We must empower the people in any future independence referendum

Robert Hoskins follows up last week’s article about the impact of Brexit on a future indyref2 with a closer look at what the inclusion of a confirmatory vote – as recommended by independent experts – could mean for the debate.

My article Has Brexit blown indyref2 out of the water? argued in favour of a confirmatory vote on any future independence referendum in light of the current Brexit debate. 

What I didn’t know at the time of writing, and what I do know now as a result of sending it to the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (HCPACAC), is that the ‘recommendations’ section of the report of the Independent Commission on Referendums which was sent to me clearly states that any future secession referendums should include an optional confirmatory vote.

Here is the recommendation:

In cases where a government does produce a White Paper detailing what form of change it expects to secure, the second referendum would be triggered only in the event that there is a ‘material adverse change’ in circumstances: that is, if the expectations set out in the government’s paper are not fulfilled. It would be for the parliament or assembly that called the referendum to determine whether such a ‘material adverse change’ had occurred.

The process to be followed should be specified in the legislation enabling the first referendum, so that the requirement for or possibility of a second referendum, and the reason for it, is clear to the electorate before the first vote takes place. The Commission’s recommendation hence applies to future processes of change requiring a referendum, and is not intended to apply retrospectively. The Commission does not take a view on whether there should be a further referendum on Brexit.

The Independent Commission on Referendums, 2018

To clear up any confusion, the term ”second referendum” highlighted in the recommendation above means a confirmatory referendum (second vote of a two vote package). The option of triggering a confirmatory referendum would be included as part of a two referendum package which would be clearly outlined in a White Paper which would be sent to every household, like the Scotland’s Future white paper was in advance of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. This White Paper would make it clear to the electorate in advance of the first vote that the parliament which called the referendum would also have the right to trigger a second confirmatory vote if they chose to do so. The parliament would do this if they believed there had been a ‘material adverse change’ in circumstances between what was promised in the initial white paper pitched before the first vote and what was agreed to in law after it.

The report has no legal status and it does not even have an official role as guidance, although governments may well choose to use it to guide their thinking. However, it does provide us with a very strong steer indeed as to the future direction of travel as to where expert academic opinion is coalescing on the subject of a second confirmatory referendum in the UK, especially in light of the current debate around a confirmatory vote in the Brexit referendum.

For those of you who might be reading this and thinking ”Ah – but that recommendation wouldn’t apply to any future independence referendum would it, as it doesn’t specifically mention that in the text.” That is what I thought too until I watched the video of the presentation of the findings of the Independent Commission on Referendums to the HCPACAC. The co-author of the report, Professor Meg Russell, quite clearly cites as an example of the recommendation being put into action that a future Scottish Independence Referendum could include a confirmatory vote as part of the package:

[If the above video does not show inline, please go directly to
https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/9768655c-438b-43fc-90fb-e364d3a32292 and jump to timestamp 10:47:30 to see the evidence given by Prof Russell.]

So what are the implications of a confirmatory vote for any future Scottish independence referendum? Would this recommendation be accepted by the SNP as ”gold standard” practice and be signed off by both Westminster and Holyrood in the form of a second Edinburgh Agreement?

The insertion of a confirmatory vote into any future Scottish referendum would be seen by the nationalists as a double edged sword – and not without considerable risk. They would quite rightly argue that a confirmatory vote would favour the status quo as it would give Westminster a massive incentive to play hardball and give Holyrood the worst separation deal possible, knowing full well that the electorate would rise up and demand that the incumbent nationalist government trigger the confirmatory vote option.

But on the other hand, bearing in mind that the main recruiting sergeant of Scottish nationalism is whipping up grievance against Westminster, strategically the nationalist hierarchy might see this as a gift and go for it. You could see circumstances whereby separatists would use the threat of Westminster giving Scotland the worst possible independence deal imaginable in the run up to the first vote as THE golden grievance. A grievance so powerful because it has such a plausible element of truth about it that supporters of the union could see the potential for beastly Westminster giving poor Scotland a bad deal. In fact it could turn the gripeometer up to defcon grievomax in the nationalists favour and be the main factor for a massive swing securing independence on the first vote.

