Category Archives: referendum

“Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Ballot paper QR code by nickj365
Ballot paper QR code, a photo by nickj365 on Flickr.

I don’t have any problems with the Electoral Commission’s proposed question (PDF) for the 2014 referendum, namely “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

My main reason for preferring the Scottish Government’s original proposal (“Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”) was that I thought referendums in Scotland and the UK tended to introduce the question with “Do you agree…”, but that’s not actually the case. Here are the questions and options from the past referendums that I have been able to find:

  • [2011] At present, the UK uses the ‘first past the post’ system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the ‘alternative vote’ system be used instead?
    • Yes
    • No
  • [1997] Parliament has decided to consult people in Scotland on the Government’s proposals for a Scottish Parliament.
    • I agree that there should be a Scottish Parliament.
    • I do not agree that there should be a Scottish Parliament.
  • [1978] Do you want the Provisions of the Scotland Act 1978 to be put into effect?
    • Yes
    • No
  • [1975] Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?
    • Yes
    • No

It will be interesting to see whether the Electoral Commission will also reject other questions that begin with “Do you agree…” in the future.

Hanging on to the consultation responses was a masterstroke

When the Edinburgh Agreement was signed, David Cameron and the rest of the UK government were ecstatic that they had managed to restrict the referendum to a single question, while the Scottish government were saying they had never wanted a second question in the first place, but that they had wanted to keep the option open in case there had been huge demand for it in their consultation.

I thought at the time it was a bit odd they couldn’t find the resources to publish the analysis of the consultation responses before the decision was made, but I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

However, today the analysis of the responses was published (PDF), and suddenly everything has clicked into place.

The consultation responses showed a big majority in favour of a single question, so the Scottish Government could never have used them to put a second question on the ballot paper.

In other words, if the Scottish government had released the responses a month ago, the UK government would have realised there was no danger that the Scottish government would actually put a second question on the ballot paper, and they would have asked for something else instead in the negotiations.

So by delaying the release of the responses to the consultation until after the Edinburgh Agreement had been signed, the Scottish government managed to get everything they wanted themselves, as well as what the Scottish public asked for in the consultation.

The wave of new countries 2012-17

Originally uploaded by

Just as very few people in 1988 expected that during the following five years Germany would be reunified and the USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia would break up, very few people at the moment expect that we might in just five years’ time live in a world in which Quebec, Catalonia, Scotland, Flanders, the Basque Country and several others are independent, sovereign countries.

However, history might again happen in one rapid wave.

I guess it all started when the SNP gained an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament last year. However, the wave gained strength when David Cameron in January 2012 decided to allow a referendum on Scottish independence. Of course the SNP would have held a referendum anyway, but Cameron in this was legitimised the process in the eyes of the international community, and it strongly inspired independence movements elsewhere.

On the 4th of September 2012, the Parti Québécois became the largest party in Quebec and declared its desire to hold a new referendum on independence.

On the 9th of September 2012, more than 1,500,000 Catalans marched through Barcelona in favour of Catalan independence, and already the Catalan politicans have started to talk openly about independence.

On 21st October 2012 elections will place in the Basque Country, and as far as I know there’s a good chance pro-independence parties will gain a majority there.

What else will happen now? It’s clear the independence movements in various countries are talking to each other, and as soon as the first EU region manages to become an EU member state in its own right, the process will accelerate, because the fear of being chucked out of the EU is one of the major arguments against independence.

We live in interesting times, and I’m proud to be a member of the SNP, the party that started the wave.

Campaigning for republic, neutrality or the euro

‘When did you last say yes’?
Originally uploaded by mia!

Yes Scotland and the SNP both try to appeal to the majority of Scottish voters. This makes sense — if you adopt a minority position (for instance with regard to the monarchy, NATO or the currency of Scotland), you’re likely to scare away more potential Yes voters than you gain.

On the other hand, it’s often the people who want to change the status quo that have the most to gain by voting Yes. As some people have been saying recently, if the SNP don’t want to change anything after independence, why vote Yes?

The likelihood of Westminster abolishing the monarchy, leaving NATO or joining the euro must be very slim indeed. On the other hand, all of these policies are favoured by a large minority of Scots, so if you’re an activist who strongly favours one of them, the chances of achieving your goal is much greater in an independent Scotland.

In other words, we can’t expect neither Yes Scotland nor the SNP to be campaigning in favour of changing these policies from day one after independence, which is of course why the SNP leadership is trying to get rid of the party’s traditional anti-NATO stance.

