Brian Monteith: Why indyref 2 bill is just not fair

The SNP's proposed bill is not as fair as the EU referendum, argues Brian Monteith.
The SNP's proposed bill is not as fair as the EU referendum, argues Brian Monteith.
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So here we go again. Another Bill proposing another referendum.

All the polling confirms that the Scottish electorate does not want another referendum and in the real poll of the Holyrood elections held as recently as May a majority voted for parties that did not want a referendum. There is no mandate to hold a referendum. Period.

Nor was the SNP explicit in saying it would have another referendum, but talked woollily about having “the right” to hold one if circumstances significantly changed. Nicola Sturgeon says such change has now happened because the UK voted as a whole to leave the European Union when Scotland voted for the UK to stay in. Yet it was the same Nicola Sturgeon who in 2014 was quite prepared to drag Scotland out of the EU to take us out of the UK.

Now she wants to drag us out of the UK to take us into the EU. An alien landing in Scotland would have difficulty making sense of her argument; it is certainly not logical.

Nevertheless, the SNP leadership will continue to sacrifice Scotland’s economic confidence on the altar of independence, no matter what economic damage, further unemployment and lost investment it causes. Setting up a further grievance with the UK government – which might deny or delay the referendum – is the goal. And, if the moment seems propitious and the First Minister feels she might just win, she can always press the nuclear button and hope for the best.

Havoc will then be wreaked upon us all and there’s no telling who will be the casualty of the political fallout. How ironic this brinkmanship of mutually assured democratic destruction (MADD) should come from an avowed supporter of CND.

We are where we are; with a Bill now out for consultation, proposing a second independence referendum if the Scottish Government thinks it necessary to protect our membership of one single market – by sacrificing our membership of a larger single market that is worth more than four times as much to us.

Rather than discuss the obvious demerits of the economic case for independence; the austerity max that it will require; the unknown but certainly more expensive terms of EU membership; I want to look at that Bill, for there has been a lazy acceptance by too many that in itself it is not controversial because it is proposing the referendum be held the same way the last was conducted.

David Cameron’s Edinburgh Agreement was a travesty of natural justice and conceded far too much ground to Alex Salmond. The SNP got the timing, the question, the franchise and the organisation of the referendum it wanted. Either Cameron was blind to the injustices he was turning into precedent or he was craftily trying to ensure the SNP had no grounds to complain. Whatever his thinking, or lack of it, we can see that after the result the SNP has simply ignored the Edinburgh Agreement by never accepting the result and working to deliver another referendum.

There are two particular faults with the Bill’s proposals in the sphere of the franchise and the question.

I have no strong views either way about 16 and 17 year-olds being allowed to vote. All I will point out is that while the SNP considers this group mature enough to vote it also believes it so immature, so unable to account for themselves, that they require state guardians to look after them. The SNP has made a calculation – that harvesting the more independence-leaning youth vote trumps any inconsistency in policy.

There is one group it has consistently sought to cut out of having a say and that is Scots who live and work in the rest of the UK, or indeed around the world, by limiting the referendum franchise to only those who are resident in Scotland.

Readers may recall I wrote about my twin sons some years back, explaining they were born and raised in Scotland, attending primary, secondary and university institutions in Edinburgh, St Andrews and Glasgow. They represented their country in sport and could not be more Scottish. One settled in Glasgow while the other was drawn by the nature of his qualifications to the City. Neither had left their country but the one that went to London was excluded from the first referendum for not residing in Scotland.

Next year he and his Scottish fiancée will be married in Scotland and it will not surprise me if he at some stage returns to Edinburgh to settle and raise a family – just as I did when I worked in the City. Yet he is judged to have no right to have a say in Scotland’s future, while EU nationals that are transient workers and have not sought citizenship will be given a vote – as residents.

The referendum is not limited to how Scotland is governed, for it is also about Scots being able to retain the whole of the UK as their country. Most Scots find no conflict and have no guilt about working in the rest of the UK – but the SNP fears that because of this, such people will vote to maintain the Union and must therefore be denied a vote.

It is easy to resolve this injustice by using the electoral register used for General Elections as it allows people who are not currently in Scotland a vote so long as they have been on that register in the last 15 years.

The second fault with the referendum proposals is the wording of the question. We have already seen with the EU referendum that the Electoral Commission was able to establish that having a “Yes” or “No” answer was advantageous to the side where the answer to the question was Yes. It was what the SNP wanted last time and they are playing for it again.

If the referendum is to be balanced then it must move to the question requiring the more explicit “Leave” or “Remain” answer, so that neither campaign is given a head start over the other. It’s not as if such a choice prevented people voting “leave” in the EU referendum.

These are the two most obvious aspects of the Bill that require changing and we need to make the case here, for as David Cameron showed we cannot rely on a UK prime minister.

Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland.org