Guest post: Let the people decide

Another guest post from @deftleftfoot on the prospect of the referendum on independence and the current absence of a pro-devolution option.

It’s been nearly five months since I argued that Scotland’s independence referendum could be a unique opportunity to achieve something genuinely different and better to the turgid neo-liberal orthodoxies our political system seems unable or unwilling to change.

Now that the starting pistol has been fired for a November 2014 referendum and a week of fevered rhetoric on both sides of the argument has passed, my original views have been reinforced and perhaps radicalised by recent events.

For the avoidance of any doubt, here are the key provisions I would like to see included in the referendum:

  • The inclusion of a defined increase of devolved powers option on the ballot;
  • 16 & 17 year olds to be empowered with the right to vote in this historic event;
  • Westminster handing over to the Scottish Parliament all powers required to fulfil the legal requirements of referendum; and
  • The referendum itself to be constructed and overseen by an independent commission to ensure the maximum fairness and transparency.

I’m not convinced about the SNP’s arguments for independence. They still have much to reveal about how an independent Scotland can credibly rebuild and sustain collective prosperity.

But I don’t know if I can stomach the prospect of a probable Tory majority in Westminster after 2015, resulting in an extension of the austerity agenda aided by the subservient Lib Dems and weakness of the current Labour leadership.

Like many others in Scotland, I would welcome an increase in devolved powers as a means to counter the ConDem economic and social vandalism.  At the very least, I certainly want to debate the potential of an increased devolved settlement and have the opportunity to vote on it.

So from a trade unionist perspective it was pleasing to see the STUC take a deep breath before entering the debate.  STUC General Secretary Grahame Smith’s call for the establishment of an independent Referendum Commission to explore all the potential options available in the formulation of this referendum and to offset legal uncertainty is entirely sensible.

Unfortunately it didn’t take long for our elected representatives to descend into predictable acrimonious bluster over ‘patriotism’, ‘Scottish-ness’ and such nonsense.  Politicians would do well get their minds focused firmly back on the issues at hand – proposals for economic growth, the future of our public services, dignity in retirement, tackling unemployment, making a positive case for your position in the referendum campaign…need I go on?  It would be a national embarrassment for gutter politics and buffoonery to dominate the next two years.

The stakes are simply too high for politics to be consumed by its own self-importance.

This process is a marathon and not a sprint.  With the eyes of the world focused on Scotland we have to show that we can deliver this referendum in a mature, open and truly democratic fashion.  The STUC proposals can help create a platform for the views of the Scottish grassroots to shape the referendum process prior to the campaign and vote itself, facilitating this objective. Surely this is something that any sensible politician should support?

We certainly need a renewed sense of ownership over our democracy.  In the last year my job has gave me the privilege of meeting people the length and breadth of the country.  Together, we’ve highlighted issues impacting their workplaces and communities.  We’ve also debated politics and policies; overarched by the spectre of the coalitions austerity agenda. And for me it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the status quo is no longer acceptable.

On the UK economy for example, we know we are being sold a pup. The sheer folly of this growth-less austerity is unravelling by the day exposing the dying neo-liberal ideology that many of us on the left have argued it to be from day one.  Last week’s downgrading of the French AAA credit rating by Standard & Poor merely highlighted this to a bigger audience and reminded us all that the UK can’t exempt itself from the economic sickness it helped spawn. It’s also a damning confirmation that our politicians are further descending into the post-2008 political aporia.

Whether people are employed in the public, private or third sector, or currently unemployed, they are increasingly unhappy and frustrated with our economic direction.  They want something better for themselves and their families but most of all they want fairness. Anger is mounting because they are being punished for an economic mess they did not create and yet they see hypocrisy and injustice all around them whether its financial sector bonuses, capital strike, phone hacking or the expenses scandal.

People have simply had enough of the tail wagging the dog.

And it’s the politicians themselves who must take a large chunk of the blame for this.  Politics has disenfranchised so many people from the democratic process through its own examples of hubris and weaknesses.  This referendum is a chance for politics to pay the people back. But can our politicians be trusted to set aside party-political inertia, at least for a short time, to maximise the scope of the referendum debate and empower the people they are there to serve accordingly?

On the face of it, we know what to expect from the SNP and the Conservatives. Their respective views will be argued with passion whether you agree with them or not. Indeed, the SNP have made proposals for the referendum process – altruistic or otherwise – which I entirely agree with (like the extension of the vote to 16 and 17 year olds).

But like many in the trade union movement I’m sure, it is Labour’s position I find baffling.  The party of devolution continues to reject the possibility of a third option on the referendum ballot.  Last November Labour’s Douglas Alexander argued that Scottish Labour must make the case for more devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament ahead of the independence referendum.  Yet last week we’ve seen Labour slip back into to the ‘stronger together weaker apart’ mantra that failed them in 2007 and 2011. Devolution and independence are ‘separate processes’, say Labour.

