One of the perks of working internationally is seeing different countries and cultures, especially at weekends! At the moment, I can plug into the Swiss way of doing things, including the unique structure of the Swiss legal system.
As the name suggests, Confederation Helvetica (in case you’ve always wondered about the CH on Swiss car number plates!) is a federal legal system combined with local governance for cantons. The basic concepts of this structure have developed over centuries to cope with the challenges of governing a country of different languages, cultures, customs.
But in Switzerland, although technically the Cantons respect the Confederation, the most telling aspect is that in reality nothing happens at Confederation level without support from the Cantons. In fact the foundation of the Swiss system goes further than this because below the Canton level, it’s actually the citizens who have rights of direct democracy that voters in other countries can only dream of. Citizens in Switerland can directly implement law and even block legislation passed by the Swiss parliament.
This direct demoncracy is Switzerland’s “holy cow” and is one of the most commmon arguments used by opponents of further EU integration, ever since the Swiss citizens voted in 1992 not to join the EU: the other side of the same coin is the lack of control over politics and politicians that EU citizens often complain about.
The isolationist message coming from certain parts of the Scottish political elite gazing up to the Eiger as a blueprint of how UK/EU independence can work is misguided. In fact Switzerland is better viewed as an example of how well integration works. Irrespective of whether it votes Yes or No on Thursday, the “new” Scotland could do worse than look to Switzerland , not as an example of how to stand alone, but as an example of how federal integration (either with UK or EU) can co-exist alongside local political power.
If there is an undisputed overriding positive outcome from the Scottish referendum campaign it is that direct democracy for citizens engages the public imagination in politics in a way not seen before in the X Factor generation. This is something that Scotland should retain and promote regardless of the decision next Thursday.