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Willie Rennie Speech to Scottish Parliament 12th January 2012

January 12, 2012 9:58 AM
Originally published by Scottish Liberal Democrats

I was struck by the wording of the Government's amendment.

They say that what "ultimately matters is we achieve a parliament…with the powers of independence …"

Surely what matters most is that the people of Scotland get a referendum that is "fair, legal and decisive"?

The mandate is for a referendum not independence.

So for the Government to set out that the most important thing is to achieve Independence, implies that every other consideration is secondary.

That's what we are worried about.

What will the Scottish Government put second so they can put Independence first?

And that's why concerns about the legal process are right to be raised.
And it is right for the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Scottish MP - and the Scot - Michael Moore to set out how the UK Government can help.

It is a problem that the SNP have known about since Donald Dewar told them in the early days of this Parliament about ultra vires; and it's something they have disregarded for too long.

It's important because, only a decade ago the 'hanging chads' of Florida dominated the outcome of the presidential election of 2000 between Al Gore and George Bush.

Thousands of lawyers flew to Florida, argued for 36 days and launched 47 law suits before a winner of the election could be declared.

The SNP complain about one supreme court. The Bush-Gore contest needed two.

The United States was paralysed.

We have been fortunate in the United Kingdom that legal challenges to elections have not dominated the political process.

But that could all change.

The problem we face is that it's not the specific type of referendum - advisory or binding - that matters; it's the substance of the question being posed that counts.

Constitutional matters are reserved to Westminster even though the mandate on the referendum is here.

And I need to be absolutely clear, the legal challenge would not need to be made by the UK Government, it could come from anyone.

That's why it is so important for the two governments and parliaments to work together to sort it.

My concern is that the result of the referendum would be determined by the courts, not the people, and would plunge Scotland into a pit of humiliation just like that suffered by the United States.

The referendum needs to be fair and decisive so that the settled will of the Scottish people can be expressed through the ballot box.
That means one question on the ballot paper.

I showed in the autumn that a two-question referendum, using the system proposed by the Scottish Government, would treat an option for more powers for Scotland - such as Devo Max - as a second class question.

Even if Devo Max were to win with a landslide on 99% it would still be trumped by Independence with only 51% support.

No constitutional expert has come forward to defend this formulation yet the SNP remain wedded to it.

Liberal Democrats have strongly advocated Home Rule for Scotland stretching back more than a century, from Gladstone through Grimond.
Unlike the SNP, my party has worked constructively with others on the constitutional convention, the Claim of Right and the Yes campaign in 97 to deliver our Parliament.

We are now working to deliver additional financial powers through the Scotland Bill.

We, of course, want to go further to deliver a Home Rule.
That would mean, in broad terms, Scotland raises what it spends and can determine its own destiny on the domestic agenda whilst sharing risk and opportunity within the United Kingdom family.

And we will deliver Home Rule by working constructively with others to develop a consensus in a constructive and orderly manner.
Slapping Devo Max in a referendum without any worked out plan is reckless and we will have no part of it.

I am puzzled as to why the SNP reject the independent, expert organisation with an international track record in elections.
The Electoral Commission was established with the support of SNP Members of Parliament, including, I presume, the First Minister.

To imply that the Commission is somehow politically biased is somewhat disrespectful to the commissioners and their staff - not least George Reid from the SNP.