Public Discussion: ‘A Progressive Constitutional Future?’


The independence referendum in 2014 will afford Scots the opportunity to recast the governmental institutions and fundamental rights they and future generations will enjoy.

In the event of independence, the Scottish Government has committed itself to a policy of adopting a written Constitution for the new state, to be developed by a broad, participatory and inclusive process during the life of the first Parliament.

Regardless of one’s views on the desirability or otherwise of independence, it would be prudent for all with a stake in Scotland’s future to engage in that constitution-making processes at an early stage, if only as a form of contingency planning against an unlikely but possible scenario. What is certain is that, if independence is to happen, the Scottish state must not be allowed to fall into the hands of one person or one party – it must belong to all.

The devolution process brought about a substantial change to governance arrangements in Scotland – with the adoption of proportional representation, fixed term Parliaments and other variations on the Westminster model, which were intended to modernise and democratise out institutions. A future constitutional settlement, either as separate state or as a highly devolved autonomous jurisdiction within a renegotiated union, could go further.

A major area of constitutional development currently under consideration is ‘Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ (to which might be added a forth category, of ‘Environmental Rights’). Can a new constitutional settlement establish a more communitarian basis for public policies in these areas? Another area is that of peace and nuclear weapons. Should a commitment to a non-aggressive, nuclear-free Scotland be written into constitutional law? These are issues that many in Scotland, on both sides of the independence debate, believe to be of first-order importance.

This conference discusses the case for provisions in a written Scottish constitution which address these issues and provide for a well-balanced and egalitarian Scottish state well into the future.

Mark McNaught (University of Rennes 2 / Sciences-Po Paris) – ‘Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the Constitutions of other European Democracies’. This presentation will examine the provisions of other constitutions with respect to economic, social and cultural rights, encouraging discussion on what the possibilities for similar provisions in a future Scottish Constitution might be.

W. Elliot Bulmer (Research Director, Constitutional Commission) – ‘Law, Principle and Guidance: The Politico-Legal Enforcement of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Comparative Perspective’.  This presentation will examine the ways in which economic, social and cultural rights can be enforced without turning judges into policy-makers.

Neil Davidson (University of Glasgow) – An independent Scotland will remain a deeply class-divided society in which worker’s rights have been steadily eroded at a UK level since the 1980s: will focus on what the trade union and labour movement should argue to be included in a written constitution that will help reverse this situation.

John MacDonald – An independent Scotland will have big decisions to make with regard to its military posture.  Of particular importance will be how it might rid itself of the British nuclear deterrent, and how involved it might become in the NATO-region’s burgeoning security agenda. This presentation focuses upon what kinds of articles a written constitution should contain in order to maximize the chances that an independent Scotland will be a responsible, non-nuclear, military actor.

Click HERE for tickets. 

The Conference will be held on Monday June 24, 2013, 7:00-9:00PM at the following location:

European Parliament Office
The Tun
4 Jackson’s Entry
Holyrood Road
Edinburgh EH8 8PJ

It has been sponsored by Alyn Smith MEP