JACK MCCONNELL shares his response to the current consultations on the independence referendum.

 

Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP
First Minister of Scotland
The Scottish Parliament
Edinburgh EH99 1SP

Rt Hon Michael Moore MP
Secretary of State for Scotland
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

Dear Alex and Michael,

I have chosen to respond jointly to your consultations on an independence referendum for Scotland for the sake of consistency but also to urge you both to reach agreement on the details of an independence referendum in the national interest of Scotland.

Clearly, I am commenting on this issue as a former First Minister of Scotland, but, as you are both aware, I was also involved for many years in the Scottish Constitutional Convention and I played a leading role both publicly and behind the scenes in the organisation of the Yes-Yes campaign in the 1997 Scottish Parliament Referendum.  I hope my experience, which has influenced this response, is helpful to you both.

Before addressing specific questions, I want to say clearly that I believe compromise between the Scottish government and the UK government on this important issue is vital for Scotland at this time.

I was proud to leave the office of First Minister having steered Scotland to several quarters of higher Annual GDP growth than the rest of the UK and lower unemployment than the UK.  Unfortunately, today, our unemployment rate has risen above the rest of the UK and for over a year our annual GDP growth has been below the rest of the UK.

Uncertainty and disagreement over the timing of a referendum can only delay our recovery from this economic slide.  So I hope that both the Scottish Government and the UK Government will be willing to compromise on all of the key issues to ensure we have a clear outcome in a referendum and an outcome that is accepted by everyone as the fair result of a fair campaign.

I am asking both Governments to avoid any decisions on this proposed referendum that would leave the public feeling that the rules of engagement have been designed to push them in one direction or the other.  In Scotland’s national interest, on the questions asked in the consultation documents, I submit the following comments:

LEGAL AUTHORITY

Given the current economic situation, and the importance of this constitutional choice for Scotland, I believe it is essential that any decision is indeed decisive.  An indecisive result, indeed any unnecessary delay, will have a negative impact on investment into and within Scotland.

While the Scottish Parliament could possibly legislate to have a poll of some kind on the general issue of independence and while the UK Government technically has the legal responsibility for all matters Constitutional and therefore the current responsibility to legislate for a full independence referendum, compromise is in the national interest and would be welcomed by the Scottish public.

Compromise would also be helpful because it would ensure a clear outcome after a proposition whose significance was understood by those taking part.

So I believe that a Section 30 order should be used to delegate authority for this referendum to be binding, with legislation for a referendum then passed by the Scottish Parliament.   But I believe that in securing agreement to have such powers delegated, the Scottish Government should give assurances to all involved that they will use those powers fairly and adopt a consensual and non-partisan approach to the establishment of the rules, the timing, and the question.

TIMING

There is clearly a disagreement over the timing of the actual referendum vote.  For my part, I think that timing should be set in the national interests and not to suit one side of the argument or the other.  It should also be designed to maximize turn-out.

Those who believe the referendum should be held immediately this year should be willing to compromise, as should the Scottish Government, and the referendum should take place within the next 18 months at a date to be agreed by both Governments.

There should be no move from Thursday voting unless it is clear that any move will certainly result in higher participation.  This is not a moment to experiment.

RULES FOR THE REFERENDUM AND VOTING

It seems clear to me that for the outcome to be accepted by everyone on this highly contentious issue and for any decision to be accepted as final, allowing Scotland to move on from this debate, the rules for the campaign and for voting should be set out by the Electoral Commission following full consultation with the political parties and others who have an interest.

The Electoral Commission should not merely administer the process but they should advise both the UK Government and the Scottish Government, the UK Parliament and the Scottish Parliament, on the question, the financial limits, and the voting age.  While I personally have always sympathised with the case for voting at 16, again it would be wrong to experiment with a different franchise for this most important of votes.

For the public to accept that the campaign will be fair and for everyone on both sides to accept the outcome, Leaders in both Parliaments should commit in advance to accepting the advice of the Electoral Commission and legislating as required to implement that advice.

On the specific issue of the question, I believe there is a strong compromise position between the stated preferences of the pro-independence and pro-UK parties.  And I believe that compromise would be welcomed by the people of Scotland.

