Clegg calls for a British Constitutional Convention (updated)

Writing on the party’s official website, Nick Clegg has challenged Gordon Brown and David Cameron to live up to their words on cooperation:

Shortly after I was elected as Leader of the Liberal Democrats, the Prime Minister phoned me to offer his congratulations and express his wish that we should work together on the issues that unite our country. Similarly, shortly before I was elected as Lib Dem Leader, the Conservative Leader made a posting on his website seeking support from the Liberal Democrats to build a “progressive alliance”. His approach was a little less personal and a bit preemptive, but I shall not hold that against him.

I would like to think that my opponents’ apparent wish to cooperate is a sign of a new age dawning in British politics – an era of political civility in which parties set aside narrow self-interest for the good of the country. More likely, it is the latest wheeze by Labour and the Tories to take the best of Liberal Democrat ideas and call them their own. That risk is well-known to my party. But I am prepared to take risks in working with others to address one of the greatest crises facing us today: Britain’s broken political system…

So, if Gordon Brown and David Cameron are serious when they say that they want to cooperate, here is the litmus test. They should join the Liberal Democrats in establishing an independent British Constitutional Convention that would bring together representatives from all political parties and from every corner of British society. Its remit would be the construction of a consensus on the reforms needed to reopen the political system and revitalise public trust.

The Convention would be inspired by its predecessor in Scotland, in which Labour and the Liberal Democrats were joined by voices from the trade unions, churches and other civil society organisations. By bringing together a cross-section of society, the Scottish Constitutional Convention was able to obtain widespread endorsement for what became the blueprint for devolved government in Scotland: the settled will of the Scottish people. I believe that the same can be achieved for reform at Westminster too.

You can read the full piece, including details of the topics which Nick believes should be covered by a Constitutional Convention, on the Liberal Democrat website.

UPDATE: The Observer has covered the story here:

Clegg has taken the initiative on constitutional reform by writing to Brown to propose the establishment of a new British Constitutional Convention, with members of all the main parties and non-political figures, to examine the country’s ‘broken’ political system. The convention, which would be modelled on the Scottish Constitutional Convention that paved the way for devolution, would look at electoral reform and at relations between Westminster and the devolved bodies.

Clegg wrote to the Prime Minister: ‘I believe that our politics is broken. A centralised, ossified Westminster system has, for years, simply failed to deliver the change and the empowerment of citizens that the British people deserve.’

Downing Street sources indicated that Brown would study the Clegg proposal with care. The Prime Minister may not accept his exact proposal for a new convention, but he will work with Clegg in the spirit of the constitutitonal reform statement he made to Parliament in July. In this, Brown pledged to work with other parties to examine issues such as the right of No 10 to declare war and to sign treaties through the royal prerogative powers.

Read the full story here.

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53 Comments

  • Cheltenham Robin 29th Dec '07 - 9:21pm

    A good start Nick.

    All we need now is for the campaigns department to turn that into plain English so that we can stick it on a piece of paper and stuff it through letterboxes.

  • Your terms of reference for a British Constitutional Convention are so vague that it cannot be construed as an attempt to solve the urgent need to solve the English Question. What is needed is for all parties to join in the existing English Constitutional Convention.
    The Union is in grave danger of breaking up since England is being most unfairly governed following devolution to Scotland. At least we now have one party led by an Englishman (Cameron rejoices in his Scots name when he speaks North of the border).

  • Richard Davies 30th Dec '07 - 3:04pm

    Have to say that I am a bit perplexed by Iain McWhirter saying “The LibDems support an English parliament as a matter of policy.”

    When did this happen?

  • Richard Davies 30th Dec '07 - 3:09pm

    And if Nick has any sense he will stick to his all party constitutional talks rather than be drawn into Gordon’s web like Ming was. It made us look like we were would support Labour only.

    We have to keep equidistance between the other parties.

    He should tell Gordon to stuff his carve up of the constitution. Constitutions are for the mass of the people. Not political cliques.

