The idea has taken on a quiet sort of momentum. Unheralded, it has become the constitutional common sense. An independent Scotland would have a written constitution, a unicameral parliament elected on a proportional basis, an extensive list of entrenched constitutional rights, including social and economic rights, and strong judicial review of primary legislation, giving judges the power to strike down laws which violate fundamental rights in court. At the periphery, places like Orkney and Shetland might be given more extensive powers of self government, but little in the way of systematic thought has been given to the sorts of government structures which the rest of the country should have, beneath the national level.
We're racing ahead of ourselves, prematurely closing what should be a more open, imaginative conversation. We know that the Scottish Government propose that a constitutional convention with some sort of populist flavour should be charged with drafting the text. But how can the people and their representatives make a real choice about the constitution they want, without a sense of the options and the alternatives? I worry that we're being drawn, unwittingly and to little advantage, into a vortex of conservatism, and a constitutional vision for the new state amounting to little more than the Scotland Act plus.
When it comes to the parliament, what are the key advantages and disadvantages of not having a second revising chamber? What benefits might we be forgoing if we carry on without one? What different international models might be borrow from and adapt to our circumstances? The Scottish Government propose to make the Court of Session and High Court of Justiciary collectively our supreme court. Why not consider creating a new apex court, or a distinct constitutional court like other countries elsewhere? What are the arguments on either side? The ability to vindicate your basic rights in court has obvious attractions. But what are the potential downsides and ambivalences?
And beneath the current constitutional consensus, there lurk a whole raft of potential conundrums and disunities. A proportionately-elected parliament, perhaps. But is the current electoral system the best? Against what criteria should the alternatives be evaluated? For example, the additional member system maintains a constituency link, but the d'Hondt method for allocating seats and the current regional structure favours larger parties. Should an independent Scotland fiddle with the system? We might, for example, extend the use of STV from our local to national elections. But that too will involve some compromises, privileging one set of values and principles over others.
We owe it to ourselves, to our politics, to pause and consider these matters properly. If only to ensure that we embark on building the new nation with a clear understanding of what we're about. As a Yes vote in September begins to look possible, we're going to have to give serious thought to these questions, and resist the temptation to be railroaded into adopting an unsatisfactory basic law by conservatism, simple lack of imagination, or awareness of the alternatives. To that end, over the next four months I'll be writing a series of articles here, touring potential constitutional controversies, exploring the arguments on both sides and gesturing towards some of the informative international parallels which might inspire (or warn) us, as we set out composing our basic law.
As you might expect, I have views and preferences about many of these issues myself, but the primary function of this Constitutional Imagination series is not to proselytise for particular constitutional causes. It hopes to serve a more cartographic purpose, mapping some of the alternatives in an accessible way, aspiring to whet your constitutional imaginations, and get the cogs whirring. If Scotland is to have a constitution devised to a significant extent by its people, its people must begin to exercise their minds more seriously about the options. Through this series, I hope to make a modest contribution towards that goal. Watch this space.