The Scottish Government is currently consulting on its proposals for a referendum on Scottish Independence which it wants to hold in 2014. This is not the substantive debate about independence itself, but a debate about the character kit the referendum. It is important that the method chosen is recognised as fair and meets legal requirements and relevant human rights. Both the Scottish and the UK governments are consulting on this but whereas the Scottish govt’s is a well prsented thorough case, including draft legislation, the UK govt consultation is user unfriendly and hard to complete. A number of aspects of the Scottish Government’s proposals are designed to favour the case for independence, not least the proposed franchise. Here’s my response, for what it’s worth!!:
1 What are your views on the referendum question and the design of the ballot paper? (View ballot paper in ‘More Information’ below)
Comments:This is a clear question. However I believe it would be clearer if it stated: Do you believe that Scotland should leave the United Kingdom and become an independent country within the European Union?
That more complex question more accurately reflects the anticipated future status of Scotland.
2 What are your views on the proposed timetable and voting arrangements?
Comments: 2014 is the wrong year for the referendum. It is likely that the national hype around Bannockburn etc will colour the referendum. I would prefer that a referendum take place after the UK elections, giving UK parties an opportunity to put alternative models of constitutional settlement before the UK public as a whole. With reference to voting arrangements I am wholly opposed to proposed arrangements. In the most recent constitutional referendum (AV), those entitled to vote were: those registered to vote, who are 18 or over on 5 May 2011 and are:• a British citizen, or •a qualifying Commonwealth citizen*, or •a citizen of the Irish Republic. In my view the same rules should be applied, but with the important caveat that this referendum should be conducted as if Scotland were an independent country. In that case, Scots resident ‘abroad’ would be entitled to vote. The current ruling on this is ‘within the past 15 years’. I consider this a vital aspect of the legitimacy of the referendum since THESE SCOTS WILL BECOME CITIZENS OF THE INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND, NOT THE UNITED KINGDOM, AND SO HAVE A LEGAL RIGHT TO BE CONSULTED ON CHANGES TO THEIR CITIZENSHIP STATUS. It is likely that this will be contested in courts (including the ECHR) if it is not taken account of at this stage. No 16 or 17 year olds have been entitled to vote in any previous elections and so such a case is unlikely to be raised if they are unable to vote in the referendum. The proposed arrangements favour the party currently in power in Scotland. It is important that constitutional matters are taken away from individual political parties and subjected to longer term scrutiny.
3 What are your views on the inclusion of a second question in the referendum and the voting system that could be used?
Comments: I would be happy to see a second question but would prefer this to take place on a separate occasion. This could either be before the question in no.1 above, or after. If before, and if positive, this might obviate the need for a second referendum.
4 What are your views on the proposal to give the Electoral Management Board and its Convener responsibility for the operational management of the referendum?
Comments:I am in agreement with this. The Electoral Mgt Board should report to a committee of both the Scottish and UK parliaments who would have to agree on the operational management arrangements – any other arrangements might taint the result with the suspicion that either the UK or the Scottish govt has ‘fixed’ the arrangements.
5 What are your views on the proposed division of roles between the Electoral Management Board and the Electoral Commission?
Comments: This is acceptable.
6 What are your views on the idea that the referendum could be held on a Saturday or on other ways that would facilitate voting?
Comments: I would be comfortable if this were to be decided by the Electoral Commission.
7 What are your views on extending the franchise to those aged 16 and 17 years who are eligible to be registered on the electoral register?
Comments: If there are to be no other suggested changes to the franchise, such as those I suggested above, I cannot see why there should be one anomalous change, which is widely seen to have a party advantage for the party currently in power. However if there is to be a full scale independent review, perhaps conducted under the auspices of the Electoral Commission, into the franchise for this referendum – a review which would take on board points such as those I have made above – then this proposal should also be put to that review.
8 What are your views on the proposed spending limits?
Comments: Again, this should be decided by the Electoral Commission or some other independent body.
9 Do you have any other comments about the proposals in the draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill?
Comments:At the moment the proposals carry the suspicion that they have been designed by the current party in power in order to support that party’s position. ALL arrangements for the referendum should be organised and overseen, either the Electoral Commission or another body specially created for this purpose, and jointly answerable to the Scottish and UK parliaments. This is too important a long term issue to be left to any one political party, if it is too have long term democratic credibility.