15 June 1215 at Runnymede King John known as John Lackland was forced to sign a document guaranteeing the powers of the Barons to block the authority of the King. It had little to do with the rights of the common man but its basic tenants have, over time, come to form the basis of many constitutions and legal codes.
We are counting down the last few day before the whole Scottish situation explodes, either they are going their own way as an independent nation or they are going their own way as a hugely devolved part of a federal GB.
But something that has been thrown up here is not Scotland or independence. Instead we are looking at that great unwritten and ever flexible charter of rights and not rights, the UK constitution.
The Brown himself has said: “We are talking about a big change in the constitution.”
But we don’t have one, at least not anything someone could point at and say there it is. What we have is a body of laws, a bunch of traditions and the charming old fashioned idea that we have rights because we are British. What we have is a body of Laws, both traditional and bought into force by recent parliaments, both domestic and forced upon us by Brussels.
In a just society the Laws tell you what you cannot do.
In a fair society the laws bind all men equally.
In an honest society the Laws are known to us for there is nothing to hide.
In a tyranny the laws tell you what you can do.
In a tyranny they are applied differently depending on who you are or to which group you belong.
In a tyranny they are hidden until you are accused of breaking them.
You can decide for yourselves where the UK stands at present.
A constitution stands above and beyond laws, it is the overriding principles by which a society sets it laws. It is the core principles, the rights and privileges of citizens, and their protections.
The basis of a constitution is the society and culture who wrote it. The Magna Carta was framed by the land owning nobles who had the armies and the power at a time when many did not and indeed could not own land unless they were of a select social class.
The US constitution is 227 years old, seven generations in old terms, given the life spans we now consider normal just five generations, yet the way it is written, the language used, is almost a forgotten tongue. This leaves it open to almost constant argument and interpretation.
The Magna Carta was a product of the society of its time, the US constitution was a product of its time. Both are hopelessly outdated in terms of the way they were written, we simply do not use that language anymore nor do we share many of the cultural attitudes of those times.
Our culture is the result of hundreds of years of slow change and social evolution, it is still changing, still being reformed into something new. Fifty years from now any constitution written today would need amendments to make it relevant to that generation.
So I think that a constitution should have a life span, it may be amended during that time but once it has reached the end of its life span a new generation should be called upon to write it again to suit the society and language that is theirs, not ours.
Given the dynamic nature of society and language I think it should be the case that such a document has a lifespan of no more than 100 years and rather than argue over its wording and language and intent, it be rewritten by the same process of majority interaction.
I said majority interaction just then, because I feel that a 21st century constitution must be frame by the population or as many of them as possible. A constitution is too important, too powerful to be left to a handful of politicians or lawyers to create. In fact There should be NO lawyers involved in drafting such a thing, it should be simple, straightforward, clear and easy to understand. The exact opposite in fact of anything written by Lawyers. It must also be fair and just and apply to all people equally which is why there should be NO politicians involved.
A system of amendments must be governed by the same standard, any change that is agreed to by a significant majority should be acceptable. Not changes that a party with 51% of MPs could do.
Some rights must not be changed by amendment, others may make no sense or be irrelevant after a generation as society and law changes.
But and this is a big BUT, unless we can act to confirm what people cannot do and the rights that people should have by a constitution that stands above our laws and cannot be ignored or amended by politicians at will we risk circling back towards earlier times and earlier cultures.
The economic differences between the richest and the poorest are back to the kind of levels that existed in Dickens day or in much earlier times when lords ruled the land and serfs worked on the barons lands because it was not possible for them to own land of their own.
When we had high law and common law those who were not of the church or nobility suffered under a harsh legal code with no way of appeal, a situation that is returning as legal aid is removed from more and more who cannot afford lawyers on their own.
In employment terms are returning to almost Dickensian attitudes as protections are removed, the rules that say you cannot treat your employees like serfs are weakened or taken away completely.
A Law can be changed by a simple majority vote, a constitution cannot be so easily amended. With no protection but that of Laws that can be changed by a simple majority we could be living with the Tory idea of fairness for the poor, the sick, the disabled and the unemployed for ever just because the Scots bugger off.
We need something more than that, MPs come and go by the week, the protection that says what ALL men cannot do must be stronger than the word of whichever political body can muster 51% of the votes in parliament.
With Scottish independence a possibility now we have to look to a post Scotland parliament, with 41 labour MPs gone along with their country and the Tories losing a whole one MP Westminster is facing a considerable Tory majority.
What that means in terms of the Law versus Constitution debate is that a Tory government that can manage 51% of MPS and whip through the votes can change laws to suit its own agenda. With a Constitution that could be amended by, let us say a two thirds majority, and with core rights that cannot be removed the population are far safer.
After all do you want the likes of Cameron, IDS and McVey or the Ed and Ed show drafting the laws that are your only protection against poverty and mistreatment at the hands of the government?
Can you trust any Politician to act in your best interests unless they are forced to or it is in their best interests as well?
Consider a few simple lines that could be in a constitution and the effect they would have:
That no person can have their land, house or other properties or monies seized by any means except as clearly defined under the laws of the land and as a result of crimes committed against the laws of the land.
Consider how that would work, all those eminent domain land grabs blocked, HS2 a dead duck, sanction against people who happen to be friends of Putin stopped, Judicial authority required before peoples bank accounts could be raided. So many changes, so much protection.
That the Laws of the land be applied equally to all persons and that no person be punished for any crime except as determined by the law of the land. That no man (or woman) be placed above or beyond the power of the law no matter what their rank or title.
How many of our MPs would be in prison if this were part of a British Constitution, how many others would be in prison or sacked for covering up the crimes of our MPs and political class.
The big stumbling block here is that once you put in writing as a legal document the limitations on government power you bind that government to behave in the way that those who framed the constitution would wish. If the men (and women) who write such a document do so from the most noble and well meaning of aims then a government such as that which rules over us today would be prohibited from much that it does.
Or to put it another way, such a constitution would either be butchered into uselessness by politicians or written over their dead bodies.