  • I object to the idea of a British Constitutional Convention .
    What is needed is an English Constitutional Convention not a British one . ie involving English people only and not anyone who isn’t . Its no business of other peoples with other parliaments . and that goes for the Welsh too .

    It really is insulting to the English that the Scots should be invited to be part of a Convention to determine the government of England . They have had their convention .It resulted , eventually , in a Scottish pariament . They should have the sense and the politeness to keep out of English affairs.

    I am amazed that Clegg actually spells this out in his article on the Lib dem website and then blythely goes for a British CC . So much for his regard for the democratic rights of the English .

  • Lib Dem member 30th Dec '07 - 3:42pm

    And I object to anyone who thinks that the only purpose of a constitutional convention is to talk about a Parliament for England.

    That’s what all these comments boil down to really. The only issue the commenters care about is an English Parliament. Anything that doesn’t deliver that directly and straight-away is wrong, irrelevant and stupid. Oh of course.

    Well wake up and look around you. That isn’t the only issue in the world. It isn’t the only objective to judge proposals by. There are many people in England who are happy to talk to and discuss issues with those outside England. You don’t have to hate the rest of the world and retreat into a little England bunker. Come on out into the sunshine!

  • Rubbish . Thats a typical anti English attempt to try and get the English to belt up about the lack of democracy for England .

    There are numerous issues to discuss but in the case of this particular issue the forum in which to discuss it is in England by the people of England . Scotland and Wales have had / are having their own discussions and welcome to them . The issue of how the English decide to be governed doesn’t concern them , thats all .

  • Lib Dem Member, That is because an English Parliament is the only issue of importance. We are being bled dry and fragmented. I just happen to think that our national survival is imoportant. It has only been that way since the Lab/Con/Lib.Dems were hijacked by a Scots/Welsh consortium of self interested nationalists that are hell bent on destroying a nation that they genetically regard as enemies.

    An English Parliament is inevitable, the sooner this futile skirmish is over the better because the growing resentment will fester to a massive anti Scot/Welsh backlash. The reason you are able to summerise the postings as “The only issue that the commentators care about” is both self evident and indicative of the needs of the English. In relation to your final invitation to “come out into the sunshine” that is exactly what we are trying to do.

  • Grammar Police 31st Dec '07 - 3:40pm

    I always wince when I see people writing about simply excluding Scottish and Welsh MPs from certain debates from issues that “only affect England”. The process of making modern legislation isn’t just as straightforward as this would imply. For example, it bothers me that David Cameron doesn’t understand how parliament makes law. What do we (taxpayers!) pay him for?

    There are many bits of legislation that don’t extend to the whole of the UK, or to different parts of it in different ways – and that’s always been the case even before devolution. Take, for example, the Criminal Justice Act 2003. A large proportion of it applies to the UK; then there are some parts that apply only to England and Wales. Then a couple of parts that modify certain sections of it by changing the wording slightly in their application to Scotland and Northern Ireland (and probably Wales too). Then there are bits that just apply to England, bits that just apply to Scotland, bits that just apply to Wales, and bits that just apply to Northern Ireland.

    Now, in reality how would you deal with this in Parliament if MPs were only allowed to vote on legislation that extended to a country that their constituency was part of. Second reading would be a nightmare as you’re supposed to take the bill as a whole. Committee and Report stages would be more possible, but a logistic nightmare as it would be musical chairs as different people were allowed in and out depending on which bit you were discussing . . .

    In reality, what’s the difference between Scottish MPs voting on something that affects me in London and Northern MPs doing the same? Or Cornish ones? Indeed, no one is kicking up a fuss about UK MPs voting on legislation affecting dependant territories.

  • Tom Jackson 31st Dec '07 - 7:23pm

    The Lib Dems policy paper 83″ for the people, by the people” does not come out in support of an EP. However it is stated that devolution to S and W has resulted in a new anomaly. Para 6.31 on the English Question states that during the 1980’s the Conservative Govt used its majority in the House of Commons to force through highly controversial legislation that applied only to Scotland. i.e poll tax. Scottish voters were effectively disenfranchised and increasingly frustrated by the government’s activities. This gave urgency to the cause of Scottish devolution. I suggest there are parallels now applying in England.

