In Scotland’s National Interest

Lord McConnell

Five years ago, Scotland’s unemployment was below the rest of the UK, and our Annual GDP growth rate had climbed above that of the United Kingdom.  In the past year, however, those positions have been reversed with unemployment higher and growth lower than the rest of the UK.

Uncertainty and disagreement over the timing of an independence referendum can only delay our recovery from this economic slide.  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 from the referendum that is accepted by everyone as the fair result of a fair campaign.

It is time to resolve this question and to do so decisively.  Both governments must 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.

An indecisive result will yield a profoundly negative impact, especially with regard to investment in Scotland.  As a result, a Section 30 Order should be used to delegate authority for the referendum to be binding, with legislation for a referendum then passed by the Scottish Parliament.

As part of this process, 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 should be determined in the light of national interest, not to suit one side of the argument or the other.  It should also be designed to maximize turnout.  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 on a date to be agreed by both governments.  In addition, this is not the moment to experiment with the franchise.

For the outcome to be accepted by everyone on this highly contentious issue, and for any decision to be accepted as final, 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 a vested interest.  Leaders in both the UK and Scottish Parliaments should commit in advance to accepting the advice of the Electoral Commission and legislating as required to implement that advice.

I propose a new wording on the question to be asked that should be acceptable to all sides, but also would give Scots a fair and decisive choice.  It is a compromise between the stated preferences of the pro-independence and pro-UK parties but it is also a stronger question.

The ballot paper should ask voters to make a choice 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.

These are difficult economic times for our country.  All who are in Government at any level must strive to make decisions on our future that give us the best possible opportunity to increase growth and create more jobs.

24 comments for “In Scotland’s National Interest

  1. Edward Brunsdon
    15/03/2012 at 4:55 pm

    It’s got to be a worry that for the next two and half years, we don’t know for sure whether Scotland will remain in the Union or not. How on earth are businesses expected to create jobs or invest in Scotland in this environment?
    The referendum should either be as soon as possible, or not til after the next set of Scottish elections in 2016.

  2. maude elwes
    15/03/2012 at 5:33 pm

    My understanding is, the Scots have already made up their minds. And what they want is to be free of a parliament who has no connection to them on any level.

    Scots I know, who live in England as well as Scotland, cannot wait to vote for independence. This last Labour government and now the Conservatives have allienated them to such an extent it is impossible for them to want anything other than rid of it all for good.

    The clear vote either way is the best solution. Then there is no playing with the outcome.

    • Matt Taylor
      19/03/2012 at 5:05 pm

      Scots in England can’t vote at all.

      They’ll be made foreign in their own country.

      When I moved south I moved to the south of my own country. I didn’t move to Dubai or somewhere foreign, where I would accept constitutional limits on my involvement in politics.

      Under this nativist, ethnocentric and meaningless historical resentment-fuelled “independence” campaign I will have to cross a border to go from the part of my country I work in to the part of the country I was born in.

      The Outer Isles, Cornwall, Yorkshire, Lancashire, the Isle of Man and Kent all have equally strong ‘arguments for independence’ based on the “once upon a time, our capital was somewhere else” basis of what ‘foreign control’ is.

      I personally prefer living in a country that has more citizens than McDonalds has employees.

      • maude elwes
        21/03/2012 at 4:56 pm

        Scots who live in England but have homes in Scotalnd or are registered there can and do vote.

        Not all north of the border are penniless.

  3. John Campbell
    15/03/2012 at 5:56 pm

    I genuinely cannot understand what is wrong with the question. It’s so obvious to anyone. You either want Scotland to be independent or not. I think that is very simple.

    The question presented here allows those unwilling to be seen campaigning for a negative vote against their country’s independence to campaign on a union vote rather than a no vote.

    I think the SNP have nailed this by claiming independence to, at least on short term, to be about political independence rather than a break up of a Kingdom. It’s actually factual that the Kingdom will still exist due to the union of the crowns. Any question talking about leaving a Kingdom would have to spell that out. This would be too long winded and would confuse.

    The simple question is very clear and leads people to an answer. Your either Yes or No. Most will know before ballot anyway.

    • Matt Taylor
      19/03/2012 at 5:14 pm

      The problem lies in the fact that independence is a postively loaded word. You’ve hit upon it yourself with the line about “negative vote against their country’s independence.” Some Scots, myself included, regard their country as the United Kingdom and resent being told that I love Scotland less or want worse for Scotland due to this. Independence for Scotland for some would be seperation of Scotland for me.

      Alex Salmond’s attempts to muddy the issue by trying to say there will be still a United Kingdom in the sense of a union of crowns but not a unitary state is a pretty brazen attempt to confuse the crucial constitutional issues this referendum will modify.

