It’s Democracy, Stupid

It’s a curious world we live in. Yesterday, unionists presented a panel of “election experts” to frame a single referendum question for consideration by the Electoral Commission. The launch of the panel came as Scotland Office Minister David “Nae Scottish Mates” Mundell said backing a second question would be an “upfront admission of defeat” for Mr Salmond.

Let’s leave aside that two of the three unionist parties’ policies (Labour & Lib-Dem) support strengthening devolution—and they’ve previously held these views for an honourable length of time. Obviously, the “Better Together” movement must be Tory-dominated. In their unionist extremism, they have opposed any power being devolved anywhere at any point in history; they at least get credit for consistency. Yet their panel of three to formulate is distinguished and qualified, even if some do have unionist ‘form’.

But whatever conclusion on formulation they come to, why have opposition parties swung lemming-like behind the single-question position? Could it be a tactical ploy, a confusing red herring? A choreographed wailing-and-gnashing-of-teeth portrayal of an independent Scotland frames a stark choice between the familiar warmth of Ma Britannia’s hearth and the unknown maelstrom of financial turmoil outside. Their formulation of a question may not be as blunt—but look for it in the subtext.

It is unusual for all three opposition parties to be obtuse at once, even for political short-term advantage. It’s not difficult to determine what sort of referendum the Scottish people prefer; it’s an almost eerie three-way split among three clear choices. This was underscored again this week by a TNS BMRB poll conducted for The Herald that posed both a two- and a three-option referendum and compared results.

In the two-option version, they were asked one question—basically a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to independence. Their formulation was, with results shown in Table 1 below:

  • I AGREE that the Scottish Government should negotiate a settlement with the Government of the United Kingdom so that Scotland becomes an independent state.
  • I DO NOT AGREE that the Scottish Government should negotiate a settlement with the Government of the United Kingdom so that Scotland becomes an independent state

Table 1—Two-Option Referendum Results. Source: TNS BMRB

Though the demographic variants are interesting, all groups roughly corresponded to the overall conclusion of 5 people disagreeing for every 3 people agreeing. Even died-in-the-wool independistas would have to admit this portends no rousing victory for their cause. But, note that the ‘undecideds’ sit around 20%—one in five don’t like either option.

However, TNS BMRB went on to survey the results if three options were available (adding what is generally referred to as “Devo-Plus”/”Devo-Max” to the two above), as outlined below, with results in Table 2:

  • Keep the current arrangement of a Scottish Parliament with its existing powers.
  • Transfer more powers from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament, including tax and welfare but excluding defence and foreign affairs
  • Full independence for Scotland

Table 2—Three-Option Referendum Results. Source: TNS BMRB

In this case, the number of ‘don’t knows’ halved, with nine in ten ready to choose an option. The largest proportion of respondents (37%) chose the one option unavailable in the single-question/yes-no/two option survey in Table 1 (more powers without full independence). The proportion supporting the status quo dropped by 3 in 5 to 20%, while those for full independence maintained second place at 27%—barely down from Table 1. Again the demographic variances are interesting but not decisive.

Unionists can bleat all they like about ‘straight choices’ and play their brinkmanship game. But when given several options, eight in ten of the Scottish people are dissatisfied with what they have, with four of them wanting all but external affairs transferred and a solid three of them resolute for full independence. That latter number will grow, the more those four-in-ten voters ‘in the middle’ feel democratically ignored and dissatisfied.

It is entirely up to the unionist ‘no’ campaign to pursue their arguments any way they see fit. But choosing to dismiss 37% of the voters when that option has been publicly part of their long-held policies and beliefs strikes me as carrying tactical political ‘advantage’ to the point of self-immolation. It seems unprincipled, undemocratic and, frankly, stupid.

Roll on 2014.

About davidsberry

Local ex-councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Retired in 2017.
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2 Responses to It’s Democracy, Stupid

  1. davidsberry says:

    The anti-independence parties have today (July 12th) been left red-faced after it emerged the independent Electoral Commission has thrown out their attempts to hijack the referendum process.

    Just a day after the anti-independence parties announced they were to draft a question for the independence referendum and submit it to the Electoral Commission for testing, the Commission has said it is not prepared to look at such a question – confirming that it is for the Scottish Government to make proposals.

    Commenting, SNP Campaigns Director Angus Robertson said:

    “This is an utter humiliation for the Tories and the rest of the anti-independence parties, whose ham-fisted attempts to hijack the referendum process have fallen flat at the first hurdle.

    “The Electoral Commission has made clear that it is for the Scottish Government to propose the question and the Scottish Parliament to approve it, which is exactly what is happening.”

  2. EdinburghEye says:

    There is no real democracy involved in devo-max or devo-plus, because we have no idea what we’d be voting for.

    Nor is it much use to say that when / if the “second question” is agreed to, that’s when we’ll find out.

    Just as in 1989, the proper recourse is not inner-room party discussions about what powers the SNP think they can get for the Scottish government from Westminster, but a cross-party constitutional convention also including representatives from trade unions, charities, and other community groups.

    The SNP have the democratic mandate to hold a referendum on independence in 2014. They can and they should do that.

    They have no democratic mandate to hold a referendum on “devo-max” or “devo-plus”, and they have no publicly-available plan for what that would mean.

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