A Clyde-Built Constitution for Scotland

David Younger

I attended the launch of a Clyde-built Scottish Constitution recently in Glasgow. Althogh the attendance was disappointing it was perhaps not surprising. There is a general feeling among supporters of the drive for independence that the constitution can be dealt with after independence – an opinion which, until then, I shared.

The presentation by Mark McNaught made a compelling case for the adoption of a Scottish constitution – and at the earliest opportunity.

Let us consider the current situation. Only three countries in the world (four, if you prefer to think of Scotland as a separate country) do not have a written constitution. Every other developed country does and, the rights of citizens to be protected from the excesses of their governments and their rights and freedoms are codified. We have no such contract with our state and this imperils our rights as citizens..

There are also more serious long-term consequences for the overall functioning of the state. The number of times the UK government has been taken to court over various actions it has taken – and lost – is staggering. But what happens as a consequence? The government changes the law to make the action in question legal. Job done. And any plans put in place by this government can be overturned by the next one. This gives us patchwork legislation, laws which are passed only when there is an immediate need for them, and passed often without sufficient parliamentary scrutiny or consideration for the knock-on consequences, while existing legislation – often archaic – simply lies on the statute books.

One of the more toxic consequences is a positively paranoid obsession with the concentration of power. Thus, with no constitutional guarantees, the powers of local authorities have been stripped to the point where there is in my view no longer any meaningful local democracy.

In light of this obsession with power, it is perhaps inevitable that the UK government would want to remove itself from the EU. But Scotland doesn’t. Three quarters of us want to stay and many of us look to our own government to make that happen. The conflict comes to a head shortly.

So why do we need a constitution now, rather than at some time following independence?

Professor McNaught has made, in my view, an incontrovertible case for now rather than later. In the first place, we need a baseline protection for our right to self-determination including free elections without outside interference. This would make the process of holding a referendum considerably easier. Also, there are concerns on the part of supporters of the union – many of them “soft” supporters. These include suspicions that the SNP are trying to create a single-party state, and that old chestnut, pensions. In short, too many people want to stay with the devil they know rather than take a chance with the devil they don’t know. With no written constitution, people are no more confident of their place in an independent Scotland than they are now. Supporters of independence should not dismiss these concerns lightly – they matter deeply to those who hold them. If effectively addressed, their votes in favour of independence are what will take us comfortably over the finishing line. Constitutionally guaranteed rights can go a very long way toward creating confidence and ultimately support. In effect, having a baseline constitution in place can greatly aid our campaign in what promises to be a very messy battle ahead.

For those who still think that the constitution can wait until after independence – that it has no value in the present campaign – there is a further matter to consider. When Scotland becomes an independent country and does so without a written constitution, we become vulnerable to outside interests, corporate in particular, which can subvert or derail our attempt to create the state that we want for ourselves. Currently we have considerable protection in the EU but, even if we continue our membership seamlessly after independence, we are still only protected under EU-wide legislation which covers only fifteen percent of all legislative areas. Furthermore, that protection is only courtesy of the constitutions of other member states. We need our own constitutional authority to be in place on the day of independence in order to maintain our freedom to design the country we want to live in.

Professor McNaught has carried out a huge amount of work so far but the constitution is not something to be handed down from on high. It is the will, the rights and the aspirations of the people of Scotland – a sort of instruction manual, if you like. With that in mind, we are asking everyone to become users on the scottishconstitution.com website, propose amendments, raise individual concerns and to comment on any specific matter which they have an interest in, to literally help develop the law. I implore everyone to get involved, you don’t need expertise and all comments and submissions are given equal consideration. The end result will define the kind of nation you and I want to live in and bring up our families. It is the key to our future.

The principal question now is how we encourage the Scottish government to unambiguously adopt this constitutional platform, so it becomes THE governing structure in an independent Scotland. Like other Scots, elected officials have never lived under a codified constitution and so, few appreciate its value and power. However, all can be convinced if the right arguments are advanced. Your job as citizens in a democracy is to read and understand the constitution and the rights it confers and contact your MSPs, speak with them and convince them of its importance for the future of Scotland. This will also help to bench test the democratic mechanisms that will make this constitution function.

Time is short. Please visit the site, add your own comments as you wish. Express your own concerns. And, please contact your MP,MSP and any party activists that you know.

