Tuesday, 7 June 2011

A question of wording...

Do you think that Scottish Ministers should enter into negotiations with the UK government to set out the terms under which they might meet to discuss the terms of a discussion about giving Scotland the power to be a bit more, you know, independent?

This isn't a million miles away from what the SNP intends to ask the people of Scotland in the independence referendum that it will hold before this Parliament rises in 5 years time.

It became apparent during the election campaign that in the event of a yes vote to such a nebulous question, and once such negotiations with the mother of parliaments were concluded, the SNP would see no reason to put the outcome of those negotiations to the people in a second referendum. They contend that as with the referendum that brought about the creation of the Scottish Parliament, one vote would be mandate enough to determine Scotland's constitutional future.

Where this argument falls down is in the framing of the question. The devolution settlement referendum question was binary and left the electorate in no doubt as to what was being asked: "Do you think there should be a Scottish Parliament?", once the will of the people had been ascertained then there was a clear mandate for the creation of such an institution and therein lay the central pillar of the Scotland Act.

A question of the nature proposed by the SNP suggests the beginning of a process, where many Scots may feel that they are being asked an innocuous and unbinding question that affords them the opportunity to dip a tentative toe in the waters of nationhood, to see what an independence settlement would look like, before finally deciding if separation is for them in a second referendum to bookend the process started by the first.

SNP assertions that this would not be the case, have come as a surprise to many. If they intend to ask the people of Scotland just one question, and use the justification of the Scottish Parliamentary referendum as cover to that end, then like with the 1997 vote, the question put should be binary.

Should Scotland leave the United Kingdom and become an independent state?

Yes or No. End of.


  1. I agree the Scottish referendum question should be as clear and simple as possible, especially given the silly biased wording the Liberals signed up for in the voting referendum.

    Given the generally conservative and uninformed nature of the British electorate a choice between the ostensibly fair sounding "first past the post" and the other choice using the hippyish word "alternative" there was only ever going to be one outcome.

    A choice between "Minority rule" and "slightly fairer vote" might have stood a chance however the option most progressive people actually wanted wasn't even given (Proportional Representation).

    It's quite funny how over the last month people have been demonstrating in town & city squares all over Spain demanding a fairer & more representative voting system while the British electorate just hoofed the concept of fairer voting at least 50 years into the future.

  2. Clearly any question must leave no doubt in the minds of the electorate as what is being asked of them.

    But that is only half the battle, the vote will be won not in the wording of the question, but rather in the PR campaigns fought in the run up to the referendum itself.

    For those of us who see clearly that Scotland will be enhanced in so many ways once independence is won, let us hope the campaign is more successful than that of AV yes.

    Finally, I pray that the media actually start to give independence a fair hearing. There are countless esteemed experts on the matter who's voices we seldom hear in mainstreem media.