THE SNP should devise a written constitution for an independent Scotland before passing it to a cross-party constitutional convention to dot the Is and cross the Ts, Bruce Crawford MSP has suggested.
The written constitution should ban nuclear weapons and enshrine the right to free education and a home for every Scot forever if they vote for independence next year, Crawford told the SNP Conference in Inverness.
It would also allow Scotland to dump the “profoundly undemocratic Westminster system” of unelected Lords, fellow SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing said.
But a written constitution could also hand unprecedented power to unelected judges, who would be required to interpret its clauses, limit MSPs’ choices over the distribution of scarce resources, and open the door to an “elected dictatorship”, other delegates warned.
Mr Crawford, a former SNP minister who is now spearheading Holyrood’s cross-party Referendum Committee, said: “The UK has no written constitution, which is highly unusual in western democracies and unique in the EU.
“The concept of an unwritten constitution is what enables the unelected House of Lords to linger on as a disgrace to democracy.”
The SNP proposes to convene a Scottish constitutional convention to build consensus on the constitution, involving all political parties and wider public and civic Scotland
“It’s the SNP’s job to flesh out what the nation’s constitution might look like, and I think it should include lots of things including material on economic and social rights,” said Mr Crawford.
“But it’s not our job to cross every T and dot every I. That is the job of the constitutional convention. This is not the SNP’s constitution, it must be the people of Scotland’s constitution.”
Ms Ewing, daughter of SNP trailblazer Winnie Ewing, said: “A written constitution would allow us to move away from the profoundly undemocratic Westminster system that we are subjected to, with unelected and supposedly noble lords like Lord Freud imposing social engineering on our people with the pernicious and iniquitous bedroom tax.”
Daniel Wylie, an adviser to the SNP-affiliated European Free Alliance party in Brussels, said: “Abolishing child poverty and providing settled accommodation rest on contested definitions of what these are, with legitimate debate about different conceptions of the goal.
“These kinds of detailed policy questions and decisions about the distribution of limited resources are best settled through the people, through elections and by their representatives in the legislature.
“They are not best settled by judges whose philosophies are not subject to regular approval by the people, and whose decisions on enforcing these guaranteed constitutional rights could cause bitter political controversy.”
Gerry Fisher, a delegate from Argyll & Bute, said: “I disagree with the party’s policy in its written constitution for a single chamber government.
“The version of the written constitution that I would vote for, if it does have a single chamber government, would in-fact have some means of stopping the election of a government that can then change the constitution or do many things on the basis of 1% majority in a vote, in other words an elected dictatorship.
“The great American jurist and member of the Supreme Court Oliver Wendell Holmes said, very truly, ‘the constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is’.
“That could mean the Court of Session could decide what the (Scottish) constitution says.”
SNP delegates endorsed Mr Crawford’s call for a written constitution, and rejected the concerns of Mr Wylie and Mr Fisher.