SCOTLAND could be handed a similar deal to former UK colonies through a “charter of autonomy” to guarantee Holyrood’s constitutional future, MSPs have been told.
Such a measure could “entrench” the permanence of the Scottish Parliament, unlike the current situation where Westminster retains the power to abolish it.
The Smith Commission agreement calls for the Scottish Parliament to be made “permanent” in UK law, but Lord Smith admitted this week that any new arrangements could still see Holyrood abolished by Westminster.
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said he was prepared to look into calls for an Autonomy Act as he appeared before MSPs on Holyrood’s devolution committee yesterday.
Nationalist convener Bruce Crawford asked what measures could be taken to “entrench such a concept of permanence and enhance the autonomy of the institutions of government and parliament”.
Mr Crawford said: “A suggestion has been made to me … that might be worth looking at. In the post-colonial period, when the Autonomy Acts were passed for post-colonial areas, they also contained a Charter of Autonomy.
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“We’re not in a post-colonial era, I understand that. But if there was an Autonomy Act which had a Charter of Autonomy in it, that would reserve certain powers and functions. That has been suggested to me as a potential avenue to be able to entrench the Scottish Parliament’s powers.”
The proposal would see Westminster passing an Autonomy Act that includes a Charter of Autonomy for Scotland.
It is based on the precedent that while Westminster can’t bind its successors, it can and has renounced its sovereignty, particularly in governing former colonies.
It would do this in the policy areas that are the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament, such as health and education. Unlike with former colonies, Westminster would retain sovereignty in areas that are reserved.
This would not change the legal status of the Scottish Parliament, but would mean Westminster giving up its sovereignty in devolved areas.
The Scottish Secretary told MSPs he would certainly be “prepared to explore it”.
He added: “The immediate question that comes to my mind is how do you entrench the charter and it seems to come back to primary legislation. A charter may draw on the way in which the Treaty of Union was enacted and the Act of Union. All these things can be looked at.”
Mr Carmichael said that the permanence of the Scottish Parliament is guaranteed by the “will of the Scottish people”.
He said: “That was the claim of right that was signed up to in the 1990s under the constitutional convention and for practical purposes it’s unthinkable that you would not have within the United Kingdom a Scottish Parliament.”
Lord Smith of Kelvin, who brokered a cross-party deal on devolution, admitted on Tuesday that his proposal for the Scottish Parliament to be “made permanent” could contravene the principle that no government can bind any future government. He invited suggestions on how Holyrood’s permanence can be assured when “nothing is permanent” in the UK without a written constitution.
Mr Carmichael held talks with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday about implementing the proposals of the Smith
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