By Canon Kenyon Wright
Ian Davidson MP, who convenes the Westminster Committee on Scotland, tells us the final word on how the referendum is run, remains with them. They are sovereign.
Can this be the same Ian Davidson whose signature I find on the "Claim of Right for Scotland"?
Did he and all his fellow Labour MPs really line up at the first meeting of the Constitutional Convention in 1989, to affirm "the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine what form of government best suits their needs"? Did his colleagues in the Scottish Parliament really vote with all parties except the Tories to re-affirm that “Claim of Right” just a few months ago?
The inconsistency illustrates the real dilemma we face, and what amounts to nothing less than the clash of two cultures or at least of two opposing historical views of where sovereignty lies.
In 1989 the Church of Scotland General Assembly said:
"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 Scottish principle of limited or relative sovereignty".
I confess to one way in which I regret the Convention failed, and demonstrated the same inconsistency. On the one hand our firm foundation was the Claim of Right. On the other we left constitutional affairs as an area reserved to Westminster.
It is surely time for Scotland to stand firm, as we have done in the past, against any attempt by the British Government or Parliament, to use its theoretical sovereignty, to dictate the terms of reference of the referendum, or the question or questions to be put. These are for Scotland’s Parliament to decide.
Nor is this some obscure triviality. If we miss this chance to determine clearly what we want for our nation, and William McIlvanney’s "cowardly lion" slinks back into its cage, we will have squandered the opportunity of a lifetime to determine the shape of Scotland as a nation for generations to come.
One thing is vital. We must use the next two years, not in sterile point-scoring or in inventing scare stories reminiscent of Michael Forsyth’s chant of “tartan tax”. The case for and against independence must be made by a clear well-conceived picture of what Scotland would be like, with a nationwide debate.
And if there is a second question about Secure Autonomy within a reformed Union, (please not “devo-max”!) as I earnestly hope there will be, that too must be defined with clarity. Both the independence and the autonomy lobbies need to work on the outline of a constitution for Scotland, which not only affirms the Scottish understanding of the sovereignty of the people, but also means that when the people vote, they will be voting not for or against vague emotional concepts, but with a crystal clear understanding of the implications for Scotland’s future as a nation.
In the last referendum, all knew they were voting not for some theoretical idea of a Parliament, but for a strong "different" kind of democracy, worked out painstakingly in Scotland over 6 years, in the Constitutional Convention.
I have a word of caution for Westminster. If the Union’s unwritten constitutional claim to have the last word is so inflexible that it proves incapable of recognising Scotland’s constitutional claim, then you are in effect saying that the only way in which Scotland’s people can be sovereign, is by independence.
Is that what you really want to say to the Scottish people?