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.