On September 18, 2014, the people of Scotland will vote either “Yes” or “No” on a vexing and divisive issue that has simmered just below the surface of the nation’s affairs longer than the U.S.A. has been in existence – should Scotland be an independent nation?

If the referendum vote is “Yes”, Scotland’s full secession from the United Kingdom will take place on March 24, 2016.

The chosen date is not without historical significance: on the same day in 1603 the Union of the Crowns occurred, when James VI of Scotland also became James I of England and Ireland after the death of his cousin Elizabeth I, while on 24 March 1707 the Acts of Union – which merged the parliaments of Scotland and England and established governance from Westminster – were signed, making one single country, Great Britain.

The romance of the question masks a mass of more practical considerations as to the political and legal ramifications inherent in the transition of a country from part of a Union to a fully independent nation. One of the most fascinating questions is that of a written constitution.

The United Kingdom is the only nation in the European Union or Commonwealth without a written constitution or Constitution Act. The closest historical document to such a charter is the Magna Carta, signed somewhat unwillingly by King John of England at Runnymede in 1215.

Although the Magna Carta is cited as the model for numerous constitutional documents throughout the centuries since, including the American Constitution, it was never itself codified and most of its original clauses had been repealed by the mid-19th century.

A schoolboy in modern-day Britain is more likely to declare the Magna Carta a wimpy folk group and Runnymede a particularly malodorous cheese than identify correctly their historical significance.

An independent Scotland would, however, adopt a written constitution and a draft of the proposed document was recently released and is now available to read at the following link:

A Proposed Constitution for Scotland

Among the fundamental rights proposed for the new nation are a handful of particular note to the ideological debates currently proving so divisive in this country, such as the following:

“Trade unions have the right to negotiate and enforce collective agreements, and to enforce these by strike action”; and,
“Everyone shall have a right to adequate healthcare through a universal public health system established by law, as well as to public assistance, sufficient to maintain their health and dignity of life, in the event of accident, illness, disability, unemployment, and old age.”

Neither of these proposed fundamental rights have generated as much as a ripple on the surface, let alone a storm in a tea (Party) cup, in Scotland. Principles of climate change, the environment and sustainable use of Scotland’s natural resources are also to be protected by the constitution, and a separate constitution chapter sets forth the “Seven Principles of Public Life”, all of which might cause our own members of Congress to run screaming for cover and John Boehner to dissolve into uncontrollable fits of sobbing.

They are:


“(75) All members of Parliament, Ministers, Civil Servants, Judges, County, City and Burgh Councillors, and other persons holding public office, shall be morally bound to act according to the Seven Principles of Public Life:
SELFLESSNESS: Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.  They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.
(ii) INTEGRITY: Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
(iii) OBJECTIVITY: In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
(iv) ACCOUNTABILITY: Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
(v) OPENNESS: Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take.  They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
(vi) HONESTY: Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
(vii) LEADERSHIP: Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.”

Laudable principles indeed, which probably means they are tantamount to socialism to our friends on the extreme right of this country’s political spectrum.

For more on the legal aspects of an independent Scotland’s constitutional future, you may wish to peruse the Law Society of Scotland’s discussion paper, issued in August of this year and available here:


Scotland’s Constitutional Future

A written constitution is just one of the intriguing issues born of the debate over independence. Others include the effect of independence on Scotland’s membership in the European Union, NATO, the United Nations and other international organizations, whether an independent Scotland would remain obligated under currently existing treaties, and should the new nation adopt a new currency and raise her own armed forces.

And, of course, those central questions of long standing north of the border:

1. Language– Gaelic anyone?;

2. National anthem – Is there any doubt “Flower of Scotland”, with its merry tale of ancient thumpings by and of the English, will be the official anthem;

3. The national motto – odds-on favorite; “Nemo me impune lacessit” (use your Google translate!);

4. And finally, who will be the royal head of state, to be known as “The King (or Queen) of Scots”?

My vote – Billy Connolly!


Neil J. Fraser


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