By Kenyon Wright
Your 6 point plan for a new settlement between Westminster and Scotland marks a qualitative change in the debate, but it raises some questions for all who, like me, have yet to be fully convinced by either side.
It is of course a positive change from the "politics of fear" that have been so depressing, but there is a much more important way in which, if I understand you aright, you are saying things we are not hearing from anyone else.
You will remember that the Constitutional Convention showed they were talking of something beyond mere devolution, when you and I, with many others, lined up to sign the "Claim of Right for Scotland" which acknowledged the sovereign right of the Scottish people in constitutional matters.
We built on that Claim when we declared
"We are adamant that the powers of the Scottish Parliament must be entrenched so that they cannot be altered without the consent of the Parliament representing the people of Scotland"
The Vision was clear, articulated by the Kirk’s Church and Nation Committee in 1989 "It is not possible to resolve the question of the democratic control of Scottish affairs apart from a fundamental shift in our constitutional thinking away from the notion of the unlimited or absolute sovereignty of the British Parliament towards the historic and reformed constitutional principle of limited or relative sovereignty"
Both the Claim of sovereignty, and the strenuous effort to entrench the new Parliament, proved ultimately impossible without that "fundamental shift", a real radical reformation of the UK’s constitutional foundation.
I have grave concerns that your proposals, and even more those of the Labour Party Commission, fall short of these ideals.
Anything I have heard from the Unionist side so far has always been in terms of more "devolution", but there are two problems with that. First, devolution, however "Max or Plus", leaves the relationship between Scotland and Westminster basically unchanged. As Enoch Powell reminded us, "Power devolved is power retained". It would always be power tentatively handed down by grace and favour, not of right. It goes deeper... Devolution of any degree, leaves the UK’s system of parliamentary sovereignty fundamentally unreformed and unchanged.
In the Constitutional Convention that delivered the Scottish Parliament, I recall Malcolm Bruce, then Liberal Democrat leader in Scotland, saying "Devolution is Dead" Donald Dewar spoke of "independence in the UK". Yet the Liberal Democrat commission, and even the inconsistent and incoherent commission report just produced by Labour, join the chorus about "devolution", not the basic change you seem to me to propose.
Your 2nd proposal – "a constitutional guarantee of the permanence of the Scottish Parliament" – can only constitutionally be achieved by radical change in the UK’s Governing principles, as the Convention’s experience taught us the hard way. Are you saying that the "new UK Constitutional law" you propose would achieve that?
As people come to decide on Yes or No, they will need the information now, to compare the clear prospects offered by both sides. I therefore believe it to be important that you give us the answer to 2 questions?
First, are you really and seriously proposing changes that would radically and permanently transform the UK Constitution, and therefore the relationship between Scotland and the UK Government, ensuring that Scotland’s autonomy is secure?
Second, what realistic prospect is there that this, rather than various degrees of devolution, will be presented to the people as a unified and firmly promised alternative to independence?
With best wishes,