ON St Andrew’s day, Barbados became a Republic. It was the first Commonwealth Realm to do so since Malta and Trinidad & Tobago in 1976.

Much of the reporting has been predictably inaccurate. Barbados did not “throw off colonialism”, nor did it “free ­itself from four hundred years of British rule”. Barbados has been proudly – and successfully – independent since 1966.

Barbados shared the physical person of the Head of State with the UK and other Commonwealth Realms, but it was not subject to the British monarchy. The Queen of Barbados was, legally speaking, an entirely different person from the Queen of the UK.

This was an internal constitutional change made according to Barbados’ own rules for ­constitutional amendment, with no formal ­alteration in the relationship between Barbados and the UK.

These details matter, because they reflect on the constitutional debate in Scotland. I have defended the SNP’s policy of keeping the ­monarchy, at least initially, in an independent Scotland. In the early years of independence, the monarchy might perform useful functions, in terms of continuity, unity and legitimacy. It can help the Unionist minority to feel that not ­everything familiar is lost, that they can live with and accept independence, and that they can be serve without disloyalty in the armed forces, judiciary and civil service of an ­independent Scotland.

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This does not mean compromising the ­principles of independence or popular ­sovereignty. We should accept a Scottish ­monarchy only on the most limited, ­conditional, democratic, constitutional terms.

The Queen of Scots would not be “sovereign”. She would hold the public office of “Head of State”, with narrowly defined ceremonial ­functions, under a democratic constitution. That is how it was in Barbados, and how it is in the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Jamaica, and many other countries. The UK, in not having a written constitution, is the outlier.

“Becoming a Republic,” said Sir Ivor ­Jennings, “is a gesture”. Republicanism does not ­address the basic problem in Barbados’s current ­political system, which is the “winner-takes-all” dominance of the Government over ­Parliament and especially over the Opposition. This is ­exacerbated by the effects of the first-past-the-post system in a relatively small legislature, which can result in “clean sweep” elections, ­virtually wiping out the Opposition.

In the 2018 general election, the Barbados ­Labour Party won all 30 seats. The Prime ­Minister promptly appointed almost all of them to ministerial office, thereby eliminating the moderating “critical friend” influence of government backbenchers. One exception was Bishop Joseph Atherley, who resigned the whip, crossed the floor, and was appointed as Leader of the Opposition just so that, with his lone voice of dissent, some kind of democratic debate could continue.

A less visible constitutional reform ­programme for Barbados might include:

(a) replacing or modifying the first-past-the-post electoral system; (b) adopting a maximum ­number of Ministers; (c) increasing the ­number of Opposition and Independent Senators; and (d) changing the current rule whereby a vote of no confidence automatically results in a ­dissolution of Parliament, making it hard to ­remove a Prime Minister between elections.

Other changes worth considering, are ­introducing the “Bercow rule”, allowing the Speaker to summon the House at the ­request of a certain number of MPs, so that the ­Government cannot evade scrutiny, or giving stronger ­constitutional recognition to the ­procedural privileges of the Opposition in Parliament.

I am not suggesting these reforms should be adopted – I am not a citizen of ­Barbados and it is not my place to do so. I am ­simply ­demonstrating the difference between ­symbolism and ­substance. If you want to ­improve the ­functioning of parliamentary ­democracy, rather than just make a symbolic gesture, you must get into the gritty details.

Neither am I suggesting that the gesture is ­futile. As Napoleon is reputed to have said, “People are ruled by symbols”.

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Perhaps for Barbados it is a gesture whose time has come. Just as there are symbolic and identity-related reasons for an independent Scotland to keep the monarchy, there may also be symbolic and identity-related reasons for Barbados – now secure and mature in its ­independent identity – to ditch the monarchy and become a Republic.

THE President of Barbados is chosen by a cleverly designed process that should result in the election of a dignified, non-partisan figurehead. Indeed, in good Commonwealth tradition, the former Governor-General (a Dame of the Order of St Andrew, naturally) was elected as the first President. This change could be made easily, because the Constitution of Barbados already narrowly defines the scope and powers of the office.

That too, offers lessons for Scotland. If and when the time comes to “put away childish things” like crowns and baubles, we can look to Barbados as an example of how to make that change decently and in order.

Channel 4 broadcaster, Alex Thomson, is our TNT guest on Wednesday. Join us at 7pm on December 8 on IndyLive