One of the major problems with Brexit is the discrepancy between what was promised by the Brexiteers before the EU referendum and what is in the process of being offered now. Repeated polling demonstrates that a majority of the UK electorate now favours having a final say on Brexit once the terms of the UK’s departure are known. So the confirmatory vote genie is now well and truly out of the bottle.

Recent events would make it very difficult indeed for a Scottish First Minister to refuse the option of a second vote in a future independence referendum. They would be laid wide open to accusations of hypocrisy of the highest order if they attempted to wriggle out of it having campaigned so vigorously for it in the Brexit debate.

This possible development conjures up so many “What if?”s. What if a Scottish Parliament election fell between the first vote of the referendum and the deal being signed off? What if an SNP government that called the independence referendum lost that election and it was up to a government of a different party to decide if there had been a ”material change” from what was offered compared to what was delivered? If this recommendation is accepted and the next referendum comprises of a two vote package, the implications for indyref2 would be colossal.

A confirmatory vote being included as part of an indyref2 package could completely change the debate of the referendum campaign. The question of what constitutes a ”material change” would be being debated up and down the country. Imagine had this been in place in 2014! “First Minister, would you agree that the price drop of a barrel of Brent crude from $100 to $43 in the space of a year and a half qualifies as a ‘material change’?” “First Minister, would the exit southwards of Scotland’s entire banking industry constitute a ‘material change’?” “First Minister, considering that the NHS costs £13 billion per year to run, do you consider the loss of the £12 billion annual fiscal transfer from Westminster as a ‘material change’?”

The fundamental effect of including a confirmatory vote in a future independence referendum would be a huge positive for the people of Scotland charged with making the decision – the pro-independence side would have to produce a robust, watertight economic case which relied on logic not faith. The case for separation would have to be capable of being held to account.

The SNP’s Growth Commission Report, which sets out to create an overarching national economic strategy for independence spelling out what the nuts and bolts of an independent Scotland’s economic environment would look like, was released last year. It made recommendations on what currency an independent Scotland would use, who would be the lender of last resort, how long it would take to pay off Scotland’s share of UK’s national debt and so on.

The leadership of the SNP who commissioned the report obviously see this as the best economic case for independence that can be made and are hoping that its findings will be endorsed as party policy at SNP Conference. One would then assume, if indyref2 was called, that the Commission’s recommendations would form the economic case for independence and be included in a referendum white paper. The crucial question here is would the Growth Commission’s economic case for independence stand up to rigorous scrutiny over say a three year period from the first vote to the deal being sealed?

So far the portents of this happening do not look promising, as the economic case for independence contained in the Growth Commission was three years in the making and it took one man who isn’t even an economist three days to dismantle it. His forensic critique, which has been endorsed by a slew of economists, concluded that economic data cited by the Commission could not support the conclusions for economic growth made. The refusal of the author to defend the Commission’s findings in light of this criticism would suggest that these major flaws have more than an element of truth about them.

The most important consequence of all of a confirmatory vote on the next independence referendum is this: it will no longer be possible to make economic promises to the electorate in a white paper without first making damn sure that all those promises are properly costed and can be delivered. 

As far as the electorate is concerned, what’s not to like about a confirmatory vote? It provides them with the vital insurance policy of another democratic opportunity that can be triggered which allows them to potentially change their decision if they feel that major promises made before the first vote fall well short of what has been delivered.

My hunch is that political journalists, and indeed the Scottish body politic, have not yet joined the dots with regards to how potentially game-changing the campaign for a confirmatory Brexit vote would be on any future Indy ref 2. If they had already made these links we would be hearing unionist politicians in Holyrood seizing the opportunity to put the nationalists on the back foot when they next demanded an indyref2 with the question “Would that referendum include a confirmatory vote as set out as best practice by the Report of the Independent Commission on Referendums?” If the answer was anything other than yes the guffaws of laughter and cries of hypocrisy from the opposition benches would not only echo around the chamber but would expose the duplicitous nature of the current SNP position of being four-square behind a confirmatory vote for Brexit but denying the Scottish electorate one for any future indyref.

