An independent Scotland’s written constitution: what you need to know

The Scottish Government has published the latest in its series of independence papers, setting out a blueprint for what an independent Scotland would look like to give people an informed choice on Scotland’s future.

It states that after independence, Scotland would move away from the UK constitutional system by adopting a written, codified constitution – enshrining and enhancing the rights of all citizens.

Click here to read the full document, or read on for a handy summary.

Here’s all you need to know.

The UK is an outlier in not having a written constitution

The UK is one of very few countries in the world that does not have a single, written document that could be called a constitution. Instead the UK has a series of laws, conventions and precedents that form how the country works.

At the heart of it is the idea of that the Westminster parliament is sovereign, requiring a simple majority to legislate on any matter.

What this means is that no matter how central any law is to society, like a publicly owned NHS, workers’ rights, or even devolution, a simple majority vote at Westminster could change or overturn that law.

Why does Scotland need a written constitution?

A written constitution would help to ensure that Scotland is a more democratic country.

After independence, Scotland can have a modern, written constitution that reflects the values of the Scottish people – ensuring that the power of the Scottish state is derived from the people.

The rights of the people would be laid out in a clearly written and accessible document, and would not be able to be altered or stripped by a simple majority vote.

What are the clear benefits of having a written constitution for Scotland?

The Scottish Government’s paper sets out the benefits of having a written constitution, including:

  • Providing a clear framework for government – a written constitution would set out the powers of the different branches of government, ensuring that government is transparent and accountable.
  • Protecting the rights of people in Scotland – a written constitution would enshrine the rights of people in Scotland, such as the right to free speech and the right to a fair trial. This would help to protect people from the arbitrary exercise of power by the government.
  • Helping to ensure that Scotland is a more democratic country – a written constitution would help to ensure that Scotland is a more democratic country by clearly setting out the principles of democracy, such as the rule of law and the separation of powers.

A written Scottish constitution will protect the NHS

The Scottish Government paper specifically mentions the NHS as an institution that must be protected and maintained under Scotlandโ€™s new constitution. Under both the interim and the permanent constitution, it states:

โ€˜An independent Scotland could have a constitution that provides recognition of the NHS in Scotland, giving the right to access a system of health care, available free at the point of useโ€™.

By enshrining the NHS in a written constitution, we can ensure for the current and the future generations that access to healthcare is free at the point of need as a fundamental right in an independent Scotland.

It also protects the NHS against being sold off to, for example, US healthcare companies in future trade deals, and protects it against being dismantled and replaced by a for-profit based system.

A written Scottish constitution will protect workers’ rights

The paper also states that one of the features of an independent Scotland’s constitution would be the protection of workers’ rights, including the right to strike.

The UK Tory government is passing laws that attack workers’ rights and hamper the ability to strike, and following Brexit, Westminster has voted to rip up protections like holiday pay for part-time workers or the right to rest breaks.

In stark contrast, Scotland would seek to protect and enhance these rights in a constitution, including the right to join a union and to strike – which are included in over 90 constitutions around the world.

What would be the process of adopting a written constitution?

On day one of becoming independent, the Scottish Government proposes an interim constitution. An interim constitution would provide a stable transition between Scotland as a devolved nation under Westminster, and as a fully independent country.

It would set out how Scotland is governed in this transition period, and would keep some of the institutions that Scotland has now, such as the Scottish Parliament, the monarchy and conventions on human rights that the UK is signed up to.

After Scotland becomes independent, it would create a constitutional convention to draft the permanent constitution, consisting of representatives from across Scottish civil society.

The Constitutional Convention would then present their permanent constitution to the Scottish Parliament, which would then consider it and put it to the people of Scotland to endorse it in a referendum.

If approved in a referendum, it would become the permanent, written constitution for Scotland.

How would people in Scotland be involved in creating the constitution?

The citizens’ convention would be established to write the permanent constitution, in a collaborative process that consults with people across Scotland on what they think the constitution should have in it.

The process would ensure that a wide range of people, communities and organisations, including experts and representatives of different groups across society, are involved in this shared national endeavour of creating a new constitution.