There are, as the song has it, more questions than answers. As far as we know, Johnny Nash did not have a premonition of things to come in Scotland but his great hit might easily be the soundtrack to the debates taking place in the run-up to the independence referendum.
Yesterday The Scotsman held the first of several conferences aimed at getting answers to some of the key questions which will influence the electorate’s decision when it votes on separating Scotland from the United Kingdom.
It would be fair to say the conference did not provide a definitive answer on many of the important issues arising from the referendum, but it provided important indications of the way politicians are thinking.
Bruce Crawford, for the SNP, argued that a vote against independence would mean further constitutional wrangling. Michael Moore for the UK coalition urged us to concentrate on the issues at stake, not the process. Both cases have flaws. Unionists say the SNP is responsible for constitutional wrangling by proposing a referendum, while Nationalists would claim the hold-up over the process is the result of the Unionist parties seeking to interfere. Sadly, such jousting is set to continue for a while.
However, the conference did at least shed some light on the questions the electorate might be asked. Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University suggested two questions. In the first people would be asked if they agreed Scotland should be independent? If 50 per cent plus one answered yes, that is it. As well as the first question there would be a second, offering a choice between further devolution – possibly “devo-max or “devo-plus” – and the status quo. Again 50 per cent plus one would be a mandate for greater powers.
This has the benefit of getting around the SNP’s suggestion that if a form of further devolution was on the ballot paper, it would be trumped by a vote for independence even if 99 per cent of people voted for more powers for Holyrood and just 51 per cent for sovereignty. However, there are alternatives to the Curtice proposal, including borrowing an idea from New Zealand which in a vote on electoral reform first asked voters if they wanted to change from the status quo. If they said yes, they were then offered alternatives. Here voters could be asked if they favoured change. If they did not that would be the end of it, if they did, there would be a choice, which could include independence, devo-max, and devo-plus.
Both ideas have attractions and drawbacks and we will, no doubt, be presented with more options in the months to come. What our conference proved is that we are at last, moving towards some clarity on the referendum. However, we need a lot more detail from the SNP on independence and on devo-max or devo-plus from the unionist parties before adopting “I can see clearly now” as our theme tune.
Green bank location decision tainted
The idea of setting up a UK “green” investment bank is a sound one. The aim is to create a vehicle to help find the £200 billion, yes £200bn, which it is estimated will have to be invested in the country’s renewable energy infrastructure if we are to be world leaders in this area and combat the threat said to exist to the environment of climate change.
Given that Scotland is trying to become the “Saudi Arabia of renewables” to use a phrase from First Minister Alex Salmond, it would be churlish not to welcome the news yesterday from the UK government that this bank will be located in Edinburgh. The city specialises in financial services and also has in or near it some of the new renewables industries.
However, there are a two points which must be made. The first is a practical one. It appears that while the bank will be nominally located in the Scottish capital the investment specialists will be in London, in order to have access to the City. The fear must be that, with only administrative staff moving here eventually, this is more like a “brass plating” exercise.
The second is to do with politics. As we report today, the decision to locate the bank here was a political one made by the UK coalition to emphasise the importance of Scotland within the UK and the continuing benefits of the Union at a time when the SNP is riding high and moving towards delivering its promise to hold an independence referendum.
We wish the new bank well in its task but the doubts over whether it is really headquartered in Scotland and the politicisation of this decision are an inauspicious start.
Pay-off secrecy deepens shadow over tram project
The Edinburgh tram scheme has not had its troubles to seek. It was plagued by years of indecision, obfuscation, and incompetence. The much-delayed project has put the capital on the map, but not in the way the city fathers and mothers had hoped.
Recently, however, it appeared the city council had got the project back on track, so to speak. The disputes with the contractors were resolved. Work began again and, though there is still massive disruption to traffic from road works, it seemed the worst was over.
Would that were so. For it has been confirmed that the public, the taxpayers who funded the project, will not be told the amount paid to former trams chief Richard Jeffrey when he quit last May. We will know only when there is a public inquiry, not likely to be held soon.
This revelation does not, of course, delay the construction of tram lines, or put back the completion deadline. But by denying the public’s right to know what was done in their name, it casts a further shadow over the scheme.
The council must not hide behind claims of contractual obligation to Mr Jeffrey. He was a public servant. Voters should be told how much he was paid when he left. Until this is cleared up we cannot look forward positively to the final completion of a project that can still be of benefit to the capital.