In our first column last week we asked for your questions on constitutions, and we will tackle as many as possible. To begin, we’ve asked leading constitutional expert Dr Elliot Bulmer to look at the connections with the Commonwealth, to see to what degree these may provide a template for Scotland.

THIS year marks the 70th anniversary of the London Declaration of 1949, by which the modern Commonwealth was founded. The event was marked last week with a special Commonwealth Day service in Westminster Abbey, attended by the Queen and the Prime Minister.

With Brexit chaos undermining all the UK’s European relationships, the Government has to do all it can to use these meetings to rekindle its links with the Commonwealth. Here, at least, one finds “the right kind of foreigners” – the ones who speak English, play cricket and go gooey at the sight of royalty.

The result is an embarrassing mix of flattery and presumption: “Hello, India, old chap. It’s been a while. Sorry I bullied you in school – but it was for your own good, you know. Anyway, all in the past now, huh? Hey, maybe we should sign a trade deal and re-live the good old days?”

Given these attitudes by the British Government, it is easy for those who support Scottish independence to dismiss the Commonwealth as the British Empire Alumni Association – a relic from the colonial past from which we have little to learn.

Yet the Scottish independence movement has historically looked to the Commonwealth for inspiration. At the Imperial Conference of 1926, the status of the dominions (then including Australia, Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand, South Africa and the Irish Free State) was defined “as autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations”.

The statute of Westminster of 1931 gave effect in law to those principles, recognising (except in certain specified matters, at the dominions’ own request) both the independence of the dominions and their equality with Britain.

The Scottish National Party, formed in 1934, seized upon this definition and the opportunity it offered to achieve independence without breaking the wider social, familial bonds that joined the Commonwealth nations together. The party’s founding aim was to “achieve for Scotland dominion status”.

Dominion status was the British Empire’s known, accepted, legitimate way to achieve independence. In the years following the Second World War, India, Pakistan and Ceylon followed suit.

By articulating the demand for independence in these terms, it could be seen not as a radical, rupturing break with the British institutional tradition, but its fulfilment and natural evolution.

This is a powerful argument to display to proud British Unionists, especially for those who hanker after the days when much of the map was pink: there’s nothing more in keeping with the British imperial constitutional tradition than to achieve – in most cases in a peaceful, orderly way – full independence.

By the 1960s there was a slick, well-worn path to independence. Country after country made the constitutional journey.

The usual starting point was the election of a pro-independence majority to the country’s devolved legislature, which would signal its intention to pursue independence.

The British Government would then summon the country’s main parties, and perhaps some representatives of civil society or other major interests, to attend a Constitutional Conference. It was here that the terms of independence – and in particular the written constitution of the new state – would be hammered out.

These written constitutions, although tailored in detail to the needs of each country, had a relatively similar form.

They created institutions of parliamentary democracy subject to judicially enforced fundamental rights based upon the European Convention.

Most sought to guarantee the rights of minorities and of the opposition, and to guarantee fair-play through the establishment of non-partisan electoral commissions, public service commissions, judicial service commissions, and the like.

Once the written constitution was agreed by the Constitutional Conference, Westminster would pass an Independence Act, to which the constitution might be attached as a schedule, or else it would be issued as an Order in Council under the Act.

In any case, constitution-making would take place before the decision for independence had been finalized.

On the day of independence, the Union flag would come down and the new national flag would go up.

The band would play God Save The Queen and the newly independent country’s anthem, and – crucially – the “constitutional instruments” would be handed over. Everything would be done decently and in good order.

There would be no blank cheques. No pigs in pokes. No constitutional uncertainty. No scrabbling around or hurried improvisation.

Although Scotland, crucially, is not a colony – having been united to England by a treaty rather than by conquest – we nevertheless have a lot to learn from these decolonisation processes.

The experience of countries like Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Mauritius and Malta show, above all, the centrality of a written constitution – as a fundamental law that is much harder to change than ordinary laws – to the achievement of independence.

A written constitution establishes the institutions of the new state, protects the rights of all citizens, declares the principles and values on which the state will be based and, above all, guarantees that these fundamentals will not be subject to the whims of the post-independence parliamentary majority.

That provides certainty and reassurance. (It is also interesting that countries that deviated from this constitutional model, such as Sudan, have experienced very real problems.) Compared to the frayed incoherence of Westminster, it makes the choice facing the people of Scotland very clear: not just to choose a different government, but to choose a different type of state, a state founded on a constitutional charter of which Scotland can be proud.

A reminder – this unique column welcomes questions from readers on constitutional matters, so do keep them coming. You can send them to, with the subject "Constitution".