The Brexit fiasco has galvanised the electorate like the Scottish referendum did in terms of heightening political engagement. But there is a major difference between their current Brexit journey and their 2014 indyref one. We voted no to Scottish independence in 2014, and yes to leaving the EU in 2016. Two completely different electoral journeys. The journey of the Scottish electorate ended abruptly at the ballot box on September 18th 2014, meaning that they did not live through the ensuing chaos which would inevitably have followed as Westminster and Holyrood locked horns trying to agree a settlement.

It is this crucial part of the referendum journey which they didn’t go on in 2014 which they are now experiencing for the very first time which changes the ground rules of the next referendum completely. When nationalist politicians demand a second referendum, what they are really asking for is a replica of  2014 – a one vote package on an untested prospectus. But it could well be that the electorate have learned the lessons of the Brexit experience whereas the constant drone of politicians demanding a second independence referendum have not. The idea of asking the Scottish electorate to participate in a rerun of the same one-vote referendum as in 2014 should be unthinkable.

If, or perhaps when, the above debate eventually takes off in Scotland with regards to the consequences of a confirmatory vote on indyref2, the cries for a second independence referendum might not be so shrill or incessant as they are now. A people empowered to reverse their choice if they discover they have been misled is a basic part of our everyday democracy. Making it part of any future referendum on Scottish independence is the only right and decent thing to do.

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34 thoughts on “We must empower the people in any future independence referendum

  1. Robert if there was an IndyRef2 and a yes vote was in favour of independence are you saying the Westminster Government says there has to be a confirmation vote? What happens if there is a no vote in favour of Independence does there also have to be a confirmation vote?

      1. Even when it becomes clear what the “status quo” promised was a pack of lies, Scotland’s best interests are being harmed by it and the people get “restive” about it …. as has occurred with Brexit?

      2. Robert although you say the status quo has been supported some folks who voted No to IndyRef2 might have changed their minds and can have the opportunity to vote again in a confirmation vote. I think that would be much fairer and democratic.

      3. Seriously, why should the “status quo” be given a free pass? Confirmatory votes for referendums are your invention for this article. But they are only enacted if the first vote goes against YOUR preference. If YOU like the first result, they are not to be used. Where is the logic? It just comes across as another attempt to thwart Scots gaining control of their own destiny and putting everything in the gift of a Govt of (overwhelmingly) another country who have little or no interest in Scotland’s best interests. The folly of which has been exemplified by the current situation we find ourselves in concerning Brexit.

        PS As far as I’m concerned, IndyRef2 would already be a “confirmatory referendum”, giving those duped by the false promises of the Better Together” campaign in 2014 a chance to reconsider in light of subsequent circumstances.

        1. You’re mistaken. Robert didn’t invent the idea of a confirmatory referendum, nor did he invent the idea that it should apply when the result of a referendum requires a course of action to be implemented which has not previously been fully defined. Those ideas actually come from the constitutional experts of the Independent Commission on Referendums.

          1. Captain Pedantic strikes again.

            “Confirmatory Referendums” do not exist at the moment. Anyone who uses their own take on them as the basis of their argument, putting their own rules and restrictions on them, is effectively “inventing” that particular version.

            But well done for avoiding the main points of the debate.

          2. If calling a direct refutation of your point “pedantry” helps you get through the day then I guess that’s up to you.

  2. Good point Ted haha
    Robert why is there a not allowed in the middle of your report .
    I want another EU vote I voted remain I would have accepted the result if it had not so quickly become apparent that there are potentially very serious problems ahead for the country that were not considered at the time of the vote .
    I also accept we need to take into account the views of the 17 million people who voted leave they are feeling disenfranchised Westminster is in disarray The Speaker tonight had to use his casting vote .
    I don’t have much confidence in the PM Jeremy meeting I fear a stich up that whichever way you look at it means we leave the EU .
    I don’t have any confidence in the PM FM talks either .
    The peoples vote organizers have been so incompetent they could not organize a shambles .
    The petition was turned down on Monday not a cheep of Protest .
    We need to look at what we are going to do about online intimidation and worse
    A confirmatory vote if an Indy ref is won
    First we have to have one If its won or lost for me in this case that’s it there was no mention of that last time .
    The difference is this time there would be no vote for us and you stay in the EU or the vow .
    I don’t agree with the we were lied to on the EU it was made in good faith no one could have seen that PM Cameron would in an attempt to see of UKIP give them what they wanted a referendum .
    Although currency the economy stupid savings mortgages the public who are not stupid will have to be assured on that then there is no matter what is said the public might just not want to do it never underestimate that .Scotland in the EU we say vote yes and Scotland will negotiate to join whichever is best for us .No confirmation ref same if its yes to Indy.

