Saturday, September 05, 2015

If there is a second Scottish referendum ...

Cards on the table - I don't think there should be a second Scottish independence referendum within 25 years unless there are very special circumstances.

Although you can make an argument for a "Leave" vote in the EU referendum being one of those, it would be a big mistake to concede in advance of the EU poll that Brexit will mean a second Scottish Indyref.

Conceding this could potentially prejudice the EU referendum by creating a moral hazard for Scots who support independence but oppose leaving the EU, which appears to be nearly half the Scottish electorate.

An interesting worldview to object to being governed from London but want to be governed from Brussels but I suppose that must be partly down to how unpopular Whitehall is in the Northern UK - and as a resident of Cumbria I can tell you that applies in Northern England too.

However, there clearly are a lot of Scots who feel that way, and if it were agreed that British exit from the EU means a second Scottish independence referendum, those electors would be put in a difficult position in that voting for something they don't want - leaving the EU - might get them something they do - an earlier vote on Scottish independence.

Earlier this week, the Electoral Commission changed their advice on the wording for the EU referendum in the light of fresh evidence that, other things being equal, the side who gets the word "Yes" has a slight advantage.

ComRes found that changing the wording from Yes/No to Stay In / Leave cut the majority for staying in by nine percentage points: ICM found that changing it from Yes/No to Remain/Leave cut the majority for remaining a member by six points as you can read at UK Polling report here.

John Rentoul, the chief political correspondent of the Independent newspaper, immediately tweeted that it was "outrageous" that the SNP had been allowed to have "Yes" as their option in the Indyref but neither side was allowed this in the European referendum. He explained in more detail here that:

"I am surprised by the Electoral Commission’s decision. It allowed a Yes/No answer to the Scottish referendum. Its policy would seem to be that it is all right to bias the question in favour of the side that is expected to lose, so that they can’t complain afterwards. That seems to be the implication here:

“These views raise concerns about the potential legitimacy, in the eyes of those campaigning to leave and some members of the public, of the referendum result – particularly if there was a vote to remain a member of the European Union.”

It is not an approach that worked well in Scotland."

Quite. If there is a second referendum in Scotland, perhaps this too should be a choice to "Stay in" or "leave."


chris bagshaw said...

interesting observation, Chris. Though the Indyref was about whether Scotland should be independent, not whether it should be a 'member' of the UK.

Chris Whiteside said...

True, and all the references to the Scottish referendum in the post do refer to independence rather than to being a "member" of the UK, a word which I only used in the context of Europe.

It does seem extremely difficult to argue that being the "Yes" side would give an unfair advantage to one campaign in the forthcoming referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU but that this would not bestow any such advantage on one side in last year's referendum or any future one concerning whether Scotland should leave the UK.

I am sure that an appropriate simple, clear-cut and neutral form of words could be found which does not involve "Yes" and "No" if there were to be another Independence referendum.

Something like "Do you think Scotland should remain part of the UK or become an independent nation?" with boxes for "Remain part of the UK" and "become an independent nation."

I'm sure the electoral commission should be able to come up with a form of words that both sides could accept: I suspect that neither side will accept a wording which gives their opponents a "Yes" box.