News In Focus
Ministers publish draft Independence Bill
Public consultation opened today on the framework under which an independent Scotland would be governed until a permanent constitution can be drawn up.
SNP ministers published their draft Scottish Independence Bill, which in the event of a Yes vote in September's referendum would be enacted by the Scottish Parliament, it is proposed through a transfer of powers from Westminster under section 30 of the Scotland Act, declaring independence from a date to be set by the Parliament and setting out the interim constitution to take effect from that date.
The bill also provides that the Parliament "must, as soon as possible after Independence Day, make provision by Act of Parliament for the establishment of an independent Constitutional Convention to be charged with the task of drawing up a written constitution for agreement by or on behalf of the people of Scotland".
The interim constitution begins by stating that "In Scotland, the people are sovereign", and "have the sovereign right to self-determination and to choose freely the form in which their State is to be constituted and how they are to be governed" – with that sovereign will being expressed in the constitution and the laws made under it, limited only by the constitution and any obligations flowing from international agreements entred into.
However it also provides that Scots law is of no effect in so far as it is inconsistent with EU law, or incompatible with the rights and freedoms under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Scotland is to be a constitutional monarchy under Queen Elizabeth II and her successors as head of state. Those entitled to Scottish citizenship are defined, and there are statements of right to be treated with equality regardless or personal characteristics such as race or gender, and of a duty on public authorities to promote the wellbeing of children, and a healthy environment, in carrying out their functions.
Principles of the independence of the judiciary, and of the rule of law, are set out, with the Court of Session and High Court of Justiciary being the final courts of appeal respectively in civil and criminal matters, subject to matters dealt with by international courts such as the Court of Justice of the European Union.
There is also a duty imposed on the Scottish Government to pursue negotiations with a view to securing nuclear disarmament and the removal from Scotland of nuclear weapons based there.
In a lunchtime address at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Constitutional Law, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the constitution was "the basis of everyday life, not separate from it".
She added: "The process of creating the [permanent] constitution – the engagement by the people in it – will be as important in many ways as its contents. As well as political parties and civic society, the process should ensure that the sovereign people of Scotland are centrally involved in designing and determining a written constitution as the blueprint for our country’s future."
Ms Sturgeon confirmed that the present unicameral Parliament would continue, with its committee system to hold the executive to account.
“This is a very exciting time and I would encourage everyone to have their say on the bill", she said. "It is an exciting and unique opportunity to shape our nation, celebrate and protect our values and commit ourselves to building a better country.”
Cick here to view the consultation.
The deadline for responses is 12 noon on Monday 20 October 2014.
Promising full consideration and "detailed comment in due course", Alistair Morris, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: "We are pleased to see that the proposed Constitutional Convention would be fully independent and free from the direction or control of either the Scottish Government or Scottish Parliament. It would allow people from across Scottish society to be involved in the historic act of drawing up a new permanent written constitution for a newly independent Scotland. This is vitally important. After all, part of the strength of the existing Scottish Parliament is that its basic structure and operation came, not just from politicians and political parties, but from those with a wide spectrum of backgrounds in the Scottish Constitutional Convention."