LET’S start with a wee quiz. What do Bernie Sanders, the two-time US presidential candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, former president of France, and Boris Johnson have in common?

Answer, they were all mayors. Before they put themselves forward to run a country, they ran a city.

The Scottish constitutional debate tends to concentrate on the status question: whether Scotland should be an independent country, with the focus on the mechanics and tactics of getting, and then winning, an independence referendum.

As we have argued consistently in this column, independence is not simply a matter of ending the Union. It is about building up a new Scottish state that will do things better.

“End London rule now”, “It’s Scotland’s oil” and “Are you Yes yet?” might be good campaigning slogans, but they were never anything more.

If we have learned anything from the Brexit charade, surely it must be that narrowly winning referendums with slogans but no solid plan is a disaster in the making.

Part of that plan, certainly, is economic. A vote for independence isn’t, however, a vote for a new government or an economic manifesto. It’s a vote for a new state – a new constitutional order.

If we are to go beyond existing nationalist and Unionist divisions, and to build a broad consensus for independence, then we must turn our attentions to genuinely constitutional questions: who are we, what do we stand for, what will we not stand for, how should we govern ourselves, how do we ensure fair representation of all  members of our society, how do we hold those who exercise political authority in our name accountable, what rights are too important to be left in the hands of ordinary majorities, by what processshould these fundamental provisions be open to subsequent revision?

Local democracy must be an integral part of that constitutional conversation.

Scotland’s new constitutional order should be one that fixes the two persistent problems of local democracy in Scotland: firstly, that it’s not very local, and secondly, that it’s not very democratic.

In part, demand for decentralisation arises from the pragmatic needs of good government. Scotland cannot be well governed by uniform administrative fiat from Edinburgh, any more than it can be well governed from London.

The wants, needs, ways of life, problems, and policy priorities, of Glasgow and the Western Isles are as different, in some ways, as any two places in Europe can be.

One-size-fits-all policies driven by where a majority of the voters live – in the central belt – will not work from Wigtown to Wick. We have already seen, with the centralisation of police and fire authorities, the problems that can arise when a medium-sized, geographically and culturally diverse country labours under the false belief that it is a small country. It need hardly be said, but Scotland is not Luxembourg.

In some ways, it would be better if it were. Luxembourg, which is a quarter the size of Wales and has one-10th of Scotland’s population, has 109 municipalities. Scotland has 32 local councils. The Highland Council covers a land area about the size of Belgium. This means that decisions are taken far away, by people unseen, who do not necessarily understand local needs or appreciate local concerns.

It’s true that Scotland faces the challenge of low and uneven population densities, resulting in high overhead and service-delivery costs for a given tax base.

This calls for inventive solutions around how local authorities are funded – balancing local autonomy with shared resources – but other countries do it.

The restoration of local democracy is also a point of principle. The self-government of the ancient burghs was specifically protected by the Treaty of Union: Scotland’s national self-government was surrendered, but her municipal autonomy, like her judicial and ecclesiastic autonomy, were to be preserved.

That promise was broken. The destruction of the burghs, through various rounds of centrally-imposed consolidation, has had devastating effects. It means that great historic towns like Tain (which received its burgh charter in 1066) and Montrose (royal charter, 1140) now have no municipal institutions of their own.

The worst consequences are cultural and psychological.

National self-confidence begins in local, civic pride – in well-tended parks and gardens, in bustling well-scrubbed city squares. National democracy begins in local democracy – in a sense that we the people, not they the developers, have control over what happens in the place were we live.

On this matter, even England is ahead: they have parish and town councils that put Scotland’s “community councils” to utter shame, and several cities now have energetic directly elected mayors.

But the fault is constitutional, not merely a matter of policy. A new Local Government Act might help, but it is only a temporary expedient.

Only the recognition and protection of local democracy in a new written constitution can ultimately protect it from the centralizing tendencies of national governments.

This column welcomes questions from readers