Scottish Government News

16/10/13 09:49

Social Union and the Union of the Crowns

First Minister Alex Salmond
Campbeltown Summer Cabinet Public Discussion
28 August 2013

In the fifth in a series of speeches the First Minister delivered over the summer, Mr Salmond set out how, following a vote for independence in next year's referendum, Scotland will continue to participate fully in the Union of the Crowns and the social union between the peoples of these isles.

Below is an abridged version of the First Minister’s speech, focussing on its main theme, or you can listen to the full speech here.

There are two unions I want to discuss this afternoon - the union of the crowns and the social union.

The social union unites all of the people of these islands. We are bound to the other nations of these islands by ties of history, culture and language; of trade, family and friendship. Those ties have endured for at least 1500 years, since Kintyre was part of the Scots-Irish kingdom of Dalriada. They do not depend on any Government.

After independence they will continue and they will flourish.

People will still change jobs and move from Dundee to Dublin, or from Manchester to Glasgow.

We will still watch the X-Factor or Eastenders. People in England will still cheer Andy Murray, and people in Scotland will still support the Lions at rugby. Except, of course, they will be the British, Scottish and Irish Lions.

That’s the reality of the social union. Yet the Secretary of State for Scotland suggested last month that the rest of the UK could establish border posts if Scotland became independent.

The reality is that there has been a common travel area between the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man since 1923. That’s despite the fact that the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man aren’t even in the European Union!

I currently sit on an organisation called the British Irish Council. It was set up after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. It has three crown dependencies – the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey; three devolved nations and territories; and two sovereign states. Would there really be any difficulty in maintaining that relationship if there were two devolved nations and three sovereign states?

The British Irish Council is a good example of how new structures can evolve to reflect new constitutional realities.

I saw another example when I was in Hawick last week. Scottish Borders Council and Dumfries and Galloway council are working with English local authorities.

That Borderlands initiative, as it is called, has come about because authorities in the north of England saw the emergence of a successful independent Scotland as posing both threats and opportunities.

We have decided to accentuate the opportunities – to work with authorities in England to boost transport, tourism and business links.

It shows the sort of co-operation across the border that has been encouraged and initiated after devolution. Independence would allow us to do more because it will move the economic centre of gravity in these islands - northwards.

An independent Scotland will also retain the monarchy. Her Majesty will remain Queen of Scots, just as she is Queen of 16 other independent nations throughout the Commonwealth.

Scotland was an independent nation for more than 100 years after the first union of the crowns. It is a phrase with a deep historical resonance in Scotland. It is fitting that that union will continue after independence.

But just because some things stay the same, that doesn’t mean that nothing changes. Independence gives us the power to choose – we can choose to renew, recast and improve arrangements which no longer work for us.

The United Kingdom calls itself a constitutional monarchy.

But in the entire Commonwealth - even including countries which took their parliamentary system from the United Kingdom - we are the only nation without a written constitution or a Constitution Act.

We are the only country in the European Union which doesn’t have a written constitution. Practically every self-respecting democracy in the world has a constitution.

It’s a democratic deficit which Scotland can rectify.

Between the referendum in September 2014 and independence in March 2016, the current devolved parliament would set out a constitutional platform for an independent nation – putting in place the legal necessities for Scotland to become independent.

Legislation will be in place which transfers sovereignty from Westminster to Holyrood. We will have agreed necessary transitional arrangements with the UK Government. And Scotland’s independence will have been accepted by the international community.

What will be in place? There will still be a Scottish parliament elected by proportional representation; there will still be a separation between the Parliament and the judiciary; as now, we will be bound by the European Convention of Human Rights. What will happen is that the Scottish Parliament will take responsibility for all of Scotland’s public spending, rather than 60% of it; all of Scotland’s taxation base, as opposed to 15%.

But beyond those essential legal steps, in the other policy areas which are currently UK responsibilities, nothing significant will change until independence itself. The first elections to the parliament of an independent Scotland will be held in 2016. No policies will be altered unless and until that Parliament decides to change them.

However once Scotland is independent, one of our first and most exciting tasks will be to draft and approve a constitution.

It’s important to start the debate now on what that constitution could include. After all, modern countries use their constitutions to articulate their values, to define who they are. They don’t only protect human rights; they enhance liberties and define responsibilities.

Scotland’s constitution will do the same.

It will make clear that we are citizens – it will uphold the values, rights and responsibilities of the people, of the Community of the Realm of Scotland.

By doing so, it will make a real difference to people’s lives.

A new constitution could enshrine free higher education tuition as a constitutional principle - recognising Scotland’s history as a pioneer of free education, and permanently defining higher education as a public good rather than just a private or individual advantage.

A constitution could impose safeguards on how the Government deploys our armed forces – preventing us from ever again participating in an illegal invasion such as Iraq.

It could ban an independent Scotland from hosting nuclear weapons – upholding the desires of the people of Scotland, and setting out our wish to be a responsible international citizen. After all, there are 193 countries in the United Nations. Fewer than 10 possess nuclear weapons.

And it could guarantee the status and rights of local government, as happens in developed democracies such as Germany, Denmark, and Sweden.