      • 20/03/2012 at 12:04 pm

        “…and resent being told that I love Scotland less or want worse for Scotland…”

        I doubt that anybody has actually suggested that you “love Scotland less”, but these British nationalists do relish a bit of hyperbole and their imagined sense of persecution.

        As to wanting “worse for Scotland”, that you can hardly deny. You want to keep Scotland bound to a British state which is hell-bent on an ideologically-driven course that is economically destructive and socially corrosive. The fact that you want for Scotland what the British state is offering means that, by definition, you want something very different from and massively less than that to which the people of Scotland aspire.

  4. 15/03/2012 at 10:13 pm

    I agree with you fully on all your points. The question should be clear, and the referendum held on a sensible timescale.

    While I agree that the referendum could be binding, that means it has to be binding in the event of a vote for option 2. There needs to be minimum time for which future referendums would be barred: at least a generation. If the SNP can just call another vote in 5 years’ time, then another, until they get the answer they want, that will bring no more certainty or stability. After all, in the event of a vote for option 1, there would be no going back, so it is only fair if that works both ways.

    • Chris K
      16/03/2012 at 7:43 pm

      Quite. Like the French, Dutch and Irish referendums on the EU constitution. If you vote the ‘wrong’ way we’ll either inflict it on you regardless, or else keep asking until we get the answer we want.

      Ah, democracy.

      • 19/03/2012 at 10:17 am

        So what is your idea of democracy? That there should only ever be one poll? That whatever is decided by one generation should be binding on all future generations?

        • 20/03/2012 at 2:16 pm

          @Peter A Bell: I certainly don’t think “whatever is decided by one generation should be binding on all future generations”, but that’s exactly what would happen were Scotland to become independent following a single referendum.

          I already gave one answer to your question: let’s say no second poll for 30 or 50 years following a “no” vote. The next generation would still have a say. Still not quite equal, as a “yes” vote would still mean no further polls ever, but slightly more balanced than following the EU constitution vote model.

          Another more novel solution would be a series of votes, every five years, with a change in the status quo ONLY if people vote “yes” in four or five successive polls. That would ensure people decisively want independence, rather than it being on a whim thanks to Salmond’s manipulation of the polling date and soundbites leading up to the poll. After all, opinion polls regularly and consistently show that people in Scotland overwhelmingly reject independence, so I could only consider a yes vote in a single referendum to be a fix and a fiddle.

          • 20/03/2012 at 3:04 pm

            “…but that’s exactly what would happen were Scotland to become independent following a single referendum.”

            More nonsense. In an independent Scotland there would be nothing whatever to prevent British nationalists starting a political movement to reinstate or recreate the union. You’d have to come up with some actual arguments in favour of such a union, of course. Something which is currently proving too much of a challenge.

            The lessons of the past suggest that campaigning to turn back the tide of history in this way would be an endeavour doomed to humiliating failure.

          • 22/03/2012 at 9:49 am

            Two scenarios:

            51% of Scots vote “yes”. All the expense, upheaval of creating a new nation state. Who in their right mind would believe that 5 years later there could be a vote for Scotland to return to the UK and reverse all the changes? If it ever happened, it wouldn’t be for a generation.

            40% of Scots vote “yes”. Scotland remains in the UK, but 5 years later Salmond calls a new vote. And another. Until he gets the answer he wants. How is that democratic?

  5. 15/03/2012 at 10:22 pm

    I really wish these British nationalists would stop talking Scotland down. There is absolutely no hard evidence to support the claim that the timetable for the referendum is having any negative impact whatever on the economy. But the anti-independence campaign may be having some success with there efforts to persuade businesses that there is some kind of “uncertainty” such that might deter investment.

    This is nothing short of economic vandalism. And the likes of McConnell are no friends of Scotland and its people.

    And supposing there is some uncertainty, so what? Business people justify their often very substantial rewards by referring to the risks that they take. Without uncertainty there is no risk.

    And what is a manger for if not to manage risk?

  6. MilesJSD
    16/03/2012 at 3:41 am

    You need
    that is, both England and Scotland
    and affected-other-parties, need

    not a hasty last-minute “cut-it-down-to-size-compromise”

    but a “Win-Win-Win” resolution;

    and every level and type of affected individual or person needs to be included in that “Win-Win-Win” outcome,

    not just the Powers-That-Be
    (who are already obsoletely unfit-for-purpose and obscenely, sabotagingly, overpaid).

    • Lord Blagger
      16/03/2012 at 2:43 pm

      Shouldn’t the English be asked if they want Scotland in the Union?

  7. Gareth Howell
    16/03/2012 at 11:08 am

    The ballot paper should ask voters to make a choice 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.

    Of course Scotland is going to start its own armed forces, or will it be the Royal Scottish Navy?

