This week columnist Mike Edwards, just back home from a visit to Switzerland, reflects on some of the lessons Scotland might learn from the Alpine experience.

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It was a journey, more a pilgrimage really, that I was supposed to undertake in 2020 to mark 30 years since I went to Switzerland to live.

But you-know-what got in the way, and I have just returned from 10 days there – a trip which coincided more with the anniversary of my departure than my arrival.

I lived in the capital, Bern, where I worked as a radio journalist with the world service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. It provided a fascinating but very steep learning curve. And the Swiss customs took a bit of getting used to.

I quickly became immune to the tutting from the waiting crowds as I blithely used pelican crossings with the red man flashing angrily, despite there being no traffic approaching from either direction. And coming home one night to find my bin bags emptied on my doorstep, because I’d put them out on the wrong day, caused me no little discomfort.

The Swiss capital, Bern

The Swiss capital, Bern

But what did it for me was inviting my neighbours to my flat-warming party, only for one of them to go home and phone me five minutes later to complain about the noise.

I quickly learned the mores. And while the pedantry would sometimes make you blush, the Swiss have many very good ideas. The President is in office for a year, before the title is passed to one of six colleagues – a system which Russia should have adopted to prevent Putin’s endless hegemony.

But what I like best about the Swiss system is that they have a referendum every quarter on important issues. In the next one, scheduled for May 15, people can decide if Switzerland should pay more for policing EU borders and whether consent for organ donation is presumed. Great idea.

The UK went to the polls on May 5 - but in Switzerland referenda are commonplace

The UK went to the polls on May 5 - but in Switzerland referenda are commonplace

Only last week we had local council elections across the UK. The SNP has increased the number of its seats in Argyll and Bute, and Labour has swept to power in West Dunbartonshire. It was a black day for the Conservatives all round and Northern Ireland is a whole new ball game.

Imagine if we didn’t have to wait five years for a general election to make changes. Imagine if we could do it quarterly.

How efficient would it be to vote on the controversial issues as and when they arise, rather than endure a government year after year?

Not urinating standing up, or flushing the toilet after 10pm because of the noise, may be rules too far. But the Swiss know a thing or two about checks and balances.