Scottish independence referendum: Why Nicola Sturgeon's confidence should put to the test for real – Scotsman comment

In any democratic country, the constitution provides the ground rules for political debate.

So a new government can take a whole raft of decisions that have a huge impact on people’s everyday lives, but it cannot, for example, suspend parliament for political reasons, as the Supreme Court ruled when Boris Johnson did just that.

Sometimes, there can be good reasons to change those ground rules, but to do so on the basis of a simple majority risks a constant shifting of what are supposed to form the fundamental basis on which decisions are taken. It is for this reason that major changes to the US constitution require a two-thirds ‘supermajority’ in Congress.

And there can hardly be a greater change to a constitution than the creation of a new country out of part of another with, presumably, a new constitution.

Yet, according to Nicola Sturgeon, her planned referendum on independence should be settled on a simple majority.

At a Fringe show, the First Minister was asked what she thought about a 60 per cent ‘supermajority' being required, an idea floated by the Scotsman, among others.

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However, even though she said she thought the Yes vote would win by “quite a comfortable margin”, Sturgeon said: “The international norms about referendums is that it's about majorities. That's basically how a Scottish referendum should be conducted as well.”

Nicola Sturgeon is wrong about a simple majority being good enough for Scottish independence (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

She expressed confidence, but was unwilling to put that to the actual test, despite a 60 per cent threshold requiring slightly less support for independence than was demonstrated in favour of EU membership in the Brexit referendum.

Should this be passed, it would give the new country a much firmer footing upon which to begin its life in the big, bad world. A newborn nation divided almost equally about whether it should exist might prove decidedly sickly.

And if there is to be a second referendum, it should decide our constitutional future for the foreseeable future. Just as a yes vote would have serious consequences, so should a no vote with an agreement not to hold yet another vote for perhaps 20 or 30 years.

Such provisions offer a potential way out of the current impasse and years of ‘neverendum’ politics, finally allowing Scotland to stop endlessly debating its ground rules and instead focus on the actual business of government.

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