The Vow that can’t be written down
I don’t know “The Vow” by heart, so I had to check the exact wording.
“We are agreed… (the) Scottish Parliament is permanent…”
It is signed by David Cameron and the other Unionist leaders.
This has been translated into legislation in the new Scotland Bill as:
In section 1 of the Scotland Act 1998 (the Scottish Parliament) after subsection (1) insert— “(1A) A Scottish Parliament is recognised as a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements.”
But here is the really stupid bit. Because there is no legislative or legal definition of what the UK’s “constitutional arrangements” are, this clause is completely meaningless. Try searching for the term. You’ll find endless waffle but no authoritative list. What’s more, Westminster could repeal the clause any time it wanted to.
That is why the SNP amendment would have made it the law that the Scottish Parliament could not be abolished at Westminster without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. That is readily understandable, and would have provided a real guarantee.
So why did Westminster refuse to pass the amendment?
We are told that it is because it “cannot bind its successors”. This applies to all the laws that are passed. They can just be overruled by future Parliaments (and they don’t ever say that they are permanent). According to the interpretation of those selfsame “constitutional arrangement”, Westminster can accept no limitation on its authority and powers. Fatally, the amendment suggested parity between Holyrood and Westminster in constitutional terms.
On the other hand, I know for a fact that Westminster has said on several occasions that other laws WERE permanent, and passed sovereign power away. For example: every Commonwealth country that ever got independence is covered by the Declaration of Westminster saying the independence is permanent (and it was often inserted into the legislation too); and in the Church of Scotland Act 1921, Westminster acknowledged that the head of the Kirk was God – forever.
So why can’t they put it in law that the Scottish Parliament is permanent and cannot be abolished without its own consent – on exactly the same intellectual and historical basis? Their whole position is an exercise in contradiction and absurdity.
And in any case, under the doctrine of the “Supremacy of the Crown in Parliament” they could, of course, reverse any guarantee they gave. That’s the joy of being “Supreme”. You can pass a law about absolutely anything you want.
In the light of this bizarre, Ruritanian discussion, I am left, once again, asking why we still put up with the utterly ridiculous nonsense that is the UK’s “unwritten constitution”? If we have a constitution why can’t it be written down?
I suspect that the answer is that if you ever wrote it down, the entire world would be able to have a good belly laugh at the absurd claims it contained – and every dictator in the world would rush to emulate them. And in any case, under the doctrine of the “Supremacy of the Crown in Parliament” they could, of course, reverse any guarantee they gave. That’s the joy of being “Supreme”. You can pass a law about absolutely anything you want.