Tag Archives: independent scotland

A Constitution for Scotland

One of the many attractions of an independent Scotland is the prospect that we will have our own written constitution. This alone is a pretty good reason for voting Yes. What makes it even more exciting is the prospect that we can participate in the process of devising and writing our new constitution. Before we get to this position we need to win a Yes vote and then to negotiate the details of the independence settlement. This will of necessity include some kind of interim constitutional framework. The Scottish Government’s White Paper on independence refers to a “constitutional platform” They have now published a beefed up version of this platform as a draft for an interim constitution for Scotland. You can read the whole thing here.

There has already been all kinds of comment on this draft, much of it ignoring the plainly stated description of it as both a “draft” and an “interim” constitution. The strong point of this draft is that it is primarily about securing the continuity of the existing arrangements plus whatever additional arrangements are needed to enable an independent Scotland to legislate in the currently reserved areas. Continuity is good in this context. As an interim constitution we don’t want it to contain any new measures that may be difficult to amend. For some of the more considered responses to this draft, see Aileen McHarg, Professor of Public Law at the University of Strathclyde, here, and Stephen Tierney, Professor of Constitutional Theory at the University of Edinburgh and Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law, here.

While this draft of an interim constitution is a positive step forward, I am not too concerned about its contents, precisely because it will be an “interim” constitution. What I am interested in is the next step in our constitutional adventure – the creation of our founding constitution, the one that is meant to be more or less permanent. This is when things start to get serious. Just how will our new constitution be devised and who will be involved in writing it? The Scottish Government has consistently made it clear that it want an open and inclusive approach to this constitution making. As the draft states: This draft Bill provides for a permanent written constitution to be drawn up post-independence by a Constitutional Convention, entirely autonomous from the Scottish Government. That proposal reflects our strong belief that the process by which Scotland develops and adopts its written constitution will be as important as its content. It should be inclusive and participative, reflecting the fundamental constitutional principle that the people, rather than politicians or state institutions, are the sovereign authority in Scotland.

From the above, three principles can tentatively be established regarding our new constitution. One, it will be drawn up by a Constitution Convention, two, the process should be inclusive and participative and three, the people will be the sovereign authority. This is all well and good, but as with all principles, the devil lies in the detail. And as yet there is, rightly, little in the way of detail. This means we can still influence the ways in which the constitution is to be devised. Andrew Tickell at Lallands Peat Worrier has already very helpfully explored some of the intricacies and pitfalls of something as innocuous sounding as “the people”. His post can be found here.

If we do not want to leave the arrangements for devising our new constitution to the government and the “usual suspects”, then we need to start thinking now about how the principles outlined above are made concrete. Radical Independence groups have already begun to discuss this. My initial contribution to this debate is in the form of some key questions. Just questions at the moment, but if you don’t ask the right questions, you get the wrong answers. Not that I am suggesting these are the only questions to ask, but they will do as a starter for 10.

The Scottish Government have made it clear that the body to be charged with drawing up our constitution will be a Constitutional Convention. Are there other approaches to constitution making? If there is to be a convention, can it be supplemented by regional or local conventions?

Whatever approach is finally taken one of the key questions will be on the membership of the convention(s). Should the members be selected, nominated or elected, or a combination of all three? Crucially the key question will be, who gets to participate in this selection, nomination or election?

Once the convention(s) have been set up will they want any kind of technical/legal support to help them in their deliberations? If so, who will decide who will provide this service?

As the convention(s) start the work of deliberating and reaching conclusions, another crucial question will be, what kind of reporting and monitoring of progress do we want to see established? Is leaving everything to a convention a fully inclusive and participatory process? If we want members of the public to be involved, how can this be done?

Once the arguing and deliberating has been done and a final constitution has been agreed by the convention, what happens next? Who will have the final say on our constitution? Do we have another referendum to say Yae or Nae to the constitution?

A final series of questions relate to the timescale for the whole process. Should we set a start date for the convention to start work? Perhaps more importantly should we set a completion date for its deliberations? If not, there may be the risk that the work goes on and on and hard decisions are postponed almost indefinitely.

Lots to think about in drawing up a new constitution. But it is worth getting it right. As the introduction to the draft bill states: A written constitution is the basis of everyday life, setting out and protecting the rights and aspirations of the people of Scotland. It will be the highest and strongest of laws – a statement of the fundamental principles by which a country chooses to live, regardless of the political party in power.


