5420Political rights of citizens, constitution making, Scots independence
- Jun 30, 2014COMMENT to The Scotsman newspaper, 30th June 2014
Beg to report legal, constitutional flaws
M. Sheridan writes, "the constitution specifies that, in Scotland, the people are sovereign. However, there is no mechanism for people in Scotland to exercise sovereignty and it is clear from other terms that sovereignty lies with the Scottish Parliament."
Hoots comments 2:00 AM on 30/06/2014
"If the people of an independent Scotland were actually going to be sovereign, we would need some mechanism for triggering referenda, like they have in Switzerland"
Because of our special interest in citizens' political rights (also known as "sovereignty") we have cast an eye on the relevant sections in numerous constitutions of state. It's clear that we citizens must take great care to avoid being tricked out of our rights.
There is a very good case for the opinion that, as citizens of the UK, we already have the rights to instigate referendum in addition to electing politicians. Several decades ago Parliament ratified an international convention (civil and political rights) which appears to guarantee these rights (1). However, politicians and their backers are opposed to stronger citizens' democracy, so the means to "trigger" referendum has been denied to us.
I will rapidly give two example. The first shows "HOW NOT" to guarantee citizens' sovereignty, the second show how to do this properly and effectively.
One of the most "advanced" constitutions (Basic Law) is that of post WWII Germany. Article 20 reads, "All power in the state arises from the people. This power shall be applied in elections and referenda". The federal parliament has made laws to regulate the conduct of elections to parliament. BUT successive governments, during more than 60 years, have avoided or failed to provide a legal framework for the citizens' referendum. The message for supporters of strong democracy: Make sure that the right to make public proposals and to instigate referendum is clearly laid down in the constitution of state, in such away that these rights can readily be used ("user friendly rules" are essential).
The second case shows how a constitution CAN guarantee practical citizens' rights to direct democracy (also to representative, indirect democracy). This is the constitution of Switzerland. Here, there is a guarantee similar to the international convention mentioned above (1) AND in addition the methods of democracy are spelled out and can be used without further acts or interference by politicians. These are fundamental rights which can be changed only by the PEOPLE themselves in a referendum. The section about citizens' POLITICAL RIGHTS reads as follows:
Art. 136 Political Rights
2 Citizens (using direct democracy) can both instigate and endorse (sign) citizens' initiatives (law proposals) and (legally binding) referendum ballots. Citizens can take part in elections of Members of Parliament.
Chapter: Initiative and Referendum
Art. 138 Citizens' Initiative for change to constitution
A hundred thousand citizens can instigate a binding referendum by endorsing an initiative-proposal within 18 months of its publication.
Art. 141 Veto Referendum
Fifty thousand citizens (within a defined time period) can demand that a government law or proposal must be put before the whole electorate for decision in a ballot.
We plan to publish a guide to direct democracy, sovereignty and constitution at the web site iniref dot org, section "latest". We are pleased to answer queries via info@...
Michael Macpherson (Dr.)
1. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 19 December 1966 (Article 25)
Campaign for direct democracy in Britain
Citizens' Initiative and Referendum I&R ~ GB