Our constitution: beyond yes or no

I don’t know how I’m going to vote in autumn 2014. And so far, neither campaign has impressed me. I don’t trust Alex Salmond: I don’t trust Alistair Darling. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know why. I don’t trust the Conservatives or their faithful puppy-pack of LibDems: I’m not a nationalist, either for the UK or for Scotland. I’m not sold on flag-waving, and I don’t think I’m particularly patriotic.

But the SNP have a democratic mandate to hold a referendum on independence in autumn 2014 and I’ve never stepped back from voting in an election in my entire life – I’ve never spoiled a ballot, though I’ve been tempted more than once: I’ve always tried to figure out who I want to vote for, or at least, who I want to vote against.

And this is a big thing and I kind of envy the people who have made up their minds, who know which way they’re going to vote, and who can campaign wholeheartedly for their chosen cause – are we staying in the UK, are we going to become independent – without the host of doubts I have about either answer.

(I’m unalterably opposed to devomax / devoplus, by the way, and quite prepared to campaign wholeheartedly against that.)

Yes Scotland:

“We unite behind a declaration of self-evident truth: the people who live in Scotland are best placed to make the decisions that affect Scotland.” Alex Salmond, 25th May

Better Together:

“If we decide to leave the United Kingdom, there is no way back. It is like asking us to buy a one-way ticket to send our children to a deeply uncertain destination…” Alistair Darling, 25th June

I agree with both of them.

That’s my problem.

On Thursday night I went to A state fit for the 21st Century, organised by the Constitutional Commission, sponsored by Marco Biagi (who unfortunately couldn’t make it that evening) and for the first time in six months found myself in a roomful of people who were talking about independence and devolution and Scotland in a way I could agree with. I’ve been trying to listen to various politicians around the issue and frankly I find most of them unbearable (Patrick Harvie one honourable exception).

The panel was great. I was genuinely impressed that when it was pointed out to the Constitutional Commission that they had a diversity audit problem – the original panel had six men and one women – they didn’t faff around and they didn’t say “oh well, we’ll do better next time, promise!” – they changed the panel.

  • Lesley Riddoch: Writer and broadcaster
  • Patrick Harvie: Co-convener Scottish Green Party
  • Elliot Bulmer: Author of A Model Constitution for Scotland: Making Democracy Work in an Independent State
  • Sally Foster Fulton: Convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council.
  • Kate Higgins: Blogger, campaigner & commentator on Scottish social justice issues;
  • Ross Martin: Policy Director at Centre for Scottish Public Policy
  • Willie Sullivan: Scottish Director of Electoral Reform Society.(speaking in a personal capacity)

I’m sure the two men who agreed to stand down would have been good too. But we’d have missed hearing from Sally Foster Fulton, who spoke trenchantly about the need for social justice, and Kate Higgins, who was a perfect counterbalance to Elliot Bulmer – Bulmer our necessary groundwork, demanding we pin the government’s powers down with a framework of steel and no wiggle room, Higgens our aspirational towerbuilder.

Ideally:

A constitution guarantees our rights in a way that trumps the government of the day and overrides the whim of the judiciary. A constitution says what we are and who we are. Of all the developed countries in the world, only Israel, New Zealand, and the UK have no written constitution at all.

Whether we vote yes or no in autumn 2014, I want a constitution for Scotland.

As many at the event on Thursday night were saying enthusiastically, this would be great for “Yes Scotland” – it could take away Alistair Darling’s very valid objection that this is a step into the unknown. (Not so great for the SNP, or for Alex Salmond: see me weep over that.)

But the majority of people in Scotland, at every poll, say they plan to vote No.

(Probably. I think Salmond may be counting on the Tories getting worse and worse until autumn 2014 has a majority just so disgusted with Tory rule and feeble Labour opposition that they decide to vote Yes just to kick the rascals out forever. It is an awfully tempting prospect, I’ll admit. The problem is the rascals we could then be landed with – there’s no guarantee an independent Scotland would do better, if we just vote Yes and then the Scottish Parliament reigns as supreme as the Westminster Parliament. But I digress.)

Planning to vote “No”, does not make anyone any less Scottish, and shame on any Yes-campaigners who try to say it does.

A Scottish constitution could become the accepted framework of policy in a devolved Scotland. It could also become the national constitution of an independent Scotland. But either way, I think this is worthwhile object to work for.

