A New Constitution 35

Constitutional Reform is in the air. I thought I might set out what I would wish to see. I could write a book – indeed I have been thinking about doing so – detailing the reasoning behind my prescriptions, but I thought that at the very least this should provoke some thought:

Independence for England, Scotland and Wales.

A United Ireland.

Each of them Republics.

Written constitution.

Bill of Rights.

International law automatically incorporated in domestic law.

Fixed term four year parliaments in the lower chamber.

100% elected upper chamber, one third elected every two years.

All elections by single tranferable vote.

Elected President for 7 years with ceremonial role.

Prime Minister chosen from lower chamber.

Powerful parliamentary committees which can compel witnesses and evidence.

Local Income Tax.

Minimum 80% of all local government spending to be be locally funded – 100% in wealthier regions.

Local government to decide local law on social issues (in conformity with equality provisions of national Bill of Rights) – eg alcohol and enternainments licensing laws, legality of drugs, euthanasia, prostitution.

No public money for any political party (ie no special advisers, subsidies etc).

Now I doubt there is anyone else who agrees with the entire prescription…

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35 thoughts on “A New Constitution

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  • Abe Rene

    Presumably you are writing what would be fine for an independent Scotland. Whether it would be ideal for the other parts of the UK (like the amount of regional autonomy, given the size of England), I’m less certain.

    Personally I hope the UK doesn’t split up. I believe the majority in N. Ireland don’t wish to join the Irish Republic, presumably you would respect their wishes?

    A bill of rights and written constitution sounds fine, mainly because the unwritten one seems to have been abused by New Labour too often. “International law” sounds fair enough since we’re not America, but again, if corrupt regimes succeeded in packing an “international court”, which ordered your extradition to Uzbekistan for “slandering” their beloved leader Islam Karimov, I suspect that an “American” standpoint towards international tribunals would suddenly become very attractive!

  • JimmyGiro

    Independence for Nazis, and unification for theocrats!? Sounds like populism rather than logic.

    Written constitutions and bills of rights, whilst making international law an ongoing palimpsest of the former. How many drivers on that wheel?

    The temporariness of any governmental position will sound fine for quashing free loaders and abusers, but if you want people to perform well, they have to feel they are established in their role, to give them a vested interest, as opposed to here-today-gone-tomorrow, which will give them less vested interest.

    Local taxation schemes will create walled cities up and down the country: “We don’t want your sort here laddie, unless you’re in the higher earning bracket.”

    Local laws for local people; again walled city mentality: “If you’re not from around here, you’re no good.”

  • John Leighton

    Does ‘independence’ for England, Scotland & Wales singify independence from the EU too ? Just curious as there is no mention of the EU in your list.

  • MJ

    “International law automatically incorporated in domestic law”.

    Hmm. Potential can of worms there. Does this include EU law? Echo JL’s comment above about EU.

  • Hugh Kerr

    I will sign up for that Craig you will just have to move back to Scotland when we become independent I think you make a good head of Scotlands external affairs ministry! Hugh ps met your old friend Lord Kerr the other night.

  • amk

    “International law automatically incorporated in domestic law.”

    The US constitution makes ratified international treaties part of “the supreme law” of the land. Is this the kind of thing Craig is thinking of?

    “A United Ireland.”


    I’m attracted to the idea of separating the executive from the legislature and electing each separately. There are strong arguments for proportional representation, and the apply to the legislature. There are also strong arguments for a single winner (which may be the result of a preferential election), and they apply to the executive – see e.g. Brian Barder. Separate them, elect each separately, get the best of both systems.

  • James Chater

    Proportional representation is a high priority: Roy Jenkins’s report, which New Labour shelved, should be adopted, as it combines constituency MPs with proportionality.

    Funding of political parties: I don’t think this should be outlawed completely. But what should happen is that they should be funded by people, not unions or companies, and that the contribution per person should be capped at some proportion of the mninimum wage, so as to prevent rich people from “buying” the party.

