Devolution in the UK

800px-PalaceOfWestminsterAtNightI have just sent off my submission to the Commons Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform in response to their inquiry on the future of devolution in the United Kingdom, in the light of the referendum result.

The Committee’s terms of reference are as follows:

  • Should England, Wales and Northern Ireland be offered the level of devolution that has been discussed in relation to Scotland?
  • If so, what should be the next stages to take forward devolution in a) Scotland, b) Wales, c) Northern Ireland, d) England?
  • To what extent is the Government’s timetable for considering the future of devolution realistic?
  • What measures, such as a written constitution, could most effectively entrench future devolution settlements?
  • Given that different parties have put forward different proposals for further devolution to Scotland, what is the best way forward?
  • What implications does further devolution to Scotland have for how the House of Commons should deal with legislation that deals with only part of the UK?

My submission was as follows:

Further devolved powers, broadly equivalent to those discussed in relation to Scotland should be offered to the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland;

A UK constitutional convention involving genuine non-party political participation from all areas of civic society across all 4 nations should be established to consider the details of the further devolution of legislative and executive power;

An English Assembly should be established to exercise devolved power for the whole of England and should be located in Liverpool, Manchester or Newcastle as a concrete demonstration of decentralisation of power within the United Kingdom;

The House of Commons should continue as the Parliament of the United Kingdom in relation to reserved matters only, such as defence and foreign affairs, with a change to proportional representation so that the make up of Parliament reflects the will of the people of the United Kingdom;

The House of Lords should be reformed as a democratically elected – but non party political – body to act as a revising chamber considering and making (non-binding) recommendations in relation to legislation from the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament and the Assemblies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland;

The UK Supreme Court should continue to have jurisdiction in relation to any devolution issues which arise in respect of disputed competencies or overlaps of powers between legislatures.

The deadline for written submissions is the 23 October 2014, and you can make yours by following the link above.

Posted in Constitutional Law, Politics, Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament, Supreme Court | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Nukes in a independent Scotland

nuclearexplosionI thought I’d take a look at the draft Independence Bill, and I will try to go through some of the more interesting aspects of it over the next few weeks.

I’m starting with the nuclear question.

Section 23 of the draft Independence Bill says:

Nuclear disarmament

The Scottish Government must pursue negotiations with a view to securing-

(a) nuclear disarmament in accordance with international law; and

(b) the safe and expeditious removal from the territory of Scotland of nuclear weapons based there.

Now, the first thing to say is that these two parts, (a) and (b) are not the same thing.  Disarmament is the act of reducing, limiting or abolishing weapons.  Simply removing weapons from one state to another is, as Iain Gray, has pointed out “not disarmament, that’s redeployment”.  When South Africa went through the process of nuclear disarmament in the 1990’s, that process was monitored by the UN.  They would not have been satisfied if RSA had simply decided to sell the nukes to the highest bidder.

In terms of the United Nations Model Nuclear Weapons Convention, there are several distinct phases to disarmament:

  1. taking nuclear weapons off alert,
  2. removing weapons from deployment,
  3. removing nuclear warheads from their delivery vehicles,
  4. disabling the warheads,
  5. removing the triggers (or pits),
  6. and placing the fissile material under international control.

Shipping them off to England might be of benefit to Devonport, and allow an independent Scotland to boast of being “nuclear free” – but it does not contribute to international disarmament.

It has always struck me that the wording used is flexible enough to allow a fudge of designating the base at Faslane as technically rUK (or even American) territory and allowing the WMD to stay while satisfying the letter of the commitment.  Even the Green’s proposed constitutional ban could be overcome in this way. Perhaps that’s just the cynic in me?

Delving deeper, in the event of an independence vote, the question arises – who gets the nukes anyway.  The House of Commons Defence Select Committee, during a discussion on the division of assets in the event of a Yes vote in September 2013, noted:

Examination of the experience of the division of military assets between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, suggested to us that an appropriate starting point for the negotiation might well be a population based share of existing assets taking into account the location of fixed assets such as military bases.

Clearly, this will be the subject of negotiation, but based on location alone, Scotland might well inherit the UK’s nuclear arsenal (or at least a proportion of it).  Then the Scottish Government could begin some serious disarmament.

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Electoral Maths

“For more than half of my life, Scotland has been governed by parties we didn’t elect at Westminster..” Alex Salmond

ScotlandMapWell, it’s been some time since Scotland voted for a single party in significant numbers to say “we” elected them.  In the 1950’s over 50% of the vote went to the Tories.  I assume that Salmond is counting the Labour government of the late 1990s to 2010 as part of the half when Scotland was governed by parties “we” did elect, but during that period, Labour polled only just over 40% of the popular vote in Scotland.

