The Campaign for an English Parliament is calling for Gordon Brown to repudiate the 1988 Claim of Right, in which he, along with many other prominent Scots, stated:
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
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 implementation of that scheme.
The CEP argues that the implications of this oath are unacceptable for a British Prime Minister:
CEP Chairman, Scilla Cullen, said, “There is another nation within
the UK- that of England. Will Gordon Brown extend to its people the
right of self-determination that he espoused for his own nation when he
signed the Scottish Claim of Right?”
CEP Vice Chairman, Tom Waterhouse, said, “The Claim of Right was a
public oath, and those who took it pledged to put the interests of the
Scottish people before all others. How can Gordon Brown, who took this
oath, become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom? He must declare that
he will put the interests of the whole of the UK before those of
Scotland”. (CEP blog)
What I find interesting about Brown’s adherence to the Claim of Right, is that it endorses a Scottish tradition of popular sovereignty that goes back to the Declaration of Arbroath.
This tradition contrasts with the English principle of the sovereignty of Parliament, a principle that does not apply in Scotland according to the famous 1953 judgement of Lord Cooper in McCormick v Lord Advocate:
"The principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a
distinctively English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish
constitutional law. It derives its origin from Coke and Blackstone, and
was widely popularised during the nineteenth century by Bagehot and
Dicey, the latter having stated the doctrine in its classic form in his
Law of the Constitution. Considering that the Union legislation
extinguished the Parliaments of Scotland and England and replaced them
by a new Parliament, I have difficulty in seeing why it should have
been supposed that the new Parliament of Great Britain must inherit all
the peculiar characteristics of the English Parliament but none of the
Scottish Parliament, as if all that happened in 1707 was that Scottish
representatives were admitted to the Parliament of England. That is not
what was done." (Wikipedia)
In the wake of last month’s SNP victory in Scotland, that judgement may yet prove to be something more than a historical curiosity.
Brown’s endorsement of this tradition would have been a no-brainer in 1988. It might well appear as something of an embarrassment in 2007, when Brown is about to become the most powerful figure in the British Parliament and the Scottish people have elected an SNP government.
Personally, I think that Brown should not repudiate the Claim of Right. Instead, he should enshrine the sovereignty of the Scottish people and the other constituent peoples of the UK in an new constitutional settlement.
After all, Northern Ireland arguably already has a version of popular sovereignty enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement as the principle of consent, so why not the other parts ot the UK?
Update: Little Man in a Toque has aready raised the key issue of two competing ideas of sovereignty here.