Wednesday, May 11, 2011

MSPs to be sworn in at Holyrood - but that oath needs some work

In just a few minutes, MSPs will start to be sworn in at Holyrood.

It's going to be quite an occasion for the 129, particularly as so many of them are new.

I'm thinking particularly of Willie Rennie who is the only new member of our depleted contingent, but also of Alison Johnstone, the new Green MSP for Lothians, who impressed me at several health hustings during the campaign. I expect I'll be in touch with her a lot over the next five years.

Each MSP will have less than 2 minutes in the spotlight as they are individually sworn in. Those nice people at the Scottish Parliament web team have outlined the process here.  Many of them will dress up in traditional costume, or take the oath in English and then a different language. We'll see Scots, Urdu, Doric, Gaelic and Italian today.

The oath itself says:

“I (Member’s Name), do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Her Heirs and Successors, according to Law. So help me God.”
Members who wish to can affirm:
 “I (Member’s Name), do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Her Heirs and Successors, according to Law.”
And that's it. Oaths of office are not the most exciting things, but this one needs a bit of work.I can live with swearing allegiance to the Head of State, but as someone who helped choose this Parliament, I'd like to get a bit of a look in.  Call me selfish, but I'd kind of like those 129 people to remember the people they are there to serve in some way. I want the oath to mean something.

There are examples from around the world which are better than ours. This, from the Netherlands:
I swear (affirm) allegiance to the King, to the Statute for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and to the Constitution. I swear (affirm) that I will faithfully perform the duties my office lays upon me. So help me God almighty! (This I declare and affirm)
Ok, so we don't have a constitution, but Holyrood has rules and that's a simple oath that means a bit more. No mention of serving the people, though, but it's an improvement.

There's a Scotland Bill going through both Westminster and Holyrood at the moment.Why don't they take the opportunity to amend it to include a different oath? I know it's not the biggest priority in the whole world, and is probably the equivalent of tidying the sock drawer when there's a rat sitting on the kitchen bin, but it's worth doing. I don't want a committee to take a year to scrap over wording. There must be something quick and easy everyone can agree on.What do you think?


ally said...

The Canadian secular affirmation would do it I think Caron:

I (name) do solemnly and sincerely promise and swear declare that I will truly and faithfully, and to the best of my skill and knowledge, execute the powers and trusts reposed in me as (office).

Succinct and accurate.

Anonymous said...

The current form of Oath is one with a lineage via the promisory oaths act of 1868 leading to oaths sworn since Magna Carta. There are aesthetic advantages to the consistency between administrations, and the continuity with the past.

Could anyone concerned just think of the crown as the embodiment and symbol of the people?

Andrew said...

anonymous - Of course it is possible to view the crown as the embodiment of the people. As someone whoa ctually struggles with the principle of monarchy I'm not sure I would be too comfortable with swearing allegiance to the crown and could probably only justify it to myself by interpreting the oath as a pledge to serve the nation. Continuity with the past is important, but so is cultural relevancy to the present. In this respect, I prefer the Canadian affirmation supported by Ally, which is straightforward, inoffensive and relevant to the values of our democracy.


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