16 November 2006

Ask me no questions...

When is it acceptable to hold a referendum?

1. When your Party is divided on an issue, and you feel it is the best way of settling an argument without causing a damaging split. (cf. Labour's Common Market referendum, 1975)

2. When you're going along with a promise which you're theoretically committed to, but aren't all that enthusiastic about, and you want to try and slow things sown or stop them from happening in the first place. (cf. Labour's Devolution referendum, 1979)

3. When it's in your manifesto, you correctly assume that it's a policy people want, but you don't want to turn it into an election issue. (cf. Labour's Devolution referendum, 1997)

4. When you want something even though the people probably don't, but you're taking pelters for not offering a referendum and you risk losing seats to the Tories and UKIP. (cf. Labour's proposed referendum on the EU Constitution, which has not aken place and is not likely to do so)

When is it not acceptable to hold a referendum?

When the subject is independence, and it's the supporters of independence who want a referendum.

1,300 people have signed a petition calling for a referendum on independence, but the Scottish Parliament's Public Petitions Committee have opted simply to acknowledge receipt of it and leave it alone.

Jackie Baillie (Lab, Dumbarton) argues that a smaller percentage of voters supported pro-independence parties in 2003 than in 1999. Well, the SNP vote did go down, but the SSP, Greens and some independents all found their votes go up. While the 1999 Parliament had a number of pro-independence MSPs in the mid-to-high 30s, the 2003 had (and still has) a number in the low-to-mid 40s. That is an increase, not a decrease.

Michael McMahon (Lab, Hamilton North & Bellshill), the Committee's Convener, points out that we already know the Executive's position on independence and a referendum, so there's little point in asking a question to which we know the answer. He has a point, but to paraphrase Canon Kenyon Wright, the Executive might say, "We say no, and we are the state," but the petitions signatories argue, "We say yes, and we are the people." McMahon also says that people will make their views known in the Election.

Well, what we know of people's views right now is that a plurality of people surveyed by YouGov support independence, while 51% of those asked by ICM support it as well. We also know that the SNP are doing rather well in the polls. We also know that the Labour, LibDems and Tories say, "We think that people don't want independence, but we oppose any attempts to ask them."

Here's a final question, and I want readers to consider the answer: if the SNP wanted to go straight to independence without a referendum, do you think that the Unionist parties still wouldn't want the question put to the people, or would they be asking what the SNP are afraid of, and why the don't think a referendum is necessary?

Answers, as they say, on a postcard.


Anonymous said...

Excellent summary on the vagaries Unionist uses of a plebiscite!

Mark McDonald said...

Will, the most obvious contradiction here is that the Executive, were it confident of winning an independence referendum, would hold it at the drop of a hat.

What they obviously fear, and what most of us know, is that many supporters of Labour, Lib Dem and Tories would support independence for Scotland.

I have been making it clear to the folk I speak to that only the SNP will give them the chance to have their say on independence.

Neil Craig said...

I think you are unfair about the reasons for the devolution referendum. Labour pushed for it here & even harder in Wales (where there is a suspioion of voting fraud). That involved a major constitutional change & it is proper that we should have some direct say.

Compare the 1300 signatures with the Scottish Covenant which got over 2 million signatures for home rule to see the extent to which political organsiations of all brands have been marginalised over the last 60 years.