To make a statement: this is who we are and what we are. These are our values and our principles. This is how we believe Scotland is and shall be. In our 400 year history as part of the United Kingdom, we remain Scotland – not North Britain.

Through July, I plan to blog using an excellent summary that I think I owe to Elliot Bulmer, whose book I have got to read: the minimum basic content and other possible considerations. That’s about 31 points to cover, so one a day, with the hashtag SCC21st.

I’d started a survey asking people to contribute their ideas for a Constitution for Scotland, and I hope you can be persuaded to take the survey, if nothing else.

Because I also agreed with a comment made by Helene Witcher:

Thanks for running this worthwhile event highlighting the complexity of both the constitutional issues and the strongly held views that surround them. Given that the CC was hosting/chairing the event, I would have valued a concise summing up from the chair with an indication of possible next steps. As it was, we heard support in principle for ‘a roadshow’ and litle else. Given the speakers (some of whom spoke very well indeed), most could/should have been urged to offer more than just a verbal ‘okay’ to the roadshow idea but to commit something of their own contacts/organisations to support a consultation/process of involvement. This would have established a basis that could be built upon. One enthusiastic attendee asked for ‘a plan’. The paucity of responses was telling … its pretty clear that noone has thought much about this apart perhaps from Elliot (haven’t read the book yet) with what appears to be a pragmatic approach to a potentially imminent challenge.

So, overall … well done, making a start. What’s next?

There’s no funding for this. There won’t be, unless people start putting it together themselves. I’d like to see Open Space events happening across Scotland, as people crowdsource their ideas for a constitution, and have this brought together for a Constitutional Convention. Where do we get the money for this? How do we convince people to take pert?

I don’t have answers. Yet. Let’s find out.

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29 Comments

Filed under Scottish Constitution, Scottish Culture, Scottish Politics

29 responses to “Our constitution: beyond yes or no

  1. Is it conceivable that a Scottish Constitution could be developed and put in place without independence? The Scottish parliament and courts may respect it, but surely Westminster would never agree to?

  2. Really enjoyed reading this – I am also undecided about the vote at the moment for a host of reasons. I wrote a piece for another site explaining my current stance last month which you might like to see: http://wingsland.podgamer.com/weekend-guest-view-from-the-fence/

  3. Peter A Bell

    “Planning to vote “No”, does not make anyone any less Scottish, and shame on any Yes-campaigners who try to say it does.”

    You assiduously disregard the fact that it is the NO campaign which has been banging on about “Real Scots”.

  4. Peter A Bell

    “But the SNP have a democratic mandate to hold a referendum on independence in autumn 2014 and I’ve never stepped back from voting in an election in my entire life…”

    It’s a referendum. It is NOT an election. The difference is massively significant. And yet you appear blithely unaware of it.

  5. Peter A Bell

    “Whether we vote yes or no in autumn 2014, I want a constitution for Scotland.”

    This is beyond mere nonsense! A constitution is only meaningful in the context of a sovereign state. Otherwise, the first article would have to state that none of the following might in any way limit or constrain the supreme authority of the British Parliament. Who in their right mind is going to sign up to something like that?

    • Actually, one of the interesting parallels to our current situation – where we may or may not become an independent nation in 2016 – is the history of Norway and its constitution. Norway had a constitution for over ninety years before it became independent. There’s a Wikipedian summary which looks fairly reliable.

      The question is, as I’ve often wondered with you, Peter, if you are actually interested in persuading the undecided and reaching comity with those who plan to vote “No”, or only hectoring and abusing those who do not agree with you. The latter all too often appears to be your first preference, and I have to say, if your goal is to convince me I should vote “No”, you are going very much the right way about it.

      • Peter A Bell

        I often wonder with you if you have any response other than whining about imagined “abuse” and threats to vote “NO” every time somebody challenges your ill-thought assertions.

        If you choose to assert that a constitution might be meaningful without independence then it is for you to demonstrate this to be so. Just as an example of the very real problems you face should you ever get around to actually thinking about this, we can take the issue of nuclear weapons. It is entirely possible, even probable, that a written constitution would include provisions prohibiting any government from developing, obtaining, or permitting the stockpiling of WMD in Scotland. Such provisions would be totally ineffectual while the supremacy of the British state still obtained.

        It’s head out of arse time! Independence is the ONLY way to ensure that we have the power to implement a new constitution. To maintain otherwise is just dishonest.

  6. Peter A Bell

    “Not so great for the SNP, or for Alex Salmond: see me weep over that.”

