Tag Archives: Scottish devolution

Our constitution, July 2012: local government

“Constitutional recognition of the role and principles of local government”

Scotland has about 5.2 million people spread across 78,782 square kilometers – and 1,222 elected councillors.

From the Jimmy Reid Foundation:

It is time we fully recognised the state of democracy in Scotland. Below the national level, Scotland is the least democratic country in the European Union; some have argued that it is the least democratic country in the developed world. We elect fewer people to make our decisions than anyone else and fewer people turn out to vote in those elections than anyone else. We have much bigger local councils that anyone else, representing many more people and vastly more land area than anyone else, even other countries with low density of population. In France one in 125 people is an elected community politicians. In Austria, one in 200. In Germany one in 400. In Finland one in 500. In Scotland it is one in 4,270 (even England manages one in 2,860). In Norway one in 81 people stand for election in their community. In Finland one in 140. In Sweden one in 145. In Scotland one in 2,071. In Norway 5.5 people contest each seat. In Sweden 4.4 people. In Finland 3.7 people. In Scotland 2.1. In every single indicator we were able to identify to show the health of local democracy, Scotland performs worst of any comparator we could find. (The Silent Crisis: Failure and Revival in Local Democracy in Scotland)

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Our constitution, July 2012: Provision of emergency powers

“Provision of emergency powers in times of war, disaster – with restrictions (eg, parliamentary approval by supermajority, time limits) to prevent abuse”

In a discussion on Twitter on Friday about whether or not the UK already has a Constitution I found there is a consistent argument, which I disagree with, that the UK does have a Constitution, just it’s all over the place in various bits of legislation but which, this is argued, add up not to the equivalent of a Constitution, but a real Constitution, just uniquely British in not actually being written down in one document.

The 1689 Act which places Parliament in control of the revenues (and bans any Catholic prince from inheriting the Crown), the EU treaties binding the UK to the Convention of Human Rights, and so on. This is described more coherently than was possible on Twitter in a 1998 article by “BBC Constitutional Affairs Correspondent” Joshua Rozenberg, citing emeritis emeritus professor of politics and government at Oxford University, Vernon Bogdanor:

As he explains, much of our constitution is to be found in written documents or statutes such as Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Act of Settlement and the Parliament Acts.
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Our constitution, July 2012: Electoral Commission

“Electoral Commission – independent, non-partisan body to oversee integrity of electoral process, and to ensure conformity with campaign finance legislation”

Today at the People’s Gathering, organised by the Electoral Reform Society, we were discussing how to get more people involved in politics – in voting turnout, but also in what goes on between elections.

This week I have been reading Greg Palast’s thoroughly unnerving book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. The first chapter deals with how the Florida Presidential election was stolen: tens of thousands of voters banned from the electoral rolls, tens of thousands of votes not counted, the net result to give Jeb Bush’s older brother the Presidency even though Al Gore had actually won the election.

Now, of course, the US uses electronic voting machines, so everything’s all right then.

XKCD: Voting Machines
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Our constitution, July 2012: Judicial review of constitutionality of laws

“Judicial review of constitutionality of laws”

I am not a lawyer, and not an American, but there are a couple of areas of US law that I have looked at with queer intensity over many years: and in particular, two areas of the US Constitution and the actions of its judicial regulator the Supreme Court.

Article Four, Section One of the US Constitution says

“Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.”

Marriage and divorce have always been defined as included among the “public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings”: if you are married in the state of New York, so the original Drafters considered, you should not be able to move to Virginia and thereby make yourself unmarried.

After the US Civil War, many states passed legislation banning marriages which they considered to be unethical and unsuitable: cousin marriage. Even today, 30 US States have laws that make it illegal to marry your first cousin, or allow it only with specific exceptions (if one or both of you is sterile). Predictably enough, people who grow up in states where cousin marriage is banned, tend to think of it as some kind of weird icky relationship, bad for the children. (Where have I heard that before?)

First cousins marrying is culturally approved in some countries, culturally disapproved in others: first cousins can’t get married according to Catholic canon law (which is based on Roman law). But the US is the only country which, in the 19th century, up and passed laws against first cousins marrying – which are still in force in 30 states.

So what happens if you are first cousins who marry in a state where that’s legal and move to a state where it’s not? Continue reading

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Our constitution, July 2012: European Convention of Human Rights

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

“Guaranteed rights based on European Convention”

I love the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a religious person might love Scripture.

Drafted in 1948, sixty-four years old on 10th December this year, it is still a radical and inspirational document.

I find the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms less inspirational and less radical, even though it’s not even 5 years younger.
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Our constitution, July 2012: Judicial independence

“I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.”

“Judicial independence: judges appointed by independent commission having legal and lay representatives; judges removable only for misconduct etc”

From the Judiciary of Scotland website:

In Scotland, the principle was emphasised as long ago as 1599 when the Lord President of the Court of Session declared that the judges were independent of the king, “sworn to do justice according to our conscience”.
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Our constitution, July 2012: Ombudsman and Auditor-General

“Independent accountability mechanisms: Ombudsman and Auditor-General”

The Auditor-General is an office established to examine the government’s accounts. The South African Constitution provides that the Auditor-General is to:

annually produces audit reports on all government departments, public entities, municipalities and public institutions. Over and above these entity-specific reports, the audit outcomes are analysed in general reports that cover both the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) cycles. In addition, reports on discretionary audits, performance audits, and other special audits are also produced. The Auditor-General tables reports to the legislature with a direct interest in the audit, namely Parliament, provincial legislatures or municipal councils. These reports are then used in accordance with their own rules and procedures for oversight.

The Ombudsman Association defines ombudsmmen as:

an independent and impartial means of resolving certain disputes outside the courts.

They cover various public and private bodies and look into matters after a complaint has been made to the relevant body.

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