Towards a Scottish Constitution

“Whereas it is the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to our needs…”

Alastair Darling’s best argument against “Yes Scotland” was that voting for an independent Scotland is an irreversible leap into the unknown.

The best argument (in my view) for an independent Scotland is that we could stand as an example to the rest of the UK: rid ourselves of nuclear weapons (and quite possibly, just by logistics, require the rest of the UK to go nukes-free too), maintain the universal welfare state, defend the NHS, uphold the principle of free education for all: and take away entirely the right-wing English argument that the Scots have nicer things than the English because of the Barnett formula, rather than because we keep electing left-wing governments.

But without a Scottish Constitution written and agreed-to before the referendum, this may never happen. I spent most of July’s blogging time thinking about a Scottish Constitution: and more and more I wanted this to begin now, not after the referendum.

If the Constitution is drafted in a hurry between referendum and independence day, there may be too little time for a broad spectrum of Scots to provide our views, too little time for proper oversight – and a host of wealthy power-brokers who do not want a Scottish Constitution to take any radical directions, such as nationalising the oil, abolishing the monarchy, land reform:  who would, perhaps, even prefer an independent Scotland without the valuable institutions of the NHS and licence-funded national broadcaster.

The Constitution must be drafted now, when there are over two years to work on it, before we know what the result of the 2014 referendum will be. With as much input at possible from a whole range of ordinary Scots, all over the country, Highlands and Lowlands, middle-class and working-class, all faiths and none, any and all political parties and other organisations willing to come to the table with respect for the sovereignity of the Scottish people.

But how?

Supposing that the money were available (lottery win, successful grant application, wishful thinking) we could begin with a constitutional roadshow including an open space event – and a website.

The roadshow would go wherever there was a suitable venue and volunteers to answer questions: an exhibition explaining why a Scottish constitution matters, a speaker or two on the importance of the Constitution, and with at least one Open Space event at which people could answer the question “What’s important to have in the Constitution?”

The responses from each Open Space event, and the feedback for the exhibition from each venue, would be posted on the website.

Individuals and groups – trade unions, churches, third sector organisations, companies, even local political parties and MPs, MSPs, and councillors – would be invited to sign a pledge to work together towards writing a Constitution for Scotland. Their names would be published on the website.

Let’s say at a certain point, nominations for the Scottish Constitutional Commission would open. Anyone could be nominated. When nominations closed, everyone who had been nominated (or everyone with enough multiple nominations) would be contacted to ask if they were willing to take part in the SCC.

All those willing would be listed for selection. The SCC would need to be a cross-section of ordinary Scots, but also include people who had a background in Scots law, UK law, and Constitutional law: people who know politics and Parliament.  How the SCC is  selected isn’t as important as the process being transparent and fair.  I don’t know how many would be needed, or how long the process of drafting a Constitution would take: that’s something else that would need to be decided nearer the time.

The Constitution should be drafted in time for the final stage: acceptance by the Scottish people and by the Scottish Parliament, before the 2014 referendum.

But how?

There is neither funding nor party political support for this kind of process.

For the “Better Together” parties, anything that would make undecided Scots more likely to vote “Yes” to independence would be unacceptable. And there is no ducking that point: a Scottish Constitution, giving a framework for a new nation, would certainly make some waverers feel differently about voting for independence.

For the “Yes Scotland” campaign, at present it appears the SNP at least are depending on a vision of an independent Scotland which is not too specific in details, since too detailed a vision might put people off.  Further, it appears to me that many of the strongest campaigners for “Yes Scotland” are not very effective at engaging with people who don’t already agree with them.

But in any case, a campaign for a Scottish Constitution ought to be independent of either campaign, welcoming involvement whichever way you intend to vote in 2014, with input either from  all the main political parties or none: either both “Yes Scotland”  and “Better Together” involved in the Constitution, or neither of them.

Could non-partisan organisations and charities work on this? The Electoral Reform Society Scotland held a People’s Gathering in Edinburgh in July: Engender, the gender equality charity, has been holding semi-regular Inspiring Women meetings: on either side of the fence, the Equality Network and the Catholic Church raised awareness of the equal marriage consultation to what became almost a record-breaking level of response; at a local level, I can think of extensive examples in Edinburgh alone of people mobilising: against privatisation, to save Leith Waterworld, to discuss our vision for Leith Walk.

But everyone’s busy and nobody’s got funds to spare. Nor is this kind of open non-partisan process at all easy.

I like the idea of a Constitution for Scotland. It goes beyond any partisan feelings, any realistic political appraisal of independence and balloting. I’d like us as a nation to consider who and what we are and write our constitution.

Can we get started?

(This post was guest-blogged at Better Nation.)

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