Let the People Lead
I am more and more convinced that we need to raise awareness of having a written constitution for an Independent Scotland. We live in one of only three democracies that does not have a written constitution (Israel and New Zealand being the other two), despite Scottish sovereignty historically lying with the people rather than with the Parliament. While some praise the “flexibility” or “pragmatism” of Britain’s unwritten constitution, for me it is a symbol of the slow decay of the British state that refuses to be dragged into the 21st century where it counts. The pomp and pageantry of the Queen’s Speech and its arcane procedures may be “cherished” or “historic”, but they also alienate the average citizen from their democratic institutions, making them appear esoteric and distant and not worthwhile engaging with.
A modern country should govern itself in a modern fashion, and not cling desperately to the shiny baubles of the past. Part of this common sense modernity must be a written constitution.
The economic and societal upheaval of recent years presents the perfect opportunity to us all to re-imagine how we are governed and who, with our consent, governs us. As is so often the case, a laudable example of a better way can be seen in our Northern neighbours; in this case, Iceland.
Iceland seized the opportunity following the 2008 financial crisis to ‘crowd-source’ a new constitution, engaging the people in an open, innovative and participative approach to re-imagine the governance of their country that in turn captured the imagination of people the world over. While this process has not been without its difficulties (and the recent election results in Iceland, which returned the pre-crash parties to power, suggests that these difficulties will continue), the basic principle of empowering the masses to debate and decide how they wish their society to be structured is a good principle. In my opinion, we now have an opportunity to conduct our own process in Scotland.
With the independence referendum fast approaching, it is vital that civic Scotland continues to contribute to the discussion about the kind of Scotland we want for the future. Regardless of personal positions on independence, there is a general consensus that an independent Scottish state would need to have a written constitution.
The possibilities presented by having a written constitution are endless, and above all very exciting. The Scottish Government has already said it would seek to ban nuclear weapons, enshrine the right to a free education and eradicate homelessness in any written constitution. I’ve also found that discussing the process or the possibility of a written constitution with people undecided about independence helps them to imagine a better Scotland, and engages and enthuses them in a way that dry statistics about the economic viability of being independent (worthy as those stats are) simply cannot.
We could offer say, 20 different options to every person in Scotland and ask that they prioritise them, or some of them, or add others. This way, it’s not only the politicians and their proposed policies that the voter is asked to consider, but by actually contributing themselves in the process we would lead the politicians to govern the country we want.
I know that there are many organisations and individuals who wish to see the development of a written constitution for Scotland and who have dedicated time and effort to thinking and writing about what could and should be included. To help facilitate those discussions, I have been co-ordinating meetings between those interested in what a written constitution could offer an independent Scotland.
This process is still very much at its embryonic stage, with our second meeting being held at the end of this month, and it may even be the case that nothing concrete or substantive comes from these meetings. Even if that is the case, though, it’s important to hold these meetings and to help build connections between key players in any constitutional process.
It is equally important that any constitutional discussions are as “bottom-up” as possible and include a wide range of voices. As the Scottish Government itself has frequently asserted, they would only be one voice in discussions on a written constitution. The position of the Church, the Monarchy and the structure of the legislature are just three areas where differing views can be found and where a healthy debate can and should be had.
We must also strive to empower those in the No camp to put forward their ideas for a written constitution following a Yes vote. I would imagine at least 30% of the population, and three of the main political parties in Scotland, will vote No in 2014; that is a large portion of Scotland who must be engaged in the event of a Yes vote as we move onwards and upwards to a better Scotland. A written constitution imagined and debated without those voices would be all the poorer for their exclusion. Of course, this responsibility lies largely with those in the No camp, who have so far failed to countenance how they would act following a Yes vote. While this is understandable from a political and strategic viewpoint, I hope that there are at least some figures in the No camp who are beginning to think about these issues, and who may want to take part in our discussions – they would be more than welcome.
Discussing a written constitution therefore helps to combine the process and practicalities of an independent Scotland with a vision for a better Scotland- a combination, in my mind, that is unbeatably persuasive. With the referendum just over a year away, we need to “educate, agitate and organise” now to ensure that the people can truly lead in an Independent Scotland