I HAVE argued before that an independent Scotland could do a lot worse than to pick-up and dust off a typical 20th century ‘Westminster Export Model’ constitution.

These constitutions, adopted by countries from the Caribbean to the South Pacific, provide for parliamentary democracy tempered by guaranteed rights, an independent judiciary, the recognition of the opposition, neutral non-partisan institutions like the Electoral Commission and Public Service Commission, and limitations on prerogative powers.

If we could do a lot worse, we could also do quite a bit better.

Those constitutions typically use First Past the Post and produce crudely majoritarian outcomes.

In 2018 in Bahamas and Grenada, one party one all of the seats in Parliament, wiping out the opposition entirely. No one wants that. Besides, Scotland’s constitution cannot be defined solely by its British institutional heritage or by its Commonwealth connections. Many in the Scottish independence movement seek to distance themselves from those associations and to embrace Scotland’s European identity.

Of particular relevance are the constitutions of the small-to-medium sized countries in the ‘Arc of Democracy’ spanning across Northern Europe from the low countries, through Ireland, Iceland and Scandinavia, to the Baltic.

These countries have historical and trading links to Scotland and are Scotland natural friends and allies in Europe.

Let us consider the Constitution of the Netherlands. It is one of the oldest constitutions in the world, dating originally from 1814, although substantially amended in 1848, 1887, 1917 and 1983.

It still reads like a typical 19th century constitution. It is a short, pragmatic document, emphasizing prosaic institutional rules over stirring rhetoric.

The monarch’s role is shaped more by convention – as in the United Kingdom – than by the constitutional text. Only in 2011 was responsibility for selecting the Prime Minister formally transferred from the monarch to Parliament, and that was achieved by parliamentary standing orders rather than by constitutional amendment.

There is no provision for referendums. Rights are not spelled out with the precision and do not enjoy the kind of robust judicial enforcement that one would find in a modern constitution.

If you were writing a constitution today, you would not emulate those elements.

Yet the Dutch constitution has one remarkable feature: proportionality. Parliament is elected on national party lists. With 150 seats, any party winning about 0.67% of the national vote can get a seat. Thirteen parties are represented in the lower House - including a party that represents the interests of Dutch citizens of Turkish origin, a party for over 50s, and one dedicated to animal rights, as well as two varieties of alt.right populists, and a party so dour and Calvinist it makes the DUP look like they have escaped from a Grateful Dead concert.

Four of these – two liberal parties and two Christian democratic parties - form the government. Coalition is a way of life. There has never been a single party majority government in the Netherlands’ democratic history.

We might think this unworkable. Yet it works very well. The Netherlands is not a utopia, but it is one of the world’s most prosperous countries, at the forefront of technology and innovation, with an open and dynamic commercial economy.

It also manages to share the proceeds widely. The child poverty rate, according to EU data from 2018, is about half that of the UK. The hospitals gleam.

The municipal playparks are beautiful, clean and well maintained. The schools do not have leaky portacabins. There are no potholes in the roads. For this, a middle class professional typically pays 52% income tax, but then you get what you pay for.

The practical benefits of proportional representation and coalition government were noted by the Dutch political scientist Arend Lijphart.

Far from making the government weak and unstable, having to share power actually makes governance more effective over the long run. It also makes government more sensitive to social needs, producing what Lijphart described as a “kinder, gentler democracy”.

Instead of one side braying at the other, they have to work together to solve problems. Erratic swings of policy are avoided. Bad ideas are filtered out. Policy that has to be agreed has to be discussed; it cannot be made on the hoof.

There is always some internal balance, requiring policy to be justified by more than mere partisan interest. This produces a tendency to value evidence-led policy making. Complex issues are not reduced to a binary for or against; more people are at the table, and things are looked at from all angles. Good compromisers and negotiators, not blustering buffoons, flourish in such an environment. Politics is less exciting, but more effective.

Any future Scottish constitution should enshrine the principle of proportional representation. We do not have to go as far as the Dutch; the existing Mixed Member Proportional system is a workable solution. But it is essential that we stop any future Scottish government from trying to go back to the bad old days of First Past the Post. Our hopes for a kinder, gentler democracy depend upon it.

This column welcomes questions from readers