THE Parliament of Tuvalu – a small island nation in the South Pacific – last week passed a constitutional amendment act.

I have not yet had the ­opportunity to see the ­final act, and it is possible ­certain changes were made, even at the last ­minute, ­during the parliamentary process. ­However, I have had the opportunity to study the ­constitutional amendment bill as it was ­presented to parliament.

That bill, and the report by the Constitutional Review Committee that accompanied it, is a very interesting summation of a long process of debate and negotiation, ongoing within and­ ­beyond parliament, since 2015.

For the most part, the ­constitutional ­amendments envisaged by the bill are ­relatively ­minor. They are technical, ­“housekeeping” ­amendments – tweaks and ­evolutionary ­improvements, rather than ­fundamental ­changes, to the system of ­parliamentary government Tuvalu has ­enjoyed since its ­independence from the United ­Kingdom in 1978.

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Relatively minor constitutional reforms in a small nation that most people have never heard of, in the middle of the ocean on the other side of the planet, are the sort of things that most newspaper columnists do not inflict upon their readers’ attention.

But Tuvalu is worth knowing about. For a start, there’s the fact that Tuvalu exists, despite the odds, as an independent country. With a land area of 26 square kilometres, it is about one-fifth the size of Edinburgh. It has a ­population of just under 12,000 people, about the same as Linlithgow. Its GDP per capita is about $3000 – in round figures, about a tenth of that of Scotland.

Of course, it relies on its friends more than a big country like Scotland would do. Tuvalu’s economy is so small that for convenience it uses the currency of its neighbour (Australia), something that I’m sure Scotland would never need to consider, except perhaps as a transitional measure. It also outsources its defence to the Royal Australian Navy, which maintains a little outpost on the Tuvaluan island of Funafuti.

Even so, it is an independent country, with its own government and parliament, its own ­diplomatic representation, its own seat in the United Nations, and – undergirding it all – its own constitution. No more “too poor”, “too wee” nonsense. Sovereignty does not ­discriminate against the small.

What’s more, the British government actively supported Tuvalu’s orderly transition to independence. Every time a former British colony celebrates its independence day, I would like to see someone on the SNP front bench in ­Westminster raise this question: “Why should Scotland be treated on less favourable terms than former colonies?”

Tuvalu’s constitutional story is also ­interesting for the big ideas that emerge from such a small petri dish of constitutional experimentation.

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Some of the more radical ideas discussed ­during the review process did not make it into the constitutional amendment bill. ­Looking at the constitutional amendment bill and its ­accompanying report, Tuvalu’s legislators seem to have acted with prudence and self-restraint. (Again, this comes with the caveat that I have not yet seen the final act, but I would be ­surprised if it deviates significantly from what has been proposed).

That’s probably a good thing. Tuvalu since ­independence has had 45 years of peace and relative stability. It has never had a coup, a ­dictator or a civil war. That is, comparatively, no mean achievement. Sometimes in constitution-making, like painting or cooking, the art is in knowing what not to do – when to stop, when ­doing more would detract rather than add.

Yet some of those radical ideas are worth ­further investigation. One such idea was to ­insert into the constitution a “Charter of Values and Responsibilities”.

This enjoyed some support amongst the ­Constitutional Review Committee, although not unanimously recommended in their final report.

Back in 2018, such a charter had been drawn up after public consultation. It proclaimed the values of Trust, Integrity, Love, Relationship, Stewardship, Humility, and Faithfulness.

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It is hard, perhaps, to imagine a society built upon those values. It is even harder to see how those things could effectively be constitutionalised. How would they be enforced? If not ­intended to be legally enforceable, would they be anything more than just “pious exhortations” – and, if so, would the constitution be the right place for them?

No law can regulate the heart. Even so, having had constitutional conversations up and down Scotland, I have noticed a demand for a constitution that not only regulates the state, but also to regulate values, principles and standards in public life.

Public life has been so corroded and corrupted by the behaviour of recent governments that some touchstone, some line in the sand, some re-statement of what we stand for – and will not stand for – is now required.

We need a constitution to restore a sense of public duty and public service, and to set rules, boundaries and expectations for those in power.

Perhaps we should get some Tuvaluans to show us how it’s done?