Instead of a social-democratic party like Scottish Labour being able to carve its own niche and make progressive policy arguments for the extension of devolution, Johann Lamont will be on the same stump as David Cameron and Nick Clegg in the eyes of the Scottish people whether she likes it or not.

It concerns me deeply that out of our four main political parties we only have two outcomes being touted – yes or no to Scottish independence.  I think this narrow scope stifles democratic debate and ultimately treats the Scottish people with some contempt.  At least one mainstream political party needs to champion a campaign for further devolved powers, complementing the arguments for independence and the retention of the union, enriching the political debate.

This blunt ‘yes’ or ‘no’ politics merely intensifies the need for the Scottish people to dictate the identity of this referendum.  Whether you are pro independence, pro-union or pro-devolution; surely the Scottish people are best placed to set the terms and conditions of what is arguably the biggest political, social and economic decision many of us will ever have the opportunity to take?

Surely we don’t want the agenda to set by the malign influence of the Ashcrofts, Souters, and Sainsburys of this world or be left with some half-baked plebiscite formed from the scraps that the politicians could only agree on?

Politics has never been and may never be more interesting.  This referendum is golden opportunity to revitalise an environment blighted by distrust and apathy. We’re shaping our futures here and I have faith in the Scottish people to set a shining example of democracy and debate to the rest of the world – and also have the mutual respect for each other to accept the final outcome.  It’s time that politicians on all sides started to listen and learn.

Let the people decide.


22 thoughts on “Guest post: Let the people decide

  1. RE: Scottish Republic…

    On votes for 16 & 17 year olds, maturity is either something you either have or don’t. A bit like pace on the football pitch! Tom Harris is middle-aged and he probably lacks both traits.



  2. I’ll add, as you say there’s time for the SNP to articulate the arguments for independence.

    The SNP understands this – one other thing – Salmond (I know for a fact is left) and his cabinet whom I know from TV are concerned by soial justice – in comparing what the SNP has done in power compared to Labour

  3. Dear guest –

    good piece but do you really think the Brit nats are going to try and have a sensible debate and process?

    Labour has become the Tories in Scotland – the party of the union and not the unions.

    The 32 Labour MPs who voted YES to privatisation of the English NHS have effectively signed the death warrant of the NHS in Scotland as a public sevice because the Tories will cut and cut the NHS and will correspondingly cut the block grant to Scotland by the same amount.

    Labour in Scotland, and the other Brit nat parties, are dumb and dumber – they will fight the dirtiest political battle in the history of these islands.

    They wish to force the referendum to a single question – YES or NO to indepednence.

    I am very happy about that – we’ll get a YES whereas with a 2nd question we’re guaranteed FFA instead of independence.

    It’s not the SNP that are not open to all voices, it’s the Brit nats.

  4. The SNP has proved, (with limited powers) that it is a very competent administration. Nae fears. Nae Limits.

  5. I have one objection – giving 16/17 year olds the vote.

    The proposal is there for one reason only – the offer of free higher education.

    If you do not believe that is the case, then why have they not been allowed to vote in either the Scottish Parliamentary or Council elections. Nor can they offer themselves as a candiate in the same elections.They cannot purchase alcohol or tobacco either.

    If the SNP has to rely on the votes of under-18’s, what does that say about their own confidence in their policies? They certainly did not need those votes last May.

    Giving control of the referendum to either Westminster or Holyrood will result in political bais. We need an independent body, but where we will get it I have no idea.

    • I feel they should be allowed a vote in all elections – they can marry, have kids and go to war and pay taxes – it’s only fair, even if they aren’t mature in some ways.

    • The Scottish Government does not have the power to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in either the Scottish Parliament elections or local authority elections. That power is reserved, In elections which the Scottish Parliament controls – to Health Boards, to the Crofting Commission – the franchise has been extended to 16 and 17 year olds on the electoral roll.

      You also seem to be unaware that the Lib Dems suport votes at 16 and 17 as party policy, as do the Greens. Many Labour MPs and MSPs support that as well including people like Margaret Curran and Anas Sarwar so it is not uniquely an SNP position. Indeed the only party which completely opposes that position is the Conservative Party.

      Personally I do not support votes for 16 and 17 year olds, however the SNP position has been consistent and your conspiracy theory just shows that you have not really looked into the issue very carefully before forming a judgement.

  6. Agreed.

  7. “I’m not convinced about the SNP’s arguments for independence. They still have much to reveal about how an independent Scotland can credibly rebuild and sustain collective prosperity”.
    Perhaps I could rephase that statement.
    How about this?

    ” I am not convinced that the Scottish people despite havig an educated workforce,a history almost unparalleled in the world of invention and administration, and blessed with more per capita natural resources than virtually every other country in the world are clever enough to run their own affairs without the English overseeing things”

    • Re: Dave…

      Read my closing thoughts in the article. Perhaps you can then amend your own statement?

      You’re in danger of descending into that predictable acrimonious bluster…put away the rod, old son.

      All the best.

  8. Garry, the only plausible reason I can think of Labour not wishing to campaign on a defined devo-max stump is because of the MP’s interests.