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Unionists after a Yes vote – Politicians

As the referendum day approaches more and more people are beginning to think about what happens after, particularly what happens after a Yes vote. This is certainly true of the wider Yes campaign. Radical Independence among others has already started this new phase in the campaign. But what about the Unionist side? There does not appear to be much evidence of any kind of thinking beyond September 18th. Mainly it seems because they lazily assumed there would be a massive No vote. Even the UK government has apparently made no plans for what to do after a Yes vote. So much for Westminster competence? But what future awaits the leading players in the Unionist campaign after a Yes vote? This post takes a brief look at how a Yes vote might affect some of the politicians.

MPs at Westminster

There are currently 59 MPs elected from Scottish constituencies. With a Yes vote these 59 individuals face political extinction. By May 2016, their parliamentary careers at Westminster will have come to an abrupt and permanent end. All but the current six SNP MPs will regard this as an unmitigated disaster. Some, for example most of the LibDem MPs are unlikely to survive the next election anyway, but most, especially the Labour contingent, will be anticipating a long, if rather uninspiring career on the backbenches at Westminster. For most of this lot, a Yes vote will pretty much mean the end of their political careers, either due to age or to their proven record of invisibility among the Scottish electorate. They will find it extremely difficult, if not impossible to find a winnable seat for the Scottish Parliament. While the Tories can be ignored at this level, there will still be a considerable number of ex MPs from the Labour and LibDem ranks who will want to continue in active politics, even in an independent Scotland. I am thinking of the likes of Danny Alexander, Michael Moore, Jo Swinson and even Charles Kennedy from the LidDems. From Labour I imagine people like Douglas Alexander, Margaret Curran, Cathy Jamieson and Anas Sarwar will also want to continue to play a prominent and leading role in politics in an independent Scotland. The big problem they will all face is how can they achieve this after a Yes vote? Pretty much the only way is to get elected to the Scottish Parliament. But this may prove more difficult than appears at first sight. In addition to the problem that they will be perceived as having been on the wrong and losing side in the referendum, they will have to secure a winnable seat or winnable place on a regional list to have any chance of getting elected. To get that far they will have to overcome the sitting MSPs and a possible backlash of the johnny come lately syndrome. While both Labour and the LibDems can expect to do better in 2016 than their dismal showings in 2011, there is little evidence in the polls so far of any significant bounce back. One can understand why all the Unionist MPs are so personally committed to a No vote. They have everything to lose and almost nothing to gain.

Our Noble Lords and Ladies

This is another group of individuals who will face an uncertain future after a Yes vote. In this case it is not at all clear what will in fact happen. I haven’t been able at short notice to find a definitive list of how many members of the House of Lords are resident in Scotland. Residency in this case I am sure will be the crucial issue. There are many Scottish members of the House of Lords, such as Baroness Kennedy, but as she has been resident in England for decades, I imagine she will continue her work unaffected by the result of a Yes vote. Those at risk will be the likes of Lords Roberston, Wallace, McConnell et al. What future awaits them after a Yes vote? They will probably be able to keep their titles, a fairly meaningless gesture. But will they still be able to turn up and speak and more importantly vote in the Lords? I imagine not. Here the residency test will be applied. Only those Lords and Ladies normally resident in the rUK will be entitled to vote in the House of Lords. Which will leave many a Scottish Lord and Lady with even more time to spend with their families or whatever else they do with their time. It will be particularly galling for this lot, as there is pretty much zilch chance of an independent Scotland creating its own little House of Lords. Even a second chamber is most unlikely. Our Scandinavian neighbours manage quite successfully without the need for one. As most of these Lords and Ladies will be failed or retired politicians I imagine they will bow gracefully or ungraciously out of politics altogether. Some may fancy their chance as a political commentator, but the demand for their wisdom and insights is likely to be of limited appeal in an independent Scotland.

We need not fret too much over the future of Unionist politicians after a Yes vote. Most have contributed little to the betterment of Scotland and their disappearance from the political scene will be scarcely noticed. A few of the more enterprising among them will no doubt somehow secure a foothold in our own Parliament. Which will be to our advantage – the more diverse voices in Parliament the better. However the loss of a 100 or so politicians will be a net gain to the rest of us. One of the many, if smaller benefits of a Yes vote. A not inconsiderate sum of taxpayers’s money will be saved and who knows, some of them may even find more useful and productive ways of earning a living.