    I do believe we are seeing a vast shift of ScotNat from far LEFT of centre to well to the RIGHT of Centre, in the political spectrum.

    What Lord McConnell does not say is that the unwritten word is that the Queen of England will also be Queen of Scotland as she is now.

    How can former left wingers suddenly become
    arch monarchists in one fell swoop????

    Easy eh!!

    LAUGHABLE!

    Under those circumstances of course there might be possibilities for the English nationalists to be a left wing party
    BUT DISOWN THE MONARCHY, knowing that the monarch is queen of Scotland!

    As we say in Welsh “Ciwt Eh!”

    That in its turn would open the possibility, in extremis, of reorganization into Regional government, with abolition of the Ancient counties, in England.

  8. 22/03/2012 at 10:07 am

    The contributions from Jonathan show the British nationalist mindset at work. According to him it is “undemocratic” for the democratic process to run its course. But it is entirely democratic for the democratic process to be stopped and locked down at whatever point best suits the British state.

    Yet another reason to get out of this appalling union.

  9. 22/03/2012 at 9:55 pm

    I am perfectly honest about my “idealogical” [sic] reasons for wanting independence. I want independence because I am convinced that the union is bad for my country and its people. I want independence because I hold to the view that good government is that which is no more distant from the people than is consistent with effective performance of its function.

    And I want independence because I aspire to creating for my children and grandchildren the kind of progressive social democratic nation that the British state can never be.

    If you consider the term “British nationalist” to be an insult then that is your problem. There is certainly nothing intrinsically insulting about it. It is nothing more than shorthand for the ideology that puts the British state and the preservation of the union before all other considerations – including the best interests of the people of those nations that are part of the union.

    As to the “racism” comment, you need to learn the significance of capitalisation, or its absence.

    I’m so glad you’re happy for the Scottish Parliament to organise the referendum as it sees fit. That’s a great weight off my mind, as you can imagine. I was really worried that the mandate provided by the people of Scotland wouldn’t suffice.

    There is no “delay” in holding the referendum. The timetable is proceeding exactly as set out by the Scottish government. The body which has the mandate to do precisely that. There is no logical reason to rush into it. And there is neither rule nor precedent that overrules the judgement of the Scottish government. Which, lest you have forgotten again, has a democratic electoral mandate to decide such things.

    Supposing we suspend our intellectual faculties for a moment and imagine you are right about the outcome of the referendum being a function of the year in which it is held, how come it is “democratic” to have it in a year which “guarantees” a “no” vote but “undemocratic” to have it in a year when a “yes” vote is “guaranteed”?

    You use the word “logic” but evidently haven’t a clue what it entails. Logic dictates that if a + b = x and a + n = x then b and n are the same. Therefore, either the referendum is equally democratic regardless of when it is held, or equally undemocratic – which is effectively the same as being democratic.

    That you are apparently incapable of associating democracy with anything other than your personally preferred outcome suggests (to put it mildly) that you have no more grasp of the concept of democracy than you have of logic.

    • 27/03/2012 at 12:38 pm

      I knew it: no answer as to why the referendum needs to be in autumn 2014, just circular arguments about mandate.

      I think many people reading your comments will agree that your final paragraph applies to yourself perfectly.

      • 27/03/2012 at 1:56 pm

        I see you’re still not getting to grips with the concept of a democratic mandate. Which is rather sad.

        Let me see if I can simplify this even more for your benefit. The Scottish government has the absolute authority to set the date for the independence referendum, subject only to the approval of the Scottish parliament. Even the anti-independence parties have admitted this. You are a bit behind the curve with your continued whining on this matter.

        The upshot of all this is that, should someone such as yourself want to insist upon a date other than that which has been proposed by the Scottish government then the onus is on them to make an argument as to why their preference should supersede that of those who have been authorised by the people of Scotland to make such decisions.

        I should make it clear that whining alone does not constitute an argument. You’re going to have to raise your game if you want to be taken seriously.

        Alternatively, you could follow the example of the likes of Ruth Davidson and just accept that British nationalists have no power to alter the schedule of the referendum campaign to suit their own purposes.

        • 28/03/2012 at 12:22 pm

          Peter, I’m not going to hang around on this page indefinitely when you just keep repeating the same arguments and insults.

          The regular readers of this blog tend to be intelligent people, and I am sure they will draw their own conclusions after reading our exchanges.

          • 28/03/2012 at 2:37 pm

            So! Still no reasoned argument as to why the referendum timetable should be altered to suit the anti-independence campaign. Not that I was expecting any.

            What we have seen here is someone dutifully parroting some gobbet of British nationalist propaganda without the slightest understanding of the issues. Illustrating yet again the vacuousness of their efforts to obstruct Scotland’s progress.

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