blair’s 1997 Coronation election it was believed by Dewar, Robertson, and other London puppets that Labour’s Scottish hegemony was its immovable thousand year reich bulwark, since we were all bairns of Jimmy Maxton. So that worked out well, right enough! It is a crap two tier system which really has to go. Amusing though that it has preserved the Conservatives.

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