SOVEREIGNTY is a big word, much used and abused in modern times. It is there in the debate on Brexit and assertion of parliamentary sovereignty; it is evident in the independence question and Scotland’s right to decide its own future. And it can be found in stark black and white terms in the right of the Ukrainian people to resist Russian aggression and choose the kind of country they want to live in.

The word sovereignty is clearly open to competing interpretations. This has consequences for how Scotland decides its collective future and its relationship to the tradition of parliamentary sovereignty. But this also has ramifications for power, authority and legitimacy within Scotland that has the potential to open up this debate.

The English tradition of parliamentary sovereignty has increasing become fetishised, having become a quasi-religion for Brexiteers. “Talking Back Control” became returning power to the Westminster leviathan to rule over all of us – and to tell us in no uncertain terms what we should do.

This version of sovereignty is what George Orwell biographer and political scientist Bernard Crick called “the English ideology” – an absolutist, undiluted, inflexible version of parliamentary sovereignty.

Crick noted that this had long been a distinct strand in English political thought and had played a major part in two of the biggest disasters of the British state – the loss of the American Colonies in the War of Independence and the independence of Ireland. He believed that these were the product of an imperial arrogance and absolutism, and took the view from the late 1980s onwards, that if the UK state showed the same dogmatism towards Scotland it would result in a similar humiliation.

Scotland’s right to decide its own future puts itself in opposition to this tradition. It makes what was rightly called by Walter Bagehot in the 19th century “the English constitution” (a phrase reinvoked by the 1980s A Claim of Right for Scotland) one of the main obstacles in how self-determination is expressed. And it does so saying not only is parliamentary sovereignty not a Scottish tradition, but we can draw on an alternative: popular sovereignty.

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Popular sovereignty, as most readers will know, has a long lineage in Scotland. It can be traced back to the Declaration of Arbroath, to the idea of Scotland as a community of the realm, and in the notion (even in medieval times) that kings and queens had a different authority to England, based in the people. Much of this has contains elements of mythology and folklore, and has never been subject to formal or legal interpretation, despite the famous 1953 judgement of John MacCormick versus Lord Advocate. It is part of what makes up Scotland; and underlines that parliamentary sovereignty is not about us.

Too much of our debate poses that the democratic challenges we face are caused by external constraints, by Crick’s “English ideology”, and the absolutism of the British state. It does not look at the positive and the potential we have to use our traditions and myths to renew and revitalise our democracy.

Sovereignty is not just about what nation-states do in relation to each other and about the big questions of Scottish independence, and who decides on how we decide. It is about how Scotland organises and governs itself, and how power is dispersed (or not) within Scotland.

The SNP like to claim that they are modern sovereigntists who are comfortable – unlike those clinging to parliamentary sovereignty – with a more fluid, shared, pooled idea of power. If this were taken to its logical conclusion, such an idea would have consequences not just on independence, but on how sovereignty is expressed within Scotland.

Rather than focusing narrowly on the Scottish Parliament becoming the sovereign Parliament of a sovereign Scotland, we should look at a wider, deeper canvas of what self-government means.

This would entail a shared, pooled, dispersed version of sovereignty which cascaded power throughout Scotland, rather than hoarding it to Edinburgh as our own mini-Westminster. We would empower local democracy, local communities, community organisations and encourage a culture where citizens could question power and have influence.

Some independence supporters will say all this is fine and well, but such brave experiments have to wait until after independence. This is a mistake. It shoehorns Scottish democracy into the transfer of power from Westminster to Holyrood, and ignores the need to start talking now about the limits of centralisation and problems of the concentration of power. Championing a politics of popular sovereignty now in Scotland does several things. It addresses concerns many have about the lack of democracy in too much of public life, and the “Holyrood knows best” attitude, which has characterised devolution and the SNP in office.

It draws from a deep well of Scottish political tradition and brings it into the modern age. Imagine a Scotland whereby popular sovereignty was defined as the fount of political authority and power. It would be a nation with a vivid mosaic of local democracy. It would have public services genuinely accountable to the public, not ministers. And it would be a land where citizens had the right of redress against institutions.

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Fundamentally, a Scotland of popular sovereignty would be a country which took the abstractions of big concepts like sovereignty, self-government and independence, and made them part of everyday life.

It would partly address one of the biggest concerns some voters have about independence – that it’s fine as a principle, but what is its relevance to daily life? Not only that, it would assuage the growing concerns many have, including independence supporters, about the cumulative centralisation which has occurred under the SNP so far, which could many voters fear continue apace in an independent Scotland.

Such a clarion call and shift in power in our country from the political centre, officials and the professional class, makes self-government real. It draws from a rich Scottish political tradition and has the added plus of being in contrast to parliamentary sovereignty and the absolutism of the British state.

We could, in advancing it, utilise another tradition and conceive decentralising power within Scotland via a new Claim of Right for Scotland. All of this would be daring and bold, relevant to the challenges democracy and government face in the modern world. The question is: are the Holyrood political class, and SNP and Greens in particular, up for letting go – and aiding the empowerment of people?