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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Summary of the UCL Public Seminar on the Parliamentary Boundaries Review

UCL Public Seminar Summary – Parliamentary Boundaries Review

This seminar was conducted by Prof Ron Johnston, Prof Charles Pattie and David Rossiter who presented the findings of their audit of the public consultation phase of the boundary review. All commissions must present their Final Report to the Secretary of State by 1 October 2013.

What fundamental changes were made?

The criteria for determining the boundaries changed from an organic one to an arithmetic one and this fact dominates the kind of transformation that will be seen. In the past the drawing up of constituency boundaries took into account a sense of community and historical connections between places, the new system laid out in The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 is defined by mathematical rules. These rules require that all UK Constituencies (with the exception of four) have electorates within -/+5% of the national quota of 76,641. The effects of this mean that it has often been impossible for the Boundary Commissions to keep historically and socially connected areas together.

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Nick Clegg claims PM’s backing for bill to create elected Lords

Nick Clegg will signal that Lords reform will be the key parliamentary battleground of next year by promising the next Queen’s speech will include plans for an elected upper house that will be forced past peers if necessary.

In a speech on Monday to the Demos thinktank, the deputy prime minister will make the changes central to what he says is a drive to create an open society free of vested interests.

Read it at The Guardian ›

The endgame for the Scotland bill

The Scotland bill, framed to implement the Coalition’s Programme for Government commitment to implement the recommendations of the Calman Commission, had its second reading in the House of Lords in October.  It has also been reconsidered by the Scottish Parliament during the autumn, following a first consideration in late 2010 and early 2011.  The Lords Committee stage has been put on hold pending its reconsideration at Holyrood. Following May’s election, the new Parliament has a very different composition to the old one.  Despite the conditional approval given to the bill by the old Parliament before the election and the wider demands of the SNP majority, the UK Government has declined to change the bill.

Read it at The Constitution Unit Blog ›

19th December 2011

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Fresh battle looms between European human rights court and UK

Prosecutors could be forced to stop using evidence from victims and witnesses who do not attend court in another human rights battle between Britain and Europe. The case is the first significant clash between European judges and the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court, over who should dictate domestic law.

Read it at The Telegraph ›

14th December 2011

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Public to decide whether to ‘recall MPs’ by petition

Public to decide whether to ‘recall MPs’ by petition

MPs guilty of serious wrongdoing could be forced to stand down and face a by-election if enough constituents want them “recalled” under new proposals.

Under government plans, 10% of an MP’s constituents would have to sign a petition for a by-election to happen.

Read it at BBC News ›

14th December 2011

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Independence boost for Alex Salmond as new poll shows rise in support

Independence boost for Alex Salmond as new poll shows rise in support

Support for independence has increased but still falls short of a majority, according to a poll today. The Ipsos MORI survey suggests 38% of people would vote to take Scotland out of the UK, up three points from a poll in August. Voters appear to want an early say in the future of the constitution, rather than stick to First Minister Alex Salmond’s preferred timetable.

The SNP leader has said the referendum is likely to take place towards the end of this five-year parliamentary session, meaning it could be held in or after 2014. But 33% of people in the survey want it held as soon as possible, while a further 31% want it within the next two years.

Read it at the Daily Record ›

21st November 2011

A summary of this week’s constitutional affairs: bringing together debates and questions in Parliament, Select Committee activity and online comment.

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Plans to change the Rules of Succession must achieve consensus in a complicated Commonwealth

The current rules of succession stipulate that a female heir should always be passed over in favor of a male sibling, even if they are younger than her.  Furthermore, three hundred and twenty three years after the Glorious Revolution, professing Roman Catholic faith still disqualifies an heir apparent from ascending to the throne.  This month the government has set out plans to scrap these anachronistic criteria for the selection of British heads of state.  However, as the king or queen of the UK is also the head of state of the 15 other commonwealth countries, David Cameron must achieve extremely broad consensus before change can proceed. Bob Morris of UCL’s Constitution Unit talks to the Huffington Post about why getting these nations to agree to amend their constitutional arrangements might be difficult, complicated and slow.

Read it at the Huffington Post ›

12th October 2011

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