I nearly did a poll post last Saturday but in rummaging around for a suitable subject, the only one I could think of was the date of the referendum.
And I decided against it. Couldn’t face the furious, futile speculation you see, when clearly we were months out from it actually being disclosed. How foolish am I?
The option I would have suggested would have been autumn 2014. It was obvious really, for anyone who wanted to apply a modicum of thought to the process. All those lazy journalists who reckoned on the Bannockburn 400th anniversary clearly still do not understand the modern SNP: it has been trying to disassociate itself from the trappings of old-style nationalism for a while now, with some success.
But there were more prosaic reasons as well as strategic ones. All the big ticket numbers lined up for 2014 – Bannockburn (the FM might not have been crying freedom, but he wouldn’t have passed up the opportunity to corral a sense of historic identity and patriotic fervour), the Commonwealth Games (a taste of Scotland occuping the global stage and limelight and inculcating a sense of national pride), the Homecoming (wha’s like us? anyone who wants to be) and the Ryder Cup (eh, rich blokes come to Scotland to play golf, and you can too?) – are being planned with inch-perfect precision in order to create the necessary big mo’.
Trust me – such is my luck – to pass on the chance to be lauded as the most prescient blogger in the Scottish sphere. Such is life.
This week, there’s plenty to choose from but let’s focus on the issue de jour, the one that has been catapulted centre stage, simply because it puts clear tartan water between the pro and anti independent mobs.
I blogged on the matter of votes for 16 and 17 year olds last year, in an attempt to counter cries of nationalist opportunism and to demonstrate that this is a matter of principle rather than expediency. Indeed, I think it was actually the current Depute First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, who led her party to commit to this policy, way back when she was the SNP’s Vice Convenor Youth Affairs. Not that she looks much older these days.
So, a long-held principle but actually, Kez Dugdale MSP’s criticism carries a little sting. Why hasn’t the SNP made more of this and enabled it to happen where it could? Yes, it featured in the legislation to create electable health boards but there was also a bill on local government elections in 2009 which decoupled council elections from those for the Scottish Parliament. It would have presented the perfect opportunity to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds.
So why not? Surely if the party was serious about its commitment, it would have ensured 16 and 17 year olds could also vote in the more humble local elections this year? After all, anything that helps to increase the turnout must be a good thing.
[UPDATE: as with most things relating to devolution, this turns out to be more complicated than first thought. It would seem that to adjust the franchise, or indeed do anything that messes with the Representation of the People Acts, in relation to any election, requires an order to be made by the Secretary of State for Scotland. This is the relevant section in the Scotland Act 1998. So it seems that if the Scottish Government had wanted to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds for local government elections, it would require an order from the Secretary of State for Scotland enabling this. This begs a few questions: at the time of the last local government bill, did the Scottish Government consider extending the franchise and if so, did it approach the then Secretary of State, who I think would have been Jim Murphy MP? If it did, what was his response (given that he is one of the MP supporters of votes at 16)? And if it did not, why not? By the by, another curiosity: under Schedule 5 reserved matters, “elections” are reserved. Which elections? All elections? Surely not, as otherwise all the legislation passed since 1999 relating to local government elections would be ultra vires?]
But the opportunity missed allows opponents of independence to sling some mud, and sadly some of it might stick, at least in the minds of the voters.
No matter. The Scottish Parliament debated Scotland’s Future this week and voted to allow 16 and 17 year olds to participate in the referendum. Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats might all have voted against, but they are duty bound to obey the will of Parliament. After all, the SNP Government did it when defeated on the Edinburgh trams. They can mump and moan – and they will – but it sets a very poor precedent – as they were quick to remind the SNP in different circumstances – for democracy if they ignore Holyrood votes.
In any event, if the epithet opportunist belongs to anyone, then it sits with the Liberal Democrats – who support extending the franchise to 16 year olds, except, it would seem, when it’s to vote for or against independence. And a considerable number of Scottish Labour MSPs and MPs are just as culpable, having also signed up to the Votes at 16 campaign. Indeed, some, including Douglas Alexander MP, Jim Murphy MP, Anas Sarwar MP and Margaret Curran MP all supported an amendment to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the AV referendum last year. To qualify that support now smacks absolutely of expediency.
Moreover, Scotland would not be the first jurisdiction in these islands to have 16 year olds voting: already, you can vote at 16 if you live in the Channel Islands or on the Isle of Man. I didn’t know that.
But what do you think? Should 16 and 17 year olds be allowed to vote in the independence referendum, in the vote which the First Minister has suggested, is the most important in Scotland in 300 years?
Before you vote, a thought. Not mine, but someone tweeted it and it has stuck. It is 16 and 17 year olds who will live with the consequences of this decision for far longer than any of us. And if this person’s 90 year old granny gets a vote, with much less chance of seeing independence realised, should the vote be a yes one, then it seems very unfair not to allow the generation that not only might see independence, but live most of their adult lives in an independent Scotland, a say on whether or not that should happen.
And in case you’re wondering what I support – visit Bella Caledonia to find out!