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Law Society sets out key questions for debate on Scotland's constitutional future

05 August 2013 | tagged News release

The Law Society of Scotland has set out a series of key questions on Scotland's constitutional future in a discussion paper published today, Monday 5 August.

The paper Scotland's Constitutional Future, views, opinions and questions' aims to inform and add value to the current discussion on independence and constitutional reform.

It focuses on a number of critical areas including;

Scotland's membership of the European Union - including a call on both the Scottish and UK Governments to publish all Law Officers' legal advice on an independent Scotland's membership of the EU and other international organisations.

The impact of independence on the economy - including questions around currency, Scotland's share of assets and liabilities as well as taxation, financial regulation and consumer protection.

Judicial and parliamentary restructuring - including questions on whether an independent Scotland should have a written constitution and whether the current model and structure of the Scottish Parliament would work for an independent Scotland.

The Society's paper provides a detailed analysis of the potential impact of independence on specific areas of both devolved and reserved areas of law.

The paper also raises important questions about Scotland's future if the electorate choose to remain part of the United Kingdom, particularly around the process and timetable for agreeing possible further devolution of powers from Westminster to Holyrood.

Bruce Beveridge, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: "In just over a year we will each be asked to decide if Scotland should become an independent country. It is the biggest question for our nation in over 300 years but everyone, whether for or against independence, wants the same result - for people in Scotland to live in peace and prosperity.

"However there are many questions to be answered before September 2014, answers which would allow all of us to make a more informed decision about our future - from how our parliament should be structured, the currency we would use, what level of tax we would pay to cross-border treaties and our relationship with other countries in Europe and around the globe.

"Membership of the European Union continues to be a vexed question. We think people should have more information about an independent Scotland's future membership of the EU and, while acknowledging the right of government not to disclose legal advice received, we think both the Scottish and UK Governments should publish the Law Officer legal advice they have been given to help provide clarity for voters."

The paper also raises the issue of whether the UK Government would support an independent Scotland's application to join the EU in the event of a 'yes' vote and asks what the Scottish Government would propose during a transition period, particularly if the negotiations for entry to the EU are not concluded in the time between a 'yes' vote and 'independence day'.

Separate from the issue of EU membership, the paper also raises questions around a written constitution for Scotland, whether the current Scottish Parliament would need reformed to take account of its new responsibilities and the possible powers of a Scottish Supreme Court.

Beveridge said: "Any new constitution for Scotland would have to be by consent of the people and respect the principle of separation of powers between government and the judiciary to ensure stability. We are keen to see more detailed proposals about our parliament and government in the event of independence. For example, would there be a qualified majority for certain types of legislation or would we see the introduction of a second chamber at the Scottish Parliament to ensure a system of checks and balances?

"Among those we spoke to there was a clear preference to retain the existing court structure of the High Court of Judiciary, Court of Session and Sheriff Court. In addition, the Scottish Government has indicated there would also be a Supreme Court of Scotland. However there has been no definition of a Supreme Court's powers, how its independence would be guaranteed or whether the court would be able to strike down legislation - all things we believe we should know before we go to the polls."

The paper also presents questions for those who argue for Scotland remaining within the UK but with further powers devolved from Westminster to Holyrood.

Beveridge said, "There will be many who want Scotland to remain part of the UK but are still keen to know if a 'no' vote means retaining the status quo or if there will be opportunity for change. The pro-union parties should be providing information at this stage about the potential for further devolution of powers from Westminster and how the parties would form a consensus to allow these to be delivered. We want to know more about what other powers could be devolved to Scotland, in the areas of fiscal policy, welfare and constitutional rights, and the timescale for delivery."

Beveridge added: "The Law Society is very firmly a non-partisan organisation so will not take a view either for or against independence - that is for people in Scotland to decide - but we want to contribute to the debate and to provide a platform for discussion outwith the political arena to help ensure a better understanding of the implications of either a 'yes' or 'no' vote.

"Such a debate has inevitably generated impassioned views - which will only intensify as we approach September 2014 - and it is essential that there is clarity on these and many other issues before we are asked to make our decision on Scotland's future.

"I hope our paper helps inform the debate and stimulate further discussion on what becoming an independent state would involve as well as examine what it would mean to remain part of the UK as we move towards this historic vote."

ENDS                                                                        

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:

The full paper and a short video is available to view.

Please contact Kevin Lang on 0131 476 8167 / 07972 201890

Email: kevinlang@lawscot.org.uk

05 August 2013

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