A story with a cast of five million


A guest post by Drew Richardson of Sign4Scotland

No, this isn’t about a lost Cecil B Demille movie, this is about Scotland. The population of our country is at an all-time high and we’re part of a diverse and fluid mix of different cultures that are being blended together to form our identity.  A Scot isn’t just someone who is born here, or whose parents were born here, a Scot is someone who calls this country home.

Sometimes it might seem that we in the Signing community and other minorities are on the outside looking in, but it’s just not true.  We’re as much a part of Scotland as everyone else and we need to make sure that things are better after independence than devolution allowed.  With our government closer to us, we can have greater influence.  We can get rid of the sense of entitlement that too many Westminster MPs feel and have a more diverse and accountable politics.  We can push for reforms, for the fact that we will be independent will prove that the people are strong, and can enforce change.  We can make sure that no-one is left behind, and that everyone has a say.

The draft constitution produced by the Scottish Government shows consideration for all of Scotland’s domestic languages. There is a determination from different Yes groups, emboldened by the possibilities of independence, to challenge gender and wealth inequality. And we will empower a more democratic and representative form of governance, which is more responsive and reflective of our values and wishes.

The cast may be of millions, but a single person can make a real difference.  Please get involved and help out.  It might not seem like much, but a lot of people doing a little each will go a long way to securing a ‘Yes’ vote in September. Support Scotland’s Signing community in our campaign to have the British Sign Language (BSL) used by thousands in Scotland’s Deaf community recognised as one of the official languages of Scotland. Sign is as much as Scottish language as Gaelic, Scots or Scottish English.

A Scottish Constitution

The UK does not have a written, codified constitution. It is the only country in the EU to not have such a document and one of just five in the world (the others being Israel, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and Canada – although Canadian provinces do have the right to create their own constitution).

But what difference does this make? A constitution guarantees the rights and freedoms of all citizens. It ensures that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law and that power lies with the people and not parliament. Constitutions are also important because they can ensure that new laws meet certain standards.

The following comes from the National Archives of Australia:

Seven reasons why our Constitution is important to you

Australia wouldn’t exist without the Constitution. In the 1890s the people of six British colonies (now the states) agreed to unite under one Constitution as the Commonwealth of Australia.

We Australians were the first people in the world to vote on our national Constitution. And today, the Constitution can only be changed if we agree to it through a referendum.

Imagine trying to envisage what life would be like in 100 years time and creating a Constitution to meet future needs. That’s just what the key players did in the 1890s they created a Constitution that still has relevance to our complex life today, with our mobile phones and internet connections.

Our federal parliament was designed by the Constitution. It allows for an upper and lower house and for elections every three years. It also ensures that Senators and Members of the House of Representatives are directly chosen by the people. And, if we want to, we can stand for Parliament ourselves.

Our Constitution obliges all Australians to obey the law even politicians and governments. The High Court was set up as a separate power from the Parliament and has, at times, overturned decisions made by the Australian Government as unconstitutional.

The Constitution also has an impact on our personal lives by dividing up powers between the Commonwealth and the states. The Commonwealth makes laws on a range of issues (such as regulating marriage and divorce) but allows other powers (such as providing roads and transport) to remain with the states.

The Australian Constitution provides some rights for all Australians, such as freedom of religion and the right to compensation if the government acquires your property.

Instead of having a clear, easy to understand constitution, the UK Government prefers to have power at Westminster. This means that the protections our Australian cousins enjoy are not equally guaranteed to us.

Other countries use their constitution to protect certain groups, including the Deaf. In Austria they included an amendment which reads: “Austrian Sign Language is recognised as an independent language. The laws will determine the details.” This may not appear to be much, but every law passed in the Austrian parliament has to ensure that this rule is not broken.

Section 17 of the Finnish constitution reads: “Right to one’s language and culture […] The rights of persons using sign language and of persons in need of interpretation or translation aid owing to disability shall be guaranteed by an Act.”

There are other examples from Europe, Africa and Latin America. This is something which we can push for and improve upon in a Scottish Constitution.

The Scottish Government’s proposed interim constitution, to be adopted in 2016, includes the following:

Setting up an “inclusive and participative” constitutional convention in 2016 to draw up a permanent constitution

Giving Scots the right to a healthy environment

Committing the government to removal of nuclear weapons

Prioritising the promotion of international peace

Enshrining the principle of local government

It also contains this message:

“Many constitutions contain provision about national and official languages and although there is no language provision in the Scottish Independence Bill the Constitution Convention, as stated in Question 589 of Scotland’s Future, could consider the constitutional status of Scotland’s languages such as English, Gaelic, Scots and British Sign Language.” The Scottish Independence Bill: A consultation on an interim constitution for Scotland, Page 67

This shows that the needs of BSL users in Scotland are being considered, but we need both a Yes vote in September and to ensure that we get involved.

The final constitution will be written by us, the people who live in Scotland and anyone can contribute. To highlight this point, we have put below our submission to the consultation. It lists what we would like to see entered into the constitution. We want this message to be considered before any law is passed:

“It is recognised that Deaf persons have the right to express themselves and communicate through British Sign Language [BSL]. The rights of persons using sign language and of persons in need of interpretation or translation aid owing to disability shall be guaranteed by an Act. The state shall be charged with protecting and developing BSL as an expression of culture and an instrument for access to education and equal opportunities.”

But what would you like included in the constitution? You can send a submission to the Scottish Government’s consultation which can be found here. But don’t forget, the only way to gain a constitution is if Scotland has the powers of an independent country – so we need to vote Yes!

