JIM SILLARS PAPER TO ALBA CONFERENCE

Written Constitution for Scotland

Will be the most important document since 1320

The People not Parliament as sovereign

Jim Sillars

It is taken for granted in the independence movement that “The people of Scotland are sovereign.”  If our form of government is to be different from the one that has dominated us for over 300 years, then that statement has to be detached from rhetoric and made a legal construct.  

That can only be done when that assertion is made concrete in the first Article of a written constitution that is, itself, the fundamental law of an independent Scotland. 

There can be no ambiguity. The sovereignty of the people means the people are superior to the Parliament, the Executive and all other public and private organisations. 

A singular advantage of a written constitution which starts with the people are sovereign,” is that it empowers any citizen or group of citizens to challenge parliamentary, governmentother public or private body’s action, if any measure they take infringes the rights of the people as set out in the constitution. 

The Unites States is a classic example. The Constitution is above all parts of the government. The citizen above the government. That is what Scotland should aim at.

Signal of Alba’s serious intentions 

A written constitution has not been given prominence in the activities of the independence movement. It was hardly mentioned in the 2014 campaign, and not at all in the White Paper. At first hand it appears a dry subject, not one calculated to get the adrenalin pumping, yet it will be the most important document published in Scotland since the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320.

Any statement by Alba to its importance will be taken by journalists and columnists as the party going off into peripheral matters. 

But it will be a signal to those thinking of casting that second vote, of just how serious Alba is about achieving independence, not as an extension of the status quo under the Saltire rather than the Union flag, but as a transformation of our nation to a different, better, more just Scotland. A new Scotland. 

What  has distinguished Alba is that it is serious about independence. It has a strategy to gain independence, is working on the new economic policy on which the campaign will be anchored, and that it is thinking of what will need to be done when independence is gained. Pointing to the need for a written constitution post-independence shows the need for work to be done now, so that Scotland’s people are well prepared to assert their sovereignty in an unmistakable way. 

Not a blank sheet of paper

Action to be taken by the Parliament elected on 6th.May

The broad movement may not have given priority to a written constitution on independence, but groups within have. Prominent among them is the Sovereignty Research Group organised by Dr. Mark McNaught, whose members have produced drafts of a constitution, based on excellent researchover the past ten years, principally by Mark.  They do not claim to be definitive, and when I spoke to them last Saturday, they recognised that for a written constitution to have unchallengeable status, it must come from Scottish society fully participating in the discussion and debate on its contents, and endorsed in a national referendum.  

What I suggest as Alba’s policy, is this: among its first acts, the Scottish Parliament should refer to a Citizens’ Assembly the work of setting out the principles and framework of a written constitution, with the Sovereignty Research Group appointed formally as advisors; with those principles and framework to be ready for study, development and decision in a final draft by a Constitutional Convention formed in the first three months of independence. 

This is not a simple task

The Citizens’ Assembly will not face a simple task, even aided by the work of its advisors.  If a written constitution is to endure over the generations, and not become the play thing of future politicians who will not like its restraints, it must be anchored in principles, values and wisdom – and defining those will be contentious.

There will be a difficult choice between what is policy and constitutional principles.  Take for example what would seem to be a highly desirable inclusion – that every family or individual should be adequately housed. Is that a policy or a constitutional principle?  If it is the latter, how can it be implemented, given that a Scottish government will not only have to allocate funds to housing, but many other competing social needs, and its spending priorities will need to change from time to time. 

The Citizens’ Assembly getting to grips with the contentious issues, and clearing the way to getting the fundamental principles right, will be of great value when a Constitutional Convention comes to do the final work. 

Just some issues we shall have to consider as a people

When the people are free, we must fashion the instruments with which we are to govern ourselves – a constitution setting limits to the power of the parliament in relation to the citizen’s rights;  the division of powers, the extent of those powers between the parliament and the executive, the franchise, the electoral  system, freedom of speech, religious freedom, a free media, independence of the judiciary, how judges are appointed, the relationship between government, police and people, and the principles and values that self-describe the nation we want the international community to see.

When sovereignty is won, the most important post-independent action will be the engagement of the people in framing the fundamental law, the supreme law, in the written constitution, by which this nation will govern itself.  

15 thoughts on “JIM SILLARS PAPER TO ALBA CONFERENCE

  1. AWESOME and NEEDED BUT how come we have a parliament full of numpties and sheep. I know they voted for Boris the Buffoon, but we knew how bad he was tis only now that NS has been forced to show her true make up and personality, and it is not a nice look for the leader of any organisation never mind the leader of the SNP and the First Minister of Scotland

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Not the most important but Who Shall be Head of State will occupy the MSM and our opponents. In a straight vote between monarchy and republic I go for republic. But a compromise which I would favour is to declare Scotland The Kingdom of the Scots and declare the throne vacant on grounds of uncertainty and find a head of state from the extended royal family of the whole nation. I would let those with titles other than King or Queen keep them, but no advantages or disadvantages associated with the title other than the right to coats of arms etc as approved by the Lyon Court of heraldry.

