The need for a fair referendum is more important than the question of who holds it, TOM HARRIS told the House of Commons last night


Mr Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to lead this important debate about the future of my nation. It will not have escaped your notice that the results of last May’s Scottish Parliament elections were less than satisfactory as far as my own party is concerned. We now have a majority SNP Government at Holyrood, a government committed to ripping Scotland out of the United Kingdom, the most successful political and democratic union the world has ever seen.

But while I disagree fundamentally with the nationalists and with the very notion of the politics of identity – after all, my own party has always believed that people are rather more important than borders – I nevertheless concede and recognise that the SNP now have a mandate to hold a referendum on whether Scotland should be a nation separate from the rest of Britain and, consequently, Europe.

But I want to take the opportunity of this debate to remind the nationalists that the electorate have given them a mandate, not a blank cheque. And if the SNP prove that they are incapable of holding a free and fair referendum, then I want to know from the minister whether he thinks the UK government has any role in ensuring that the Scottish people are properly consulted about the future of our nation.

Let me quote from the SNP manifesto from earlier this year:

  • Independence will only happen when people in Scotland vote for it. That is why independence is your choice. We think the people of Scotland should decide our nation’s future in a democratic referendum and opinion polls suggest that most Scots agree. We will, therefore, bring forward our Referendum Bill in this next Parliament. A yes vote will mean Scotland becomes an independent nation.

Unfortunately, since unexpectedly achieving an overall majority at Holyrood, the First Minister seem to have decided, rather counter-intuitively, that the manifesto on which he was elected actually matters less than would have been the case had he been forced to govern, once more, as a minority.

Even now, there are many SNP members who claim their party’s mandate is to hold the referendum towards the end of this parliament. The manifesto says no such thing. The First Minister is certainly entitled to hold a referendum at a time of his choosing, and it could be next year if he chose or in 2015 if that is his preference. But he obviously knows when it’s going to be. It beggars belief that he and his cohorts haven’t at least narrowed it down to two or three possible dates.

So why won’t they share this information with Scotland? Are only high-ranking members of the party entitled to this information? Whatever one’s view of independence, I’m sure we can all agree that this debate will, inevitably, create a degree of uncertainty.

Even if Alex Salmond today condescended to share the date of the referendum with us mere mortals, a degree of uncertainty and financial instability would ensue. The SNP could minimize this if they chose, but they choose not to. And more important than the effects on future investment decisions is the simple democratic right of ordinary Scots to know precisely what plans the SNP have for our nation.

Neither does the SNP manifesto feature a commitment to lowering the voting age for the referendum, yet that seems to be exactly what the SNP are planning, since they clearly believe that the chances of the people endorsing their plans for separation would be less if the existing franchise were used.

The SNP would, no doubt, point to their long-standing commitment to joining Nicaragua, Cuba, and Ecuador in the group of nations where 16-year-olds vote. Polling suggests that younger people are more likely to support independence, so who can doubt that a one-off reduction in the voting age for one specific referendum can be anything other than the most cynical move to get the “right” result? And if the SNP really cared about enfranchising younger people, why haven’t they made any progress towards lowering the voting age for local authority elections, over which they have legislative control?

Thirdly, the SNP seem to have a problem with the idea of the Electoral Commission having oversight of the referendum. I suspect I know why. When the Deputy Prime Minister announced his preferred question to put before the people in the AV referendum, it was the Electoral Commission which said no, which insisted on a more objective, more easily understandable question (I believe his preferred wording was something like: “AV’s great, isn’t it?”).

To be forced to ask the Scottish people a straightforward, understandable question is something the SNP clearly cannot tolerate.

And then there’s the biggie: so-called Full Fiscal Autonomy. However long it will be before the referendum, it is unlikely that this option, or “Devo Max” or “Independent Lite” or “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Independence” will be any better defined than it is today; it will still mean whatever you want it to mean, which undoubtedly explains its consistent popularity in opinion polls.

Not only is it ill defined, it is not deliverable, since it would affect fundamentally the way the whole of the UK – not just Scotland – would be governed. And Scotland imposing a form of government on the rest of the UK would be no more acceptable than the other way round.

Moreover, once again, there is nothing in the SNP manifesto – noR in anyone’s manifesto – to justify the addition of a third option on the ballot paper.

Even in his typically humble and understated conference speech in Inverness on Saturday, the First Minister gave an opaque hint that Separation Lite might yet be included on the ballot paper. But he fell short of clarifying the issue – even though his spin doctors had told the press in advance that that was exactly what he intended to do.

