DEMOCRACY recognises legitimate differences of opinion. People of good sense and good will can differ over the ends and means of politics, as well as over specific policies, priorities and personalities.

Democratic constitutions provide the structures and mechanisms by which those differences can be expressed, and, as far as possible, resolved into public policy. This includes free, fair and regular competition for office through the ballot box, combined with a recognised right of opposition and protest, and civic space guaranteed by freedoms such as freedom of assembly, association and expression.

In a complex society, with diverse demands and interests, moderation and compromise are great political virtues. If it is not possible to please everyone, we should at least look for policy solutions that are as inclusive as possible, that bring all relevant views and legitimate needs to the table, and that seek to leave as few as possible dissatisfied.

The British political system has proven itself very bad at this. Its dominant logic is one of brittle majoritarianism: to win at all costs, and once in office to impose a narrow partisan agenda in an uncompromising way that excludes the perspectives of others. It is this approach, embodied in Westminster’s winner-takes-all electoral system and top-down centralised politics, that has made British policy outcomes so abysmal for generations.

It is this majoritarian logic that enabled Thatcher to confront miners rather than bring them into dialogue, and then allowed her to let former industrial areas wither away. There was no incentive to compromise, no need to bring northern interests into a broad coalition.

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It is the same with Brexit. The referendum result was merely a misfortune, an unlucky miscalculation by David Cameron. The compounded errors ever since are a real tragedy. The damage could have been mitigated, and calamity avoided, if only the British political class had some capacity for sensible compromises. Events reveal that it has none. All opportunities to stop, step back, reconsider and find some common ground were lost.

There could have been a Royal Commission, evidence-taking, and a report with broad cross-party backing proposing a “least bad option”: to honour the referendum result by leaving the EU but to save the economy and people’s lives and livelihoods by remaining in the Single Market and the Customs Union. Only once there was agreement on this compromise should Article 50 notification have been triggered.

Instead, we had headlong rushes into inescapable dead-ends (Theresa May’s entirely unnecessary and unworkable “red lines”), followed by grandstanding and intransigence.

The fault lies absolutely with the current generation of politicians. Tory Remainers (of which there were plenty in the House of Commons before 2019) would not break ranks and work with other parties. Labour would not work with the SNP. The LibDems would not work with Labour. The 2019 election should have been fought on a united anti-Johnson ticket, with one policy aim – to mitigate Brexit by remaining in the Single Market and the Customs Union – but none of them would swallow their pride sufficiently to play nicely with others. No one wanted to have half a cake, if their opponents could get half a cake too.

It would be wrong to see these as merely individual failings. They are symptoms of systemic failure – the failure of the current political order, and political class, to generate compromise and co-operation.

The demand for compromise and co-operation is frequently voiced in relation to the independence debate, especially from those seeking some middle ground between devolution and independence: federalism, home rule, call it what you will.

There are many theoretically possible ways in which to recast the United Kingdom as a genuine partnership of equals. Technically, it would not be a very difficult exercise to draft a constitution that would federalise the UK. One would have to decide what to do with England – whether England would be one state alongside Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or whether it would be divided into regional states – but these are not, from a constitution-builder’s perspective, insurmountable obstacles.

Even easier would be to develop a form of “secure autonomy” for Scotland, in which Scotland would – under a new Treaty of Union – have authority over nearly everything except foreign affairs and defence.

However, any such middle-course requires constitutionally-embedded shared sovereignty: a division of powers, responsibility and funding between levels of government, so that no one level of government can command, or undermine, the other. That can only work if there is a degree of respect, a prevailing moderation, a willingness to engage in the politics of pragmatic negotiation. It could in principle be done, but the British political establishment is in practice completely incapable of doing it.

For all the superficial attractions of a middle-way, independence remains the easiest, most efficient and most elegant solution. If Scotland has a greater capacity for compromise than Westminster – which remains to be seen – we should channel that into the building of the constitution of an independent state, trying to find a form of independence that is as broadly acceptable as possible.

Former BBC Scotland commentator, Ken MacDonald, is this week’s star guest on the TNT show at 7pm on Wednesday