Joint Chairs: Lord Ewing of Kirkford Rt. Hon. Sir David Steel MP

Chair of Executive Committee: Canon Kenyon Wright

BACKGROUND INFORMATION                        

1. Formation of the Scottish Constitutional Convention

The proposal to establish a Constitutional Convention came from a committee of prominent Scots who in July 1988 in their report "A Claim of Right for Scotland" recommended that a Convention should be established to draw up a scheme for a Scottish Assembly or Parliament.

The Committee itself was created following the result of the 1987 General Election as they believed action had to be taken on the way Scotland was governed.

The Committee met between January and June of 1988, chaired by Professor Sir Robert Grieve with a former senior Scottish Office civil servant Jim Ross as secretary.

In January 1989 a cross party meeting was held to consider proposals for a Convention at which the Scottish National Party expressed their reservations concerning a Convention and later withdrew. The Conservative Party had already made it clear they would take no part in the proposed Convention.

Following several informal meetings the Convention held its first meeting on 30 March 1989 and adopted the following declaration:

2. A Claim of Right for Scotland

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.

We further declare and pledge that our actions and deliberations shall be directed to the following ends:

To agree a scheme for an Assembly or Parliament for Scotland';

To mobilise Scottish opinion and ensure the approval of the Scottish people for that scheme; and

To assert the right of the Scottish people to secure the implementation of that scheme.

3. Membership of the Convention

The first Convention meeting held in the Church of Scotland Assembly Hall on the Mound in the centre of Edinburgh was an impressive gathering of organisations and individuals representing a wide cross-section of Scottish society.

Members of the Convention include the Labour Party, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Scottish Democratic Left, Orkney and Shetland Movement, Scottish Green Party, Scottish Trades Union Congress, Regional, District and Island Councils and the Campaign for a Scottish Parliament. Membership also includes the main Scottish Churches, the Federation of Small Businesses, ethnic minority representatives and the Scottish Women's Forum.

In addition the Convention has a number of affiliate members including individual trades unions and special interest organisations. It is therefore the most broadly representative organisation in Scotland.

4. Method of Working

The Convention agreed from the outset that it should reach its decision by consensus and not by majority vote. It was agreed there should be Joint Chairs, Lord Harry Ewing, and Sir David Steel, MP, and that between plenary sessions of the Convention an Executive Committee chaired by Canon Kenyon Wright, would oversee the activities of the working groups drawn together to carry out the detailed work.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) has provided administrative services since the Convention's inception.

The Convention held seven meetings culminating on November 30, 1990 in the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, when it presented its report containing detailed proposals for the creation of a Scottish Parliament to the Scottish people.

The report "Towards Scotland's Parliament" has the support of the political parties within the Convention and the Labour Party has committed itself to "legislating for a Scottish Parliament in the first year of the Labour Government and that the scheme presented will be firmly based on the framework set out by the Scottish Constitutional Convention".

Since the production of the report, the Convention has held an annual meeting or around St Andrew's Day to debate related issues and progress the proposals.

5. Proposals - Separating the Facts from the Myths

Since November 30, 1990 there has been a widespread debate on the proposals and this debate has intensified. The constitutional future of Scotland is now firmly established at the top of the political agenda.

Critics of the Convention who favour the status quo claim that a devolved Parliament would result in Scotland being "over-governed". They ignore the fact that the Civil Service is already in place at the Scottish Office and that what the Convention is proposing is a democratically elected body to oversee the work. They also ignore the fact that the political parties within the Convention are committed to proposing to a Scottish Parliament a single tier structure of local government.

Attention has also been focused on the taxation powers of the proposed Scottish Parliament with wild claims of 20p increase in the pound on income tax and Scottish companies being burdened with higher taxes than elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

The Convention does propose that the Scottish Parliament should have the power to vary income tax rates up or down within a narrow range. The Convention does not propose that a Scottish Parliament should have any power to levy additional tax on business or indeed vary existing tax levels which would be decided by the Westminster Parliament.

6. Powers and Responsibilities

The Convention has agreed that: Scotland's Parliament would have a defined range of powers and responsibilities which would encompass sole or shared responsibility for all functions except those retained to the United Kingdom Parliament. The primary matters to be retained to the United Kingdom Parliament would be defence, foreign affairs, central economic and fiscal responsibilities, social security policy, immigration and nationality issues.

The Scottish Parliament will therefore have powers in relation to the economy and business, health, education, leisure and social welfare and the legal system and regulation.