Let’s be clear: the refusal to name a date, the lowering of the voting age, the exclusion of the Electoral Commission and the inclusion of a third, vague option – these were not in the SNP manifesto, and for a very good reason: fair minded Scots would have concluded that someone, somewhere, was attempting a constitutional sleight of hand. And they would have been right.

Whether or not the Scottish people wish to remain part of the UK, it is of the utmost importance that the result of any referendum cannot be second guessed, misinterpreted, reinterpreted or undermined. It must not be ambiguous.

In 1995 the people of Quebec were asked to take part in their second referendum on the question of independence. One might be forgiven for assuming that the question on the ballot paper was: “Do you wish Quebec to become an independent country?”

But that would have been far too honest and straightforward a question – after all, the actual question was framed by nationalists. And this is the actual question put to Quebec voters:

  • Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?

Given the high esteem in which Scottish nationalists hold the separatists of Quebec, I expect they looked upon this wording – and the very narrow margin of defeat it suffered – with some envy and admiration.

It would be a great shame if the nationalists’ posturing, prevarication and cowardice on the referendum were to result in the same kind of solution to which the Canadian parliament was forced to resort: a Clarity Act, to make sure that certain basic principles of transparency and honesty were adhered to in any referendum.

That is not a road I would wish to go down, but it is something we may have to consider. After all, the sovereignty of the Scottish people and our right to have a fair and honest say in the future of our nation trumps the pomposity and pride of Scottish Government ministers, of whatever rank.

But perhaps this “jiggery pokery” is understandable from a nationalist perspective. After all, politics is about priorities and the SNP priority is independence, nothing else. Jobs, the economy, the health service, schools, the fight against poverty – none of these issues matters as much to them as the prospect of having the word “Scotland” instead of “United Kingdom” on their passports. So perhaps in their minds the end justifies the means.

In my mind, and in the minds of the great majority of Scots, it certainly does not.

Mr Speaker, it’s not too late. The Scottish Government could, even now, rescue their reputation and re-establish their commitment to Scottish democracy by making it clear that the question we were promised – Yes or No to independence – will be asked; no fudging, no cheating, no rigging, with complete transparency. The Scottish people deserve that at least.

But if the SNP Government cannot rise to the challenge of delivering their own manifesto commitment, then we may have to accept that the UK government has a role to play.

Alex Salmond is highly thought of in Scotland. He is a substantial politician who, I have no doubt, loves Scotland dearly. If he is guilty of putting his party’s ambitions above those of the Scottish people, it is only because he too often conflates the two.

So what would it say about Alex Salmond if the Rt. Hon. Member for Witney, the Prime Minister, turned out to be more capable than he of delivering the SNP’s key manifesto commitment?

Tom Harris is the Labour MP for Glasgow South. He Tweets as @Tom4Scotland.

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44 thoughts on “For the sake of clarity

  1. “If he is guilty of putting his party’s ambitions above those of the Scottish people, it is only because he too often conflates the two.”

    Never a truer word said, Tom—but largely about Labour leadership. Hope you get the post: you’ll fit right in.

    Or, if you should get off your high horse on this, it might disqualify you from leading Scottish Labour (at least in the way they’re used to being led)…but we might then get real about what you rightly call “this important debate about the future of my nation”.

    Why grump with the rest of ’em, Tom? Am I deluding myself that, behind all this grubby party posturing there might be a politician of some stature trying to get out?

    Ask yourself: would Dewar or Dalyell or Atlee or Maclean ever write such a small-minded piece as the above?

    1. Did someone touch a raw nerve there?

      Why don’t you respond to the post above by taking extracts from it and clearly showing why they are wrong, rather than just sniping because he talked down the ‘glorious’ Alex Salmond?

      The SNP are clearly trying to fudge this and they’re not even ashamed of it.

      No-one has a mandate for a devo-max (insert any other version you can think of) so there should be a simple yes/no on independence and as Tom says, it should be a clear question.

      It really is that simple. I get the feeling the old joke about organising a p*** up in a brewery is becoming more appropriate by the day.


        If the above article represents Tom’s idea of clarity he has obviously been conned into buying one of these snow filled toys instead of a genuine crystal ball. The SNP on the other hand seem to relying on a personalised CB coated with frosted glass so that the future is revealed in the form of what they hope may be inside.

        Given all the financial, climate, population imponderables on the go I can see with utmost clarity that I have no idea what will be happening in 3 to 4 years time.

