What is Legal?

Laws – Not always Just, not always morally right, sometimes good.

It was once illegal in Scotland to wear tartan. The Act of Proscription , 1747:

“no man or boy, within that part of Great Britain called Scotland . . . . will wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland Clothes (that is to say) the plaid, philibeg, or little kilt, trowse, shoulder belts, or any part whatsoever of what peculiarly belongs to the highland garb; and that no tartan, or party-coloured plaid or stuff shall be used for great coats, or for upper coats . . . .”

The Act of Proscription

Punishment – 6 months in prison for a first offence, transportation to the colonies for 6-7 years for a second offence.

The Scottish Witchcraft Act of 1563 meant pain of death after a good deal of torture if you were convicted of witchcraft:

na maner of persoun nor persounis, of quhatsumever estate, degre or conditioun thay be of, tak upone hand in ony tymes heirefter, to use ony maner of Witchcraftis, Sorsarie or Necromancie, nor gif thame selfis furth to have ony sic craft or knawlege thairof, thairthrow abusand the pepill: Nor that na persoun seik ony help, response or cosultatioun at ony sic usaris or abusaris foirsaidis of Witchcraftis, Sorsareis or Necromancie, under the pane of deid, alsweill to be execute aganis the usar, abusar, as the seikar of the response or consultatioun

The Scottish Witchcraft Act

Vigorously pursued in Scotland, we are still only beginning to recognise the thousands who were put to death for witchcraft.

It wasn’t until the Representation of the People Act in 1918 that all men over the age of 21 and women over the age of 30 (with a property qualification) were able to vote in a General Election.

 The Act also instituted the present system of holding general elections on one day, and brought in the annual electoral register.  These changes saw the size of the electorate triple from 7.7 million to 21.4 million.

Representation of the People Act 1918

886,000 men had been killed fighting in World War 1, most of them did not have the vote.

They also had no choice: 16,000 conscientious objectors refused to fight. Their reasons were religious, moral, ethical and political. Their action was illegal. The Military Service Act of 1916 included a ‘conscience clause’ which would allow for exemption. Very few succeeded in making this claim and were conscripted anyway.

Nearly 6,000 men were sentenced to imprisonment for resisting military authority. At least 70 of them died either in prison or as a result of its effects after their release

Voices of the First World War

It is not illegal for a politician to tell a lie so long as that lie is a political one and not personal. In a political campaign a politician can write on the side of a bus:

“We send the EU £350million a week

Let’s fund our NHS instead – Vote Leave”

And never keep that pledge.

Laws are made in Parliament. In Scotland, the Scottish Parliament passes Bills which then have to receive Royal Assent before they become enacted – become an Act. This can be challenged by the UK which did happen over the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill in the Supreme Court.

In the referendum Scotland voted resoundingly by 62% to Remain in the EU. The Scottish Parliament regarded that the consequences of leaving the worlds largest free trade market would be severe.

The Supreme Court ruled that it was not within the competency of the Scottish Parliament to pass this legislation.

The judgment in this case thus serves to reaffirm that the UK’s territorial constitutional settlement continues to be….a devolved, not a federal, model, of which the sovereignty of the UK Parliament remains a cardinal feature.

 While the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Continuity Bill case serves, among other things, as a clear reaffirmation of the sovereignty of the UK Parliament, it also raises, but does not resolve, a fundamental question about what that concept actually means.

The Supreme Court’s Judgment

Parliaments are elected by the people. We can argue about how representative they are depending on voting systems used but in Scotland there is a form of Proportional Representation used in our parliamentary elections. That is why it is important to cast your vote on Thursday May 6th and to hold to account those who are duly elected to serve us.

By Fiona Grahame

3 replies »

  1. Fiona – you’ve excelled yourself.
    Many things which are ‘illegal’ can’t be said to be actually ‘wrong’. Equally, many things which are completely legal – at the time – are very wrong indeed.
    You’ve presented this – spot on. Good on you!

    • Couldn’t have put it better myself and especially when some laws show just how big an ass the law can be.

  2. Exactly, just look at the waste of time and money spent on the recent Sturgeon/Salmond ministerial code breaking farce.

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