  • tony_opmoc

    I think we should go back to the Monarchy running things for the next couple of years, whilst we work out and agree what would be a reasonable system of democracy. When we are all more or less agreed on a completely new democratic system we can then agree a timetable for implementing it say by the next Olympics.

    In the meantime existing civil structures can continue running the country as normal. Virtually no one would notice the difference if the Houses of Parliament were shutdown for a few years. They haven’t actually done anything useful since before Thatcher.


  • Eddie

    Surely you mean no PRIVATE money for any political party beyond a fixed membership rate. A capped amount of extra public money available per representative, per party member or even per vote, would leave no excuses for whoring for donors – and then if parties wish to spent that limited money on special advisers, so be it, so long as there’s a proper wall between civil service and party workers.

    I guess I mean, I don’t mind public money becoming party money so long as it’s transparent, and partisan staff are hired from the party money.

  • Strategist

    “Roy Jenkins’s report, which New Labour shelved, should be adopted, as it combines constituency MPs with proportionality.”

    STV also gives you both the above, and is in my view superior to Jenkins’s “AV+”. However, we haven’t got time for a fresh inquiry into voting systems, which is why I’m supporting Referendum 2010’s campaign for a vote on a switch to the Jenkins system to be included on the ballot paper at the next Gen Election.


  • selma

    respresentative democracy is a sham no matter how you dress it up. we have to break the hold of business in our affairs before any meaningful change will transpire.

  • Jaded

    If our education system doesn’t do a better job of churning out citizens we will never have a high standard of democracy. Democracy has to be grass roots up. The infrastructure of government is, maybe not completely, but pretty meaningless.

  • Paul Jakma

    As an Irish citizen I really hope to see Ireland re-united in my lifetime. I’d love to see the DUP take seats in Dail Eireann (they’d immediately be a sizeable party, with about 11% of the seats – DUP+UUP together would get about 18% of the seats in a united Ireland; they’d almost certainly regularly be part of governing coalitions, if they wished).

    However, we agreed in 1998, in voting north and south, that Northern Ireland would determine its own future. It seems, for the foreseeable future, that the majority in NI wish to remain part of the UK…

  • tony_opmoc

    Paul Jakma,

    I visited Dublin a few years ago with my wife. Not only did we find the Irish incredibly warm and hospitable – but it was a massively culturally different experience from London, Manchester or Edinburgh.

    We received a completely different understanding of Irish history than what had been taught in our English Catholic Schools. It was like a revelation.

    Whilst “we agreed in 1998, in voting north and south, that Northern Ireland would determine its own future. It seems, for the foreseeable future, that the majority in NI wish to remain part of the UK…”

    You never asked us English.

    What makes you think we want Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom?

    I think if it came to a vote in England – we would prefer to be much more closely associated with Southern Ireland than the lunatics in The North.

    They can join the Protestants in Scotland if they will have them.

    But basically its down to you lot in Ireland to sort yourselves out and live together despite your religious differences.

    Exactly what are they?

    Aren’t you both supposed to be Christian?

    If in England we can live in Peace with people of all races and religions – why can’t You Irish?

    The same applies to Palestine – why can’t they just accept these Eastern European Khazars who have invaded THEIR COUNTRY – and treat them as equals?


  • KevinB

    You forgot that:

    1) all money be created directly by government and that

    2) there should be legislation (severely enforced) defining and limiting the activity of banks and any other would-be money-lenders.

    From a conventional perspective your ‘constitution’ looks good to me, but really I’d agree with George Dutton.

    Something much more radical and spiritual is required to get the world where it needs to go.

  • tony_opmoc


    I really appreciate your posts and because it is Friday night and I am slowly drinking Speckled Hen and will soon be way beyond logical argument and because Craig doesn’t like lnks (which is totally bizzare – but its his blog and his rules) I will leave you with this cut and paste which I read on the American website Alternet a few days ago

    Good night,


    “The Innovative Bank of North Dakota

    Only three of 50 states are now solvent, meaning they have the revenues to meet their state budgets; and one of them is North Dakota. It is an unlikely candidate for the distinction. It is a sparsely populated state of fewer than 700,000 people, largely located in isolated farming communities afflicted with cold weather. Yet since 2000, the state’s GNP has grown 56%, personal income has grown 43%, and wages have grown 34%. The state not only has no funding issues, but this year it actually has a budget surplus of $1.2 billion, the largest it has ever had.

