Sunday, October 07, 2012

Alex Salmond: the incarnation of the partisan style of politics

It's a sign that partisanship has gone too far when the significant political actors within a country cannot conceive of political institutions that are above the party politics in which they are so deeply-involved.  Samuel Huntington of  Clash of Civilisations infamy thought this a feature of what he called 'praetorian societies' where political disagreement was not merely one over policy but where there wasn't even a consensus over the institutions and mechanisms that produced governments in the first place.

While he was referring to countries in the developing world, I've often wondered if the United States itself hasn't edged rather too close to this condition for comfort in recent years?  Not to suggest they have reached the state of dysfunction one was accustomed to seeing in Latin America but you've got to wonder when, for example, supposedly 'umpire' institutions like the Supreme Court are routinely dismissed by partisans if they make decisions that are uncongenial to their particular political disposition.

It doesn't help that these institutions are indeed subjected to partisan pressure and seen as fair game in the political contest.  The desire to see policy preferences embedded in institutions that would subsequently bind successor administrations is, I suppose, an inevitable downside to having a legalistic polity like the United States and there's certainly nothing new about it.  But it seems to be getting worse in recent years with suggestions, for example, that purely partisan policy preferences like a balanced budget or a prohibition on gay marriage be embedded in constitutional law.

I was reminded of all this when I read that Alex Salmond has suggested that an independent Scotland should have a ban on nuclear weapons written into a new constitution.  Now by taking issue with this, I could be accused of partisanship myself.  I don't believe in Scottish nationalism and I have a particular animus towards Salmond, this is true.  However, in the unlikely event that Scotland becomes an independent country in the way that we have been accustomed to understanding the concept, I would obviously have a self-interest in our country doing well.  Moreover, it just so happens that I share the SNP's view on nuclear weapons.  But it would be folly to include this in a constitution.  It is a clear policy preference, not a constitutional principle and Salmond's suggestion that it should be considered as such is nothing but a sop to the peaceniks and fundies on his side who aren't too happy about his screeching hand-brake turn on the matter of NATO membership.  Wherefore, if Nationalists want an independent Scotland to be something other than a banana republic without the bananas they should eschew this nakedly partisan style of politics.

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