Commenting on the Referendum White Paper in the Guardian on 14th August, Ian MacWhirter states: “Where the SNP proposal falls down is not in its open-mindedness, which is quite sincere, but in the way its national conversation is to be conducted. It is being offered as a kind of consultation exercise with no clear destination or procedure. It is not clear what happens at the end of it, nor who will decide how the results of the consultation are to be assessed. This is important because the 1989 cross-party Scottish constitutional convention, which led the last national conversation about devolution, had the authority to draft a constitutional blueprint which became the Scottish parliament. There is no comparable body to conduct the task this time. The SNP govern alone, and Alex Salmond will decide what the conversation means.”
We agree completely. The key unanswered question is who has the authority to set clear goals for the process, to analyse and interpret the results, and shape the response. There needs to be a clear destination and procedure, with an explicit process for deciding how the results of any “national conversation” to be assessed. And although Alex Salmond is clearly the man of the moment in Scotland today, not even he is able to decide what the “conversation” means nor how it should be conducted. Scotland is clearly at one of the most important crossroads in her history and the next few moves on the Scottish chessboard are far too important to be left to one man, however able, or to politicians alone or even to the government.
MacWhirter says that there is no current equivalent of the Scottish Constitutional Convention that led to devolution. That is not entirely true. There is a fledgling Scottish Constitutional Commission (www.constitutionalcommission.org), which has attracted support from some prominent citizens, including Helena Kennedy, Sir Bernard Crick, William McIllvanney, Bashir Maan and Neal Acherson. If broadcasting is considered important enough to merit a Broadcasting Commission, then surely the overriding issue, the constitution, is important enough to merit a Constitutional Commission.
There is a great deal of important work to be done. The Constitutional Commission could soon be in a position to fill the gaps that MacWhirter has highlighted. All we need is support from civic society and the media, as well as the nod of approval from the First Minister.
for the Scottish Constitutional Commission