John McAllion, a former Labour MP and MSP for the Dundee East constituency, warned attendees of yesterday’s Scottish Socialist Voice forum in Edinburgh that Scottish Government proposals to establish a constitutional convention in the event of independence lack “any kind of detail”.
McAllion, now a member of the Scottish Socialist Party, was one of six panellists at yesterday’s event, which gave left-wing figures in the independence movement an opportunity to respond to Scotland’s Future, a Scottish Government document that lays out the case for independence and the means through which Scotland would become independent.
He spoke at some length about the “unwritten and infinitely flexible nature of the British constitution”, which he said was designed to entrench “a political elite consisting of politicians, judges, generals, admirals, press barons, business supremos, and Oxbridge graduates”.
And he said voting Yes in next year’s referendum would enable Scotland to escape “the political and constitutional prison which that elite has trapped working class people on this island in for more than three hundred years”.
The tenth chapter of Scotland’s Future says legislation in the transitional period between the referendum in 2014 and the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016 would “place on the Scottish Parliament a duty to establish a constitutional convention to prepare the written constitution”.
But McAllion said: “[Scotland’s Future] doesn’t spell out in any kind of detail how that constitutional convention will be put together, other than leaving it to the first independent Scottish Parliament to come forward with proposals. That causes me problems.
“I was a member of the last Scottish Constitutional Convention, which was set up to deliver the blueprint for the devolved Scottish Parliament, and that Scottish Constitutional Convention claimed at the time that it was open, inclusive, and broadly-based, but in fact it was none of those things. It was self-appointed, it was elitist, and it was ultimately unrepresentative because it consisted of politicians from some, but not all, of the political parties and some, but not all, civil society actors.”
He added: “If that is what is planned by the Scottish Government, to have that kind of constitutional convention draw up plans for a new written constitution, then we’re all deeply, deeply in trouble. […] So we need to be thinking now about the kind of constitutional convention that we would like to see.”
Though he said he did not yet have a personal preference, McAllion suggested there could be a directly-elected convention or something similar to a citizens’ assembly, and that activists must have a “quick debate” on the matter before the 2016 election.
He finished his discourse on the constitution by saying: “We have lived in a so-called democracy for more than a hundred years where the people aren’t sovereign. We could live in a democracy where people really are sovereign and that would be a prize worth winning.”