Spread the word!

http://www.scottishconstitution.com

http://sif.scot

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6 thoughts on “A Clyde-Built Constitution for Scotland

  1. Brian Watson

    Keep up the good work , the need for a written constitution will make its way up the political agenda as more Scots appreciate that an unwritten constitution is a contradiction in terms , an undemocratic ” charter ” for despotic rule .

  2. Alasdair Macdonald

    The article, like that in Bella by Mr Mike Small begins with a mild rebuke to others of us for not attending the event. How well was the event publicised and was it at a place and time which were suitable for people to have other commitments, such as work.

    That said, I thank Mr Younger and Mr Small for making this information available, post hoc and enabling people to sign up to the newsletter.

    The Brexit fiasco and the cancellation of the planned vote on Tuesday is an example of the way the UK constitution is ‘made up as it goes along’ to suit the short term needs of the executive. The Supreme Court ruling is another example of how the Scotland Act, and devolution, is, in the words of Mr Enoch Powell: “power devolved is power retained.” As well as that, we had a classic example of ‘making up the constitution as it goes along’ in that while the Scottish Continuity Bill was with the Supreme Court, the UK Government changed the law, as Lady Hale pointed out, thus rendering parts of the Scottish Parliament Bill which, at the time of the vote, were within its powers, but, by the time of her judgment were not.

    It is interesting how little reporting of this has been in the metropolitan media and in those organs of ‘progressive’ thought, like the New Statesman and The Guardian.

    Since Labour in Scotland supported the SP vote, I await with bated breath what ‘influence’ this will have with dirigistes like Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell. Since Mr McDonnell as recently as last week spoke of such things as ‘adistraction’, I think we know the answer.

    1. Contrary

      When I saw the headline, I did think, good, Clydebuilt has put together his constitution ideas, it should be short and to the point,,,

      Bah, but it’s in name only. Long winded and laborious like the others being bandied about, and with Edinburgh as the capital still, it should be Perth, far more central & inclusive.

      Apart from that whine, I agree we need a written constitution, and Mark has convinced me it is urgent – seems like a good idea to get it ready before any constitutional decisions.

      I am sure it would garner more interest if it was a big less verbose – shorter intro, simple instructions and link to the consultation part – basic headlines to each section with link to detailed info etc. The web pages are a bit of a lesson in how to put people off.

      Anyway, I do appreciate the work involved in organising and developing this and will get involved, when I can give it my full attention. Just wish Clydebuilt had written it.

  3. grizebard

    This attempt is a complex dog’s breakfast of do-good political ideas, a vast concoction of well-meaning fluff. If ever enacted, it would turn Scotland into a lawyers’ paradise.

    A written constitution is very desirable, but this approach is fundamentally misconstrued; a constitution can’t be formed as a giant wish-list like this. The point of a constitution is not to lock-in a particular political viewpoint, but to guarantee the basic elements of citizen’s rights and responsibilities. A fundamental contract between the government – any government freely elected with a mandate for its political platform – and the citizen.

    Adding specifics is a mistake, as evidenced eg. by the 2nd Amendment of the US constution, the one about guns. In a democracy, a constitution is not about setting prior limitations on political activity; that flexibility is rightly due to elected government needing to deal properly with unenvisionable future circumstances. Look eg. at the rigidity of the Spanish constitution in dealing with the Catalan independence question.

    It is no coincidence that the German word for constitution is Grundgesetz, “basic law”. In the case of constitutions even more than elsewhere in life, less is more.

  4. Robert P Ingram

    A written Constitution is the fundamental law of the nation. It is superior to Acts passed by Parliament as it requires to be authorised by the People.

    In Scotland since the Declaration of Arbroath it has been an accepted constitutional principle that the People are the supreme sovereign authority in the land. This is different from England where the queen in Parliament is the accepted authority and there is no written authority to define the powers of the state and the rights of the People.

    The Centre for Scottish Constitutional Studies have drafted a Provisional Constitution that is now ready for public debate. The drafted guide is a document compiled by a group of 22 working and retired persons from all over Scotland. However the cost of funding a secure internet debate is a hurdle to be overcome.

    The proposed Guide to a Provisional Constitution can be read on the website at http://www.scottishconstitution.scot and initial queries and offers to assist can be made at info@scottishconstitution.scot

    Join us and lets get started to set out the style of government system that we want when be become Independent.

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