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Leaders: Declarations don’t answer basic questions

Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, set out proposals for a written constitution in the event of a Yes vote. Picture: PA

Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, set out proposals for a written constitution in the event of a Yes vote. Picture: PA

A widespread observation about the referendum campaign is that, for all the intense exchange of political and statistical fire, many feel they are little the wiser about what independence would really entail.

Two developments yesterday should help clear the fog a little. John Swinney, the finance secretary, said Scotland would borrow billions of pounds in the first few years of independence in a bid to kick-start the economy and end austerity. And in a speech in Edinburgh, Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, set out proposals for a written constitution in the event of a Yes vote. This would include a written commitment to the removal of Trident nuclear weapons in Scotland, strengthening of human rights protection and safeguards for children.

A temporary constitution would run from the envisaged “Independence Day” on 24 March, 2016, until a permanent written constitution is in place. She also said an independent constitutional convention would be established to prepare a permanent document for an independent Scotland. Ms Sturgeon argues that a written constitution would be Scotland’s “Declaration of Independence” and as such would be an important part of the nation’s identity.

It is one of the strange anomalies of the UK that since the 1650s it has not had a written constitution, though ironically it has helped to write the constitutions of many former colonies as they moved to independence in the post-war era. Today, almost 200 countries have written constitutions, while opinion in the UK continues to favour the complex, obscure, but flexible patchwork of custom and precedent.

However, a growing number now feel that this unwritten set of principles no longer suffices in the era of European human rights law and the needs of an increasingly diverse population. That said, the rewards of a written constitution with its greater certainty, accessibility and clarity would need to be balanced against the risks of a prescriptive, ever-expanding Napoleonic Code of rights, procedures and obligations.

What is not clear is how the rest of the UK would react to nuclear weapons being moved out of Scotland to an as yet unknown destination. What should we care? goes the obvious response, but the truth is if we are negotiating a separation agreement that would almost certainly form a part of it and carry a cost, but we don’t know what that would be. Similarly we now know Mr Swinney wants to borrow for an independent Scotland, but as we don’t know what the currency situation will be we don’t know what a new Scotland’s credit rating will be, and how much it will be charged for borrowing the money.

And also yesterday we had the Unionist parties issuing a pledge for more powers for Scotland in the event of a No vote, but we do not know what those powers will be. There are still many, big, unanswered questions.

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Welcome news of F1 legend’s revival

For Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher and his family it is as near to a miracle as they could wish. The 45-year-old motor racing icon has come out of a coma, six months after suffering a horrific skiing accident and severe brain damage at Maribel in the French Alps. He has now left the hospital in Grenoble and has been transferred to Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland for the next phase of his recovery.

His ruthless driving made him renowned throughout the world of racing. He won a record 91 races and seven world titles before he retired in 2012. There is an irony that he came through that only to face his biggest medical trauma skiing.

The prognosis in the immediate aftermath of the accident was not at all good. Indeed, according to Formula One’s former chief doctor Gary Hartstein as recently as March, it was unlikely that the racing legend would ever recover from the accident that left him in a coma. “As time goes on,” said Hartstein, “it becomes less and less likely that Michael will emerge to any significant extent.”

The statement yesterday was the first real update since April when he was said to have shown signs of consciousness. This progress is truly heartening news after an agonising period when the racing ace was fighting for his life. But it is clear from the cautious statements from Grenoble that Schumacher has a very long journey still to undertake on the road to recovery. For the future the family has asked for “understanding that his further rehabilitation will take place away from the public eye”. He goes to Lausanne with the world’s best wishes for further progress. It is to be welcomed that he is now in a new “rehabilitation phase”.

 

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