        I’m with the unionists on this – since support for independence seems to be increasing by the day we should have a single question referendum as soon as possible. I would suggest including it with those other elections in May next year. (if it’s good enough for AV —)

  2. Oh dear, what a stushie!
    A two question referendum is EXACTLY the same as last time!
    One do you want more powers (last time more than none!)
    Two, do you want further powers (in this instance all powers- last time limited tax varying powers)
    Salmond has said he wants to have YES/YES as before. What’s the problem.
    Currently we have the discredited Calman bill (more powers) constructed by three parties continually represented as a consensus but rejected at the May election???
    And if the vote was 70% YES and 51% YES then the result is a YES/YES!!!
    If it is 70% YES and 49% YES we have more devolution but not total independence. And just as now 14 years after the last referendum if we wish to extend devolution further we can. The main reason for this would be because competence would(as now) possibly be proved and confidence increased!
    Labour (or some Labour) want to frighten the natives and have rejection of an independence only vote!

    1. No, a two question refrendum was not what we had last time. The first question last time was (roughly) “Do you want a Scottish parliament” – the second question wasnt “Would you prefer some beefed up council thing thats not quite a parliament”.

      The second question was “Should THAT Scottish Parliament have tax raising powers”.

      If the first part hadnt passed, the result of the second question would have been moot.

      1. And that’s exactly what will happen with the independence referendum. If the independence question passes, then the 2nd question on extended powers becomes moot. If the independence question does not pass, then the second question on extended powers will be decided. I cannot for the life of me see what is so complicated within this that unionists do not seem to be able to get their heads round.

        1. The point is you could have (and probably would have) a situation where independence has less support than ‘devo-max’. How on earth can the SNP say the ‘devo-max’ part would be moot when it has more support than independence?

          It’s a bit like that guy who got the bus in the marathon – he only ran half the race but picked up a medal.

          The difference is this is about the future of our country and you lot want to fudge the referendum so you can get the result you want.

          1. Make up your mind if you don’t want Devo-Max on the question don’t support its inclusion then it will be a straight Yes/No one.

            The ball is in the unionist court not the SNPs on this as they cannot implement/or campaign for it as they don’t control the treasury yet.

            On 16 year old people voting as this used to be Labour party policy when did that change?

          2. It is not an either/or choice though – that is where the confusion is.

            People weren’t asked in the 97 referendum if they wanted to have a Scottish Parliament or if they wanted to have tax raising powers – they were asked do you want a Scottish Parliament yes/no and then they were asked do you want the Scottish Parliament to have tax raising powers – yes/no.

            More people voted yes in the Scottish Parliament question than voted yes in the tax raising powers question – but nobody suggested that this meant that the Scottish Parliament option had beaten the tax raising powers option did they? Because it was not an either/or question and neither would a referendum offering both Devo Max and Independence be.

            The basic rule of thumb with any referendum is that if more than 50 per cent of people vote yes to the proposition being put to them then the proposition wins. There are exceptions to that of course – multi-option referendums, or preferendums perhaps more accurately, which produce a single outcome. But that is not what the SNP is proposing. They are proposing to put forward two propositions – one on Independence, one on Devo Max, both with a yes/no answer and both of which can win if they get over 50 per cent of the vote.

            As I have already said we are not suggesting this option because WE want Devo Max – we are saying that if there is support for Devo Max we will allow it to be included on the ballot paper.

            If it is a simple yes/no question on independence then that’s fine as far as I am concerned – but politically I still can’t see how the Labour Party shutting the door on enhanced devolution within the Union is advantageous to you. Maybe all will become clear …..

          3. CH and Indy are confused, and no wonder. Last week Eck said he wanted a second, devo max, question. This week he wants one or out. But he seems to think that the other parties must put a second, devo max, question.

            The other parties all say they don’t want a second question which is, IMO, good.

            We need clarity, and the single question, in or out, delivers that.

            Now all we need is for the nats to deliver their single question, in or out referendum, and we can all vote NO! and get back to building schools and hospitals etc, which is what politics is (or should be) about, not endless wrangling about the constitution and which question to ask and who should ask it….

          4. Salmond said he was willing to accommodate a third option but (as explained by Mr Harvey Green Party today) the option is a single question(Calman’Independence) and a third option will only be added if another Party puts forward an amendment.
            I believe the LDs have just such an amendment in mind.

            Our position is a secret.

  3. There is something really Alice in Wonderland about this debate because no-one in the SNP supports Devo Max. But people in the Labour Party do – various people who write articles and comment on this site for example. Even, heaven help us, Lord Foulkes supports it.

