Scottish independence referendum: Row over support for second question
A ROW erupted last night over claims that a civic Scotland campaign is pursuing the Scottish Government’s agenda by publishing a poll that appeared to back calls for a second question in the independence referendum.
The MORI poll, commissioned by the “Future of Scotland” campaign, showed that seven out of ten people in Scotland believe the referendum contest should also consider the question of a more powerful devolved parliament.
The survey was used by the group to demand that the forthcoming contest include consideration of a “devo-more” option, on top of the option of independence and the status quo.
The Future of Scotland campaign describes itself as an alliance of civil society organisations and includes such bodies as the STUC, the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO).
Pro-Union politicians have expressed fears that Alex Salmond would lean on the group in the hope that it would back a two-question ballot with a “devo-max” option as well as an independence question.
The First Minister has said he would prefer a single- question ballot, but would go for two questions if there was enough support for the latter from “civic” Scotland.
Salmond’s critics believe he is angling for a two-question ballot, because it would give the SNP a fall-back option if, as the polls suggest, the Scottish electorate says no to breaking up the UK.
The publication of the Future of Scotland poll on the eve of the launch of the pro-Union campaign “Better Together” was criticised by a leading figure in the SCVO.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, a board and policy committee member of the SCVO, suggested that the publication of the poll compromised SCVO’s neutral political position.
“It [the poll] certainly hadn’t come before the board or the policy committee before it was commissioned. I am going to be asking some questions internally about the judgment as to the timing of its release. Everyone knows Better Together is being launched on Monday, and this feels overly political,” said Cole-Hamilton, who in the past has stood as a Lib Dem candidate.
He added: “There may have been arm-twisting, but I am absolutely adamant that we will resist the arm-twisting, because SCVO is nobody’s soap box, nobody’s puppet nor a pawn in a very important debate.
“We can only speak on what is in the interests of our membership. We don’t have a mandate to speak on this particular, very polarised debate.”
The survey confirmed previous evidence that people back the idea of giving more say over domestic policy to Holyrood, while leaving Westminster in charge of defence and foreign affairs.
On tax, 57 per cent said the Scottish Parliament should be responsible, compared with 41 per cent for Westminster.
However, in a question asking people to rank the important issues faced by Scotland, independence came only fifth, with the economy seen clearly as the most significant matter to focus on.
The poll also concluded that most people feel “shut out” of the constitutional debate thus far, with only a minority saying they felt involved in the campaign.
Reacting to the poll’s results, Martin Sime, the chief executive of the SCVO, said: “It is pretty clear that people want some kind of home rule. There’s a strong majority against defence and foreign affairs, but people want control over domestic policy. People don’t want a yes-no question. They want a more inclusive debate.”
The Future of Scotland campaign insists that it is not lobbying for a “devo-max” question, but Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “I think Martin Sime has overstepped the mark and I think there is a danger of threatening the independence of the SCVO.
“There are increasing suspicions that he is working closely with the Scottish Government on this agenda.”
Last night, Sime said: “I am not a cheerleader for the SNP– very much not a cheerleader for the SNP. Just because the First Minister wants something, it doesn’t mean that we are somehow supporting his proposition.
“The politicians ought to keep all the options open, rather than rushing into their yes/no camps.”
A spokeswoman for SCVO said: “The poll was commissioned by the Future of Scotland campaign, not specifically SCVO. We are one of around ten members of the campaign. Martin was speaking as a member of the Future of Scotland campaign.
“We have made it quite clear we were expressing the findings of the poll, rather than saying whether or not we were in favour of or opposed to any of the findings. The SCVO has maintained a position of neutrality in terms of the referendum, whether it should be a single or double question or devo-max/devo-plus or anything else.”
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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