Yes and No

Nicola Sturgeon must stand firm on the issue of a Yes/No referendum. There must be no compromise. The crucial factor is that, by the time a new referendum is held, ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ will have been associated with the opposing positions on the constitutional issue for a decade. These associations are firmly established. Far too firmly established to be affected by any of the factors which have caused the Electoral Commission to rethink its position on Yes/No options.

What was problematic with the ballot in the 2014 referendum was, not the Yes or No response required, but the question asked. By asking ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’, independence was made the contentious issue. Despite the fact that independence is the normal, default status of all nations, it was this that was being queried. It was this that was presented as the option which had to be proved. The question itself suggested doubt about independence.

The question largely determined the nature of the campaign. And it was a structure which greatly advantaged the anti-independence side. They were never required to make a case for the Union. The form of the question gave them a basis of doubt on which to build an almost entirely negative campaign.

Better Together, the British political parties and the British government were never required to make a case for the Union. The matter of the Union and what it means for Scotland was never scrutinised. Despite the Union being constitutionally anomalous, it was treated as the ‘natural order’. Despite it being by far the most common constitutional status, independence was presented as the scary unknown.

All of this stems from, or is strongly influenced by, the question on the ballot paper. We are entitled to wonder why the Electoral Commission failed to identify and address this issue.

In a referendum, voters are asked to make an informed choice between two options. A referendum is, or should be, a binary choice between two clearly stated and reliably deliverable options. In order that the choice should be as informed as possible, both options must be subject to similar scrutiny. This was not the case in the 2014 referendum. The case for voting No was barely examined at all. There was precious little case to examine. The direction in which the campaign was driven by the question meant the anti-independence campaign was let off the hook.

How could voters make an informed choice when they were presented with massive amounts of dubious information about one option, and no information at all about the other option?

The next independence referendum, gives us a chance to redress the balance. Allowing that the result of the 2014 referendum stands as a verdict on independence delivered on the basis of a campaign which made this the contentious issue, we can reverse that in a new plebiscite by making the Union the contentious issue. We can use a question which will drive scrutiny of the arguments and facts presented in support of preserving the Union. We can, at last, have the case for Scotland being part of the UK thoroughly examined.

Anti-independence campaigners cannot complain that this puts them at a disadvantage without admitting that the Yes side was placed at a disadvantage in the first referendum. The pro-independence side can argue that their case has been scrutinised and that the results of this scrutiny are a matter of public record and public knowledge. The new form of ballot would tend to promote a campaign which would add to that knowledge material which was left out of the 2014 campaign.

I would suggest that, instead of a question, the electorate should be asked to vote on a proposition that the Union between Scotland and England be dissolved. The ballot would ask if they agree with this proposition. The issue is clear and either option is obviously deliverable – the Union can be dissolved, or not. The ballot requires only a Yes or No answer and maintains the established associations of those responses with the two sides of the constitutional issue.

There are many lessons to be learned from the 2014 independence referendum. The Electoral Commission shows little sign of having learned those lessons. Besides which, the UK’s elections and referendums watchdog really shouldn’t have an influential role of any kind in Scotland’s referendum. It is Scotland’s referendum and it should be entirely managed in Scotland and and by Scottish institutions answerable to the Scottish Parliament. That is something else our First Minister must stand firm on.



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13 thoughts on “Yes and No

  1. It must be Yes/No otherwise the BritNats & Unionists win. Note the recent Scotland in Union sponsored polls that showed that 60% ‘don’t want to leave the UK’. Which indicated a Damascene conversion of many to the pro-Union side when all other surveys indicate roughly 50:50. There was, absolutely no questioning of this in The Scotsman and Herald which trumpeted these corrupted “findings”.

    If the Referendums (Scotland) Bill does not retain independence from interference of the British institution that is the Electoral Commission then there is no point to it.

    Nicola and her team must be totally resolute on this one.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Do you want to dissolve the Union.” Yes or No? I wonder how many people would have problems with actually understanding what that means?

    The Unionists weren’t happy with the question posed last time around, felt disadvantaged, and want to change it now. I wonder why?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Peter … prompted by our earlier discussion, back in mid-September, I made a series of “short” videos to raise various issues, the latest one posted – it is pinned – addressed, and I will claim, predicted this very issue of the involvement of the Electoral Commission. The primary purpose of the Facebook page is to encourage the Yes movement to become involved before it’s too late – before decisons are made and not just complain afterwards!

