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People of Scotland to have written constitution
The people, and not the politicians or parliament, will hold the ultimate power in an independent Scotland.
In a speech to the Foreign Press Association, First Minister Alex Salmond yesterday announced one of the first tasks of a newly independent Scottish Parliament will be to establish the process leading to a written constitution for Scotland.
Providing Scotland with the structure of a modern democracy is one of the key arguments for an independent Scotland.
The First Minister also used the speech to mark the progress of the Section 30 Order that will transfer the legal power to the Scottish Parliament to hold the 2014 independence referendum.
The First Minister said:
“For centuries, Scotland has had a distinct constitutional tradition - first expressed in the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, reaffirmed by the 1989 Claim of Right for Scotland, and most recently restated by the Scottish Parliament just one year ago.
“That tradition states that the people of Scotland are sovereign and that they have the power to determine the form of government best suited to their needs. It stands in contrast to the UK principle that parliament has unlimited sovereignty.
“That UK tradition is one of the reasons that the UK has no written constitution and makes the UK highly unusual among western democracies and unique in the European Union. That deficiency is a democratic deficit that an independent Scotland should not repeat.
“Following a yes vote in 2014, the first independent Scottish parliament will be elected in May 2016. One of the first, most fundamental and exciting tasks of that parliament will be to establish the process for Scotland’s first written constitution through a constitutional convention.
“There are some recent and inspiring examples of constitutional renewal involving citizens as well as politicians. In particular, Iceland is an example of modern technologies being used to harness enthusiasm of citizens as well as politicians in the renewal of their constitution.
“Scotland’s convention will provide an opportunity for everyone to express their views. All political parties will be involved, together with the wider public and civic Scotland.
“The reason for this is that Scotland’s constitution should enshrine the people’s sovereignty and affirm the values and rights of the people, of the Community of the Realm of Scotland.”
The First Minister said the Scottish Government will be but one voice in the process, and therefore it will not be prescriptive about the content of the written constitution but none the less it is useful to have examples of what Scottish Ministers would like to see included.
“All parties and citizens of Scotland will be encouraged to contribute their views of what should be in Scotland’s first written constitution.
“It is important to remember that the devolved Scottish Parliament already has embedded in it the European Convention on Human Rights, and these kinds of safeguards will continue to be built in to the parliament of an independent Scotland. However, what I have in mind are constitutional provisions that go beyond those touchstone rights.
“I want to outline just three examples today, to highlight some of the issues the Constitutional Convention could consider.
“At the moment, the UK Government’s austerity measures and welfare cuts are raising questions about how people’s rights to vital social services can be protected. In Scotland, we have a policy of the right to free education in keeping with our history as the nation which pioneered universal education. We also have homelessness legislation which is proving effective by granting rights to people who are made involuntarily homeless. There is an argument for embedding those provisions as constitutional rights.
“A second key issue which the constitution could examine could include the future of Trident. A constitutional ban on the possession of nuclear weapons would end that obscenity.
“And thirdly is the issue of the use of our armed forces. In 2003, the Westminster Parliament was effectively misled into sanctioning the illegal invasion of Iraq. We should therefore explore what parliamentary and constitutional safeguards should be established for the use of Scottish forces in international engagement.
“The written constitution will be part of a new settlement between government and the people – it will be a fitting underpinning for a newly independent nation.
“In an independent Scotland we will move to a more transparent, democratic and effective system of government – one designed by the people of Scotland, for the people of Scotland.
“In doing so, we will make Scotland’s constitution an early signal of how the people of Scotland will use the powers of independence – to take our place as a good global citizen, to protect and affirm the values we hold dear, and to create a fairer and more prosperous nation.”
Welcoming the announcement, Canon Kenyon Wright, founder of the Scottish Constitutional Commission, said:
“A Constitution defines and safeguards the values and character of the nation, as a participative democracy based on social justice, equal law, and the sharing of power. It profoundly affects the lives of all who live in Scotland. It must express the self-understanding of the new Scotland, and define Scotland as a modern democracy.
“It will be an opportunity for Scotland to demonstrate the long tradition in Scotland of the sovereignty of the people of Scotland, as expressed in the Claim of Right. It is absolutely right that the Scottish Parliament – in partnership with the wider Scottish society and the people of Scotland – should be tasked with taking forward the written constitution to show that all of Scotland would be united around it."