Sunday, 13 April 2014

On the "Interim Constitution"

It was with great interest that I watched the speech given at Cardiff by the Depute First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon last month. Of specific interest was Ms. Sturgeon’s apparently unilateral decision that the SNP will write a so-called “interim constitution” for Scotland. 

As socialists who have spent many years arguing for independence in order that working people can take control of Scotland’s industry and economy on the basis that only with independence can we ensure the communal ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, establishing the best possible administration of community ownership and control of Scotland’s industry and services, we ought to be extremely wary of this development. 

The SNP was elected to govern Scotland in 2011 with a quite astounding majority, and one cannot but respect their mandate to govern the Scottish Parliament. They are our colleagues in Yes Scotland, and we accept, in principle, that they are entitled to govern this country through the Referendum and beyond and to form the provisional government between Independence Day and the first election after Independence. 

However, we cannot and must not accept that they have any class of mandate to write, or indeed impose, this “interim constitution” upon Scotland. There was no mention of any “interim constitution” in the manifesto upon which they achieved election in 2011. Indeed, there was no mention of any such “interim manifesto” until Ms. Sturgeon’s address at Cardiff. 

From where did this concept come? When was it born? From whom - most importantly - did it come? This country has already a constitution. It is one which is certainly unfit for purpose, and its lack of codification is, to be sure, a handicap for any modern 21st century state. I have in front of me as I write a copy of the 2009-2011 Constitution of Ireland, a document which boasts 186 pages, 93 each in English and Irish. Would that our country have such a readily-accessible, simple document, laying out to each citizen our rights from and responsibilities to the State. 

But is the imperfection of the British constitution really so incredibly pressing that it requires the imposition, immediately, of an entirely new constitution without reference to the other parties which make up Yes Scotland, far less the people of this country?

Surely, following independence in March 2016, it would be simpler to retain the current Scotland Act - which serves, in effect, as the Scottish constitution - with an addendum stating that all Acts of the UK Parliament which have not been specifically repudiated are to apply to Scotland. 

The first Independence elections may provide any sort of Government: it is not for us to second-guess the choice of the electorate. But surely the Scottish constitution, the document which will serve not just our generation, but many generations to come, should not be written to reflect the opinions of a Government which is merely a snapshot of time. Even less so should it reflect that of a Government which has no mandate whatsoever to impose a Constitution.

The very point of independence for us, as socialists, is to build a Scotland which is not for the governing class. How, therefore, can a document written by the governing class ab urbe condita, achieve our aims of returning Scotland’s wealth to Scotland’s people?

Indeed, can one not argue, and reasonably, that if the SNP achieve their aim of an “interim constitution”, one which will inevitably pander to their aims of succour to corporations and the rich, and one which will equally inevitably see any references to the rights of organised labour be inexplicably overlooked, that should they - as seems likely - win the 2016 election, they would be able to argue that they have a mandate to impose the “interim constitution” as the national constitution? For this reason alone, let us be wary of false friends. Colleagues certainly, but the SNP as comrades? I think not.

The Scottish Socialist Party, as Scotland’s socialist movement, and as the Left wing of the Yes campaign, ought to vehemently oppose any moves in this direction. 

Rather, the current constitution should remain in place, and a new constitutional convention should take inspiration from that of our friends and neighbours in the Republic of Iceland after the collapse of the Reykjavik banking system: a constitution of the people - a People’s Constitution, sourced from individuals the length and breath of this land, from the ordinary working man and woman, with contributions from working mothers, from the unemployed, from carers and the disabled: and this People’s Constitution ought to exist to serve, not govern, the people. 

Surely the entire point of independence is to achieve this, rather than to have grey-suited, grey men with grey hair writing a grey, sterile constitution on behalf of a grey organisation with no mandate whatever to impose it.

If we don’t have a People’s Constitution, and instead have an SNP constitution, then what will independence have gained other than the lowering of the Union Jack, the raising of the Saltire, and a slight change in the accents of those who govern us?

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