During the Blair era, Labour were elected on rather less than 40% of the popular vote in the rest of the United Kingdom.

It is possible to argue that, Scotland tends to do rather better than the rest of the UK when it comes to electoral maths.

The current coalition government received about 35.6% of the Scottish popular vote in 2010.  That’s as compared to the previous Labour government in 2005 which received 42% of the Scottish popular vote and only 35.2% of the UK popular vote.

This is a reason for rejecting the first-past-the-post electoral system, not for abandoning the Union.


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Corroboration abolition opposed

Lords Cullen and Hamilton have given separate interviews making public their opposition to the Scottish Government’s proposed abolition of the requirement for corroboration in criminal trials in Scotland.

I find it interesting that they gave separate interviews, each one supporting the other and lending it increased weight and credibility. Wait a minute!  Were these two senior judges actually acting out the concept of corroboration for us? If so, it’s probably because they consider that we might benefit from visual aids. Next up – corroboration, the interpretative dance!

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Scotland’s Future – Absolvitor’s Questions Answered

Español: Composición del Reino Unido en el Fes...

Español: Composición del Reino Unido en el Festival de la Canción de Eurovisión (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have just finished a cursory scan of the White Paper “Scotland’s Future” which (at long last) answers some of the fundamental questions raised by this website answered:

Q590. There will be no change in the constitutional position of the Church of Scotland.  A real shame.  As a disestablishmentarianist, I am strongly in favour of severing all legal ties between church and state.  For a brand new state to begin by entrenching one denomination in preference to others is a bad idea.  Repeal the Church of Scotland Act 1921.

Q474. Scotland will still get to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest – although prequalification will probably be lost.  Scotland has no great track record in reaching the knockout rounds of international competitions, but I couldn’t care less about Eurovision, so no biggie here!

Q219. Qualification for the Scottish rugby team will be unaffected, but crucially there is no word on whether the name of the British & Irish Lions would change post-independence. WHAT ARE THEY TRYING TO HIDE???

Posted in International Law, News, Scottish Government | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Syria, Chemical Weapons and International Law

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

After the UK Parliament narrowly voted against possible military intervention in Syria as part of a response to its recent chemical weapon use, I thought I would have a look at what the law says on the issue.

So, was the vote a “disgrace” (M. Gove) or should the UK pursue “other ways to put pressure on President Assad” (E. Milliband)?

Chemical weapons are one of those rare issues where there is essentially no argument at an international level.  Even those countries which stubbornly hold onto their nuclear weapons (like, um, us) are in agreement that chemical warfare is beyond the pale.

The current prohibition is found in the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction; or the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) for short – it came into force in 1997.  189 nations have ratified the Convention – approx. 98% of the world population.

Helpfully, Article XII of the CWC is titled “Measures to Redress a Situation and to Ensure Compliance, Including Sanctions” and it sets out the following:

1. The Conference shall take the necessary measures, as set forth in paragraphs 2, 3 and 4, to ensure compliance with this Convention and to redress and remedy any situation which contravenes the provisions of this Convention.  In considering action pursuant to this paragraph, the Conference shall take into account all information and recommendations on the issues submitted by the Executive Council.

2. In cases where a State Party has been requested by the Executive Council to take measures to redress a situation raising problems with regard to its compliance, and where the State Party fails to fulfil the request within the specified time, the Conference may, inter alia, upon the recommendation of the Executive Council, restrict or suspend the State Party’s rights and privileges under this Convention until it undertakes the necessary action to conform with its obligations under this Convention.

3. In cases where serious damage to the object and purpose of this Convention may result from activities prohibited under this Convention, in particular by Article I, the Conference may recommend collective measures to States Parties in conformity with international law.

4. The Conference shall, in cases of particular gravity, bring the issue, including relevant information and conclusions, to the attention of the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Security Council.

The eagle-eyed among you will notice the lack of a mention of targeted missile strikes – even on humanitarian grounds. Article XII(4) does include “in cases of particular gravity” a reference to the UN Security Council, which could include military action in extreme cases – but only as approved by that body.

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Falkland Islanders “Better Together”

Coat of Arms of the Falkland Islands

Earlier this week, the denizens of the Falkland Islands voted by an overwhelming majority to remain as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom.  This result was not unexpected, but are there any lessons to be learned for our own constitutional referendum in 2014?

The wording of the referendum question is, of course, all important. Section 5(2) of the Referendum (Falkland Islands Political Status) Ordinance (No 16 of 2012) requires the Governor (N. R. Haywood C.V.O.) to take reasonable steps to ensure that the question to be asked is “objective, unambiguous and easy to understand.”