  • Hywel Morgan 31st Dec '07 - 7:35pm

    “I always wince when I see people writing about simply excluding Scottish and Welsh MPs from certain debates from issues that “only affect England”. The process of making modern legislation isn’t just as straightforward as this would imply.”

    The logical extension of this would surely be that only 2 MPs were eligible to vote on the Southampton Boat Show Act

  • GaffaUK
    “Do you have a list of all the MPS who signed this Scottish Claim of Rights?”

    Yes I do have the list requested from the Scottish Parliament under the freedom of Information Act.
    Signatories include David Steel, Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell, along with Brown-Reid-Darling etc.
    As an English person one should be very careful giving your support to those pledged to work against your interests. Although cross party some have more in common than is surface visible.
    Below is an extract from the letter I received:
    ———————————
    “REQUEST FOR INFORMATION: 2007-011091

    Thank you for your request for information relating to The Claim of Right, which we received on 09 July 2007. Your request has been handled in accordance with the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 and the following information is supplied with this letter.
    List of signatories to the 1988 Scottish Claim of Right.
    Twenty four of the one hundred and forty nine signatories cannot be clearly identified and are therefore not included in the list supplied with this letter. If you would like to view The Claim of Right, please contact my colleague, xxxxxxxxxxxx who would be happy to make arrangements for you to visit Holyrood to view it.

    —————————————–
    My Response:
    “I appreciate the prompt reply to my request for information under the Freedom of Information Act.
    I am not quite satisfied with the answer.
    I am informed that;
    “Twenty four of the one hundred and forty nine signatories cannot be clearly identified and are therefore not included in the list supplied with this letter.”
    The word ‘clearly’ does not mean undecipherable. Are you saying that the twenty four signatories are unknown to any official in the Scottish Parliament or records department?
    If so I find it astounding.
    I would be very grateful to receive the full list of signatories at your earliest convenience.”
    ————————————-
    Their Reply:
    “The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 provides a right of
    access to ‘recorded information’ held by a public authority. The
    original ‘Claim of Right’ was presented as a gift to one of the deputy
    Presiding officers. The ‘Claim of Right’ although itself an important
    political and historical document is however not an official
    parliamentary publication and there is no statutory requirement for
    keeping this document or a record of the full list of signatories.
    Consequently we do not have an accurate list of the signatories.”
    —————————–
    Now remember, this was signed 20 years ago not in the 12th century.
    My signature is indecipherable but those who know it can recognise it instantly.
    These 24 signatures that cannot be ‘clearly identified’ are on documents all over the place. I cannot believe that prominent people in politics do not have signatures that, whilst not readable, are not recognisable. Who these 24 are is of course intriguing and leads one to wonder if they wish to be recognised. I will do a bit of work and post a list of recognised signatories that are still in office and you have now motivated me to hunt for the missing 24.

  • Ive read the full piece from Mr Clegg on the Lib Dems website, and I note the following:

    “The Prime Minister phoned me to offer his congratulations and express his wish that we should work together on the issues that unite our country” – Gordon Browns country is Scotland (first and foremost), unless he has withdrawn his oath to the Scottish claim of Right.

    “But this is Britain – a country whose population has resisted the exercise of undue control and authority by the Powers That Be since the signing of Magna Carta in 1215” – Britain did not exist in 1215, this was a wholly English document.

    “The Scottish Constitutional Convention was able to obtain widespread endorsement for what became the blueprint for devolved government in Scotland: the settled will of the Scottish people.” – OK, so the people of Scotland have been given democracy and are in no need of a British Constitutional Convention then?

    England and Britain are not interchangeable words, when will people stop mixing them up?

    It is ENGLAND not Britain that needs a voice for its people. The English Constitutional Convention already exists but is largely ignored by the main three parties. Why doesnt Mr Clegg acknowledge this?

