Constitutional Thought for the Day

What are Constitutions For?

All states practice government; all communities practice politics.

In an authoritarian regime, government ignores and excludes politics. In a totalitarian regime, government controls and manipulates politics. Only in a democracy does politics direct government.

The aim of a democratic constitution is not to settle every difference, nor to establish a depoliticising ‘once and for all’ blueprint of the ideal society, but to allow politics to control government, without enabling government to control politics.

The structural aspects of the constitution, which establish the institutions of representation, contestation and responsibility, enable politics to control the government, and so protect against authoritarianism.

The substantive aspects of the constitution, which establish the basic rights and liberties of citizens, prevent the government from controlling politics (because they exclude the use of state terror, and create a zone where private and social life can flourish), and so protect against totalitarianism.

So, as we continue to discuss the form that a future Scottish Constitution should take, as we think about what to include and exclude, and as we wrangle about questions of timing and process, let’s not lose sight of the over-riding purpose of a Constitution: not to end political dispute, but to enable it to proceed peacefully; not to solve every problem, but to enable our problems to be solved in a democratic manner.

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