A GROUP of leading constitutional experts have urged the UK Government to set out how exactly how an independence referendum can be held.

The call has been made by the ­United Kingdom Constitutional ­Monitoring Group (UKCGM), made up of senior academics and ­former practitioners, in its first report ­scrutinising the changes being made to the UK constitution.

One of the issues raised is the lack of clarity in Scotland – and to some extent in Northern Ireland – over the conditions on which referendums on leaving the current Union may be held.

It states this lack of consensus on such a “fundamental constitutional issue” is unsatisfactory.

Here we look at some of the ­concerns highlighted in the report, which covers the first six months of this year:

‘Piecemeal’ constitutional change

THE UK Government is currently legislating over a range of substantial matters relating to the constitution – such as voter ID and rules regarding political protest.

The report says this programme is notable for “its scale, the speed with which it is being implemented, and its piecemeal character”.

It warns opposition to the changes is not being taken into account and there are concerns they are being “forced through”.

Report editor Dr Andrew Blick, reader in politics and contemporary history at King’s College London, said: “The constitution is really about who has got power, how they got that power, how they can go about using that power and how they answer to the rest of us for the use of that power.

“When you think about it in those terms it’s about all of our everyday lives, it’s about who fixes the hole in the road, it’s about how we decide whether to go to war.

“It is about how every aspect of our lives is governed and controlled – from the most local level up to international level.”

Rules on referendums

THE impact of the UK Internal Market Act is highlighted, with the group saying it has serious concerns over “what amounts to a serious and unacceptable curtailment of the authority of the devolved legislatures”.

On the issue of referendums, the ­report notes there is uncertainty on the conditions in which a vote on leaving the UK can be held.

Blick said: “There are two parts of the UK where there have already been referendums on whether they should carry on being part of the UK. One was Northern Ireland in 1973, the other in Scotland.

“In Northern Ireland there is a bit more clarity around how it might come to have a vote and what the outcome of that vote might be, as we have the Belfast Good Friday ­Agreement.

READ MORE: 'Nastiness of Tory party proves why Scotland needs independence more than ever'

“In the case of Scotland, as we know there is a lot less clarity. There is no agreement equivalent to the Good Friday Agreement that sets out with more precision what should happen and what the outcome should be.

“We don’t really know when you are allowed to have a ­referendum or when you are required to have a ­referendum and there is no ­absolutely clear guarantee that a UK ­Government would abide by a referendum result.”

He added: “One of the principles that the group is committed to is the constitution should be as clear and knowable as possible.

“We should know what those rules are and it should be possible to understand them and be clear about what the rules are. It is a pretty important area.”

Power to call elections

THE Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill has been introduced to end fixed-term parliaments and likely hand back power to set election dates to the Prime Minister.

The UKCGM says there are some controversial aspects to this, including a clause that seeks to make the power to call a General Election non-reviewable by the courts.

Blick said: “Both the Labour ­Party and the Conservative party were ­committed at the 2019 General ­Election to abolishing the Fixed Term Parliament Act.

“The main criticism that the report and others have made of the way in which the Conservative government is going about abolishing it, is that again it has been rushed through. Some of the concerns raised haven’t really been taken into ­account.”

He added: “Another issue is it is not quite clear what are going to be the expectations applying to a Prime Minister around when it is and when it isn’t appropriate for them to ask for a General Election.

“Once you start to think about these are rules about the way in which our political system functions and that applies to all of us, the way in which democracy, how we govern ourselves as a people functions.

“If those rules are becoming ­unclear and if you are giving discretionary power to people within the UK Government then you could be heading into difficult territory.”

Standards in public life

UKCGM says it has concerns over possible “distortion and manipulation of information” by those in public office, as well as “the perpetration of outright falsehoods”.

The report also highlights ­ongoing concerns over a lack of ­transparency around contracts awarded ­during the pandemic by the UK ­Government.

Blick said ministerial codes – which cover both UK and Scottish ministers – were documents which set out the important principles of the system.

He added: “We seem to be hearing quite a lot about these documents recently and that is not necessarily a good thing.

“It suggests there is rising concern about the rules set out in these documents being broken or being ignored – or maybe the rules themselves aren’t functioning very well and there is not a proper enforcement mechanism.”