  • MattGB
    “I’m missing something here. Perhaps someone can explain what is objectionable in this text:”

    The people below signed this document and are elected to run our Country in the interests of all of the British, 85% of which are English.
    These people paid to run Britain have decided to give absolute priority to the 10% that comprises their own country—Scotland.

    One of their signatories is the Speaker of the House of Commons. He who is none political and impartial, the one that will decide on which legislation the English MPs get to vote on if we ever (God forbid) get Eng Votes on Eng Matters)
    It’s like asking the board of Asda to run Tescos.
    No problem with the Oath if they are SNP and members of only the Scottish Parliament.
    Just suppose that the 80% that comprise the English element of Westminster made public oath to look after just the English.
    If you want it more graphic how about if White MPs signed to give priority to Whites…. Got it.

    Look below, particularly at McLiesh to see why we object. That is probably the most graphic example, they usually manage to hide it better. He couldn’t hide that so he was repatriated into the top job as his reward. Just imagine the rest of the iceburg.
    Do some research on the names and look at what committees they are on. Then consider that they are under oath to put Scotland first.
    Take a good look it seems that Scots nationalists are well represented in the LIB DEMS, especially at leader level.
    It only proves one thing, we English are like turkeys voting for Christmas. Happy Christmas to all Lib Dems. I’m in the English Democrats.

    All of these have pledged to prioritise Scotland. And yes for that read ‘Stuff England!’

    Elspeth Attwooll MEP LIB DEM (Leader EU)
    Gordon Brown

    Malcolm Bruce LIB DEM (ex Leader)
    He is a former leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and is now President of the Scottish Party.

    Menzies Campbell LIB DEM (ex leader)
    Denis Canavan
    Robin Cook (dec)
    Alistair Darling
    Ian Davidson
    Tam Dayell
    Donald Dewar (dec)
    Brian Donohoe
    George Foulkes Now Labour Peer.
    George Galloway (Now Respect)
    Nigel Griffiths
    James Hood
    Charles Kennedy LIB DEM
    David Marshall
    Michael Martin SPEAKER

    Henry McLeish LAB
    On Tuesday 23 March 1999, England gave away an estimated 30% of attributable oil revenue to the Scottish Parliament on the orders of a former First Minister of the Scottish Parliament.

    Henry McLeish (Fife), – Was made the British minister responsible at Westminster at the time of devolution, for drawing up the new territorial boundaries, by his fellow Scotsman Blair. “2 years later he followed Donald Dewar back to Scotland and like him was made First Minister under Labour.

    Thomas McAvoy
    John McFall
    John Reid
    George Robertson Lab (ret)
    John Smith (dec)
    David Steel LIB DEM (ex Leader)
    Gavin Strang

  • I think that I have answered your question.
    The oath does not have a ‘best by’ date it is ongoing. There is an EDM (266?) calling for Brown to renounce it, he won’t.
    In words on one syllable.
    The signatories are the reason that Scotland has its own parliament and we have no English parliament. No representation.
    They are the mindset that perpetuates the Barnett formula and advantages given to their own country.
    I would see nothing wrong with the wording of the oath, for Scotland, I just wish that the 560 English MPs would sign and English one and adhere to it with the same tenacity.
    If you see nothing wrong with giving away our oil and fisheries then I for one don’t want to belong to the same party as you.
    These people run Britain.
    They ensured a parliament for their own country whilst fighting tooth and nail to ensure that the English remain British.
    Now if you want to continue please explain in more detail as I am too long in the tooth to be led into long diatribe by a few syllables.
    If it is not self evident you may have a problem or you are not English.
    If you do not object to the leadership of our main parties belonging to an exclusive club dedicated to the furtherance of their own country at the expense of (yours?), then there is little else I can offer. If on the other hand you are a Scot, I do understand.

  • I an sorry I did not quite read you question thoroughly.

    I quote the relavent section of the claim of right below. I interpret that as putting Scottish interest above all else and that includes both England and Britain.

    ‘We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount.’