On the issue of an additional question about the extent of devolution I can understand that some who favour Scotland’s membership of the United Kingdom, and some who favour independence, feel that an additional question might suit their objectives.  But I cannot see any way in which an additional question helps Scots to make a clear decision on Scotland’s future inside or outside the UK.  So I believe the options on the paper need to be crystal clear.

In my view the question should ask voters to choose between two statements:

1. I agree that Scotland should become an independent country.

2. I agree that Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom.

This format would actually be consistent with the approach taken in 1997.

With Scotland’s unemployment rate increasing to 8.6% in the last quarter of 2011, and our Annual GDP growth rate now behind the rest of the UK, I believe that these are very difficult times for our country.  All who have positions in Government at any level must take these economic conditions seriously and strive to make decisions on our future that give us the best possible opportunity to increase growth and create more jobs.

That, and my belief that the time is now right for a clear and final decision between the Constitutional options of an independent Scotland or a devolved Scotland within the UK lead me to believe that both the UK Government and the Scottish Government must compromise and deliver the referendum that ordinary Scots deserve.

Yours sincerely,

 

Jack McConnell

Jack McConnell is the former First Minister of Scotland.

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22 thoughts on “A consultation response

  1. That question is not acceptable as it is loaded against the independence option. Why? Well imagine how a pro-independence monarchist may view the question: they wish to retain the Queen as head of state but also Support scotland becoming independent. Yet if they agree with both statements, their vote will be ruled as ‘spoiled’.

    There should only be one question: do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “Scotland should become an independent country.”

    Let al those who want independence campaign for the agree/yes option, and all the anti-independence groups to compaign for a No vote.

  2. The second question proposed by Mr McConnell is constitutionally inaccurate. The 1603 Union of Crowns created the “United Kingdom of Scotland England and Ireland” The 1707 Union of Parliaments created the “United Kingdom of Great Britain” 1800 added “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”, Ireland partly gains independence with Government of Ireland Act 1920 leaving “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.

    So you will note the term United Kingdom has survived numerous previous alterations to the political governance of these islands and will remain in force to describe an independent Scotland until such time as a Republic is declared. Upon independence the UK will refer to the crown union “United Kingdom of Scotland and Whatever England and Wales call themselves and Northern Ireland”

    1. Doffs hat to Baron McConnell of Glenscorrodale….

      “The 1603 Union of Crowns created the “United Kingdom of Scotland England and Ireland”

      Yes, I’m surprised a member of the aristocracy would not be familiar with this. I thought all this pomp and circumstance stuff was important to know in such elite circles.

      BM of G “In my view the question should ask voters to choose between two statements…..This format would actually be consistent with the approach taken in 1997.”

      The questions proposed by Baron Glenscorrodale would actually be inconsistent with 1997. It had ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’ as choices:
      http://tinyurl.com/7smss7q

      1. I agree that there should be a Scottish Parliament.

      2. I do not agree that there should be a Scottish Parliament.

      At the moment, MB of G is asking people if they want independence – to which they can only agree, then if they wish to retain the queen as head of state jointly with the rUK – again to which again they can only agree. I’m not sure this is fair to the ‘no’ campaign as it is not obvious how to disagree with independence and disagree with Scotland becoming a republic(?).

      Incidentally, what is Baron Glenscorrodale’s parliamentary constituency? I understand he can still influence laws/legislation for the UK/Scotland in his position at Westminster but I can’t find where he was elected.

    2. So we are actually the “United Kingdom of Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand……….”

      Actually, the United Kingdom which we are now in was created by the act of union in 1800. 1707 created a single parliament of Great Britain. 1603 Union of crowns created nothing much, as there was no legislation which dealt with it.

  3. Very good point marty I think people need to be told facts like that and the important differences between poltical independence and diplomatic Independence. I hope post referendum no matter what way it goes all people of these islands have their problems dealt with and then I want a more equal relationship between the countries to stop the hatred and jelousy that is growing today.

  4. On the subject of the “slide” which Jack refers to, one takes it that by this he means what is commonly referred to in the UK as ‘the downturn’ which was precipitated by the global systemic crisis, which cannot be ended by the timing of a referendum.

