Thursday, 19 June 2014

The Draft Interim Constitution of Scotland

The Scottish Government is currently seeking responses to a consultation on its draft interim Constitution for an independent Scotland. Depending on the result of September's referendum, the interim document will form the new state's basic law until such time as a yet-to-be-convened constitutional convention has produced a final version, which will in turn no doubt have to be separately endorsed by voters.

The text is a carefully calibrated one aimed at winning the support of groups that will be key to the success or failure of the referendum. Thus it commits future Scottish Governments to nuclear disarmament (section 23) and to children's wellbeing (section 29), policy stances presumably intended to appeal to swithering Labour voters. It also seeks to safeguard the rights of island communities (section  30), which most people will interpret as an attempt to head off any separatist tendencies in Orkney and Shetland; though such tendencies have been overstated by the Unionist media, sometimes appearances can be as important as reality.

The trouble with the provisions on children and the islands — to neither of which, it should be said, any reasonable person could object — is the lack of clarity regarding what, if any, direct legal impact they might have on policy, i.e. how they will be justiciable. The Irish Constitution includes a number of unenforceable provisions, some of them now embarrassingly overtaken by societal change, and in general it can hardly be a good thing to include such vague proclamations, which may end up leaving the Constitution looking more like a stourie time capsule of social mores than a practical document. With regard to nuclear weapons, although it is of course highly likely that an independent Scotland would choose not to have them (i.e. not to allow the English to continue to station their Trident submarines in Scotland for more than a few years), that is surely a matter for a future Scottish Government.

The Blether Region's essential problem with the draft interim Constitution is not what it includes, however, but what it fails to include, notably, a statement that the maintenance of Gaelic (and Scots) is among the key missions of the state, and, by extension, one of the key justifications for its proposed separate existence. For all its failings in that regard, the Irish Republic not only includes such provisions in its Constitution, but in any dispute concerning interpretation, the Irish version takes precedence.

With regard to Scots, the Constitution should include a clear commitment to achievable developmental goals, including the formulation of a state-backed orthography taught in schools, university chairs of the language, a national Scots-language theatre, etc.

It is true that Scotland has always been a multilingual polity and that some people might view the explicit mention of autochthonous languages as inimical to the democratic, civic nationalism that it espouses. However, in essence such concerns are merely another manifestation of the cultural cringe and a reminder of the terrible damage wrought by incorporating Union. It is entirely possible — and, in fact, easy — to justify linguistic concerns within a biodiversity framework. If Gaelic and Scots die in Scotland, they will die everywhere, including in Nova Scotia and Ulster, where in social terms they currently fare even worse than at home.

The Scottish Government has already excluded the nation's autochthonous languages from the referendum question. It would be a tragedy of rare proportions were they to be excluded from the Constitution too.

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