Independence Bill to set out interim written constitution

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  By a Newsnet reporter
 
Exactly two years ahead of Scotland’s planned day of independence on March 24th 2016, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has set out a timetable for delivering Scotland’s interim written constitution.
 
As part of her Wales Governance Centre Annual Lecture in Cardiff, Ms Sturgeon announced that – as part of the Scottish Government’s ongoing preparations for the transition to independence, should people choose it in the referendum – the draft Scottish Independence Bill will be published before the Scottish Parliament’s summer recess.

The Bill will provide for Scotland to become an independent state in March 2016 and set out its interim constitution.  The fundamental principle underpinning the Bill will be that, in Scotland, the people are sovereign.

This core principle resonates throughout Scotland’s history and will be the foundation stone for Scotland as an independent country.  The Bill will also set in place the process by which Scotland, as an independent country, will prepare its permanent written constitution in a fully participative process led by the people.

Following a vote for independence, the Scottish Independence Bill would be introduced to the Scottish Parliament.  It would form the interim written constitution for Scotland until the constitutional convention, which would be established by the Scottish Parliament elected in May 2016, prepared a permanent constitution for Scotland.

As First Minister Alex Salmond outlined last year, that constitutional convention will involve input from a wide cross-section of civic Scotland, articulating the nation’s values and enshrining them in a permanent written constitution.

Commenting on the announcement, Ms Sturgeon said:

“Today, the date which will become our independence day following a vote for independence this September, I want everyone in Scotland to consider who we are as a nation and what we have the potential to become.

“Independence is not a historical argument, it is the opposite – a live and vital opportunity to chart our own course, to give us the power to determine our own future and build the kind of country we can all be proud of.

“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. Currently we are without a written constitution, and the UK is the only country within the European Union or the Commonwealth that does not have a written constitution or a constitution Act – that is a democratic deficit an independent Scotland will not replicate.

“It is a cornerstone of Scottish democracy that sovereignty rests with the people. That is why we want to make the drafting of our permanent written constitution an inclusive process involving all the people of Scotland – it must be a constitution by the people, for the people – articulating Scotland’s values, enhancing our liberties and defining our responsibilities.

“I believe the process of drafting our constitution will energise and inspire people across the country – woman and men, young and old, rural and urban, people in all the diverse communities that make up modern Scotland. It would be an exciting and unique opportunity to shape our nation, celebrate and protect our values and commit ourselves to building a better country.”

In her Cardiff lecture, Ms Sturgeon will also set out the economic and social case for Scotland becoming independent.  She will argue that the notion of the UK as a partnership of equals is being undermined by those leading the argument against independence. 

And she will say that the social union between Scotland and the other nations of the British Isles will be strengthened, not weakened, if Scotland becomes an independent country.

In her lecture, the Deputy First Minister is expected to say:
 
“The very foundation stone on which the No campaign bases its argument is in effect being demolished by the leaders of that campaign.
 
“Those opposed to independence claim that the UK – as it currently stands – is an equal partnership of nations and of people.
 
“But in its attempts to scare voters in Scotland, the No campaign is destroying the very idea that the UK is a partnership of equals.
 
“The leaders of the No campaign are going out of their way to demonstrate where they think power really lies – Westminster.

Ms Sturgeon will also turn her attention to one of the key issues of the referendum debate, the sharing of assets and debt in the event of a Yes vote.

She will add:

“In the event of independence we are told we have the obligation to pay a share of the debt run up by successive Westminster Chancellors.
 
“But we are also told that we have no, or little, right to a share of the assets that we have contributed to and helped pay for through our taxes, NI contributions and TV licences.
 
“The UK Government has even paid for, and promoted, a legal opinion which says Scotland, as a country, has been ‘extinguished’.
 
“By their own words, they are tearing up the concept of the UK as a partnership of equals.
 
“Scotland  – formally ‘extinguished’ within the Westminster system.
 
“No rights to the institutions and assets we have contributed to.
 
“And a reminder that Westminster sees itself as the decision-maker with Scotland relegated to second-class status. 
 
“Why would anyone want to stay in a Union if that is the reality?

“Independence offers the greatest opportunity we will ever have to build a better Scotland and a better relationship across these islands.”