What we need are plenty of smaller single-purpose campaign organisations to advocate a Yes as a major stepping stone towards their goal. For instance, an organisation such as Republic Scotland would do well to realise that its goal is much more achievable by promoting independence, and it should campaign vigorously for a Yes.

The consequence of this is that many SNP activists would do well to spend less time in the SNP over the next couple of years and instead concentrate their efforts on various grassroots movements, to make sure as many as possible join the wider Yes campaign.

A reply to Patrick Harvie

Patrick Harvie (Green Party)
Originally uploaded by alf.melin

According to The Scotsman, Patrick Harvie (Green MSP) has a problem with the SNP’s attempts to woo centrist voters:

However, Mr Harvie fears the efforts to woo centre-ground voters could alienate many on the Left.

“The task of those who see the opportunity of independence is to inspire hope that a Yes vote will lead to the radical change we consider necessary and desirable,” he said in his submission to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the 2014 vote.

“The current ‘universalist’ approach risks turning what should be a transformational opportunity into a promise of middle-of-the-road blandness, only under a different flag. “I can’t ask people to vote for that. This debate needs to offer more.”

I can totally relate to this, but I also think it’s misplaced.

The real reason to support independence is to allow us to make our own decisions in Scotland. However, we can’t make those decisions in advance — that would be counting our chickens before they hatch.

Once independence has been achieved, I will be delighted to join Patrick Harvie and many others in the fight for ending the monarchy in Scotland, and I think there’s a good chance we’ll win that fight. However, without independence Westminster will just veto it.

Once independence has been achieved, there will be a huge argument whether Scotland should be part of NATO (like England, Norway and Denmark), or more strictly neutral (like Ireland, Sweden and Finland), and I haven’t decided yet which side I’m on. However, without independence Westminster will just keep Scotland inside NATO (and keep the atomic bombs up here for good measure).

Once independence has been achieved, we’ll have to discuss a whole range of issues that it would be futile to discuss at the moment because Westminster has the final word.

So Patrick Harvie shouldn’t ask his voters to vote for middle-of-the-road blandness à l’Écossaise; he should ask his voters to vote for an independent Scotland so that the questions that are most important to us can be decided in Scotland by the people living here, and the day after Scotland has voted Yes, he should then start changing Scotland into a better nation.

Scottish independence as seen from London

Kilt man
Originally uploaded by thecnote

As far as I can gather, we are currently seeing a divide opening between London-based media (the big newspapers and many of the BBC’s flagship programmes, such as the Andrew Marr Show) and Scottish-based media (including Scottish blogs).

The London-based media are acting as if the independence referendum has already been won by the No side, and they’re almost blanking out the SNP. For instance, Andrew Marr seems to have completely ignored Scotland for the past few Sundays, and Fraser Nelson reported that the Unionists won easily at a debate in London.

In the Scottish-based media, on the other hand, there’s definitely no feeling that the independence referendum has been decided yet, and I think it’s fair to say that the Yes side are doing better than their opponents at the moment.

If this divide continues, the next two years are going to be very bizarre, with media in based in London and Scotland appearing to be based on different planets.

I wonder whether the divide will remain intact for the duration of the referendum campaign. If so, I think the London-based media are going to be very interesting to watch in the autumn of 2014, when they suddenly have to face up to the fact that the referendum electorate are all living in Scotland!

Two options: Independence or Devo-Max

So now David Cameron is promising more powers after a No to Scottish Independence:

And let me say something else about devolution.

That doesn’t have to be the end of the road.

When the referendum on independence is over, I am open to looking at how the devolved settlement can be improved further.

And yes, that means considering what further powers could be devolved.

But that must be a question for after the referendum, when Scotland has made its choice about the fundamental question of independence.

Alex Massie sums up quite nicely how much the Tory position has changed recently.

However, I do think Cameron’s idea that the SNP have to spell out in minute detail what independence will mean while he only needs to put his thinking-hat on after a No vote is manifestly unfair.

If a No vote effectively is a vote for Devo-Max, then Cameron needs to say so clearly now.

Incidentally this would solve the big outstanding issue about the referendum, namely that the SNP would like to include Devo-Max on the ballot paper while Westminster want only two options. The solution is simple: Put the following two options on the ballot paper:

  1. Independence
  2. Devo-Max

Of course, the Unionist parties would have to spell out Devo-Max in full detail before the referendum, but surely they’ll have time to do that before 2014.