    So in some senses the debate about what Devo Max is and whether it should go on the ballot paper is one you are having with each other, not with us in the SNP. But you seem somehow to be having it through us.

    It’s a little bit weird frankly. But then I guess we have been in a kind of “phoney war” phase for a while which is now drawing to a close.

    I was quite keen on the idea of having a Devo Max question because I just basically think it is the right thing to do when there is quite substantial evidence that there is significant public support for it. Not having that option means that those people will have to choose between the status quo and independence. They won’t actually be able to vote for the outcome they want to see.

    I do feel that this situation, where a significant strand of opinion is left without political representation, shows that there is something not quite right about the way politics operates in Scotland. It may be simply that political parties are by nature very conservative and incapable of making quick changes.

    But in any case I have to admit I am almost past the point of caring now. If it’s going to be a two question referendum then so be it.

    I just hope nobody will have the brass neck to accuse the SNP of shutting down the debate on enhanced devolution within the Union. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

  4. Tom, in 3 years time the opinion polls could very well be looking very favourable for a “Yes to independence vote”, and you, unfortunately,are yet another Labour politician who will have zero credibility calling for a third option to be included in a desperate attempt to save the Union.

    This seems to be Salmond’s plan all along. It will be the Unionists who refuse devo-max to the peoples of Scotland, not the SNP. It’s the Unionists who will ensure that it’ll be a straight choice between the status quo, which only the tories and other arch-Unionists support, or independence.

  5. People may be more important than borders but nevertheless the UK has borders which keep it politically distinct from Europe and allow mr Harris to pursue a political career in the UK. He could, of course, choose to give up his curent Westminster career and stand for election to Holyrood – a parliament set up with the support of his party, which acknowledged that Scottish society was, in many ways, different to English society and that certain aspects of government should be devolved on a national basis. An independence referendum would not necessarily take Scotland out of Europe; that is merely Tom Harris’s opinion. Clearly, the Labour story that is now winning out is the old one Labour have nurtured for years: Scotland on its own would be outside of everything, poorer, isolated, ‘insert negative here’.

    Why would independence lead to uncertainty? Did devolution lead to uncertainty? And is Tom Harris saying that people’s right to democratic self-expression is less important than the financial markets? Not a very old Labour outlook, despite the old Labour rhetoric. Isn’t it a contradiction to want an early independence referendum while, at the same time, asking for a full analysis of what independence means? If the public are to take part in the debate, as they rightly should, then the issues will have to be debated in public over the coming years and not quickly brushed aside to suit the Labour party. Independence is not about identity; it is about democracy. It is one answer to the ‘democratic deficit’ that Labour politicians used to speak of; a democratic deficit which has not fully been answered. The problem is, what do we do (‘we’ being the electorate in Scotland) when ‘we’ vote Labour and the electorate in England, or a sizable number of them, vote Conservative? Clearly, the existence of Holyrood was intended as a barrier to such an event. But the problem still exists. Westminster still exercises powers over Scottish public life that many in Scotland would like to see in the hands of Holyrood. 76% in recent polls were for more change, more powers to the Scottish Parliament.

    Labour have themselves used Westminster as a pillow over Scottish aspirations; both Henry McLeish and Jack McConnell have complained that they could not follow specific policies directed towards meeting the needs of Scottish voters because Labour at Westminster would not allow them to do so. And here we have Tom Harris, a potential leader (the only one candidate allowed to speak to the media at the moment, it seems), leading “Team Scotland” – a Labour Scottish Executive in exile – into a debate on Scotland’s constitutional future but with no clear direction of where Labour are going, or what their aspirations for Scotland are. So far, it sounds like Labour have decided Scottish devolution has gone quite far enough. I can’t help feel that if Tom Harris and Team Scotland have their way, the Labour party will split. Setting the clocks back to year zero isn’t going to win the support of the Scottish public; a public who want change, even though they might not yet know what that means. Instead of trying to stymie the wishes of those voters, Labour should be looking at how best to progress devolution.

    1. No it’s not merely Tom’s opinion; it is the opinion of lawyers who have looked into it on behalf of the Government. Now you can talk down that legal advice since it comes from big bad London but why donesn’t wee Eck just release his legal advice?

      He has refused a FOI on his legal advice. Why?

      This is like LIT all over again; the SNP have some bad news lurking in those files and they know that it wouldn’t upset us but their own supporters. He is trying his best to keep the ‘Independence can win’ mask up to stop his party tearing itself apart.

