Scottish independence: Devo-max option ‘could leave 2014 vote snarled in endless wrangling’
A SECOND referendum question on more powers for Holy-rood could have “disturbing” consequences for the independence referendum and lead to “interminable wrangling”, a report from the Commons Scottish affairs committee has warned.
Alex Salmond’s official position is that he favours a single question. However he has dropped heavy hints that he would back a second question on a proposal to extend the Scottish Parliament’s tax-raising powers, while leaving the country within the Union.
However, the report from the Labour-dominated committee said the SNP had “no mandate” to hold a second question as it claimed the move would be an “opportunist political manoeuvre” that would allow Nationalists to use it as a “stepping stone” to Scottish independence.
The report was published today after former prime minister Gordon Brown mounted a scathing attack on full fiscal autonomy for Holyrood, claiming the move would lead to higher taxes and cuts to frontline services. A separate report from the committee last week said the “overwhelming” weight of evidence showed Holyrood had no legal powers to hold an independence referendum.
One of the key argument in the committee’s latest report centres around a warning that a multi-option referendum could deliver an indecisive result, with no single option emerging as a clear winner.
The report said: “There are a number of potential ways in which the results could be calculated and aggregated, and it is deeply disturbing to discover that the choice of voting and counting mechanism could well determine the outcome.”
There was a series of attacks on the SNP government’s refusal to rule out a second question, which the committee described as the party looking for a “way out” for what it said was a lack of support for independence.
The idea of fiscal autonomy for Holyrood, “devo-max”, was also criticised as being “no more than a phrase in search of context” with no plans that “could properly be put forward to the voters” in the 2014 referendum.
Committee chairman Ian Davidson, a Labour MP, said: “We were surprised how complex the process of a three sided referendum would be; in particular how the wording and layout of the question, and the method of counting, could affect the result.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government acknowledges the strong support within Scotland for a second question on more devolved powers.”
Jeremy Purvis, leader of the Devo Plus group, which campaigns for the bulk of tax powers to be devolved to Holyrood, but opposes devo-max, welcomed Mr Brown’s intervention.
Mr Purvis, who also opposes a second referendum question, said: “Mr Brown’s assessment of devo-max as a system where all taxes spent in Scotland are raised in Scotland is the same as ours, in that it is just a fig leaf for independence.”
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