Willie Rennie: Let’s get question of Scotland’s future straight from the start

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THE referendum on Scotland’s future is one of the most important decisions any of us will face in our lifetimes. Every example from across the world shows that if the question asked is not clear and unambiguous then the debate leading up to the vote is more likely to become confused.

With a decision as important as this it is vital that the choice facing us is crystal clear.

That’s why I have been so concerned to hear how the SNP might try to put additional options on the ballot paper. That poses significant problems.

A few months ago, I floated the hypothetical scenario in which 99 per cent of Scots voted for a third option, for example more devolution for Scotland within the UK, and 51 per cent voted for independence.

Under the rules proposed by the nationalists they would say that independence has won. Scotland would be permanently separated from the rest of the UK.

But you don’t have to be a maths whizz to see that this would ignore the views of the vast majority of Scots would have just voted for more powers Scotland within the United Kingdom.

It is simply not credible, or democratic, to get into a situation where the most popular option loses.

And none of the world’s experts on referendums has managed to show how this could be made to work while still honouring the SNP’s promise of a straight yes/no vote on independence.

This tactic from the nationalists to pile on extra options is a way of confusing the debate and confusing the outcome.

This raises another concern. If the question is not unambiguous and the choice clear to voters, there is a chance that the result of the referendum could be challenged in court.

We have been fortunate in the United Kingdom that legal challenges to elections have not dominated the political process.

But you do not have to look too far back into electoral history to see what can happen if results are contested, especially over such an emotive issue.

The presidential election of 2000 between Al Gore and George Bush collapsed into legal chaos. Thousands of lawyers argued for 36 days over 47 lawsuits before a winner was declared, not by a returning officer but by the Supreme Court.

I don’t want the future of my country to be decided by the courts rather than by voters at the ballot box.

It is important to guard against any proposals that could threaten the democratic will of the Scottish people, who must weigh the facts and come to a considered decision. «