Independence: ‘Voters want clarity on big issues’

VOTERS want more certainty about how the big issues will be handled by both sides before the independence referendum and want the Scottish and UK governments to hold talks before next year’s poll, according to data published today.

Nicola Sturgeon: 'Preparation is not pre-negotiation'. Picture: Ian Rutherford

A total of 67 per cent of people agreed there should be talks before September 18 next year to “help pave the way for formal negotiations” between London and Edinburgh if people decide to vote “yes”.

UK ministers have said they cannot “pre-negotiate” issues such as the division of assets and the option of a currency-sharing pact prior to the 2014 vote because they currently represent all of the country.

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However, the SNP – which has also accepted there cannot be negotiations – argued that there should be preliminary talks now to develop an “understanding of the issues” that would have to be agreed if Scotland were to break away from the UK.

Academics have also criticised the “decide first, negotiate later” approach, saying it directly contradicts Prime Minister David Cameron’s policy on Europe, to negotiate a new settlement and then put it to a referendum.

YouGov’s question notes that, after a “yes” vote, a number of issues such as currency, financial regulation and the division of assets and liabilities, will all need to be decided. It asks whether the two governments “should or should not hold talks before the referendum to help pave the way for formal negotiations”.

The 67 per cent of people who said “yes” include a majority of all three pro-UK party supporters, 21 per cent said no, while 11 per cent did not know.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last night pointed to the findings and said UK ministers should now act on a call by the Electoral Commission which declared in January that both sides should agree a “joint position, if possible, so that voters have access to agreed information about what would follow the referendum”.

She said: “Preparation is not pre-negotiation. Having discussions now to develop an understanding of the issues that would require negotiation after a ‘yes’ vote, what factual information would underpin that, and what attitude each government would take to negotiations in the event of a ‘yes’ vote, is not to pre-empt the referendum result – it is simply to ensure that if there is a ‘yes’ vote we can get to work quickly on implementing the democratic decision of the people of Scotland.”

She added: “The UK government should heed public opinion in Scotland, and U-turn on their current intransigent position. Pre-referendum discussions would help ensure that the debate is as informed as possible, and that is surely in the interests of people in Scotland and, indeed, the rest of the UK.”

At a conference in Edinburgh last week, Dr Nicola McEwan of Edinburgh University, who is leading research into post-referendum relations, criticised the UK government’s position.

She warned: “This stance prohibits informed decision-making by an electorate desperate for clarity, and merits closer scrutiny. The 2015 general election raises questions over who would be in government to oversee independence negotiations, but it doesn’t prevent the UK parties from being challenged to make their positions clear.”

However, Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore: “This a sign of desperation from those who are losing the argument, and want a distraction. The Scottish Government cites key areas for talks – currency, financial regulation, liabilities and assets. But their problem is not a lack of politicians talking; their problem is that their own position on all these issues is falling apart under examination.”

He added: “It is not the UK government’s job to define what independence would look like. It is for the SNP to set out what they would hope to negotiate.

“So far they failed to do that,” he said.