A few weeks ago I wrote a post about ‘Constitutional illiteracy and revising devolution in Scotland’ (available HERE), lamenting how the constitutional debates in Scotland have functioned and the dis-service this ultimately does to the people of Scotland. Lest this be thought of as a partisan view, I’d draw readers’ attention to a speech made last week by Lord (Jeff) Rooker in the House of Lords earlier this week. Rooker is a very savvy and experienced politician, a former Labour MP and minister, who as chairman of the Food Standards Agency now sits as an independent peer. He introduced amendments to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies bill to require at least 40 per cent turn-out in the referendum on AV for the result to be binding. These amendments were carried by the House, with the support of most Labour peers (and some from the Conservative and cross benches), but were rejected by the Commons, hence several rounds of ping-pong between Lords and Commons that delayed passage of the bill before they were ultimately abandoned.
In his speech, Rooker complains about the defects of a process of constitutional reform that depends on one or two parties pushing through provisions that suit their own interests, but without wider deliberation or consensus. Much of this also applies mutatis mutandis to the present Scottish debates – particularly the haste to legislate (even though these plans have been in preparation for a long time), and the lack of regard to the wider consequences. It’s worth quoting one passage in full:
My point is that, as I face the Chamber, the two oldest political parties in the country are joining together to rewrite our constitution on a daily, as-you-go-by basis. In other words, we do not know what is happening next. This cannot be the right way to operate; it cannot be the right way in which to bring in a major constitutional change of the first ever binding referendum in the UK. There is no big picture by which we may judge this part of the constitutional changes – we know that there are others on the conveyor belt – and that is a major difficulty.
The whole speech is available here.