25 March 2007

Referendum 2010?

Assuming that this blog does last until that long, I could well have a very large section on this: The Sunday Herald inform us that that's the date pencilled in for a referendum on Independence, most likely 6 May (That is a Thursday, isn't it?), if current practices are any indication.

But the question will not be a simple "Should Scotland become an independent nation?", oh no. It will be: "The Scottish parliament should negotiate a new settlement with the British government, based on the proposals set out in the white paper, so that Scotland becomes a sovereign and independent state." The answers will of course be, 'Yes, I agree' and 'No, I disagree'. There are rumblings among the Liberal Democrats that a referendum might be agreed to, if an extra option for seeking extra powers can be added. Alex Salmond's comments have left that option open, but I foresee workability issues there: either it needs to be an Alternative Vote referendum (with a first and second choice), or a two-question affair, with Question 1 being Further Powers, and Question 2 being whether or not that should go as far as Independence.

A simple FPTP referendum wouldn't do, unless one option got more than 50% of the vote. If that didn't happen (which it probably won't), then the legitimacy arguments will last a lifetime. Even an alternative vote one would be shaky: again, unless an option got 50% of #1 votes, Scotland ends up implementing something on the grounds that it was a lot of people's second choice, not what they actually wanted, but less unacceptable than another otpion. And the two-question option would be fairly clumsy, Question 1 is wide-ranging, and Question 2 suddenly narrows it to one option. And what happens if only one option gets through? It would makes matters more complicated rather than simpler.

Holyrood Watcher wonders why it's suddenly legal to ask this question when it wasn't before. Has the Executive's legal team changed its mind? I'm no lawyer, but I'd guess not: the key is in the wording. Previous draft referendum questions involved the Scottish Parliament asking a direct question on Independence, which is a constitutional issue and so prohibited under Schedule V of the Scotland Act 1998. This question is different: it's asking the people whether Holyrood should talk with Westminster about Independence. It doesn't even say who'd do the legislating, so it's actually quite vague, especially as we don't know exactly what's in the White Paper.

Of course, this is all predicated on the SNP leading an Executive after May. I might have to break my own rules and get the crystal ball out...

No comments: