Our constitution, July 2012: Treaties and war

Carl Sagan, Cosmos, 1980: War is murder writ large.

“Parliamentary control of treaties and war-making power, etc”

Today, a Higgs boson particle was discovered – a scientific discovery that confirms the Standard Model physics uses to explain the structure of the universe, first proposed by Peter Higgs of Edinburgh University. This is a great day, and not one I would have wanted to use to discuss treaties and war.

Carl Sagan, Cosmos, 1980

There is no other species on the Earth that does science. It is, so far, entirely a human invention, evolved by natural selection in the cerebral cortex for one simple reason: it works. It is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool. But it is by far the best tool we have, self-correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything. It has two rules. First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined; arguments from authority are worthless. Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised. We must understand the Cosmos as it is and not confuse how it is with how we wish it to be.


Parliamentary control of treaties and wars with other nations is an aspect of the Scottish constitution which would have precisely zero effect in a devolved Scotland. I could point at the four purposes of the UN, and say that I believe the Scottish Constitution should be committed to the pacific resolution of disputes … but that is what the UK is supposed to have signed up to: that is why Tony Blair had to push claims that Iraq had WMD and justify the 2003 war as merely a continuance of the 1990 Gulf War.

Today in 1776 the Declaration of Independence was ratified. Eleven years later the US Constitution was signed, on 17th September 1787. Now admittedly they had a war to fight, and Scotland won’t, but I think we can agree 11 years is too long to wait before having a government.

The only certain thing decided is that we will have a referendum on independence in autumn 2014, and if “Yes” wins (polling at the moment suggests that’s unlikely, but it’s more than two years off) then Alex Salmond has said independence day will be in 2016.

I want to see our Scottish Constitution written and in principle approved as the foundation for an independent Scotland before the 2014 vote: as an undecided voter, I want to know what I’m voting for. This (Carl Sagan, Cosmos, again) expresses quite well why I have persistent doubts about voting Yes:

Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group. Initially our loyalties were to ourselves and our immediate family, next, to bands of wandering hunter-gatherers, then to tribes, small settlements, city-states, nations. We have broadened the circle of those we love. We have now organized what are modestly described as super-powers, which include groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds working in some sense together — surely a humanizing and character building experience. If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant. They will fear the loss of power. We will hear much about treason and disloyalty. Rich nation-states will have to share their wealth with poor ones. But the choice, as H. G. Wells once said in a different context, is clearly the universe or nothing.

Those committed to a “Yes” vote seem to be fairly split on this, though – quite a few have argued that the Constitution should be drafted if and only if Yes wins: and though I haven’t heard from “No” voters on this, I would guess that they’re far from monolithic.

Some “No” voters may agree that devolved Scotland should have a Constitution, but that there is no point in having one which goes further than the devolved remit of the Scottish Parliament allows. Some may feel that a written Constitution would be an excellent thing but that it should be drafted for the whole of the UK, not just for Scotland. Some may feel that the UK’s practice has been to have an “unwritten Constitution” and that this should continue. I’d agree with either of the first two, but not the last.

In effect, if the Scottish Constitution were to be drafted before a Yes vote, it would likely be drafted exclusively by those already planning to vote Yes and those undecided – not a representative group.

Carl Sagan, Cosmos, 1980:

The choice is with us still, but the civilization now in jeopardy is all humanity. As the ancient myth makers knew, we are children equally of the earth and the sky. In our tenure on this planet we’ve accumulated dangerous evolutionary baggage — propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders, hostility to outsiders — all of which puts our survival in some doubt. But we’ve also acquired compassion for others, love for our children and desire to learn from history and experience, and a great soaring passionate intelligence — the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity. Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain, particularly when our visions and prospects are bound to one small part of the small planet Earth. But up there in the immensity of the Cosmos, an inescapable perspective awaits us. There are not yet any obvious signs of extraterrestrial intelligence and this makes us wonder whether civilizations like ours always rush implacably, headlong, toward self-destruction. National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic or religious or national chauvinisms are a little difficult to maintain when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars. Travel is broadening.

One thing which both Yes Scotland and Better Together may agree to, which could confound any attempt to get a Scottish Constitution written before the indyref vote:

The existence of a well-drafted and publicly supported Scottish Constitution could become a stronger case for voting Yes than anything Yes Scotland could come up with, and therefore Better Together may oppose it.

The existence of a detailed and comprehensive Scottish Constitution could provide material for pressure groups to argue against Scottish independence (for example, say the Scottish Constitution mandates equality regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, and the Catholic Church decides this means an independent Scotland will force people to become homosexual and so campaigns for good Catholics to vote No). I suspect that this among other reasons is why we won’t get any support from Yes Scotland for a Scottish Constitution: so far at least, the SNP seems to believe they have more chance of a Yes vote from more voters if they are not presenting a detailed picture of an independent Scotland.

But in any case, I think support for a Scottish Constitution needs to have multi-party support and support of both campaigns, or from none. One advantage of waiting until after the Yes vote to draft a Constitution, I do see, is that at that point all but the diehard supporters of an unwritten constitution will see we have to have one.

Linked to in a comment at Our constitution: beyond yes or no, Mike Granados proposed at the Constitutional Commission’s facebook page:

“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.”

And to put this in perspective (I am still excited about the Higgs boson!)

Carl Sagan, Who Speaks for Earth? [Episode 13]:

National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic or religious or national identifications are a little difficult to support when we see our Earth as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and the citadel of the stars. There are not yet obvious signs of extraterrestrial intelligence and this makes us wonder whether civilisations like ours rush inevitably headlong into self-destruction.

25 True Facts About Scottish Independence:

With the launch of “Yes Scotland” pro-Independence campaign in Edinburgh later today [25th May] two things have been on my mind. What will the anti-Independence campaign call themselves and what will life actually be like in the independent Scotland of the future? I’ve consulted with a few knowledgable types and together our think-tank; The Shortbread Institute for the Study of Scotology has gazed into the future and can offer these predictions about life in Scotland in the early 21st Century.
….
17. We will no longer have to celebrate religious intolerance by burning a Spanish Catholic in effigy every 5th of November. We’ll continue to do so, because, you know tradition, and bigotry. Also, it’s cold in November.
18. Refugees from South of the Border fleeing the Thatcherite Zombie Apocalypse will be welcomed so long as they have had their tea. After a mere four years of hard labour pumping the bellows to make our windfarms work they will be granted Citizenship and the exalted status of True Patriot.
19. The Elgin Marbles will be repatriated to Moray.
20. After interim currency measures too tedious to discuss in detail Scotland will adopt the Renminbi as our currency.

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Filed under Education, Elections, Scottish Constitution, Scottish Culture, Scottish Politics, War

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