It will work with local government to create better public services which are effective and efficient; it will establish an office in Brussels to ensure that Scotland's voice in Europe can be heard.

All of these powers and responsibilities will allow a Scottish Parliament to develop and sustain a quality of life which is best for the people living in our country, and more than that it will be directly accountable to the people of Scotland as the people making the decisions as members of the Parliament will all be living and working in Scotland itself.

7. Further Developments

Following the meeting on 30 November 1990, the Convention's Executive Committee had two working groups preparing proposals on the electoral system to be used in the elections for a Scottish Parliament as well as suggested working procedures for Parliament. Their reports were discussed at a full Convention meeting on 28 February 1992.

Then, in October 1993 the Convention appointed an Independent Commission with the following remit:

1. The Commission is appointed by the Executive Committee of the Scottish Constitutional Convention and will report to that Committee, but shall be independent of the Scottish Constitutional Convention in its membership and operation.

2. The Commission is invited, taking the Convention's established position on such matters as the basis from which further proposals are to be developed, to consider and make recommendations on:-

(a) proposals for elections to and representation in a Scottish Parliament electoral system(s) and gender balance provisions; and

(b) the constitutional implications at a United Kingdom level and for local government of the establishment of a Scottish Parliament (including entrenchment and Scottish representation in the Westminster Parliament).

3. The Commission will be free to seek such research and invite such submission of evidence as it thinks necessary to discharge of its remit.

4. The Commission will be established by October 1993 and asked to give an initial report within a year.

The Commission comprised eleven eminent Scots and was chaired by Joyce McMillan, a respected Scottish writer and journalist. Its report was published in October 1994 and made a number of recommendations and proposals.

The issues raised in their report were debated at the Convention meeting on Friday 2 December 1994 in the Old Royal High School, Edinburgh, and individual member organisations then discussed their positions and views.

8. "Scotland's Parliament: Scotland's Right"

Intense discussions have taken place throughout 1995 to incorporate these additional issues in the Convention's scheme. A meeting was held on 20 October 1995 when a number of key proposals were agreed including:

Electoral system - a new method of electing members of the Parliament was agreed. The Scottish Parliament will have 129 members - 73 elected by the first past the post system in existing Westminster boundary areas and 56 additional members elected from a larger geographical area through lists prepared by political parties and other organisations. The additional members will be elected to reflect a degree of proportional representation depending on the votes cast for each list.

Electoral Contract - The Convention has always supported equal representation of men and women in the Parliament but has decided against only statutory means to achieve this. Instead, political parties within the Convention have committed themselves to selecting equal numbers of men and women in seats where they have a reasonable expectation of being elected.

Working arrangements - the Scottish Parliament will have different working arrangements from Westminster. It will sit for a fixed term and members of Scottish Parliament will be expected to have this as their full time job. In addition the Convention is working closely with a number of individuals and other organisations to develop very detailed operational rules, known as Standing Orders. The principles on which the Parliament's working practices and procedures are based are: openness; accessibility; and accountability and it is therefore expected that the Parliament will operate normal business hours, vary the location of committee meetings and consult fully with other organisations at all stages of its business.

Securing the Legislation - In order to ensure successive Westminster Parliaments do not attempt to dismantle a Scottish Parliament the Convention expects the Westminster Parliament to move a special Declaration before passing the legislation creating the Scottish Parliament. This Declaration will state that the Westminster Parliament will not remove or amend the Scottish Parliament without consulting directly the people of Scotland and the Scottish Parliament itself.

These issues and others will be included as part of the Convention's forthcoming document "Scotland's Parliament: Scotland's Right" which will be launched on 30 November 1995.

9. Longer Term Future

Finally, the Convention is committed to a major consultation exercise entitled "Preparing for Change". This will comprise a series of key meetings to discuss particular issues eg the arts, education, media, local government and environmental matters. Convention representatives will meet all strands of Scottish public life to discuss their proposals and plans and address the practical implications of the establishment of a Scottish Parliament.

10. Funding Arrangements

The Convention is currently in receipt of a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and other than that relies entirely on donations from the Campaign for a Scottish Parliament, local authorities, other organisations and individuals.

11. Further Information

The Convention provides information and assistance to a range of individuals and organisations, particularly students, on developments in Scottish Constitutional matters. We have a large library of submissions on all aspects of our work and have a comprehensive press cuttings file for perusal. Further information is available from Liz Manson, c/o COSLA, Rosebery House, 9 Haymarket Terrace, Edinburgh, EH12 5XZ. Tel: 031-346 1222. Fax: 031-346 0055.