Vows are much in the news these days. All three party leaders have “vowed” to give Scotland more powers and to do so very quickly. Moreover Gordon Brown has vowed to ensure that this happens (surely he has no relevant status to achieve this?) The word “vow” comes from the Latin votum, which by an interesting coincidence is also the origin of the word vote. So vows are made in order to get votes. But do they mean anything and are they enforceable? Sadly, the answer seems to be no. We know that wedding vows are easily put aside, but vows to voters may be ignored even more lightly, according to law. In my blog of two years ago, Misleading by Manifesto, (http://lordsoftheblog.net/2012/07/06/misleading-by-manifesto), I explained that the judges had recently decided that a promise in election manifesto, no matter how prominent, had no binding force. The case was brought by Stuart Wheeler in an attempt to enforce the promise of a referendum on the European Union Lisbon Treaty. The court’s judgment was that the promise of a referendum,or any other promise in a manifesto, could not be enforced. It was a matter of political judgment, they said, not legal enforceability. Such matters were for Parliament to decide in the light of the politics of the day. The same is true of the new set of vows, however earnestly made.
The promised speed of enactment of new laws is also problematic. I don’t want to see a repeat of the mode of creation of the Press Regulation Charter, presented to us all as a done deal without prior discussion in Parliament. (The Charter seems to have faded from prominence, while we wait to see if IPSO will succeed.)
The well known patriotic song, or hymn, “I vow to thee my country”, was based on a poem by Cecil Spring Rice written in 1908 and expressed his view of citizens’ dual loyalty, to country and to heavenly kingdom. Later he added verses to mark the huge losses suffered in the first world war. I thought the title very apt as we grapple with loyalty to the UK, to Scotland and to England in this centenary year 2014.