The terms of the preamble and the question itself was set out in the Referendum on Political Status (Question) Order 2012, as follows.

“The current political status of the Falkland Islands is that they are an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. The Islands are internally self-governing, with the United Kingdom being responsible for matters including defence and foreign affairs. Under the Falkland Islands Constitution the people of the Falkland Islands have the right to self-determination, which they can exercise at any time. Given that Argentina is calling for negotiations over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, this referendum is being undertaken to consult the people regarding their views on the political status of the Falkland Islands. Should the majority of votes cast be against the current status, the Falkland Islands Government will undertake necessary consultation and preparatory work in order to conduct a further referendum on alternative options.

“Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?”

The question is very much skewed in favour of the status quo, I suppose.  It should also be noted that media in the Falklands could fairly be described as “staunchly Unionist” in character.  The scheme is also one of a two referendum approach in the event of a departure from the status quo – the first to establish the principle, the second on the detail of that proposal.  The Scottish Government have indicated that Scotland will be taking a one referendum approach to constitutional change.

There were only three people on the islands who voted against the current political arrangements – who will presumably now be rounded up and fed to the penguins.  Such an emphatic result – in either direction – seems unlikely in Scotland’s case, but we would be pleased to receive the glowing report from the international observers:

“It is our finding that the Falkland Islands referendum process was free and fair, reflecting the democratic will of the voters of the Falkland Islands,” said Brad Smith, the Head of the International Observation Mission. “The international observation mission has concluded that the voting process was executed in accordance with international standards and local laws. The process was technically sound, with a systematic adherence to established voting procedures.”

Argentina has been quick to denounce the poll as meaningless and continues to press its claim to “Los Islas Malvinas”. Whatever the result of Scotland’s vote, it is sure that it will not end the debate.

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Human Rights for the Commonwealth

Flag of the Commonwealth

Flag of the Commonwealth

So, the Queen today signed the new Commonwealth Charter, which for the first time in its 64 years history sets out a common vision, values and aims for the organisation, which represents one third of the world’s population.

The document includes the following:

“We are committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights covenants and international instruments. We are committed to equality and respect for the protection and promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, for all without discrimination on any grounds as the foundations of peaceful, just and stable societies. We note that these rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated and cannot be implemented selectively.

“We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender,
race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.”

Note, in particular, the commitment to “other relevant human rights covenants” and that human rights “cannot be implemented selectively”. Doesn’t that undermine rather the recent statements from UK Government Ministers about wanting to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights? Or perhaps the plan is to withdraw from the Commonwealth altogether as well?

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Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill

English: A woman makes her support of her marr...

English: A woman makes her support of her marriage, and not civil unions, known outside the Mormon temple at New York City’s Lincoln Center. Photographer’s blog post about this photo and the protest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Scottish Government have published their consultation on the draft Bill to introduce same sex marriage in Scotland.  The draft Bill is called the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill and it will be pored over in great detail, no doubt.

As you may know, my principle objection to the introduction of same sex marriage is that it will ruin the film “Some like it hot” for future generations…

Anyway, the Bill came about – in part – following a successful “equal marriage” campaign.  So it is ironic that the Bill ushers in a era of no fewer than 9 distinct legal forms of marriage or partnership:

  1. religious marriage (heterosexual);
  2. belief marriage (heterosexual);
  3. civil marriage (heterosexual);
  4. religious marriage (same sex);
  5. belief marriage (same sex);
  6. civil marriage (same sex);
  7. religious civil partnership (same sex);
  8. belief civil partnership (same sex);
  9. civil civil partnership or “civil registration” (same sex).

… with slightly different rules and requirements for each.  Hardly “equal” is it?

It is only a couple of hundred years since the state took any role in marriage at all.  Is there really any legitimate role for government to define these 9 types of relationship as more worthy of state recognition than others?  If there must be some state involvement, let’s have a single tax/inheritance agreement which people of any gender or sexuality can enter into and leave individuals and their religious bodies (if any) to celebrate their love and commitment together in whatever way they please – no legislation needed for that surely?

I am in favour of a strict separation of church and state, so let’s not have priests presiding over a civil tax and inheritance contractual relationship, and leave that to the registrars.

Posted in Discrimination, Family Law, News, Scottish Government | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Court Service’s Online Makeover

SCS Website

Screenshot from the new, improved Scottish Court Service website

I note that the Scottish Court Service has indulged in an online makeover.  As far as I can make out, the content remains the same.  The presentation and navigation is much improved, although I don’t really care for the automatic rollover expanding navigation bars at the top of each page.  Still, you can’t have everything!

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