    This kind of rhetoric illustrates the ample justification for my misgivings about your Constitutional Convention. If there is one fundamental attribute that such a body must have it is surely that it is explicitly and unquestionably non-partisan. With you as spokesperson the group must inevitably be perceived as yet another vehicle for anti-SNP propaganda.

    • If there is one fundamental attribute that such a body must have it is surely that it is explicitly and unquestionably non-partisan.

      I agree. Ideally, a Constitutional Convention should annoy politicians and power-seekers of all parties: it should display no partisan loyalty to any.

      • Peter A Bell

        Then you epitomise the failure of this requirement. Whether you like it or not, here in the real world the SNP are the agents of constitutional reform. The independence movement may be much wider. And the desire for reform short of independence wider still. But the SNP is at the core of both. It’s very simple. No SNP! No change!

        Regardless whether you favour independence or one of the myriad flavours of devo, Undermining the SNP with petty, pointless sniping is counter-productive. We know it is counter-productive not least because it is the favoured tactic of those who seek to prevent any change at all.

        And before you launch the all-too-predictable rant, this DOES NOT mean avoiding all criticism of the SNP. Honest, informed and, hopefully, constructive criticism of policy is perfectly valid and even helpful. But, at this stage in the process, malicious attacks intended to do no more than impugn the integrity of the party and/or its leadership with innuendo and baseless smears can have no purpose other than to hinder the fight for a better Scotland.

        • Well, it’s interesting that you believe this, Peter, but I no more agree with you than I agree with anyone who thinks their party should be immune from criticism.

  7. fourfolksache

    All very good but I cannot understand how anyone can believe managing Scotland totally through Holyrood could be worse than Westminster?
    I have no doubt that a Scottish Constitution v no UK Constitution can only be better but even if we had none it couldn’t be worse. And saying I don’t like Alex Salmond is irrelevant – again as irrelevant as saying I don’t like Cameron. It’ll be a cold day in Hell before Scotland elects a Tory government?
    And you seem to forget we have PR – Westminster doesn’t! In an independent Scotland you would have at least four parties who represent Scotland – not one!

    • All very good but I cannot understand how anyone can believe managing Scotland totally through Holyrood could be worse than Westminster?

      We currently have very strong equality legislation in Scotland, but it has mostly been accomplished via the Scotland Act or via Westminster. In an independent Scotland this would no longer apply. So yes, we could easily find ourselves slipping backwards – I’m cynical about that. Our rights should be protected: I don’t trust politicians.

      • Peter A Bell

        By what process might current legislation disappear from the statute books with independence?

        • I’m sorry: you didn’t realise that a Parliament can repeal as well as pass laws?

          • Peter A Bell

            Why would the Scottish Parliament repeal legislation it has already passed? What REASON is there to suppose that this would happen? Note the word, “REASON”.

          • Why would the Scottish Parliament repeal legislation [the Westminister Parliament] has already passed?

            *helpful correction* The Equality Act 2010 was passed by Westminister, not by Holyrood. So was the Civil Partnership Act and the Gender Recognition Act and the Scotland Act.

            Why would Tony Blair go to war with Iraq? Why would John Major privatise the railways? Why would Margaret Thatcher end student grants? Why would David Cameron put a £26,000 cap on benefits? Why would Cameron and Clegg support abolishing DLA?

            I’ve unapproved a couple of your comments that were just one-line insults: do feel free to comment at more length and with more thought.

          • Peter A Bell

            The censorship was not unexpected.

          • For some reason, people who take to insults instead of reasoned dissent are always quick to complain, when their insults are deleted, that this is “censorship”.

    • It’ll be a cold day in Hell before Scotland elects a Tory government?

      1955-1959: cold days in hell?

      It’s happened in living memory that a majority of MPs from Scotland were Tory. The horrible memory of the Thatcher years is a strong bulwark against Tory rule. But there will be people old enough to vote in 2014 who don’t remember the 1997 referendum for a Scottish Parliament: there will be voters in the SP5 election in 2016 who weren’t yet conceived when John Major was still Prime Minister. Is David Cameron creating a new bulwark of memory strong enough to discourage Scots in particular from ever voting Tory again – or only convincing us that there’s a problem with uber-rich Etonian Bullingdon-Club Tories? (Say what you like about Thatcher, she at least wasn’t full of Bullingdon Club privilege.)