    North Dakota boasts the only state-owned bank in the nation. The Bank of North Dakota (BND) was established by the state legislature in 1919 specifically to free farmers and small businessmen from the clutches of out-of-state bankers and railroad men. The bank’s stated mission is to deliver sound financial services that promote agriculture, commerce and industry in North Dakota. By law, the state must deposit all its funds in the bank, which pays a competitive interest rate to the state treasurer. The state rather than the FDIC guarantees the bank’s deposits, which are plowed back into the state in the form of loans. The bank’s return on equity is about 25%, and it pays a hefty dividend to the state, which is expected to exceed $60 million this year. In the last decade, the BND has turned back a third of a trillion dollars to the state’s general fund, offsetting taxes. The former president of the BND is now the state’s governor.

    The BND avoids rivalry with private banks by partnering with them. Most lending is originated by a local bank. The BND then comes in to participate in the loan, share risk, and buy down the interest rate. The BND provides a secondary market for real estate loans, which it buys from local banks. Its residential loan portfolio is now $500 billion to $600 billion. Guarantees are also provided for entrepreneurial startups, and the BND has ample money to lend to students (over 184,000 outstanding loans). It purchases municipal bonds from public institutions, and it backs loans made to new farmers at 1% interest. The BND also has a well-funded disaster loan program, which helps explain how Fargo, when struck by a disastrous flood recently, managed to avoid the devastation suffered by New Orleans in similar circumstances.

    North Dakota has also managed to avoid the credit freeze, through the simple expedient of creating its own credit. It has led the nation in establishing state economic sovereignty. In California and other states, workers and factories are sitting idle because the private credit system has failed. An injection of new money from a system of publicly-owned banks on the model of the Bank of North Dakota could thaw the credit freeze and bring spring to the markets once again.”

  • Mark Wood

    It’s a good starting point Craig. Might just be enough to get that old ball rolling, lets rock and roll from that hard place that is the current Machiavellian mechanism of political life and into pastures new of a real accountable and true democratic process.

  • Vronsky

    I’d also echo JL’s question on the EU. For Scotland, it’s a very sizeable elephant in a very small room. I think this rather relates to selma’s point about breaking the corporate hold on politics. Otherwise, not a bad shopping list for reform.

    @tony: “You never asked us English.”

    About Ireland? FFS. Just love the assumption that your opinion is relevant.

  • Me

    “Local government to decide local law on social issues (in conformity with equality provisions of national Bill of Rights) (…) legality of drugs”

    That at least sounds quite impractical. If narcotic drugs are legal in one town, and not int the neighbouring town, should there then be customs controls on the municipal border?

  • George Dutton

    Local government is just as corrupt as national government, where do you think most of the MPs come from.Most of them where local government councillors before going on to become MPs.They know all about fact finding trips to exotic locations,deals with private companies to provide services for local government,rotary club dinners and how to fill in more then the odd expenses form,etc,etc.It’s not really local government more a kind of training ground where the criminally inclined go to serve their apprenticeships for high office.

  • KevinB


    Thanks for your generous comment.

    Great article too. Very interesting.

    Banking is THE issue.

    Hope the speckled hen was a kind old hen if you read this tomorrow morning.

  • Christopher Dooley

    I’d add to the list, total transparency and accountability for every penny spent in the public name. No having to battle years with FOI requests.

  • scotsyin

    “Now I doubt there is anyone else who agrees with the entire prescription…”

    And you would be right! 🙂

    “Elected President for 7 years”

    Any reason for seven?

    “Prime Minister chosen from lower chamber.”

    Any reason for only the lower chamber? Why do we need a second chamber if we had strong enough committees?

    “Local government to decide local law on social issues (in conformity with equality provisions of national Bill of Rights) – eg alcohol and enternainments licensing laws, legality of drugs, euthanasia, prostitution.”