    1. Hi David

      Looks like the video embedding system for the UK Parliament site is currently out of action, that’s why you’re seeing “Not allowed” where the video should appear. I’ve added a direct link to the site underneath.

      1. Thanks Duncan will watch it house of Lords maybe sitting all night to debate cooper amendment .What a way to run things a bunch of unelected Lords deciding on something that will affect all our lives .As a party member I have deep fears over the Jeremy PM talks .And in Central Ayrshire a questionnaire is out by post .
        From Ruth Davidsons Scottish Conservatives inviting us to vote for them at the next General Election .
        So perhaps someone in Scottish Tory land knows something the PM has not told us yet .
        Best thing that happened was the Leaking Commons Roof that sent them all home for an early bath when the sittong was suspended haha

    2. David l think you are bang on the money about Scotland and the EU you’re post makes a lot of sense. I envisage a IndyRef2 this summer with a Yes vote for an lndependent Scotland in the EU winning against a No vote to remain in the Brexit UK.

      1. Thankyou for your comment Ted .
        The unelected house of Lords rather than sit up all night debating the Cooper motion .Will continue on Monday.
        After filibustering led by Lord Michael Forsyth remember him he did not want devolution in the first place .
        Those people who we have no influence over as they are unelected are deciding something that will affect every single man woman and child in this country .
        The PM Jeremy talk show appears to have broken down hope it stays that way .I want another vote .
        At Thursdays FMQS When Richard was asking about Brexit he was speaking about medical supplies which affects me .
        Nicola to be fair replied in kind .
        While Richard was speaking Nicola spotted the Tories laughing .
        When Nicola chastised them the Labour back benches joined in the applause supporting the FM .
        So something happened.

    1. You could have read the original story in the Sunday Times yesterday.

      I’m not at all sure what you mean by Labour Hame being a “JC free zone”. JC hasn’t submitted an article in a while. I think he’s busy.

      1. “You could have read the original story in the Sunday Times yesterday.”
        I could have done lots of things yesterday Duncan, but reading The Sunday Times? I didnt even cross my mind. You should be playing outside more.

        Lets try and keep this on the subject, which is, Jeremy/general elections and their proximity in time/odds on winning said GE.

        Your reply to me also says “I’m not at all sure what you mean by Labour being a “JC free zone”.”
        I never said “Labour being a “JC free zone”.” I said ” why is Labourhame a JC free zone?.”
        Was that a deliberate misquote? Surely not. I have more faith in you Duncan, I dont believe you would ever try to deflect the argument away from the issue. I can only assume therefore that you misread me
        And so I will ask again, why, when it looks possible, likely even, that we could have a Labour government and JC as PM within the next few months, why is it, no one on Labourhame, or for that matter, in the branch office, want to talk about it?

      2. Duncan, You have edited this comment. You have changed “Labour” to “Labourhame.” I have sent a reply to your original comment that now does not make sense. Now everyone will be confused.

        1. I edited it shortly after posting it when I noticed my typo. I think everyone can follow your point.

  3. BBC red button last night not there today according to sources the men in Tory grey suits paid the PM a visit in no 10 before she left for the EU .
    Told her to resign immediately .PM stared them out in silence .
    Is that the same sources that said on Sunday Jeremy would be on the plane with the PM today .
    There you go.
    Richard not a Jeremy free zone anymore haha

  4. In November I got what the DWP call a letter I call it a 24 page book telling me my PIP was under review .
    We don’t have CAB in North Ayrshire .anymore but North Ayrshire Council Money Matters Team .
    Gave me help and advice they were there for me all the way .
    I will keep my PIP and as I was unknown to me being underpaid the DWP have paid me arrears .
    Labour controlled North Ayrshire Council doing the day job helping people