Drew [Sign for Scotland]

If you like this blog, then please consider visiting our other sites:

Facebook – Sign for Scotland

YouTube – Sign4Scotland

Twitter – Sign4Scotland

Please also visit our friends ‘Scottish Deaf Independence’ at:



18 comments on “A story with a cast of five million

  1. tartanthing says:

    Drew, you mentioned NZ in your article. Did you know that alongside English and Maori, NZ sign language is given the place of an official language? I would hope that you could persue a goal for BSL to be given official language status rather than just an expression of culture in iScotland.
    I will admit to complete ignorance of BSL and the needs of the community but think would be great to see it formally recognised. Maybe such status would allow for extra resources for the deaf community?

    • weegingerdug says:

      Swedish Sign Language is also officially recognised in Sweden, and Finnish Sign Language is recognised by the revised Finnish constitution of 1995. I believe Norway recently granted Norwegian Sign Language official recognition. (And did you know that most users of Norwegian Sign Language actually live in Madagascar? Deaf education was established in Madagascar by Norwegian missionaries.)

      • Maggie Craig says:

        Keeping up the fine educational tradition of WGD with this information about Madagascar! I’ll be sharing that with my daughter, she and I both love language and languages, always interested to hear about another one. Great post. Interesting to read which countries don’t have a written constitution.

  2. What we must keep in mind is that when there is a yes vote on the 18th of september our problems will not vanish. We will have to take the first steps to ensure that we can aspire to create a society which is inclusive and values all citizens.It is a project which will go on for as long as there is a Scotland or indeed an Earth. The 19th of September should not be seen as the end of something but as the start of something better.

  3. Stoops says:

    I feel part of something great, something noble and righteous. Let’s get a Yes and make something most excellent.

    • YESGUY says:

      Bang on Stoops.

      We have a real chance to change the whole country. To protect all in need and promote fairness. Building a new country take years , even decades but it only takes ONE step to get it going. Vote YES and start our journey.

      My auntie B is deaf , has been all her life but she is always included she’s so full of energy its hard not to notice her. A wonderful women in every way. BSL will i am sure get a place in our constitution. That i am certain.

      A fine piece DREW .

      I often come here for a laugh and an education. And am never disappointed .

      Great stuff Paul.

    • diabloandco says:

      Agree entirely!
      Have never before been so excited by the possibilities for all who choose Scotland as home.
      I was a tad depressed by visiting the Herald letters page prior to my e-mail – this has fair cheered me up!

  4. scotsgeoff says:

    Fancy…politicians being made to abide by the law!

    Sounds good.

  5. Abulhaq says:

    The reason Israel does not have a written constitution is not because a written constitution is not considered necessary but because no one can agree as to what beyond the Basic Laws that document ought to contain. Writing everything and anything you fancy into a constitution can be problematic as popular attitudes and outlooks are not constants. Popular ie democratic support for capital punishment grows does that require a constitutional amendment? Defining what exactly constitutes the Scottish State is where it would begin. A commonly held notion when committed to paper might become less commonly held. Like the Israeli we are a factious lot. We should nevertheless embrace the challenge.

  6. Fiona says:

    It seems to me that we should be thinking of a constitution in terms of basic principles which should be enshrined and against which policy can be tested. I have found it quite difficult to compose a list of such principles to include, but I made an attempt some time ago and I would be interested in what others think should be there, apart from the elements which define the state itself.


  7. faolie says:

    Drew, great post that, as others have said, just emphasises how exciting it will be to restore our independence. It’s exactly what Westminster just doesn’t get. It’s not about currency unions or NATO membership or ‘huge uncertainties’ but about taking our place in the world again and forging a new country. Could there be a more exciting time to live in Scotland?

    Btw, I rather like the reference to the ‘British’ in BSL and adopting it as an official language (and why not? I’d support it). Just shows that we’re not precious.

  8. Helena Brown says:

    Sometimes it is good to be reminded of all the people this will affect, in a good way. We are being constantly reminded of those who will be affected (mostly politicians) in a bad way. As someone who is going deaf, a family trait though mine seems more organic than some in my family. I have nothing but appreciation for those who cannot hear at all.
    If all those countries can formalise agreement on their sign language being accorded status, surely it is not out with our control to do the same come September.
    An excellent reminder Drew, and one I am sure the Scottish Government will be behind.

  9. macart763 says:

    Oh Aye.

    A constitution for a country where the people are sovereign.

    Like the post Mr Richardson, like it a lot.

  10. Maggie Craig says:

    Just a wee thought. I’ve always understood that sovereignty in Scotland does rest with the Scottish people and always has done. OK, maybe that didn’t always quite work and then the Stuarts got into the Divine Right of Kings malarkey, but I think that’s why MQS was Mary, Queen of Scots rather than of Scotland, as Scotland belongs to the Scots, not its rulers. That’s also why the Scottish unicorn wears a chain around its neck and body, to show that the monarchs ruled with the consent of the Scottish people – which also may not have always or often worked but I think it’s a good principle.

  11. Capella says:

    I’m looking forward to the debate about the constitution. I believe Iceland developed their constitution online. Thanks for this post. I loved your “I’m Voting Yes” sign language video.

  12. Sheilad says:

    I think Canadians would be surprised to learn they don’t have a constitution ……It was patriated in 1982 when the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was added. Do you mean there is more than one piece of legislation that forms a body of Canadian constitutional documents?

  13. arthur thomson says:

    Hi Drew and thank you for your piece. I don’t have any direct contact at this time with anyone who uses sign but I did read a fascinating book on the subject which made it clear that those who use sign put a value on it that hearing people generally don’t understand. Yes it needs to be protected in our constitution and there needs to be education of those who can hear to understand the unique benefits that sign language has to offer.

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