    This depends on what you mean by “local government”. If it is on the existing basis of jurisdiction then I’m sorry but it should not happen. Some local authorities are frightening in their attitudes in between elections. There appears to be a limit to what local government is able to competently deal with and some of these issues would push local politics too far.

    For the rest of it – I’m with ya! When are you moving back to Scotland? There is a Government here looking for you…

  • dreoilin

    “You never asked us English. What makes you think we want Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom?”


    When Michael Collins went over looking to sign a treaty, the Loyalists/Protestants in the North had already threatened bloody war on you if you gave all of Ireland back its independence. So you drew an artificial line on a map (the Border) and gave in to them, thereby giving them a majority, both in politics and religious belief, inside Northern Ireland. (Had the island remained unified they themselves would have been in a minority and they knew it.)

    They spent the next 50 years discriminating against Catholics/Nationalists in jobs, in housing, and with an all-Loyalist/Protestant police force. Hence the civil rights marches, and then “The Troubles”. It’s a bit late now to be saying you weren’t asked. Go easy on the speckled hen.

    A quote from Robert Fisk:

    “After the allied victory of 1918, at the end of my father’s war, the

    victors divided up the lands of their former enemies. In the space of

    just seventeen months, they created the borders of Northern Ireland,

    Yugoslavia and most of the Middle East. And I have spent my entire

    career ?” in Belfast and Sarajevo, in Beirut and Baghdad ?” watching the

    people within those borders burn.”

  • Martin

    As you say, I don’t agree with the entire prescription, but I do agree with the broad thinking that is behind it.

    However I do think you have made a major omission: Term Limits. I would add:

    Term Limits. A lifetime limit of three terms (12 years) in total. The total applies over both chambers (so a representative could spend 2 terms in the lower chamber and 1 term in the upper chamber, say). A lifetime limit of 2 terms for any ministerial position (including Prime Minister).

    Term limits are important because:

    a) They guard against career politicians who know no other life than Westminster.

    b) They limit the amount of political power that can be accumulated and used for patronage.

    c) They allow for increased independence of representatives in their final term.

  • Anonymous

    Ireland should suffer whatever fate its people decide.

    Elections won’t get any better just by making local ones more important. The best idea seems to me to be taking a leaf out of the book of those Greek inventors of democracy: election by lot. People should be chosen at random, rather than the most dishonest, greedy and ambitious being rewarded. That would make councils truly representative, and I have more faith in the average man’s integrity than that of some power-mad party functionary.

    Written constitutions won’t restrain tyranny any more than an unwritten one. The failure isn’t in our laws, but our inclination to enforce them. No wall of paper will protect our freedoms.

    There’s no point in an elected upper house. If one house is elected, there’s no point in another. If PR is bad for the lower house, it’s no better for the upper. If we’re to stay bicameral at all we should have an upper house made up of representatives of notforprofit corporate organisations (such as unions, royal colleges, building societies, co-ops, charities, that sort of thing), similar to the original Soviets or the idea put forward and then discarded by Ramsay MacDonald.

    Single Transferable Voting, on the other hand, I could get behind. For parliament, that is, the Commons. Why every four years, though? Why not every year, thereby eliminating the tendency for pols to play to populism in election years, also fulfilling the only unmet demand of the People’s Charter of 1848.

    Local tax is a bad idea. Good if you’re in a rich area keeping all your money in your area, bad if you’re in a poor area reliant on redistributive taxation. Don’t replace council tax with local income tax, replace it with a national income tax rise. Extend the NI threshold upwards, too. Put taxes up on petrol and down on diesel, while we’re on the subject. Up on spirits, down on beer. Up on the rich, down on the poor (that 10% rate would be a good thing to bring back). Up on income, down on consumption.

    Protection for the obviously falsely accused in the form of juries to decide on warrant issuing might not be a bad idea, either.

    Natural monopolies should be renationalised, too. No point allowing a bunch of thieving gits to keep robbing the elderly with their profiteering gas bills and the tax payer with their train subsides (and the environment with their leaky water mains).

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