  5. So we are in the EU until October 31st unless our PM can get her deal through .
    I watched a documentary last night .Wednesday An English fruit grower who relies entirely on EU labour to get in the Fruit and who knew leaving the EU would ruin his business still voted leave asked why he was voting for England .
    The care home industry a lot of staff are from EU countries they were reporting already experiencing trouble recruiting staff and some clients were saying they only wanted British Staff .
    British people the programme asked were not interested in working for either the money or the hrs on offer and did not want to work in those jobs anyway .
    The programme visited Ukraine and filmed hundreds of young people attending classes and undergoing training to come to the UK post Brexit .
    On Sunday Kezia Dugdale said on film during Sunday Politics she has had 3 death threats over the years Nicola said she ignores it .
    A man has been in court for using a false email address to send threats to 7 MPS including Nikki Morgan Conservative and Yvette Cooper Labour .they were Brexit related death threats .
    I have been speaking again to people on the bus and in a shop what do you think .All said PM not a quitter but absolutely fed up I keep getting told Brexit never off the telly .
    Indy 2 first Nicola has to ask for one and I see no sign she intends to do so .Although I think I heard a tv report she will say something next week .
    But she will I think have to say something at the conference Ian Blackford has been saying at PMQS Scotland will not be dragged out of Europe against our will maybe he has some info we don’t .
    The big event if no Indy announcement will be the Growth Commission debate .
    That’s when it will have to become a real political conference not a rally
    And members will find out how hard it is to defeat the platform .
    And they will know there is apathy right now to voting and suddenly the English local elections come into play and European elections I hope I am wrong but we might see low turn out and right wing gains

  6. Been reading todays Saturday April 13th National .
    There is a piece promoting the next AOUB march in Glasgow in which one of the organizers states Every day we hear the naysaying media lapdogs and homegrown turncoat politicians of the British state regurgitate the same lies after lies after lies later stand up for Scotland against our anti democratic enemies and prove these decrepit fiends wrong
    Really is that acceptable from people who should know better
    When because of Brexit Heidi Allen Nikki Morgan and Yvette Cooper have all had Brexit related death threats and MPS and MSPS have all been given security breifings
    You do your cause no good when you use language like that .Nor does anyone using language like that arguing against Independance

  7. It looks as if we are taking part in the European elections
    2 things whatever you do vote and I am asking you to vote for a real left wing party Labour

      1. Thank you for your reply Bungo but Labour have now moved to the real left under Corbyn

  8. Folks I have decided to form the next Government no need for an election .
    My self as PM
    Bungo health secretary you said in previous comments you have NHS experience
    Ted trade union and workers rights you I think used to be a miner
    Jim O Neil Education and keep Brexit off the telly secretary
    Duncan Press officer as all cabinet and other discussions will be via Labour Hame
    All other Bloggers and commenters cabinet ministers with nothing better to do .
    No chancellor needed as we have no money not our fault
    I expect the Queen to phone or text anytime.

  9. Spotted this in Saturdays Times Westminsters human rights committee might ask Cressida Dick Met Commissioner about ways of dealing with the online abuse MPS are receiving .
    They are also asking MPS whether fears for their personal safety have led to them changing their vote in the commons

  10. And this same paper
    Boris the Independent Press Standards Organization have reprimanded him for falsely claiming the public backs a no deal Brexit .
    He wrote a column for the Daily Telegraph claiming that polls showed by some margin that leaving the European union without a deal was now preferred by the British public
    They have ruled that his claim was a significant inaccuracy and misrepresented polling information
    The Telegraph said the piece was clearly comically polemical which could not be reasonably read as a serious empirical in depth analysis of hard factual matters .
    Well they have to print a correction making clear that no poll clearly showed that a no deal Brexit
    was no more popular than the other options .
    Boris receives 275 thousand a year for writing this column in the Telegraph

  11. Watching CH4 news Notre Damn up in flames they say 30thousand visit every day .
    I just hope everyone is okay.

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