    It stands to reason that if more powers are consolidated in Holyrood then the less issues of relevance there are to concern Scottish-based MPs. The question will then be raised: Why are Scottish MPs voting on English issues.

    I think they are very fearful of that scenario but the moment the Scottish Parliament was created there was always going to be an inevitability about this.

    Labour are in a right pickle. Gerry Hassan’s blog published yesterday make for very interesting reading.



  9. Thanks for taking the time to reply, folks. Whether you agree or disagree, its appreciated.

    Focusing purely on the SNP here, as you would expect I stand-by my doubts about independence. I know it takes more of your time but if you read my original post on this blog, ‘Scotland’s Unique Opportunity’, you’ll be able read my specific concerns and my political views which shape my outlook.

    What are the SNPs plans for social investment, employment legislation, trade union rights, etc? Would they repeal Thatcher employment law and failed de-regulation in sectors like the bus industry in an independent Scotland? How would this play against the low CT demands made by the party backers in big business?

    If you are advocating independence then the whole plan must be presented. There are no guarantees of course, but clarity is required. I think that’s a fair ask.

    These things, amongst others, I would like to know as do many others in the TU movement. I certainly look forward to these policy questions being answered as the debate intensifies.

    Kind regards


    • ‘An Independence Blueprint’ has never been a stumbling block for my 40+ years of voting for Independence and I don’t think that it is realistic to have every i dotted and t crossed. When one has full control of all the levers then one can create a society that suits most people not the few which is what the UK has done since the Treaty was signed way back yonder. IMO if we are still stuck in this union for many more years then privatisation will predominate a large swathe of public services as the economy is stagnant and will be for quite a long time as more and more wealth is creamed of by the City assisted by Westminster.

    • The plan for independence is that after it is achieved there will be a general election. While your assumption that the SNP will automatically win that election is flattering it ain’t necessarily accurate. It is likely that some people may leave the SNP – it is a borad church held together by a shared aim. Once that aim is achieved you may well see people drift off to join parties which they are more ideologically in tune with. So it’s not really possible for the SNP, at this stage, to set out its manifesto for the first general election in an independent Scotland, nor is it possible to predict where the electorate will be at that time. Indeed it has always been one of the ironies that SNP members are very well aware of that we may win independence only to see Labour elected to power again.

  10. If you believe in Social Democracy, the NHS, state education, pensions, human rights, then you have to vote ‘YES’ for Scottish independence.

    Make no mistake anything less than that means a Tory government, be it Blue Tories, Yellow Tories or Red Tories, will come down hard on Scots.

  11. Excellent blog; an exploration of a range of biews

  12. I am also puzzled by Labour’s position but I’ve been having a few conversations over at Labour Hame which I think have elucidated matters somewhat. Firstly, I think they are firmly convinced that Devo Max is a cunning SNP trick and that is the reason they oppose even debating it, never mind having it on the ballot paper. Quite what the nature of the trick is seems unclear but they are sure it is a trick.They simply do not believe that the SNP would say we support independence and we’ll be arguing for independence but we are open to having a question on Devo max on the ballot paper if there is widespread support for that. Labour simply cannot bring themselves to take that at face value, which is a shame really because I think it can be taken at face value. There is no trick.

    Secondly – and I actually think this may be the more important point – part of why they take this position is that they see devolution and independence as being opposites. Whereas I – and I suspect most people – would see them as different points on a scale of self-government. Devolution allows Scotland to be self-governing in areas like health, education, justice etc. Devo max would extend that to allow Scotland to be self-governing in areas like welfare, economic policy and taxation. Independence would allow Scotland to be fully self-governing. These choices are not opposites. The opposite of being self-governing is not to be self-governing. That seems fairly obvious to me and I am persuaded that most people regard devolution, devo max and independence as different points on the same continuum, not as opposites.

    Lastly, there may well be people who think, like you, that the SNP has failed to reveal how an independent Scotland can crediby rebuild and sustain collective prosperity. Leaving aside the fact that I think the SNP has done a fair bit in that direction, the fact is that no-one can give any guarantees about the future. The pro-independence camp cannot guarantee what will happen in five, ten, twenty years time but neither can the anti-independence camp.

    The judgement you have to make is whether you believe that a self-governing Scotland will be better placed to credibly rebuild and sustain collective prosperity or whether we would be better off leaving Westminster to manage our economy, our employment policies etc for us.

    • Yes, but remember that everything Labour says or does these days reflects only their own tiny perspective of things rather than the perspective of the everyman.

      In Labour terms Devolution means MPs in the Commons and access to that most lucrative of retirement homes next door. Independence means no MPs in the Commons and many in the retirement home being told to sling their hook.

      Polar opposites indeed.

      Listen to the language ‘We are stronger together, weaker apart’. The ‘we’ is the Labour Party not Scotland or even Britain. I wouldn’t argue with them on that point.

  13. I’m not convinced about the SNP’s arguments for independence. They still have much to reveal about how an independent Scotland can credibly rebuild and sustain collective prosperity
    You’re having a joke surely

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