      He knows he can’t win – it’s a shame he hasn’t thought to let his drones know.

      “Smile and wave boys…Smile and wave”

      1. What legal advice? Where is it published? Can you provide a link to anything referring to it?

        Or is it perhaps locked in a crate somewhere waiting to be looked at by Top Men?

      2. We’ve had lots of arguments back and forward on this over the years; if Scotland secedes from the UK, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is leaving the European Union. There are some who believe that an independent Scotland would still retain membership of the EU and not be kicked out. England and Wales would presumably retain membership as well. And if Scotland did have to reapply for membership, on what grounds are you saying it would be rejected?

  6. Why all the fuss, Tom? There will be a resounding ‘NO’ vote, whether or not sixteen year olds are allowed to vote. When the date of the referendum approaches, the anxiety and fear of the Scottish people will soon cause them to remain within the safety net of Great Britain. It is the duty of the Labour Party to constantly warn the Scottish electorate of the huge disadvantages independence would entail. This is not scaremongering, but at the moment it is us who are running scared. We should be more relaxed about the whole thing and let the people decide whether they wish to enjoy the advantages of a prosperous Union or whether a life in abject poverty is a positive option.

  7. “I want to take the opportunity of this debate to remind the nationalists that the electorate have given them a mandate, not a blank cheque”

    Actually, in electoral terms a blank cheque is exactly what an absolute majority IS. If anyone should know that it’s Labour.

  8. Is there no one in the Labour party who thinks sixteen year olds should have the vote? They can marry, have jobs (often working for minimum wage, or less), and have opinions. If we’re happy to let them marry and work, why not let them vote?

    As for your apocalyptic vision of independence (sorry – separation), I don’t share your pessimism. And I don’t know if Labour have noticed this yet, but there is already abject poverty in Scotland. The Labour party MUST share responsibility for that, having been in power at all levels of government for decades.

    1. Theres a difference between giving 16 year olds the vote, and wanting them to vote in a particular plebiscite because you think they are on average more inclined to support your point of view.

      Where is the SNP bill to give 16 years the right to vote in next May’s council elections? They could do it if they were that bothered about extending the franchise. The fact that they do not tells us something.

      1. My view is that 16 year olds should be allowed to vote in any election. The fact that we have a minimum wage split because of age is outrageous and with unemployment high amongst 16 to 18 year olds it seems to me the right to vote should be extended to this age group. I can’t help but feel that Labour are saying no to that! Let’s face it, if Labour came out and supported extension of the voting age to 16 year olds, then they wouldn’t have grounds for complaint regarding the referendum. So, my guess is, that Labour are happy not to give 16 year olds the vote.

        1. This Government has the power to bring forward a bill allowing 16 year old the right to vote in the May local government elections in 2012.

          If it wants support for allowing them to vote in the referendum, it should use its existing powers to rectify it where it can, and call for a change at the UK level for other elections.

          I would support this.

          However, the SNP choose not to do that – which indicates it has an unlterior motive in wanting 16 year olds to vote in the referendum – BUT NOT in other elections.

          1. As I said, I’d support voting for 16 years olds, but Labour should be very careful it doesn’t get into the position of opposing it just because the SNP want to bring it forward. Why don’t Labour steal the march on the SNP and propose it for all elections? I suspect the answer is that Labour would prefer 16 year olds not to have the vote until a time convenient for Labour; namely, after the independence referendum.

  9. The SNP have said they’ll hold a referendum on independence in the second half of this parliament.And that if there is a demand for a second question on Devomax they will consider putting it on the ballot paper.The Labour party are now debating whether devomax should be on the ballot paper.Tom Harris is against.Messrs Chisholm McLeish and Foulkes are in favour.I’m not sure where others in the Labour party stand.Anyway,they’ve a couple of years to make their minds up.

