LANDMARK proposals for the creation of an independent Scottish state were launched yesterday with Scots being urged to seize the “historic opportunity” to help shape the new country.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon unveiled the draft Scottish Independence Bill and said the people have a unique chance to create a “truly home-grown, free-standing constitution for their state”.
But the proposals provoked controversy with pro-republican campaigners urging Scots to use the consultation process to ditch the Queen as head of state.
The bill paves the way for the “foundations of the state” if there is a Yes vote in the referendum, providing an interim written constitution from the first day of independence, with a permanent written constitution to be established in the longer term.
It sets out where the powers and duties lie in the state, the rights of its citizens, and the underpinning laws. It proposes an obligation to advance towards nuclear disarmament and the strengthening of human rights protection.
Ms Sturgeon said the legislation will be the “constitutional platform” for the government of Scotland from independence day, in the event of a Yes vote.
“The fundamental principle underpinning the bill is that, in Scotland, the people are sovereign,” she said. “This core truth resonates throughout Scotland’s history and will be the foundation stone of Scotland as independent country.”
Scots are now being urged to get involved in the four-month consultation on the interim constitution. A proposed Constitutional Convention would be established to devise a permanent constitution and senior legal figures last night welcomed the guarantee that this would be independent from the Scottish Government or Scottish Parliament.
Alistair Morris, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “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.”
The UK is the only country in the European Union which does not have a written constitution or Constitution Act.
The Scottish Government has suggested the constitution could include provisions to provide a right to free education and a home, as well as public services and a standard of living that secures “dignity and self-respect.”
There would also be controls on the use of military force which could only be done after going before the Scottish Parliament, a ban on nuclear weapons, as well as protections for the role of local government.
The interim constitution proposes retaining the Queen as head of state, but anti-Monarchy group Republic called on Scots to oppose this.
Some Nationalist MSPs are supportive of ditching the Queen as head of state, but Ms Sturgeon insisted yesterday there is no widespread appetite for this.
The Deputy First Minister insisted the process of creating a constitution should be an “energising” one which ensured the people of Scotland were “centrally involved in designing and determining a written constitution as the blueprint for our country’s future”.
She told an audience at the University of Edinburgh the “opportunities” provided by having a written constitution were “an important part of the argument for independence”.
She said: “We believe that Scotland should have a written constitution, rather than the quilt work of statutes, precedent, practice and tradition that make up the constitution of the UK.
“A written constitution provides certainty and security for the citizens of a state. It defines and constrains the organs of the state. It describes where powers lies and how those who wield it are chosen and scrutinised. As is well known, this is not always clear in the UK.”
Opposition leaders dismissed the proposals. Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: “The people of Scotland would be more interested if the Nationalists had set out what the start-up costs of independence would be, what would replace the pound, how our pensions would be paid or what would happen to the money available for our schools and hospitals if we leave the UK. Keeping these details from Scots simply isn’t credible.”
Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “The Scottish Government appears to be confusing a country’s constitution with an SNP wish list. Many of the lines included do not reflect public opinion, such as the SNP dislike of Trident.
“Instead of plotting fantasy constitutions, the Scottish Government would be better working out some hard and fast costings of separation, which astonishingly has not been done yet.”
Scottish Green Party co-convener Patrick Harvie said the proposals set out plans for a “modern, compassionate democracy” where “power is held to account”.
The interim legal framework of an independent Scotland after independence would have two elements. These comprise the Scotland Bill and an overhaul of the existing Scotland Act which would shift all powers which are currently “reserved” at Westminster back to Holyrood.
Ms Sturgeon said a written constitution for an independent Scotland could embody the values of the nation, secure the rights of its citizens, provide a distinction between the state and the government and “guarantee a relationship of respect and trust between the institutions of the nation and its people”.
Referring specifically to its section on nuclear disarmament, she said: “This provision would place a binding duty on the Scottish Government to negotiate towards the safe, speedy removal of Trident from our shores.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “A written constitution is an important part of a nation’s identity – it defines who we are and sets out the values that we hold dear. It would be our ‘Scottish Declaration of Independence’, founded on the principle that in Scotland, the people are sovereign, not the government or the parliament.”
• The Scottish Independence Bill would be passed at Holyrood after a Yes vote, in time for Independence Day in March 2016.
• Most of the bill sets out the “interim constitution” for the new state that would be in place immediately after independence.
• A Constitutional Convention would be established to draw up a permanent constitution.
• The current Scotland Act would be overhauled to shift all the currently “reserved” powers from London to Holyrood, or a new Westminster Act would be passed to enable this.