    The serious UK public-debt problem, which is in part a product of the previous UK government’s response to the said crisis, likewise cannot be significantly affected by the timing of a referendum. Indeed, both the Fitch rating agency, which, like Moody’s, is now threatening to downgrade the UK’s credit rating, and the UK government itself currently estimate that UK public debt will be at 78% of GDP by 2014-15. That government’s austerity measures may, therefore, be expected to be maintained and to continue to slow down the UK economy, prolonging the “slide”.

    The continuing economic malaise of the UK has nothing whatever to do with the timing of the Scottish Government’s referendum, which, if it leads to Scottish independence, would also lead to measures designed to encourage investment such as are currently beyond the powers of the Scottish Government, as external observers and actual and potential investors do seem to understand even if Jack does not.

    If there are to be two questions in the Scottish Government’s constitutional referendum, which should not be rushed to suit any interested party or parties, it is arguably desirable for them to be as follows, I venture to suggest:

    1. Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?

    2. If not, are you in favour of the proposals known as Devo Plus?

    If the UK government’s stated preference for a single question is to be accommodated, on the other hand, question 1 clearly has much to commend it, as has been widely acknowledged:

    http://tinyurl.com/89d5sfu

    Alternatively, a single question adopting a calling-a-spade-a-shovel formulation:

    Do you think that Scotland should be a province of the UK?

    No likee? OK, then, back to the Scottish Government’s preferred and commendably fair question, which even the leader of the Scottish Tories welcomed:

    Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?

  5. On the issue of the legality of the referendum it is quite straightforward. The Government can hand the powers on under Section 30. It should do so now and without hesitation or prevarication.

    Elsewhere, is it not a tad odd that Jack McConnell, whilst alluding to a compromise position does not bother himself with spelling it out? That, it seems to me, has been the elephant in the room of the unionist position since the SNP first mooted an independence question. We are being asked to buy the proverbial pig in a poke, with no idea whether it contains any meat whatsoever.

  6. As referenda are as rare as hens teeth, and that the public’s wishes are typically not addressed by either politican or media interests, then this proposed referendum should NOT be limited, but should allow us to come to a prefered outcome after serious debate.
    For that reason, I think two questions are in order. The first an enabling question, along the lines of–
    1.Should Scotland seek further constitutional reform.
    If the this is answered positively,then the second should be to legitimise a negotiating position.Hence-
    2a.Should Scotland be a self-governing country.
    2b.Should Scotland be fiscally autonomous within the UK.
    The precise questions would be a matter for more expert people than me but I think it fair that we have a choice of outcome for the sake of clarity. The timing of the referendum is all about political honesty. If all parties are open about what they propose, then we could have a reasonable debate in time for , say, 2013. If this deliberate obfuscation is kept going by the Unionist side, however, then the timetable deserves to be stretched to 2014.

    1. I used to think the enabling question seemed okayish until I heard a quite good point from Prof Curtice. I son’t always agree with him but his analysis of that option was very logical.

      In essence, he says that it really does not allow for the clear will to be expressed. It adds a huge chunk of tactical voting rather than giving people a clear option.

      If someone does actually want further devolution but not independence (as is the perceived majority at this stage) then they may actually vote against the enabling question for fear of letting independence in. This cannot be good for democracy.

      The only way this can be done in my view is to ask the independence question and if it is a majority it carries. If the answer is no, then the vote looks at a second question between the status quo and devo max.

  7. Scottish Government is asking the wrong question – it should be

    Do you agree that Scotland should be free of the tyranical yoke of Engish imperialism?

  8. A completely different alternative would be to list policy areas and ask people to say whether they think the Scottish Parliament or Westminster should have control.

    E.g. taxation & revenues, welfare policy, pensions, the constitution, defence, foreign affairs, broadcasting, equalities, energy, economic policy etc.

    At the end of it you would have an exact picture of which areas the Scottish people wanted the Scottish Parliament to control and which they wanted Westminster to control.

    Another advantage of that approach would be that people would actually be thinking about the substance not silly stuff about what flag would fly over Edinburgh Castle or whether we would have border guards or be chucked out the EU. These kinds of debates are just a distraction from enabling people to decide directly where they want political power to lie.

  9. Whatever question is used, it must not be a leading one, as currently proposed by the SNP.

    The question has to be clear and simple:

    “Do you want Scotland to be an independent country?”

    The majority of people don’t care about union of the crowns, treaties and whatnot. They will be simply interested in either independence or the status quo – and possibly something inbetween.