  10. Interesting closing line there
    “So what would it say about Alex Salmond if the Rt. Hon. Member for Witney, the Prime Minister, turned out to be more capable than he of delivering the SNP’s key manifesto commitment?”
    So looks like Tom Harris is positioning himself (should he become Labour Leader in Scotland) to back a Westminster lead referendum on Scottish independence on the grounds that Scotland’s Parliament can’t be trusted to do so. This is an interesting strategy adopting a more hard-line stance on constitutional issues than the outgoing Ian Gray. Now I’ll skip the debate over mandate, hypocrisy and legitimacy that this plan would trigger between the 3 Unionist parties and the SNP if Westminster were to take control of the referendum. Instead given host site for this debate will I consider instead the potential impact on the Scottish Labour Leadership contest.
    Now my understanding is that Tom has comparatively little support among MSP’s ( unsurprising given both his opponents are MSP’s and he’s not) and I would venture that this display of a lack of faith in Holyrod would not do his standing amongst MSP’s much good, that said given Ms Lamont and Mr. Macintosh are likely to spilt this vote between them so it may ultimately have a limited the impact on the outcome of the leadership contest.
    It will also be interesting to see how both Johan Lamont and Ken Macintosh respond to this particularly the later. Ms Lamont as deputy under Ian Gary seems to be the continuity candidate ( given the pervious leaders failures perhaps not the best position to be in) I’d assume we’ll see continued opposition to the FFA question but expect her to maintain a commitment to allow the Scottish Parliament to put the question to the Scottish people. Considering the SNP can’t campaign for FFA (as they will be campaigning for independence) should the Lib Dem’s and Labour maintain a united front opposed to FFA it’ll probably kill it as an option, interesting to see how that will play amongst the people of Scotland.
    Ken Macintosh on the other hand is unknown quantity to me, he has started out as defining himself as a Devolutionist rather than a Unionist so I wonder how he would attempt to maintain this position while opposing Dexo Max? On the other hand isn’t he a long term ally of Jim Murphy who seems dead set against FFA. Well at least the Labour leadership contest in Scotland is finally beginning to become interesting.

  11. This is simple, the Choice is Calman versus Independence, unless some party gets real and demands Fiscal Autonomy.

    If there is no demand for a third option then many of us will vote for Independence.

    Time to tell us the outcome of Jim Murphy’s review and where they see Scotland going.

    1. Devolutio is the agreed and defined relationship between the Uk and the devolved parliaments (Holyrood, Cardiff, Stormont)

      The choice is therefore not Calman -v- “independence””, it’s “independence” -v- Devolution.

      Calman is not set in stone. It’s the latest legislative attempt to define the devolution agreement in terms of devolved powers and responsibilities. It could be, and probably will be, amended in future to add or remove powers, to redefine the responsibilities and authority of Westminster and Holyrood etc.

      1. Salmond is playing us like a fish by raising the third option first, the Westminster MP don’t want it so they immediately say it’s his back-up plan, it isn’t he is just too smart for them.

        We will have Calman versus Independence, all the other hints and promises will surface at the last minute when the polls show Independence winning(it’s started already).

        Dev Max or FFA is the only thing that will stop Salmond

  12. You are right, I am confused Alex Gallagher. You say “The other parties all say they don’t want a second question which is, IMO, good.”

    Yet quite a lot of people want to look at a very much enhanced version of devolution where Scotland becomes, broadly speaking, fiscally autonomous while remaining in the Union.

    That includes people in the Labour Party, it includes people in the Lib Dems, it even includes people in the Tory Party.

    If they are all against putting that option to the Scottish people in a referendum presumably that means they think that it can all be decided in a kind of horse trading process behind closed doors, as Calman was, with no real consultation or public involvement and where the real intention is to try and create some kind of bulwark against independence.

    Leaving aside the fact that this is not very democratic the Calman/Scotland Bill proposals are such a guddle precisely because that is how – and why – they were drawn up.

    It is really incumbent on people who support some version of Devo Max to actually make a positive case for that to the voters and for the voters to have a chance to indicate whether or not they want to support whatever version of Devo Max the politicians come up with. That means the politicians sitting down and working out what they want to happen, as opposed to what they want to stop.

    As we get closer to the referendum I suspect the political requirement for devolutionists to put forward a “third way” option (sounds familiar) which avoids the need to choose between full independence and the status quo will become imperative. But they won’t be able to do that because it has been ruled out. It’s going to be interesting to see how that all pans out.

    1. Indy.

      There’s really no need for confusion.

      The SNP has a mandate to have a referendum on “independence”.

      “Independence”, defined as the creation of a new state with its own state apparatus of defence, security, fiscal, monetary, legal and parliamentary institutions is what Nationalists have always campaigned for. It would be a revolutionary step. It asks a big and fundamental question about the existence of the state. As such it justifies a referendum. If the SNP administration was to bring forward a single question referendum on “independence” (assuming they could agree on a definition of “independence”), I would participate, vote against of course, and respect the result.

      No party had “devo max” in their election manifesto.

