IN 2018, while serving as constitutional adviser on behalf of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), I found myself working for several weeks in Suva, Fiji.

My hotel was on Victoria Parade, near Queen Elizabeth Drive, not far from Gladstone Road, Thurston Street, Gordon Street, Albert Park and Duncan Road.

At the heart of town was the immediately recognisable Westminster-style parliament. There the prime minister and the leader of the opposition confronted each other across the chamber, while a ceremonial mace (gifted by Queen Victoria) rested on the table between them. Outside, a well tended statue commemorated the agreement made between the native chiefs and the British Crown in 1874.

When Fiji became independent from the United Kingdom in 1970, it initially adopted a standard “Westminster Export Model” constitution

Next to the parliament, on the other side of leafy Constitution Avenue, is the cricket ground. The first prime minister of Fiji, Sir Ratu Kamisese Mara, had been a first-class cricketer – although rugby is the national passion.

A stage had been set up in the middle of the oval in anticipation of a visit from a member of the British royal family, due to arrive in the next few days.

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On the short drive from my hotel to the university bookshop, I passed Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral, the offices of the Social Democratic Liberal Party, the Trades Union Congress office, the Teachers’ Association Credit Union and even the Masjid Noor mosque – all the stuff of a vibrant civic and social life indelibly shaped by the institutions of British imperial rule.

In the botanical gardens there is a clock tower commemorating the city’s first mayor, who died in Canada. As I paid the taxi driver, I noticed that the Queen’s head was still on some of the coins.

When Fiji became independent from the United Kingdom in 1970, it initially adopted a standard “Westminster Export Model” constitution, including keeping the Queen as head of state.

There is a photograph in the museum in Suva showing Prince Charles reviewing Fijian soldiers on independence day. Like many other former British colonies, the path was set to an agreed, consensual, constitutional path to independence.

However, the Westminster model assumed an underlying national unity which would legitimate majority rule. Fiji, like many post-colonial nations, lacked that. Its society was divided on ethno-cultural lines between the (mostly Christian) indigenous Fijian islanders (iTaukei) and the (mostly Hindu, partly Muslim) Indo-Fijians.

At first, each community was awarded a prescribed quota of seats in the House of Representatives according to a complex formula, while a bloc of seats in the Senate were reserved for nominees of the Great Council of Chiefs. The aim was to give the iTaukei a veto over matters affecting their own interests, especially customary land titles.

This institutional engineering worked until 1987, when a narrow victory by the National Federation Party – predominantly representing the Indo-Fijian community – threatened the iTaukei’s interests. This led to a military coup, the first of four between 1987 and 2006. The consolidation of liberal democracy was undermined. A succession of constitutions – in 1990 and 1997 – came and went, all with systems of communal representation that failed to address the underlying ethnic issues.

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In an attempt to restore democracy after a period of military rule, a highly consultative constitution-building process was undertaken, led by the famous Kenyan constitutional expert Professor Yash Pal Ghai.

The highly innovative Ghai draft was too progressive for the government: it was publicly burned by order of the prime minister, who then instructed officials to produce another, much tamer, draft.

The current constitution, based on the government’s draft, is far from perfect. But it reflects very different thinking from that of its predecessors. Rather than highlighting ethnic divisions through complicated seat quotas, it adopts a “one Fiji” approach: the whole nation is one constituency, and all members are elected nationally by proportional representation. This is a worthy attempt to try to get parties to focus on national policy concerns, not ethnicity.

Just as a Fijian constitution must reflect Fijian values and meet Fiji’s needs, a Scottish constitution must reflect Scottish values and meet Scotland’s needs

It remains to be seen how well the new constitution will work. Two elections have been held under it, which have been regarded as free and fair – although the last I heard, the opposition party had been suspended from parliament, so clearly there’s more work to do.

Scotland can learn three great lessons from Fiji’s experience. Firstly, that countries with a long history of British rule can transition peacefully to independence, without having to deny the influence of that history.

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It is alright to be an Anglophile cricket fan with a knighthood and support independence, because independence is the normal end-state of countries that were once part of the British Empire.

Secondly, consolidating a stable democratic constitutional order is much more difficult than winning an independence vote, and must be carefully considered if the full benefits of independence are to be enjoyed.

Thirdly, the Westminster model, while a good basis on which to build, has its flaws, particularly in diverse societies where crude majoritarianism may exacerbate sectarian strife.

Just as a Fijian constitution must reflect Fijian values and meet Fiji’s needs, a Scottish constitution must reflect Scottish values and meet Scotland’s needs.

This column welcomes questions from readers