Nicola Sturgeon recently stated: “The time has come to take our future into our own hands.” That future entails rebuilding Scotland into a successful sovereign nation that reflects Scottish values of fairness, equality, and economic wellbeing.

Jon Elster, a noted Norwegian social theorist, famously likened constitution-building to rebuilding a ship at sea. Rebuilding a nation is far more complex than rebuilding a ship and who in their right mind would consider rebuilding a ship without an agreed set of plans?

So, when do we produce the plan – ie a written constitution, to guide and authorise the restructuring of our future Scotland – before or after independence? There are good reasons for both paths but surely it makes better sense to prepare for the transition now and obtain a consensus before Independence Day as there will be plenty of work and legislation to deal with post-independence.

The complex constitutional requirements necessary to legitimise state formation take place alongside a host of other challenging institution-building or institution reforming activities. The to-do list is long, spanning everything from issuing passports, adopting a currency, opening embassies, replacing the Banks Automated Clearing Services (BACS), establishing the armed forces, for example, to more general objectives like achieving broad public legitimacy.

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States facing multiple demands beyond their capacity to deliver are in danger of becoming either a “failed state” or falling into authoritarianism.

Let’s start with testing the following Preamble for a Constitution that reflects Scottish values and objectives:

The people of Scotland share a common belief in democracy, freedom, fairness, tolerance, and equality. They are entitled to liberty and justice; safety, security, and sustainability; health and economic wellbeing; accessibility and participation; and partnership and accountability.

Expanding on the preamble, the constitution of Scotland must enshrine clearly defined principles of governance while recognising individual rights and responsibilities and should seek to:

  • Recognise a system of government wherein the people of Scotland are the sovereign power and invest that sovereignty in a Scottish Parliament for and of the people.
  • Define the rights and responsibilities of the people.
  • Define the rights and responsibilities of the state.
  • Define the powers, obligations, duties and limitations of the state.
  • Provide a decentralised system of government in which power is shared between national, regional, and local government and overseen by elected representatives who are accountable to the people.
  • Advocate the use of citizens’ assemblies at national, regional, and local levels to enable the experience of the electorate to be available to advise the elected representatives.
  • Promote fit for purpose systems of accountability for all public services and government bodies.

It is often said that money is the root of all evil and a major responsibility of the government is the handling of the economy.

Scotland is one of the wealthiest nations in the world – but for too many it doesn’t feel that way. We are a highly educated, competent, capable and prosperous nation, with, relative to our population, huge resources that many nations lack.

Nations such as heavily populated England, whose government doesn’t want us to leave the UK as it would then be required to negotiate and pay commercial rates under a trade deal for such resources as our electricity, water, oil and gas, food and drink.

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Currently, revenues raised in Scotland are primarily paid via HMRC into the UK Treasury. It allocates a portion of these revenues to the Scottish Government to fund all devolved spending and the remainder, raised in Scotland, is mainly spent on reserved issues outside Scotland. When independent, all our revenues will be under Scottish Government control as authorised by our constitution.

We are told that we have a significant deficit when the reality is that the devolved Scottish Government is legally required to balance its budget.

Currently, Westminster does not allow Scotland to borrow to invest, as we will be able to do when independent, so our infrastructure suffers from insufficient investment under a banking and financial system developed for the benefit of the wealthy elites, with little regard for the needs of the general populace.

Robert Ingram is the Chair of Constitution for Scotland, a registered charity dedicated to conducting and administering a public consultation on the content and subsequent promotion into legislation of a Constitution endorsed by credible numbers of Scottish citizens. This article was originally featured on our sister title, The National in Scotland. 

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