THE UK, as we all know, famously has an unwritten constitution. It is based upon a mixture of laws, customs, precedent, and convention. We’re told that the UK is the Mother of Democracy, the oldest and most stable democratic state in the world, a dubious claim at best, but one which forms one of the core myths of British nationalism.

We’re told that the UK is immune from the extremism that deforms the younger democracies of Europe. This was one of the loudest arguments made by opponents of Scottish independence during the referendum campaign of 2014, we were warned that independence meant risking democracy, that an independent Scotland was at risk of turning into a failed democracy.

Yet the British constitution, with its reliance upon the powerful respecting traditions, is a delicate and fragile flower, one which is easily crushed by those with no scruples.

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The past couple of years have disabused us of the myth of British constitutional superiority. We have discovered that far from acting as a bulwark against extremism, the UK’s unwritten constitution makes the British state especially vulnerable to the abuse of power by governments.

A constitution which relies upon the powerful to act in an honourable manner in order to guarantee democracy contains no guarantees for democracy at all. It can only work as long as power is held by the honourable. Theresa May’s government strained the definition of honourable to its very limits.

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has smashed right through it and left it lying bleeding to death in the dust far behind him.

We are told by supporters of the government that proroguing such a long sitting parliament as this one is perfectly normal. It’s perfectly normal, they assert, that a new Prime Minister would seek a Queen’s Speech in order to lay out his new legislative programme.

But it’s not normal to suspend Parliament during the time of the greatest constitutional and political crisis since WW2. It’s not normal to use the powers of the monarch to protect a government without a working majority from the scrutiny of Parliament. It’s not normal to employ a constitutional wheeze to deprive elected representatives of the opportunity to use their own personal mandates in order the protect a government led by a Prime Minister who has no mandate of his own.

Moreover, a Prime Minister who is hell-bent on driving through a policy which his own government admits would be deeply damaging to the whole UK. All of this may or may not be “constitutional” in UK terms, but it’s certainly not honourable.

Johnson is merely continuing and developing a theme which became apparent under his predecessor, the concentration of all power in the executive and the reduction of the House of Commons to a rubber stamp assembly. Theresa May’s government had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the courts in order to get it to accept that MPs should have a role in the decision to trigger Article 50.

She proposed to give government ministers so-called Henry VIII powers to allow them to make laws by fiat. She refused to concede that MPs should be permitted a meaningful vote on her Brexit deal. Then once she’d lost that battle she trashed the sovereignty of the Commons by repeatedly bringing back her deal even after it was rejected, refusing to accept the decision of the House.

She did so even though her deal was defeated by the biggest majority in Parliamentary history. And she pressed on regardless. Nothing had changed. Nothing had changed. She hoarded information like a dragon hoards gold, jealously hiding it and refusing to share it. She sidelined and marginalised the Scottish Parliament while preaching about the preciousness of the Union.

At every step along the way, the sovereignty of that parliament which was supposed to be restored by Brexit has instead seen Brexit used as an excuse to weaken it even further and to concentrate even more power in the hands of the Prime Minister. The government of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is indeed acting on precedent. It’s just that the precedent he’s acting upon is the one that teaches him that he can get away with pretty much anything if he’s prepared to stare down his critics. The British constitution lacks any effective checks and balances which might prevent him.

The National: Boris Johnson

Things have now got so bad that Michael Gove, the minister in charge of planning for No Deal, could blithely refuse to answer a question on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday about whether his government would abide by any legislation that MPs might pass to prevent a No-Deal Brexit.

He hinted that the government might choose to ignore it, describing the proposed legislation as a pig in a poke. In any country with a properly functioning democratic constitution, it would not even be thinkable for a government to choose to ignore the law. The weakness of the British constitution and how it is unfit as a guarantor of democracy lies exposed.

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Today, a Scottish court begins to hear a case, headed by the admirable Joanna Cherry QC of the SNP, arguing that the British Government is behaving unconstitutionally and unlawfully. The House of Commons returns to sit today, and MPs will begin to put into effect the plans and schemes that they hope might be able to assert the power of Parliament over that of the Prime Minister.

We are in for a roller-coaster week of politics. However, we are only in this situation in the first place because of the weaknesses of what passes for a British constitution.

Essentially the British constitution allows those in power to make it all up to suit themselves as they go along. That worked acceptably well as long as those in power put the interests of the country as a whole ahead of all other considerations.

The past few British governments have painfully illustrated how that is no longer the case. Our current crop of political masters and mistresses place their own careers first, party interest second, and the national interest scarcely gets a look in.

No written constitution is perfect, all have their flaws and weaknesses, however, a written constitution does spell out the limits of power for each branch of government – the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. In the UK all we have is a confused mire of tradition which those with no scruples can choose to ignore or to traduce.

There is little prospect of a British written constitution, we can only ensure that our democracy has the guarantees of a written constitution in an independent Scotland. We need to ensure that our politicians are held to account. The British constitution is designed to ensure that they can’t be.

The strongest arguments for independence have always been the democratic arguments, the inability of the British constitution to act as an effective check on the untrammelled power of the Prime Minister becomes another reason why Scotland needs a better way.

As British democracy is strangled by the Conservatives, that need becomes more pressing with every passing day.