Since the end of the summer, a handful of Scottish activists have marched across the country to promote the country's independence and a blockchain-based voting system. Report.
Along a asphalt and wet road, surrounded by green hills, Pedro Mendez stops to turn on his smartphone. We are somewhere between Crianlarich and Tyndrum, two villages located in the heart of Scotland. Accompanied by his comrade Fiona Campbell, the blue flag with a white cross on his shoulder, the independence activist begins a live on Facebook. On the participatory page Independence Live , he tells his journey to Internet users.
Like them, a handful of activists launched in early September in a march across the country, called "The long walk for freedom". The goal ? Promote the independence of Scotland by reaching out to the citizens of the island. But above all, to sign the digital covenant : a document proclaiming the right to self-determination of Scottish citizens and the need for a profound reform of the constitution. Inspired by a founding text dating from the 1940s , this initiative is now based on blockchain , this ultra-secure method of transmitting and storing information , used in particular for the Bitcoin cryptocurrency.
YES, IT IS TIME
NO, IT WILL NEVER WORK
A few cables away, Dave Llewelyn, cigarette in his mouth, awaits his companions Pedro and Fiona by the side of the road. Wounded in the leg, he now follows them behind the wheel of a black SUV. "I'm doing it for future generations , " sums up this former biologist, well known to local activists. Like him, tens of thousands of Scots still fervently support the country's independence, despite the “no” victory in the 2014 referendum . It is because, in recent months, the movement seems to be gaining momentum again.
Six years after a categorical "no", the pandemic and Brexit could thus precipitate the organization of a new referendum. And the "yes" to leaving the United Kingdom continues to rise in the polls, even recently reaching the score of 58%. Polls relayed by pro-independence media such as The National newspaper or the ruling party, the SNP, which galvanize the troops in the service of this form of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Boris Johnson's government is trying to counter the trend, fearing the outcome of the 2021 parliamentary elections and refusing to hold a new referendum. Without much success. The now very popular Scottish Prime Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who has constantly challenged her English counterpart in her management of the health crisis , is already seeing her party win the day. His promise: to establish plans for a new election by spring 2021.
“I have always been active in the idea of an independent Scotland. Anything that can put it forward is good to take. "
In the meantime, popular movements and initiatives such as the “long walk for freedom” are active across the country. It was from Eilean Donan's castle that the team of Diane, Peter and Dave set off. On the program: three routes of 800, 1,100 and 2,000 kilometers through the Highlands, passing through Glasgow and Edinburgh. Arrival scheduled for late November, at the Anglo-Scottish border.
During their journey, the walkers engage in conversation with as many citizens as possible, in order to collect enough signatures before, subsequently, delivering the text to the Scottish authorities, like a political wish emanating directly from the people. “I have always been active in the idea of an independent Scotland ,” explains Pedro Mendez. Anything that can put it forward is good to take. " This initiative must also, in time, become a platform for paperless and secure voting to debate, vote and discuss social issues. In short, a democratic tool in its own right.
If the idea seems attractive, in fact, the project faces multiple obstacles. First because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions in force. Difficulties in getting around, social distancing measures, closure of pubs ... If the walkers are regularly greeted along their journey , if they meet many activists here and there outside, the mobilization remains far below expectations: less than ten people finally embarked on this journey. This is the case of Diane Mathieson and Iain Leckenby. Met in mid-November in front of Edinburgh Castle, this young entrepreneur believes that " you have to find the right balance Between respecting the sanitary measures in force and engaging in conversation with the various communities of the country. A complicated exercise.
Admittedly, the initiative received the support of the former Prime Minister Alex Salmond (recently indicted for sexual harassment ) but without receiving real media coverage. As for signatures, the current figure is stagnating at a few thousand, far from the two million expected.
A striking contrast to the atmosphere of 2018. Because The long walk for freedom has in a way already taken place, two years earlier, under the name "500 miles". The idea, at the time, was already to walk across the country to seek the opinion of the Scots, to know if they wanted such a democratic system. The success of the initiative then prompted activists to build their own blockchain, inspired in particular by the Estonian model , a pioneer in the field.
But before being fully functional, blockchain democracy as a whole must face a major challenge, that of trust. In his Blockchain and democracy study , published in 2019, Péter Racskó examines the limits of this model: “This technology has the potential to develop a safe, reliable and inexpensive voting system, but there are many theoretical and practical questions that must be treated ”.
For the researcher at Corvinus University in Budapest, the main question is that of consensus protocol . In other words, who controls the system and how will the community trust them? And above all, what legal framework to frame it, knowing that the blockchain does not have one strictly speaking. “ All those who defend such a voting tool find themselves with the same problem: how will this consensus be enshrined in law? » Finally, as for traditional voting, there are questions of identity verification or participation procedures.
Questions that the digital covenant does not escape . Nicholas Russell is one of the activists who helped create it. On his blog and on Facebook, he says that this “perfect” blockchain was created by two coders, Derek McLean and Peter Steel, and faces the doubts of some Internet users. Contacted on Twitter , he acknowledges the lack of membership in the project: “The Scots are at the very least hesitant to submit their identity papers [necessary to sign the text, note] . That may change if the project gains notoriety. "
Whatever, these hundreds of kilometers covered already offer Scottish walkers an air bubble, an opportunity to surpass themselves. Mother of an autistic boy, Fiona Campbell takes advantage of this adventure to escape a stifling year. This adventure allows him, like the others, to forge links, to establish a dialogue. For Diane Mathieson, an employee of a charity organization, it is above all a matter of promoting the idea of direct democracy: “The system no longer works, we want to change it. We want people to join us and come up with solutions . Many don't seem to realize how much power they have. "