Harrogate Agenda, 12/09/2000  

The idea of a codified constitution is a popular one, especially one modelled on the Swiss constitution, which enshrines limited direct democracy. However, that document, which runs to 76 pages, does not necessarily provide a model for us. It is a composite document that comprises only in part a constitution. Mainly, it is a Bill of Rights.

A constitution should be directed primarily at governments and state agencies. Strictly speaking, it should be limited to defining the extent of their powers and the manner in which they shall be exercised. It can read alongside a Bill of Rights, and individual rights can be enshrined in a constitution, although separate documents might be preferable.

From the outset, though, it was clearly evident that the task of codifying every part of our constitution (or even starting from scratch) was not one which any single group could or should manage. Even to attempt to do so would change the tenor of our demands.

Nevertheless, if we are to have our own constitution, it must be produced by “we the people”. This is not something government can do for us. Those who frame a constitution – or who commission the task to be done - have to be the sovereign entity. And the very fact that the people lay down the rules under which governments must operate is de facto recognition of that sovereignty.

The constitution then necessarily begets certain safeguards, such as restrictions on the ability to amend it, ensuring that it retains its original purpose. It must have its protector, in the form of a constitutional court, which must have the power to strike down any law or action of government (and any other impost, for that matter), which is unconstitutional.

However, the experience of the US Supreme Court, and its tinkering with the US constitution, does not inspire confidence. Arguably, the ultimate court should be the people, who should be able to strike out any law or impost – such as a treaty – which they deem to be unconstitutional. If a law with constitutional effect is accepted by the people, it becomes part of, and thereby changes, the constitution.  The same should also apply to court judgements.

As to the problem of how to frame a demand in the context of our Harrogate Agenda, we could not call for a constitution, as such. This would be a demand addressed to ourselves, as the people. On reflection, the best option might be to address a separate demand to a reformed Parliament, one from which the executive had been excluded. It would be required to convene and then host a convention with a view to framing our document. A draft constitution should then be published, discussed, modified as necessary and ratified by referendum.

As to the content of this constitution, its shape or form, we do not offer any opinions as to its final shape. We note only that our demands involve very substantial amendments to the existing constitution. We would expect these to be incorporated in any new constitution. For the rest, we merely call for a properly constituted convention, one that is capable of deliberating relevant issues in an inclusive manner, and which will put the fruits of its deliberations to the people for approval.

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