Duo makes bid to enshrine land reform in Scottish written constitution

Nathanael Williams

At launch of constitutional and legal think tank, founding pair suggest a stronger framework for legal rights in Scotland 

DR Mark McNaught told an audience in Glasgow that enshrining land reform would be an ambition in any written Scottish constitution at the launch of a new project to create one.

According to the American-born academic, an issue as "crucial and basic" as land reform would not be left solely to legislative will or process but could be ensured permanently through a prominent article in a written constitution.  

He spoke during the launch of Demos Scotland, a new think tank set up by himself and Peter A Bell which seeks to look at developing an online network devoted to the formulation of a Scottish constitution.

"Lets enshrine the requirement to make the registration quicker, more robust and permanent." Dr Mark McNaight

Dr McNaught, said: "What you could have is take an issue like land reform where in the constitution you could have a solid commitment that all land must be owned, registered and taxed in Scotland or you simply lose it.

"For example, the registry that is being collated by the Scottish Government to show land ownership i,s to my mind, too slow. 

"And you have all this land, much of it owned by Saudi sheikhs or these shadowy people who aren't resident, simply register it elsewhere. Lets enshrine the requirement to make the registration quicker, more robust and permanent."

The idea for founding the think tank came after the 2011 electoral victory of the SNP and Dr McNaught's view that the resumption of Scotland’s independence meant a "debate and extensive work had to be begun". 

McNaught is assistant professor of law, philosophy and US civilisation at the University of Rennes, Brittany, but has been writing for Scottish publications since before the 2014 referendum. 

Being originally based out of Louisiana and then Brittany, McNaught has also had experience in the European context of constitutional debate as he spent a period in Barcelona working with Constituïm, the citizens group which has drafted a constitution for an independent Catalonia.

"So we have to emphasise that this is the building block of a nascent state, the building of something new which cannot be contained by Britain." Peter A Bell

Peter A Bell, writer, publisher and events organiser who is co director of the organisation, said: "For me there has to be a firm recognition that is not about all about economics. 

"We did have during the referendum a very crass debate around who would have £500 here or there. Not very elevating.

"We also need to be very careful not to fall into the trap of unionist logic which would say well we have all these new powers – we don't by the way, and now why do you need independence when you have a constitution.

"So we have to emphasis that this is the building block of a nascent state, the building of something new which cannot be contained by Britain."

In response to points raised in the audience about Iceland’s example of popular crowdfunding of their constitution, Bell said: “The crowdsourcing effort in Iceland doesn't seem to be as crowdsourced as it was presented – but also the population difference would make it quite a different operation.

"There will be elements of crowdsourcing of ideas there, you have plenty forums like Wiki or GitHub where you could submit ideas for the final document."

However, from the talk there was no firm process presented on how ideas would be processed or selected for a final draft of a prospective constitution.

The think tank will begin crowdfunding for extra resources in order to hire more legal and academic experts. Invitations for online contributions to the creation of the constitution will begin in the next few weeks.

Picture courtesy of Nathanael Williams

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