    Page is here: https://www.facebook.com/X2-113742180011217

    Like

    1. I’m afraid I’ve been missing these videos, Mike. Not because I have no interest, but because I’m so rarely on Facebook these days. Thanks for the reminder. The early ones were excellent. And probably still are.

      Like

  4. “the electorate should be asked to vote on a proposition that the Union between Scotland and England be dissolved. ”

    This is as invalid a question as the Unionists’ preferred one of “Leave / Remain”. Why? Because legally Independence can be obtained by Scotland by effectively 3 different means:

    1). Secession where Scotland leaves the UK and the UK remains as the Continuing UK.
    2). Separation where the UK splits into two parts, with complete split of assets, liabilites, treaties etc.
    3). Dissolution where the UK ceases to exist, a quite uncertain status for both parts

    The thing is this, though these are the three technical means the actual means will be agreed during negotiations, and to have a question based on any of these 3 different means completely removes room for the negotiators for Scotland to reach the best agreement for us.

    Clearly that is madness – why handcuff the hands of our negotiatiors after a YES please to Indy?

    Like

  5. Peter, you might want to check out Aidan O’Neill for instance – Joanna Cherry and Jo Maugham’s chosen QC, before making hamstringing legal and constitutional decisions of your own on behalf of Scotland. You are not a lawyer, neither am I. But Aidan O’Neill and the other two, are.

    Here’s an example:

    https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmscotaf/1608/1608we16.htm

    read up this section: “5. An Independent Scotland and International Organisations”

    there are other similar ones.

    Like

      1. It’s worth looking at the next section in that link I gave Peter “6. An Independent Scotland and the EU”, remembering this was written back in 2012, particularly this bit: “6.7 So, contrary perhaps to the as yet unexpressed hopes of some UK Eurosceptics, Scottish independence is unlikely to provide either Scotland or the rest of the UK with a “get out of (EU-) gaol free” card.” and considering that Remain voting Scotland would want the reverse of this – to stay in if possible.

        Seems to me that if the Union was indeed dissolved and from the previous part “5.5 On the third scenario (which the authors describe as “dissolution”) neither Scotland and EWNI would succeed to any of the UK’s international obligations or memberships. Both States, newly independent of each other, would have to sign anew any treaties they wished to be bound by, and enter into negotiations with any international organisations they wished to be members of.”, then Scotland would not remain part of the EU as the EU treaties would basically not have existed.

        As far as the Question itself is concerned, it was passed by the ScotGov’s advisor (Lord Advocate) Frank Mulholland in 2012/13, perhaps also the previous one Elish Angiolini, and presumably the current one James Wolffe. All of these with loyalty to the ScotGov NOT the UK Gov. As far as I’m concerned if the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” was good enough for them, at least two successive very senior Law officers, and two FMs Salmond and Sturgeon, and the rest of the ScotGov – the question is good enough for me.

        Like

  6. yesindyref2 – firstly thank you for the link you make reference to above – I am grateful!

    Your quote ” As far as the Question itself is concerned, it was passed by the ScotGov’s advisor (Lord Advocate) Frank Mulholland in 2012/13, perhaps also the previous one Elish Angiolini, and presumably the current one James Wolffe. All of these with loyalty to the ScotGov NOT the UK Gov. As far as I’m concerned if the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” was good enough for them, at least two successive very senior Law officers, and two FMs Salmond and Sturgeon, and the rest of the ScotGov – the question is good enough for me.” Ends.

    I mention above a link to a short video on the position – but ignore me perhaps – and refer to one short extract from: Finance and Constitution Committee – Stage 1 report on the Referendums (Scotland) Bill – Published 31 October 2019

    Extract: “The Electoral Commission told us that they “strongly believe” that they should be asked to test the question even when that question has been asked before. Their view is that “a formal testing of the question helps to provide confidence and assurance to the voter and to the Parliament that is posing the question and, with regard to the integrity of the process, to establish that the question is clear, transparent and neutral in its setting.”

    There are other similar extracts (all in that Stage 1 Report – but essentially the Electoral Commission – a Statutory Body – will potentially be the arbiter of the question – after a 12 week period of consultation involving the public and others.

    Like

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