Willie Rennie wrote for yesterday’s Scotland on Sunday about the need for clarity in the question put to the Scottish people in the referendum.
His message was simple – that we need a clear, simple question in the referendum and the result must be beyond doubt.
While I would have liked there to be more than one question on the ballot paper, the succession of expert opinion (including the SNP’s own favoured expert) has persuaded me that the question of independence must be settled by a simple yes/no question in a stand alone referendum. That doesn’t stop the development of a consensus around further devolution of power to Holyrood across businesss, civic society and politics and the working out of a way to implement it, even if that’s a second referendum, but the question of independence has to be settled separately.
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.
It’s interesting that the drive for two questions seems to have come, bizarrely, from the SNP, who favour independence. Alex Salmond, trying to grab the headlines from the launch of the Better Together campaign today, has apparently, according to the Times (£) threatened that if he doesn’t get his own way in negotiations with the UK Government over the Section 30 order required to make the referendum legal, he’ll hold his own illegal poll on the day of the UK General Election in 2015. The SNP’s drive for two questions must have something to do with polling evidence that shows that support for independence has fallen since the Yes Scotland campaign was launched last month.
As Willie said, our country’s future should be decided, clearly, by the people, and not in Court. Now, I know that he was writing about that specific issue, but I do want him to be talking a little bit about our unique perspective on this debate. As I wrote last year when he set up the Home Rule Commission, we’re in favour of devolving powers from as well as to Holyrood. The Better Together campaign, launching today of necessity has to be focused on arguing against independence, but there is room for Willie, outside that umbrella, to talk up our vision. I’d have liked it if he’d added something along the lines of “I’ll be part of the Better Together campaign making the case for Scotland to remain in the UK. Beyond that, though, Liberal Democrats are looking at how best to give away power from as well as to Holyrood to make sure that people and communities have more control over the services they need.”
The promotion of the benefits of Scotland staying in the UK are, rightly, being co-ordinated by the Better Together campaign but the individual parties within it have very different ideas about how to continue the process of devolution. Really only the Liberal Democrats are actively talking about it. Mike Moore has been very clear that the Scotland Act is a staging post, not the end of the road and Willie Rennie is on record as saying he no more wants to be dictated from by Edinburgh as London. Sure, unite with the others where we agree on Better Together, but outside that arena, promote our own positive vision.
You can read Willie’s article in full here.