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Willie Renne Times article

January 30, 2012 6:09 PM
Originally published by Scottish Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrats are not opposed to referenda but all of the international evidence on their administration points to the fact that, if the question to be asked is not clear and unambiguous, then the debate that precedes the vote is more likely to become confused with a direct effect on the outcome.

The SNP Government's consultation on a referendum, published in February 2010, set out proposals for a multi-option referendum positing questions on extensions to the status quo and on independence. There are precedents for holding a multi-option referendum but I would submit that the question of independence is of a completely different order of magnitude to questions on variants of devolution and as such should be kept apart.

The SNP would claim that DevoMax is part of a continuum towards Independence rather than a separate proposition but as DevoMax is within the United Kingdom and independence clearly not the propositions are fundamentally different and should be treated as such.
These issues gain a greater degree of significance when examining the structure of the questions the SNP propose and the potential nonsense of the results is exposed.

For example, if DevoMax was to win by a landslide with 99% it would lose to independence if it secured just 51% in its separate question. The SNP claim it's because the second question on independence is an extension of the first on DevoMax so would be an expression of a desire to go further than DevoMax. Yet that is not the clear question on the ballot paper which is whether to support independence or not. I would suggest it is not credible or democratic for the most popular option to lose.

The SNPs argument that the structure of the questions is like the 1997 referendum could pose a threat to their independence ambitions as a failure of the public to endorse DevoMax could result in Independence being rejected even if it secures a majority.

This is because the SNP believe DevoMax as the first part of the journey towards independence but if the voters don't travel the first part of the journey they can't travel the second part, independence, even if they wanted to. In 1997 if the voters had supported more financial powers in the second question they would not be introduced if they rejected the proposition in the first question to create the Scottish Parliament. You can't have more powers for a Parliament that doesn't exist. The same applies now.

These two examples give us an inkling of the confusion that would descend on the referendum campaign if there were to be two questions. The Liberal Democrats believe it should be a one straightforward question on the fundamental issue of Independence for which the SNP have a clear mandate.

Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for Home Rule from Gladstone through Grimond and have a strong track record of delivery, helping to create the Scottish Parliament and are delivering significant financial powers now through the Scotland Bill. We want to go further so that Scotland can raise, in broad terms, what it spends so that we can determine our own destiny on the domestic agenda whilst sharing risk and opportunity with the rest of the UK family.

We aim to deliver this as we've done before through making the case, developing the consensus with others and implementing the subsequent plans. Submitting our professional plans on Home Rule to a second class question in a referendum on independence is something we will not do.