      “Devolution max”, on the other hand is just an ill-assorted group of policy positions, mainly based on fiscal and monetary options (increase/decrease corporation tax, introduce a local income tax, etc), policies which may change with time and circumstance. It does not ask any big or fundamental questions of the state or its existence. As such it is the stuff of election manifestos, not referendums. If parties want to cut or raise taxes, or introduce new taxes, they should put them to the electorate at election time, not in a referendum on the constitution.

      i.e. “independence” is suitable subject for a referendum. It’s clear and unambiguous. The SNP has a mandate for such a referendum.

      “devo max” is not a suitable subject for a referendum. It’s not clear what is meant by the term, it is ambiguous. No party has a mandate for a referendum on “devo max”.

      furthermore, no party wants to put a question on “devo max” on the ballot paper.

      Therefore, one question. That’s what the people voted for, that’s what the parties should deliver.

      1. It is simple Scotland collects ALL it’s own revenues, then pays the Treasury for reserved issues.
        This can be a negotiated sum or it can be based on % of GDP.

        It isn’t rocket science it is money management.

        No subsidies and a fair partnership.

        Like other people here I think we are about to miss the boat, and I see the Liberals coming up with a proposal as the current trend gets worse in the polls, and it will.

  13. Dr Matt Qvortrup’s objection to the form of the referendum proposed was that it would not give enough clarity on what Scots wanted. That is a challenge to all the political parties in Scotland, not just the SNP. It is surely not beyond the collective wisdom of our Legislators to find the options in a plebicite that will give substance to the constitutional preferance of the Scottish people and close down this debate.

  14. As I understand it, the SNP do only have a mandate to offer a referendum on independence. They are however willing to include a second question on the currently ‘fuzzy’ devo max option if offered by the UK government. I’m not sure why people think that the SNP want to offer devo max. They want independence and only the UK government can offer something less than that. However, they could hardly refuse to include an alternative on the ballot from the opposition.

    The most recent Scotland-wide polls have shown the YES to independence vote increasing while the NO falls. In fact the last TNS poll would translate to a majority for YES. Trends suggest we may soon be back to the situation in 1998 where polls were showing up to 55% for YES and only 35% for NO, which would have given a 60%+ majority for independence if put to referendum.

    We seem to be in 1997 again, but without a Labour government in London offering Scots more autonomy as they wish. Instead, we have a Tory government with no clear prospects as to when that might change.

    Labour needs to support FFA and agree a deal with the UK government for this to be an option to counter full independence. Otherwise, Scotland will vote for independence. I’m surprised that some cannot see that this is almost inevitable at the moment. I think anyone who knows Scotland will know that given a choice between status quo with a Tory government and full independence, the vote will undoubtedly go to the latter. After all, support for FFA is consistently polling close to 70%. This can’t be ignored.

    As for mandates, the SNP do have the strongest case for holding the referendum in that they got more total votes in May than the Torys + Libs got in the 2010 GE combined. Likewise, Labour took a bit of a hit in May too, so it is best that Westminster takes a back seat on the referendum lest it be seen to be interfering. That is likely to be very counterproductive.

    In the end, it is Scots voters who will make the decisions as to their constitutional future, not any party. That must be paramount in people’s minds.

  15. As Labour meet to discuss the leadership on Saturday, it’s really a question of what will win out – the politics of the possible or the politics of the unwilling. I can’t help but feel that Tom Harris and Ian Davidson have played themselves out and it’s time to hear some new voices. I’ll be honest, though; it’s not much of a contest. We still don’t know what any of the leadership hopefuls really stand for. Some of them, we haven’t even heard from. I get the feeling it’s get a leader first, work out the policy later. Maybe that’s the wrong way to do things?

  16. I really think the Labour party should ask its members what route THEY want the party to go down.Devo-max,independence or status quo ?

  17. I take severe issue at the politicisation of the votes at sixteen points in the blog.

    Not only is it disingenuous in the extreme, it takes a non-party issue (the lowering of the voting age) at seeks to use it as a stick to beat the SNP with. The SNP, along with many Labour politicians, support this move.

    For the Health Board elections, that the SNP introduced, they set the age at sixteen. It has been their policy for many, many, many years.

    As for the Scottish Government not introducing it for the Council Elections, then I suggest Mr Harris re-aquaint himself with Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act; as he’d then realise that this is in fact, Reserved. Not that you’ve ever let the facts get in the way of a good rant though, eh?

  18. As a former Labour voter I come on this blog from time to time hoping someone will post something that will actually inspire me and offer some kind of positive vision that presents a plausible alternative to the SNP’s narrative and every single time I leave utterly disappointed after pages and pages of debate obsessing about the SNP and the referendum.

