Whether we like it or not, the independence referendum will dominate political debate in Scotland until the question is settled.
Just when we should be focussed on growing the economy, protecting jobs and creating opportunity for our young people, the SNP will ensure the next 24 months are all about the politics of conflict and separation.
So if we are going to have one (a referendum) we should make sure we get it right and settle the issue once and for all. What I want to see is a definitive mandate from the people of Scotland, which makes absolutely clear to the Scottish Government what they want.
There are all sorts of permutations of 2 or 3 questions which we can debate. The problem is agreeing the wording and then interpreting the outcomes. Based on current opinion polls, its likely that a 3-question referendum which posed the options of status quo, independence and “more devolution” would result in a majority for the last option. But that would allow the SNP to continue to pursue an independence agenda on the basis that the majority had not actually said “no”.
I’m pretty sure this is why Salmond keeps talking up the 3-question argument.
At the same time, a simple 2-question referendum, “status quo” or “independence” does not provide much of an option for the many people, like me, who want to see more economic and social levers brought under direct Scottish control. That vote – and it might be substantial – could split or abstain, with unpredictable results.
I was reminded last week, that the 1999 Devolution Referendum found a way round this kind of problem; the first question was about the principle of devolution (a straight yes or no) the second, which was only relevant if you answered “yes” to the first, asked whether you wanted additional powers to be devolved, in this case the 3p income tax variation.
So how about a two question referendum like this:
Question 1: do you want the Scottish Government to negotiate the separation of Scotland from the UK as an independent country (Yes or No)?
Question 2: if Scotland remains part of the UK, do you want the Scottish Government to negotiate the devolution of more economic and social powers to the Scottish Parliament (Yes or No)?
With this approach, we get a clear mandate for or against independence. No debate.
If there is a majority vote against independence, but for more powers – which is what I’ll campaign for – it gives the Scottish Government a mandate to negotiate that, but removes the option of independence as an eventual outcome. The political debate would then be about the economic, social and other policies which best suit Scotland without the emotional distraction of nationalism.
Such an outcome would nicely cook the SNP goose, just in time for the 2015 Westminster and 2016 Scottish Parliament elections. If you agree with me, how do we make it happen?
Mike Robb is a Labour Party activist from Edinburgh, now based in Inverness. He makes a living as an IT consultancy owner, advising fast growing SMEs around the UK on IT Strategy. He tweets as @mgrobb