An open letter to David Cameron telling him why he is mistaken
Dear Prime Minister
The superficial nature of your proposals on the referendum simply proves that you have little understanding either of Scotland’s constitutional tradition and history, or of the mood of the people of Scotland.
There are two major reasons why most Scots will, I believe, firmly reject your ideas.
The first is constitutional. In the ‘Donald Dewar Room’ in the Scottish Parliament there is an important document from 1989. It bears the signatures of the great majority of Scotland’s MPs and of our local authorities, of representatives of civil society, the trades unions, the churches and much of the business community. Signed at the first meeting of the Scottish Constitutional Convention in March 1989, it is the fundamental principle on which the Scottish Parliament is founded. It is called ‘A Claim of Right for Scotland’ and states simply: ‘We hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the people of Scotland to determine the form of government best suited to their needs’.
It is clear and unambiguous, and reflects a principle deep in our history, that the people, not the Crown in parliament, are sovereign. The nature, questions and timing of any referendum are matters for the Scottish people and their parliament.
The day before the new Scottish Parliament met for the first time, I handed that document over to Donald Dewar and David Steel. I said then that one day that Claim of Right would come into its own if any Westminster government attempted to impose any constitutional development on Scotland. That day has come.
Second, there are important democratic reasons to reject your proposals. Despite the fact that the electoral system in Scotland, which I had a hand in devising, was intended to be proportional and therefore to ensure that no party got an overall majority; to our surprise the SNP achieved that. This means quite simply that the present Scottish Government is more democratically representative of Scotland than yours is of the UK.
As early as 2009, I proposed to the then SNP minority government that any referendum should include a third or middle option, which I defined as ‘Secure Autonomy’ rather than ‘Devo Max’, on the grounds that ‘power devolved is power retained’. There are many views, but the point is that there is a growing debate in Scotland over all these issues, and the details of the referendum, whenever it comes, will certainly reflect that debate. It is not for you to
pre-empt that process.
The Constitutional Commission of which I am president, which is politically non-aligned, has published a draft constitution for Scotland, and is initiating a nation-wide discussion not just of the referendum, but on the very different kind of democracy, already partly embodied in the present Scottish Parliament, we aspire to be. We hope to ensure that the options in the referendum are clearly understood as involving something more than simply a shift of political power. The people will, I believe, understand the full implications for Scotland’s democracy of each of the options, be they two or three.