But these four ideas are simply proposals from this current Scottish Government.

Since no single party or individual has a monopoly on good ideas; all parties, and all individuals, will be encouraged to contribute to drawing up a constitution.

In Ireland, citizen participation is a crucial part of the current convention on the constitution. In Scotland, we have a chance to learn from that example and others.

The process of drawing up a constitution in itself will energise and inspire people. It will provide us with a chance to reflect on the democracy and society we want to live in, the values that we most cherish.

In all of this, we will adhere to one fundamental principle. In Scotland, the people are sovereign. Not the Government, not the Parliament, not even the monarch, but the people.

It’s a simple statement, but one which affirms a Scottish constitutional tradition that goes back for centuries.

It was first expressed in the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, reaffirmed by the 1989 Claim of Right for Scotland, and most recently restated by the Scottish Parliament just one year ago.

It stands in contrast to the UK principle and fiction that the Westminster parliament has unlimited sovereignty.

But then, the vigour of the constitutional debate in Scotland is in sharp contrast to the tired disputes we constantly see at Westminster.

In the UK Parliament, the last two years have seen a complete failure to reform the House of Lords, after a century of false starts. Change to the voting system for the House of Commons is off the agenda for the foreseeable future. And since devolution, there has been no further remedy to the centralisation of the UK Government and the UK economy – which sees London and the south-east prosper at the expense of other parts of the UK.

Independence offers the opportunity for Scotland to move away from that outdated and profoundly undemocratic Westminster system – one which, remember, for two thirds of my life, has delivered governments with no popular mandate in Scotland.

We will move instead to a more transparent, democratic and effective system of government – a government of the people, by the people and for the people of Scotland.

I want to close by giving a practical example of how we are already trying to encourage a process of democratic renewal.

I mentioned earlier that these public discussions were an important demonstration of the principle that this is a Government for the whole of Scotland.

Campbeltown, like so many parts of rural Scotland, is blessed with a wealth of natural resources – the wind, waves and tides which are the source of our renewable energy potential; the farmland and water which sustains our food and whisky industries; the landscapes which attract visitors from around the world.

And just as these resources and assets are dispersed around Scotland, so prosperity and decision-making power should be shared across the country.

In Shetland earlier in the summer I made clear this government’s belief in more localised decision-making.

Our actions underline that belief. This Government has already consulted on a Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill.

The purchase of Machrahanish Air Base last year is a good example of how local communities can run and improve facilities which might otherwise have fallen into disuse. We aim to make it easier for communities to buy land and take over assets.

Following on from the declaration on local decision-making the Government made in Lerwick; and the Borderlands initiative which we launched in Hawick; in Campbeltown I can give a further example of how we are working to empower all parts of Scotland.

At the 2011 election we promised to establish a rural parliament for Scotland. I can confirm today that the Scottish Government will enable the first meeting of that parliament to take place next year.

Scotland’s rural parliament will emulate successful models established in countries such as Sweden, the Netherlands and Hungary. It will provide a forum to ensure that the needs of rural and remote communities are given the importance that they deserve.

It’s one further example of how we can ensure that democracy in Scotland works for communities across the whole of the country.

Ladies and gentlemen, independence is about empowering people and communities as much as it is about empowering institutions.

It offers an opportunity to renew democracy at all levels in Scotland. We can encourage local communities to have more autonomy and self-reliance; we can guarantee the status and rights of local government; we can draft a constitution affirming the most treasured values of our new nation.

And together with democratic renewal at home, we can be a confident and responsible international citizen – co-operating with our friends and allies across these islands and around the world.

During the summer of 2013, the First Minister made 6 major speeches on an independent Scotland’s place in an interdependent world. He put forward the view that Scotland is currently a member of six unions:

  • The political and economic union
  • The social union
  • The currency union
  • The union of the crowns
  • The defence union through NATO
  • The European Union

The Scottish Government wants to become independent from one of these unions – the political and economic union.

The social union will remain, regardless of Government policy, since it rests on ties of history, culture, family and friendship which are not dependent on Governments.

The current Scottish Government will choose, as a matter of policy, to remain in the currency union, the union of the crowns, the defence union and the European Union; and it will use the powers of independence to recast these unions and make them work more effectively for Scotland and Scotland’s neighbours.

The six speeches were made on the following dates -

12 July, 2013 – Nigg Fabrication Yard – introduction to the sequence of speeches
16 July, 2013 - Chief Minister’s Lecture, Isle of Man – Currency Union
25 July, 2013 - Shetland summer cabinet - Defence Union through NATO
21 August, 2013 - Hawick summer cabinet – European Union
28 August, 2013 - Campbeltown summer cabinet – Social Union and Union of the Crowns
2 September, 2013 - Fraserburgh summer cabinet – Independence from the Political and Economic Union

The idea of the six unions was explained in each speech, meaning that there are some overlaps in content between the six speeches. In addition, each of the summer Cabinet speeches began with very specific local references relating to the programme of events around the cabinets themselves. We have therefore published abridged versions of the speeches, focussing on the major theme of each speech.

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