      Would Scotland be as strongly anti-Tory if the Home Counties didn’t keep voting in Tory governments at Westminister?

  8. > On Thursday night I went to A state fit for the 21st Century, organised by the Constitutional Commission

    I had a feeling you might have been there. You weren’t by any chance wearing a blue dress were you?

    My blog post on the subject is still brewing.

    • I had a feeling you might have been there. You weren’t by any chance wearing a blue dress were you?

      No. :D

      Do comment here with a link to your blog post when you get it written – I’d like to see it.

  9. Our future in the the UK is a great deal more uncertain than Independence could ever be. The amusing thing is that the Yes campaign is actually seeking to preserve some of the achievements of the post war UK – so rapidly being dismantled south of the border.

    We need a constitution and ideally need to get started on it before the referendum – or set out a clear process for adopting a constitution in the immediate aftermath of a Yes vote – see Michael Granados excellent suggestion made on the Constitutional Convention Members & Supporters facebook page after the meeting on 28th. Worth a look.
    I see no reason why the existing Scottish Parliament could not adopt a constitution, and all it would require to give it legal force would be for Westminster to give a Section 30 order. Westminster won’t do that of course as it would expose their ‘unwritten constitution’ for the undemocratic fig leaf that it is.

    PS anent your comment “Planning to vote “No”, does not make anyone any less Scottish, and shame on any Yes-campaigners who try to say it does.” Indeed – but have any Yes-campaigners actually said any such thing??? The press saying they have is not the same as this actually happening!

    • We need a constitution and ideally need to get started on it before the referendum

      Certainly I hope no one would vote for independence unless there was a constitution. The current plan I gather is that the SNP think they can set Independence Day 16 months after the referendum date if they win.

      see Michael Granados excellent suggestion made on the Constitutional Convention Members & Supporters facebook page after the meeting on 28th. Worth a look.

      Certainly, you should post a link to it.

      I see no reason why the existing Scottish Parliament could not adopt a constitution, and all it would require to give it legal force would be for Westminster to give a Section 30 order. Westminster won’t do that of course as it would expose their ‘unwritten constitution’ for the undemocratic fig leaf that it is.

      I think the solution to a constitution if “No” won would be to have a unionist amendment – I’m not a lawyer and wouldn’t know how to draft it, but

      PS anent your comment “Planning to vote “No”, does not make anyone any less Scottish, and shame on any Yes-campaigners who try to say it does.” Indeed – but have any Yes-campaigners actually said any such thing??? The press saying they have is not the same as this actually happening!

      I’ve certainly had a bunch of abusive comments made to and about me whenever I criticise the SNP, Alex Salmond, or the Yes Scotland campaign. It seems to me that there’s a section of supporters for Yes Scotland that doesn’t seem very interested in listening to anyone who’s not already in the circle, and who aren’t ever quashed by the more-reasonable supporters. How large that proportion is, I don’t know. Certainly the attitude from “Yes Scotland” seems to be that it’s only really Scottish to be for independence – that wanting to be for devolution makes you a “unionist”.

  10. Discussion begun by Mike Granados is at

    http://www.facebook.com/groups/27154940835/permalink/10150881425480836/
    and also see Mike’s post (can’t get it to link for some reason) on
    http://www.facebook.com/groups/27154940835/
    and which says:
    Mike Granados
    “A suggestion for a plan.
    I would like to propose that within 30 days after a yes vote in the Independence Referendum that a constitutional convention be convened for the purpose of drafting a Scottish Constitution.
    I propose that 100 delegates be drafted at random from across Scotland. That they be equally split by gender, age and economic backgrounds and that they represent all the regions of Scotland. Serving politicians or incarcerated criminals would be disqualified.
    Delegates should be selected by the Scottish Courts in a manner similar to a jury as the courts are long established, non-political and a generally trusted organ of government.
    In addition to Delegates there should be a pool of constitutional scholars appointed by the Scottish Parliament to advise the delegates but who would have no vote. Further, there should be a Convener and a team of assistants also appointed by the Scottish Parliament to organize and document the proceedings of the convention and who would also have no vote.
    The Convention should sit for no more than 30 days to draft the document. The proposed constitution should then be returned to the Scottish Parliament who would submit it to the people in a referendum to take place within 30 days. (Sometime in January 2015)
    Thus the first Elections in 2015 for the new Scottish State would be carried out under the new Scottish Constitution.”

  11. Pingback: Towards a Scottish Constitution « Better Nation

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