    Labour succesfully batted away the daft scare stories about devolution in the run up to 1997 so seeing the current leadership going down the same road is pretty depressing.

  19. Yes well, Alex Salmond during the election debates and in just about every interview before the May made a commitment to hold a referendum in the second half of the (then) next parliament. It could not have been clearer. In response the leaders of the other parties one after another told the people that a vote for the SNP was a vote for “separation”. The mantra was, “if you want separation vote for the separatists”.

    The Labour Party stated with unerring consistancy that there was no popular demand for a referendum and that to hold one would be a distraction. The immediate focus we were told should be on the economy, jobs, schools, knife crime.

    Well, the people voted for the separatists and Salmond says he’ll make good on his promise for a referendum in the latter half of this parliament. Now Labour want an immediate referendum; they can’t wait. Of course they want a referendum now, for the same reason the SNP want a referendum in 3 or 4 years. In both cases the preferred timing is opportunistic. Labour fear the momentum building for a Yes vote. The SNP fear they would lose any immediate vote.

    The same applies to the inclusion of a devo max option. Labour don’t want it for it will give Salmond two bites at the cherry. Here they have a problem for they are denying the people the right to make the choice for themselves; and this is near certain to be seen as self serving by the electorate. Labour should hold their nose and with as much enthusiasm as possible, embrace devo max and make it their own. Not to do so is to bet everything on a vote for the status quo in the referendum and if they think they will win that one, I’ve got some beachfront property in Arizona I’d like to sell them.

  20. Gents,

    The game is, in my humble opinion, to keep Scotland within the UK? If my reasoning is sound then the Unionists are missing, i.e.not discussing, some very simple tools to do so. The SNP has the mandate to hold a referendum, so is it beyond the wit of the Labour party et al, to enter into open ended discussions with the SNP on this basis? This way the wording of the “question” that every unionist seems to be obsessing over (and failing to come up with anything of interest to the Scottish electorate) would be agreed upfront and have a degree of political concensus? If the wording was to be agreed then only one question would be needed, and it would still achieve the SNP desires if the question failed. So the question could look like the following:

    Do you wish the Scottish Government to enter into negociations with Westminster Government with a view to renewing the Treaty of Union for the 21st Century?
    – No = Independence
    -Yes = Scotland remains in the UK under a new Treaty of Union.

    Why is every Unionist failing to see that an 18th Century Treaty is bound to need each partner to review the articles contained within, on a routine basis. Or are you saying the elected dictatorship of Westminister must remain by divine right? That is a recipe for disaster!

  21. Why do the Tories want powers repatriated from the EU to London but Scottish politicians do NOT want powers repatriated from London to Edinburgh?
    Is it because FFA would make Scottish politicians an irrelevance in the Commons,and turn it into an English Parliament?
    Is it because it would require the Lords to be replaced by an elected UK body to deal with UK matters(defence, foreign affairs etc)?
    Is the Labour Party so concerned about a few dozen MPs and Lords that it would deny a self financing parliament to Scotland to solve our many problems?
    Or rely on the tender mercies of a rampant Tory Government in London every time they get in? With Englands population growing faster than Scotlands we will have less and less influence as time goes on.

  22. Scotland out of the Union and hence out of Europe? Really? Is there a plan to tow Scotland into the South Atlantic? I imagine you really mean ‘out of the EU’? In that case, Tom, you need to develop a better understanding of the Union. The Union ss the Union of the parliaments of two kingdoms – Scotland and England. Without Scotland there is no UK, just England, Scotland and a province of the Fomer UK (Wales is a principlaity of England). If Scotland were to be ‘out’ of the EU, then England would be as well….incidentally, does n’t Former United Kingdom make a great acronym?
    And by the way…the ‘fight against poverty’….under Brown and Blair the very poorest people in Britain became somewhat poorer yet. Are you not aware that families on benefit have their child benefit decuted? That means that everyone get it except the very poorest people. I asked brown and Blair about this and got hot air and obfuscation. I asked Ed Milliband and did n’t get an answer at all. You get an enormous salary Tom (over £1200 per WEEK) and outrageous allowances and pension benefits as well so how about sticking up for poor people to get a fair shot? When will we hear you daemanding child benfit for poor families as well as rich ones?

  23. What happened to socialism?
    Has Labour lost its way?
    We need to stop these brutal attacks on Independence, because if the Scottish people so want it, then who are we to disuade them?
    If the referendum returns and independent Scotland, then Labour will be finished north of the border for the stance it has more than forcefully presented.

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