‘How not to change the constitution’: New opinion paper by Nat le Roux

A paper by the co-founder and former Director of The Constitution Society, Nat le Roux, is published online today. It discusses the handling of the Scottish referendum, its aftermath, and the implications for the way in which constitutional reform takes place in the UK.

The paper expresses the personal views of the author.

Download a copy here. 

24th September 2014

After the Referendum…

Political developments around the ‘No’ vote in Scotland last Thursday have highlighted the salience of two recent papers published by The Constitution Society, both available online:

After the Referendum: Options For a Constitutional Convention, by Alan Renwick, was produced in partnership with Unlock Democracy. The pamphlet argued that, whatever the result of Scotland’s independence referendum, careful constitutional thinking would be needed. It examined how such constitution-making should take place. It set out the options, gathered evidence from around the world on how these options might work, and weighed the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative. It concluded that constitutional proposals in the UK should best be developed by a convention comprising a mixture of ordinary members of the public and politicians; and that these proposals should be put to a referendum. This approach, the paper argued, offers the best route to high-quality debate, stronger democratic engagement, and, ultimately, deeper legitimacy for our governing structures.

‘If Scotland says ‘No’: What Next For The Union?’ examined the implications of a ‘No’ vote for the UK constitution. It concluded that a ‘no’ vote would not mean ‘no change’, and that it was very likely that unionist parties would adopt proposals for more devolution. It examined the possible consequences for Scotland and for the Union as a whole. To produce this paper,  The Constitution Society brought together three leading think tanks from across the political spectrum to explore these questions and propose some possible answers. With contributions from Professor Michael Keating, Magnus Linklater, Jim Gallagher and Philip Blond, this collaboration with CentreForum, the Fabian Society and ResPublica set the scene for the post-referendum debate.

22nd September 2014

Sir John Elvidge APPG Meeting On Scottish Referendum

The latest meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the British Constitution was honoured to have as its main speaker, Sir John Elvidge, former Permanent Secretary to the Scottish government 2003 – 2010.

Sir John opened the discussion of the issues surrounding the upcoming independence vote by: firstly laying out what he believed were three misjudgments about the nature of constitutional change relating to it, secondly stating what he believed were the two most interesting judgments the UK government has made in its wrangling with the independence movement, and finally outlining the most difficult decision the Scottish government has to consider and get right in this process. Following his introduction, the distinguished guest fielded questions from a room full of parliamentarians and interested observers on the nature of the upcoming referendum, its most important developments so far, and where it might go in the future. 

 Topics discussed included:

  • The calculated risks taken by both governments in framing how the referendum will take place.
  • The extent to which voters’ decisions will be driven by emotional and idealistic notions tied to culture or hard-headed economic reasoning.
  • How the SNP plans to deal with fiscal issues of social security spending and its investment in renewable energy.
  • How important the UK’s continuing EU membership is to Scottish voters.

  And perhaps most intriguingly…

  • The continuing future of ‘DevoMax’ as an alternative option to a Yes/No decision.
  • What a close-margin outcome to the vote could mean for the future of Scotland, independent or not.
  • The possible future of the Orkney, Shetland, and Western Isles if the rest of the country decides to vote Yes.

The full audio recording of this meeting can be found here to listen to or download along with a host of other APPG podcasts.

Read more ›

13th August 2013

The Coalition’s mid-term constitutional plans

It’s been a furiously busy two years of constitutional news: from the AV referendum and failed Lords reform to elected Police Commissioners and fixed-term parliaments. But now with the Coalition reaching mid-point in this parliament what constitutional issues will be raised in the run-up to 2015?

The downgrading of Chloe Smith’s role from that of her predecessor’s indicates that the Coalition will be placing less priority on parliamentary and constitutional reform, but there still remain huge constitutional matters that will be addressed before the end of this parliament.

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11th January 2013

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Salmond and Cameron agree on independence referendum

The British and Scottish governments have largely agreed on the details of a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014. Though some issues remain to be ironed out, it is understood that there will be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question with no third option on the devolution of more powers. It also appears that agreement has been reached on allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote on Scotland’s future.

With general agreement reached it seems clear that a referendum on Scotland’s future in the United Kingdom will now be taking place in 2014. The legal consequences of this will be paramount to the Scottish electorate making an informed decision. The Constitution Society will be looking in-depth at these consequences as well as continuing to monitor developments on this important topic.   

Queen’s Speech – the constitutional highlights

This year’s Queen’s Speech is the second under the Coalition and the 57th of Her Majesty’s reign, the full text of which can be found here. While the emphasis of the government programme appears to be to ‘reduce the deficit and restore economic
stability’ this is a speech that outlines some potentially monumental constitutional changes. 

Succession

The speech notes that the  ‘…government will continue to work with the 15 other Commonwealth realms to take forward reform of the rules governing succession to the crown’. Building upon the Perth agreement between Commonwealth Realms in 2011, the speech alludes to the plans to end male preference primogeniture, allow those who marry Roman Catholics to remain in the line of succession and reduce the need to ask permission of monarch for a marriage to only the six closest in line to the throne. 

While relatively uncontroversial, such moves will require the amending of several key constitutional laws such as the 1689 Bill of Rights and the 1701 Act of Succession. 

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Judges, Politicians and the Contested Constitution

By Aidan O'Neill QC

Judges, Politicians and the Contested Constitution

Conrad Russell once observed that the essential problem of the relationship between Scotland and England “could be defined by saying that England could brook no equal, and Scotland no superior.” Read more ›

Would the Conservatives benefit from Scottish independence?

By Michael Everett, Researcher, The Constitution Society

A few weeks ago David Cameron attempted to seize the initiative over the question of Scottish independence by suggesting that the SNP should hold a referendum on this question sooner rather than later. Several reasons have been offered for Cameron’s actions, including the argument that the political and economic uncertainty surrounding Scotland’s place in the Union is bad for business and foreign investment.[1] Perhaps the most intriguing rumour doing the rounds at Westminster, however, is that several senior Tories, including George Osborne, favour an early referendum because they believe it offers the Conservatives a ‘win-win’ situation.

Behind this argument lies a belief that an early referendum is likely to favour the unionists. Polls suggest that support for independence in Scotland is currently low.[2] A referendum held in the near future would therefore probably result in a ‘no’ to Scottish independence. Read more ›

The Weakest Link: The UK government’s legal argument for a binding referendum on Scottish independence runs counter to international and constitutional law

By Dr Matt Qvortrup

When Michael Moore stood at the Dispatch Box at Westminster on the 10th of January he had a simple message; Scotland’s constitutional settlement rests with Westminster and Scottish independence would require the consent of London.

It could be argued that this view is somewhat at odds with international law and it might not be compatible with the constitutional doctrine of referendums in the United Kingdom.

Leaving aside the issue of whether Scotland should become independent or not, it is important that things are done in accordance with accepted principles of constitutional and international law.

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Now We’re Talking: About The Scottish Referendum

By Aidan O'Neill QC

In an article originally posted on the UK Supreme Court Blog this month, Aidan O’Neill QC discussed the legal issues surrounding a referendum on Scottish Independence:

In a post on the UKSC blog in November of last year I suggested that it would be worthwhile talking about the proposed referendum on Scottish independence which Scotland’s First Minister has pledged to hold sometime in the lifetime of the current Scottish Parliament, most recently suggesting that it may be held in Autumn 2014.

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