Enshrine referendums in constitution

Share this article
Have your say

An independent Scotland should follow Switzerland and have the right to hold referendums in its constitution. In a recent article in The Scotsman (16 January) Tom Peterkin pointed out some problems from Scotland having only a single-level parliament.

But is a “house of lairds” the solution? Is a solution without Lord Forsyth unimaginable?

Switzerland is a relatively young country, founded only in 1291, some 400 years after Scotland and other European countries.

It learned from experience and decided not to have kings, queens, knights, lords or ladies.

It decided “the sovereign is the people” and this has worked very well for 700 years, to its great advantage.

Switzerland has a single-level parliament, like Scotland, but makes extensive use of referendums.

It has half a dozen a year, each with several questions. Of course, they must be much more intelligent than the Scots who, so we are told, can’t cope with more than one question.

Not only is every Swiss government decision subject to referendum but a referendum can oblige the government to address problems it would otherwise prefer to sweep under the carpet.

Some referendums have funny results, like new mosques being allowed but only without minarets, but others are very significant, such as the decision 20 years ago by 50.8 per cent to stay out of Europe, a decision which would now be opposed by only 11 per cent of the population.

Surely a Scotland born again by referendum can trust its people to deliver good choices.

Obvious subjects for post-independence referendums are the Queen, Europe, Nato, gay marriage, the currency and wind turbines – plenty to keep us busy.

Also, this will slow things down, as it did with Switzerland. It had not managed to dismantle all its trams before they came back into fashion and so it had a head start to a slick new system. For constitutional change, speed may not be of the essence.

George Shering

West Acres Drive


Alex Salmond says that Scotland has a policy of “free education” (your report, 17 January). This is misleading, because postgraduate education is not free in Scotland. Some education is free, some not free.

If he means free undergraduate education, then why is this a right, but not postgraduate education? This ambiguity arises because education is an open-ended pursuit, not an achievable goal. Education is more than just schooling and it can go on through all of life.

An obligation to free education means requiring future generations to pursue an open-ended commitment, while restricting the means to pursue this commitment.

We all agree that education is good; we can still disagree on how much education should be free.

However, contrary to what Dr Paul Arnell argues in the same article, it is wise to consider a written constitution.

We should not trust politicians any more than is 
necessary. Empowering politicians makes it easier for them to do good “effectively”, but also to do harm. Also, we Scots know there is no single will of “the people”, since the poll tax was imposed on Scotland by Tories who had majority of the vote in Britain but not here.

Written constitutions are useful precisely because politicians cannot be trusted to safeguard rights and because even a majority vote is not a mandate to violate our rights.

William Peden

Leny Feus


The article on the merits or disadvantages of having a written constitution throws up an interesting aside covered elsewhere in The Scotsman, namely the right of US citizens “to bear arms”.

Taken to its logical conclusion that the citizens of America should be allowed to bear arms of the type available to them at the time of the writing of its constitution, it’s worth noting that their constitution pre-dates the invention of the Henry Repeating rifle by around 100 years.

Douglas Turner

Derby Street