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What is the Point of Willie Rennie?

scottish_independence_sticker-r3fe2b496a52b46e7a4985a9b3817d323_v9wxo_8byvr_324It is more in sorrow than anger that I write this post. As the leader of one of Scotland’s main parties and one with a distinguished history, I had expected better from Mr Rennie. A couple of months ago Alex Salmond gave a speech outlining quite clearly why some things would remain more or less the same post independence. He referred to these as the five unions – the European Union, a defence union through NATO, a currency union, the Union of the Crowns and the social union between the people of these isles. Mr Rennie almost immediately appeared in the media and clearly implied that the UK would not agree to these five unions.  I wrote about this in an earlier post, here.

Subsequent to that post I wrote by email to Mr Rennie asking him to provide some clarification for this claim. I pointed out that as the current coalition government will still be in power in the months following the referendum, it is this government which will have to take the initial steps in any negotiations following a Yes vote in the referendum.  I ended by asking him, as the leader of the LibDems in Scotland, a party that is part of the UK government, in the interests of clarity, to explain just how he would respond to each of Mr Salmond’s proposals and to how he would expect his government to respond. A month went by with no response. Following a reminder of my original request I received the following reply:

Mr Rutherford
Thank you for your comprehensive email. 
The concern I have about proposals for an independent Scotland is that Scotland’s place in the unions referred to is at the mercy of others.  It depends on good will of others when it may not be in their best interests to do so.  That is especially the case when Scotland will have recently rejected partnership with the rest of the UK.
I am sorry I cannot respond in any more detail as I have a meeting to go to.
Willie Rennie

Not much of a reply in truth. And no attempt whatsoever to answer any of my questions. So I wrote of yet again, pointing out that my questions referred only to the UK government, the one which contains LibDem ministers. To keep matters simple I ended by asking Mr Rennie: “could you please state on what evidence you base your claim that it would not be in the best interests of the current UK government to support the five unions referred to in my original email?”

At least this time I got a pretty swift reply. But alas is was just as empty as the previous one. Here is what Mr Rennie deemed to be a suitable reply:

Mr Rutherford
Thank you for your message.
The rUK government does not exist and therefore it is impossible to know exactly what it will decide or what will be in its interests.
Thank you for your interest in this issue.
Willie Rennie

Once again not the slightest interest in answering my questions. His blatant unwillingness to answer is clear from his reference to the rUK government. In none of my emails did I refer to this government. At all times I made it clear that I was referring to the current UK government. On the simple basis that it will be this current UK government which will have the responsibility of initiating negotiations in the event of a yes vote.

My sad conclusions from all of this correspondence is that Willie Rennie is not worthy to be the leader of a major political party. He is clearly much more comfortable in making unsupported scaremongering assertions than answering the legitimate questions of a fellow citizen. No doubt he is so used to our tame media letting him get away unchallenged with his wild assertions. However I had hoped that as an interested citizen and voter, Mr Rennie would be more willing to at least engage with my questions. No such luck. He repeatedly refused to engage with me on the basis of the most childish excuses.

Mr Rennie also seems to be unaware of the implications of his claim that he cannot know what rUK will decide or what will be in its interests as it does not exist. If the rUK does not exist, then neither does an independent Scotland. In which case can we presume that Mr Rennie will in future refrain from asking the SNP and other YES campaigners for certainty about this and that in an as yet non existing independent Scotland? I for one will not be holding my breath. For another thing that Mr Rennie has made clear is his basic hypocrisy when it comes to Scottish Independence. He is free to ask all kinds of questions and make all kinds of baseless claims, but on no account must he be asked for answers.

The final point from all this correspondence that is a bit surprising is how openly Mr Rennie admits his ignorance. I had assumed that as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats he would have some knowledge of what his party colleagues were thinking and proposing to do in the event of a yes vote.  Alas, I was clearly wrong and he has admitted to having no knowledge whatsoever.  Which surely begs the question of why he is so frequently invited to air his ignorance on our publicly funded airwaves.

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