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    1. Sorry Favod i dont see the point of anyone holding a seat declared monarchy…we are long past those fays of sirs, lords , Dames Barons. There was a time and place for that centuries ago…but the world has moved on…each individual Scot is his / her own voice in a New Scotland…its the people themselves that hold the weight of being.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. This is of great interest to me having met Mark McNaught, and read some of his constitution, which is necessarily long & detailed. I suggest it is important reading, and you are able to suggest changes & add comments. The group I belong to, Pensioners for Independence Edinburgh & Lothians, invited Robert Ingram to speak to us sometime ago, and he has been working on a Scottish Constitution for over 12 years. His talk was fascinating & informative, and it can be heard on our National Website, pensionersforindependence.scot. Their website is constitutionforscotland.scot and is completely interactive. He described a People’s constitution as a job description for politicians, and has been praised by Elliot Bulmer, a constitutional expert who writes in the National. I would urge anyone interested in this subject to click onto his website.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Forget status differentials, we are all equal.

        The constitution ultimately needs to prevent the dilution of sovereignty, which is what led to the union, and did so again in 2014. This also relates to the current irregular national franchise, and the correct definition of Scottish ‘nationals’ which is based on parental descent, not mere residence.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting. With regards ‘every family should be adequately homed – proceed with caution. I am single, are you going to force me out of my home and give it to a family in more need. I bought and paid for it. If it becomes a constitutional issue we get into the socialist territory whereby those and such as those within the party start to get preferential treatment.

    It also means any family moving here from elsewhere ‘automatically’ has a right, even though they haven’t paid taxes here. So, definitely some issues are policy, not constitution.

    Also, I hope people realise the woke brigade, complete with incomprehensible sentences, are going to sieze this opportunity with all 99 genders and try and make it in their own image (whatever that might be on the day).

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Wholeheartedly agree, A constitution, it’s a no brained.
    Example, housing , constitutionally, and policy as technology changes, progressions to facilitate upgrades.
    Remove power from politicians and local government on procurements and dealings with so called lobbyists.
    Infrastructure etc is dealt with as a nation and not on ideological grounds..
    🐼🐼

    Remove tribal politics.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. It will be important to enshrine the right f the citizens to initiate referenda. There should be a provision that should a set percentage of voters, say 5% call for a referendum, then a citizen assembly be convoked to formulate the wording and a referendum be held.

    It may also be an idea to have a second chamber of parliament made up of citizens selected by lot and serving for short periods.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This is progressive we really need a written constitution, a mission statement of the kind of Scotland we want to live in. The ALBA party are now discussing important issues to do with Scottish independence that the SNP have dodged for years.

    The ALBA party is now the real party for Scottish independence, it fill me with hope, that’s been flagging somewhat in recent years.

    Liked by 6 people

  8. I agree we should have a constitution. I don’t know about the timing.

    During #indyref, I was of the “we can decide after indy” belief. However, John Drummond gave a talk to our Yes group a couple of years ago, and was very persuasive about the idea of presenting a constitution to the people of Scotland as part of our independence offer.

    However, if we can do serious work about it and a Bill of Rights, I wouldn’t let the lack of finished product prevent me from working for indy after 6 May!

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  9. The USA went several years without a formal constitution. The Articles of Confederation were a good start but, as it turned out, wholly inadequate. So the Constitution was drafted. It contains seven articles to deal with the dry legalese – legislature, executive and judiciary amongst other things. It is the Bill of Rights – the first ten amendments – that expresses the vision.

    As the USA saw fit to borrow the Declaration of Arbroath for their own declaration of independence, I suggest that we can use the US Constitution as a basis for Scotland’s, with such changes as reflect the desires of the Scottish people.

    The US Constitution: https://constitution.congress.gov/constitution/

    The US Declaration of Independence: https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript. Incidentally, you can stand on the spot it is believed it was first read out in public, at Independence National Park in Philadelphia. No fences or anything to “preserve” it. Stuff like that belongs to the American people and visitors are warmly welcomed.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Regards housing. The Scottish government should create a state owned construction department responsible for government funded construction projects, especially “state housing” to meet the needs of the non-private sector. Undo the damage that Margaret Thatcher did with regards to “council” housing stock. The economy would only benefit from a massive, government run, building project of what will be genuinely affordable housing and not the unaffordable after thought that exists today with the private sector. With regards to in work poverty/poverty and having trouble making ends meet, why not have a policy of rent set at an affordable % of the households income instead of the set rate and the government off-setting the shortfall (that is until Scotland solves poverty and gives its people a better wage for their efforts). This would help remove the stigma of seeking government support, and certainly address in work poverty. Lets face it “poverty” in 21st century oil rich Scotland is a crime and those governments that have allowed it to continue by allowing Westminster rape the wealth of Scotland to the detriment to her people is simply criminal. Anyway I love the idea of a constitution and believed that Dr McNaughts version should have been given more attention by this government. I believed that if it, or one similar, had been passed into Scots law before independence it could have been used as a “legal right” to achieve independence. I could be wrong but food for thought.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. The framing of all parts of the constitution must first have a decision on whether Scotland is a Monarchy or a Republic. that has to be decided by a referendum of the people…The Republic of Scotland sounds just fine to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Excellent stuff, and good strategy – I’m fine with leaving a constitution until later, but I’m coming round to the idea that once you start setting this stuff down – preferably in summary form on one side of A4, in large type, for public consumption (with links/appendices to further detail: I know it’s needed for legal stuff) – it’ll make independence a far more serious proposition, and make people turn to arguing over the detail of what they think should be in it rather than arguing over the notion of independence itself. It’ll stand Alba in very good stead to have a draft drawn up for one.

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