  • Steven Ronald 1st Jan '08 - 11:12pm

    As a Scotsman (currently living in England) – I can only sympathise with the English people above who want this debate to be more English-centric. The fact that the democratic deficit of the West-lothian problem is currently a reality is a disgrace and I wish more Scots would speak up against it.

  • Patrick Harris 2nd Jan '08 - 5:31pm

    I find it laughable yet indefensible that devolution for Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland is cheered and the possibility of the same for England is jeered. To my mind (a Little Englander (sour and bigoted), a logical consequence of the emancipation of 3 out of 4 countries (of one Union) is emancipation for the 4th.
    Am I mad or just misguided?

  • MatGB states that people get what they vote for do they really, well I clearly remember the people of the northeast of ENGLAND NOT NOT voting for regional assemblies and yet our dear PM still insisted they have one, oh no sorry it was the unelected EU that insisted they have one Mr Brown just followed orders now where have I heard that before.

  • P HARRIS states that he is a Little Englander Sir the only Little Englanders I know of are ENGLISH CHILDREN. I also notice when the ENGLISH question comes up it is Mr Cleggs stock answer, “here we go again the Little Englanders”. So when the Lib/Dems come knocking for your vote, remember what Clegg called you and ram it down their throats as you slam the door in their face.

  • Charles Packard 3rd Jan '08 - 12:39am

    MattGB – “I’m missing something here. Perhaps someone can explain what is objectionable in this text”

    Because it is contradictory to believing in the sovereignty of Westminster.

    Since they have signed up to this declaration of unlimited Scotish sovereignty they are bang to rights in not believing in the sovereignty of Westminster.

    Unless of course they didn’t actually believe in what they were signing up to which then puts a big question mark over their integrity.

    Brown won’t repudiate it and will try to ignore it because by doing so he will hand a powerful argument to the nationalists and undermine the impression that Scots are sovereign over their affairs instead of Westminster.

  • Some of the people on this thread would get on like a house on fire with the SNP trolls who haunt other corners of t’internet.

    Do we at least agree that the right to self-government is not conditional on nationality or ethnicity? The SCC was not about the government of Scottish people other than in the sense of ‘people living in Scotland’. Happily, that includes a lot of English people and a number of people from a range of different nationalities.

    You may not like some English MPs (or others) who you reckon aren’t English, but if you really think they’re that bad, I’m afraid you will need to campaign to elect someone else in their place.

    Clegg’s idea is a good one, and a natural beginning to tackling the issues you’re apparently keen on tackling. Devolution is asymmetric because the demand for devolution was (very) asymmetric. There was never a conspiracy – just democratic politics.

    England and Wales could have their own ‘Claim of Right’ in precisely the terms of Scotland’s as far as I can see (at least if they want to!). It makes sense to look at a UK level at the whole constitution (including the funding mechanisms) to establish what the nature of the Union is, and to tackle other UK-wide issues.

    Proposals for England could sensibly follow from that along with revised proposals for Scotland and Wales for each to consider. If England desperately wants to move to a referendum on devolution faster than that, there’s nothing stopping it – I’ve never heard of the English Constitutional Convention before this thread but if it’s serious, broad-based and open-minded about the options then good luck to it. To get the SCC to work, though, it took a lot of patience, and gradual building of consensus over a decade around detailed proposals and a solid footing in civic Scotland as much as party political involvement. Bear in mind that neither the SNP nor the Tories ever took part.

    PS – for anyone interested in the SCC, the info is all online at http://www.almac.co.uk/business_park/scc/. (Website very much from the olden days!)

    PPS – For the person interested in signatories of the Claim of Right, I would be very surprised if all 149 were not those attending from among the SCC’s 200ish members listed in the appendix of the SCC’s final report (see link). You will see some of the people representing religious groups, business organisations, unions &c are fairly obscure, so it may be hard to that extent to be sure with some of the signatures – but I expect you could write to most of these people and ask them if you really want to book them all in at the Tower of London individually. It’s not a government/parliamentary document, so the FOI response is more helpful than you might have got.

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