Sunday, 3 August 2014

What would you like in the constitution?

The UK does not have a written, codified constitution. It is the only country in the EU to not have such a document and one of just five in the world (the others being Israel, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and Canada - although Canadian provinces do have the right to create their own constitution).
But what difference does this make? A constitution guarantees the rights and freedoms of all citizens. It ensures that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law and that power lies with the people and not parliament. Constitutions are also important because they can ensure that new laws meet certain standards.

The following comes from the National Archives of Australia:
Seven reasons why our Constitution is important to you
  • Australia wouldn't exist without the Constitution. In the 1890s the people of six British colonies (now the states) agreed to unite under one Constitution as the Commonwealth of Australia.
  • We Australians were the first people in the world to vote on our national Constitution. And today, the Constitution can only be changed if we agree to it through a referendum.
  • Imagine trying to envisage what life would be like in 100 years time – and creating a Constitution to meet future needs. That's just what the key players did in the 1890s – they created a Constitution that still has relevance to our complex life today, with our mobile phones and internet connections.
  • Our federal parliament was designed by the Constitution. It allows for an upper and lower house and for elections every three years. It also ensures that Senators and Members of the House of Representatives are directly chosen by the people. And, if we want to, we can stand for Parliament ourselves.
  • Our Constitution obliges all Australians to obey the law – even politicians and governments. The High Court was set up as a separate power from the Parliament and has, at times, overturned decisions made by the Australian Government as unconstitutional.
  • The Constitution also has an impact on our personal lives by dividing up powers between the Commonwealth and the states. The Commonwealth makes laws on a range of issues (such as regulating marriage and divorce) but allows other powers (such as providing roads and transport) to remain with the states. 
  • The Australian Constitution provides some rights for all Australians, such as freedom of religion and the right to compensation if the government acquires your property. 
Instead of having a clear, easy to understand constitution, the UK Government prefers to have power at Westminster. This means that the protections our Australian cousins enjoy are not equally guaranteed to us.

Other countries use their constitution to protect certain groups, including the Deaf. In Austria they included an amendment which reads: "Austrian Sign Language is recognised as an independent language. The laws will determine the details." This may not appear to be much, but every law passed in the Austrian parliament has to ensure that this rule is not broken.

Österreichischer Gehörlosenbund meeting in Austria
Section 17 of the Finnish constitution reads: "Right to one's language and culture [...] The rights of persons using sign language and of persons in need of interpretation or translation aid owing to disability shall be guaranteed by an Act."
There are other examples from Europe, Africa and Latin America. This is something which we can push for and improve upon in a Scottish Constitution.
The Scottish Government's proposed interim constitution, to be adopted in 2016, includes the following:
  • Setting up an "inclusive and participative" constitutional convention in 2016 to draw up a permanent constitution
  • Giving Scots the right to a healthy environment
  • Committing the government to removal of nuclear weapons
  • Prioritising the promotion of international peace
  • Enshrining the principle of local government
It also contains this message:
"Many constitutions contain provision about national and official languages and although there is no language provision in the Scottish Independence Bill the Constitution Convention, as stated in Question 589 of Scotland's Future, could consider the constitutional status of Scotland's languages such as English, Gaelic, Scots and British Sign Language." The Scottish Independence Bill: A consultation on an interim constitution for Scotland, Page 67
This shows that the needs of BSL users in Scotland are being considered, but we need both a Yes vote in September and to ensure that we get involved.

The final constitution will be written by us, the people who live in Scotland and anyone can contribute. To highlight this point, we have put below our submission to the consultation. It lists what we would like to see entered into the constitution. We want this message to be considered before any law is passed:

But what would you like included in the constitution? You can send a submission to the Scottish Government's consultation which can be found here. But don't forget, the only way to gain a constitution is if Scotland has the powers of an independent country (so we need to vote Yes!).
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1 comment:

  1. I think before we think about what we want in our constitution we need to educate ourselves a whole lot more about constitutions. I for one only know a only a very little about constitutions. I,m sure I am not alone. So where would we get information?

    And isn't it a bit premature to be raising this in this way before the referendum? The bigger the vote for YES, the less wiggle room the NO Camp will have. That is the most important thing right now.