    Keep the arguments simple.

  10. Many of my fellow Nationalists simply do not understand the genius of the noble lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale’s proposal. It wholly concedes to the SNP, the arument for two questions.

    Question 1 Do you agree that Scotland should become and independent country?

    .

    Question 2 Do you agree that Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom?

    .

    This will assure a unified campaign across the Scottish body politic. The nationalist and the Unionist YES campaigns, will be able to share “Vote YES” stickers. Mr Salmond and Mr Darling will be able to end their speeches with the same unifying refrain to, “Vote YES on Octorber 18!”

    All of Scotland’s electorate will enter the polls with the same intent to vote YES for Scotland. What is the least confusing about that?

    In fact, if have written to the Noble Lord that in the interests of economy and brevity, he should ignore the nationalists two-questions nonsense entirely, and demand a single question that requires only a “yes” response:

    .

    Question – Should Scotland become and independent country or remain part of the United Kingdom?

    Now what could be clearer or simpler than that?

  11. Does Jack McConnell suggest that the Scottish unemploment rate being higher than that of the UK is an argument in favour of the union under which this is the case?.
    Odd argument that.
    We’re doing badly. Let’s not change.

    As a matter of interest however it is worth pointing out that Scotland’s unemploment level is lower than most English regions away from the SE.
    And of course Scottsh unemployment rate was higher than the UK figure all the time under Labour rule

    1. We had a better unemployment rate than the rUK while Labour were in power and we were still in the UK then as well. The variable was the governing party – it went from Labour to SNP and the picture reversed. I say forget separation and just change the government in Scotland to one that actually improves our lot and sees us using the benefits of the UK to our advantage.

  12. My last comment must have been a very telling one. I see it has been modded off.
    I return to a previous statement I made.
    If you open up a free and public blog the only reasons that free and public comment on it should be modded of are if the comment is obscene, illegal or offensive.
    Modding off stuff because you don’t agree with it is symptomatic of the head in the sand Labour in Scotland approach to politics.
    And I return to the central point.
    Until Labour in Scotland honestly allow internal public discussion asking whether independence for Scotland might be the best option for Scotland Labour is doomed. Being part of Ruth Davidson’s Union brigade is suicidal.

  13. Scxottish Skier

    Aye. somebody had a few words to say on the subject….
    “Bought and sold” it started

  14. The best way to frame the question is premably the simplest…
    ‘Do you want Scotland to become a seperate country’…a box for ‘Yes’ and a box for ‘No’.
    On the matter of unions if no-one minds a historian putting his tuppnce wirth in…the Union under discussion is the Trerat of 1707. The Union with Ireland was specifically framed to avoid infirnging the existing Anglo-Scottish treaty which contiues to this day.In that general area, nats and unionists alike (should be aware that altering the Treaty is beyond the scope of Westminster simply because it is a Treaty, not an Act of Parliament. There is – much as I hate to agree with Nick Clogg – no mechanism for altering it, so if it is to be changed a means of doing so will have to be invented.
    Rationally (though we geneally do our best to keep rationality out of political life) I suppose any adjustment to the Treaty should be made by equal numbers of representatives from Westmisnter and Holyrood.

  15. Oh c’mon Jack, “proud to have left the job…” you were lucky to even retain your seat at the election where you were voted out of the job as First Minister.
    And you are still not being honest when you say “the independence referendum is causing investment uncertainty” as that has been disproved over and over again. It is an outright lie and you and your Tory friends cannot name a single company that has said that they would not invest in Scotland if it is considering an independence referendum.

  16. Twice now I’ve been consored whilst trying to make a reasonable comment on this article. But I’ll try again because the point is hugely relevent to Scottish Labour’s decline.
    The point is; Scotland’s (not just Scotland’s nationalists but all of Scotland) aversion to the undemocratic House of Lords. (NB Scottish Skier’s image on his comment of March 19, 2012 at 10:53 pm)
    Labour has had ample opportunity to reform the place but never did. Scottish voters realise, whether their big nationailst or not, that voting SNP will abolish the H of L for ever in Scotland. Scottish Labour should not underestimate the importance of this to the Scottish psyche. Scotland hates patronage and priviledge, but rather than do something about it Labour has embraced it. That picture says it all.

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