All bets not quite off on date of indy referendum

It’s official.  We all ken noo, courtesy of the splash in the inaugural  Scottish Sun on Sunday (which I intend rarely, if ever again, to reference on this here blog – I’m with the good folk of Liverpool in boycotting this one and accordingly, refuse to sully this blog’s space with a link).

The date for the independence referendum will be Saturday 18 October 2014.

Some folk are upset.  Currently, there’s not a lot of Twitter lurve to be found on Nicola Sturgeon or Peter Murrell’s timelines.

Gaels are not overly impressed that the referendum will clash with the last hurrah of that year’s National Mod.  Journalists on rival blatts have stuck out their petted lip and cried foul, largely because they didn’t get the exclusive.  Political opponents are rubbishing it, because of the disrespect shown to the population and to Parliament.

This last might gain some traction, given that it has also ignited indignation among ordinary democracy-loving citizens.  Why bother with the charade of a public consultation on whether or not to hold the vote on a Saturday if a decision has already been made?  And isn’t this disrespectful to Parliament to announce something so important through the front pages rather than in a statement in the Chamber?

I’d have a little more respect myself on this one if there was more consistency here.  All the parties that have been in government at Holyrood have made a virtue out of trailing announcements in the press before bothering to take it to the Chamber.  If such announcements stopped, political journalists would soon be out of a job.  They might want to ponder that before they protest on this point too loudly.

Aside from all this hullabaloo, is there any truth to the exclusive?  Will the referendum be held on Saturday 18 October 2014?

Yes to it being on a Saturday;  possibly no to it being on 18 October.

The very fact that the Scottish Government is consulting on shifting the voting day away from the traditional Thursday, and implied its support for such a move in that consultation, suggests this is a given.  And about time too.

I’ve long been a fan of electoral reform.  Times change and some traditions outlive their sell-by date.  Thursday voting is one of them.  Why make it hard for people to cast a vote?  Moving it to a Saturday makes it more accessible for everyone.  Similarly, I support the idea of making voting easier by having multiple access points in communities.  Proper polling places but also booths in areas where folk are likely to be found.  Meaning supermarkets, leisure centres, and even, – why not – hairdressers and football clubs.

To allow such easy access, though, requires further innovation by way of electronic voting, so that anyone can turn up anywhere and by scanning their poll card or searching for their entry on the electronic voters’ roll, to check whether they’ve already voted and are indeed, registered to vote, do the deed.  Of course, such an innovation would cost shedloads to resource and in these austerity times, the Scottish Government and the people are likely to baulk at the cost.  What price democracy indeed.

So we’ll probably, definitely get a Saturday.  And it will probably still be in designated polling places on bits of paper and stubby little pencils and crosses.

But 18th October?  Hmm.

This is likely to be either in the middle of or at the end of the traditional October school break.  If so, then many voters are likely to be unavailable.  Of course, folk will be able to arrange a postal vote, but many will also forget.  When every vote is likely to count, and a high turnout a necessity to validate the result, I doubt the Scottish Government would want to risk such calumny.

Moreover, it’s not just the convenience of voters which matters.  Local authorities will have to arrange the poll.  The couple of weeks leading up to a vote is a frenzied one for election teams.  It is a logistical nightmare, getting equipment to polling places, getting them set up and everything in place.  That requires staff.  As does polling day itself.  Thousands of them.  Yet, more are needed for counting.  This would all become nigh impossible if attempted over a school holiday period.

One of the great nonsenses of the Scottish education system is that we have 32 local holidays with most variation actually occurring around the October break.  Some local authorities have one week, a few have two.  Rarely, do two neighbouring authorities manage to schedule their half-term holiday over the same week or weeks.  Anyone who has ever had to try and arrange a meeting for folk from various airts and pairts can find October a bit of a nightmare if school holidays are to be avoided.

Of course, the diary has yet to be set for 2014 so this is not insurmountable.  The Scottish Government could appeal to the better nature of local authorities and seek their co-operation in this matter, something that might become easier if many of the councils are run by SNP administrations after this May.  It would be a wee bonus indeed, if we were suddenly to move to a national half-term break, after years of councils refusing to think of the needs of parents and families around the country.

But I wouldn’t hold my breath.  Tradition, as the reaction to today’s announcement attests, is a curious beast, with a real hold over otherwise sensible folk.

If I was a gambling burd, I’d have an eachway bet on 18th and the 25th, just to be safe.  Oh and maybe the first Saturday in November too.

31 thoughts on “All bets not quite off on date of indy referendum

  1. I still see people referring to the piece in The Sun as an “announcement”. It wasn’t! It was nothing more than cleverly presented speculation. Only the Scottish government can “announce” the date of the referendum.

  2. One thing is abundantly clear from all the comments I’ve read here and elsewhere about the purported day/date of the referendum. It is almost certainly impossible to find a day date that will satisfy everyone. And it is likely that approximately the same proportion of the electorate will be dissatisfied no matter what day/date is chosen.

    On this point, I would say just one thing. Voting is a right AND a responsibility. While the government obviously has a duty to do everything in its power to facilitate access to the democratic process and strive to ensure the highest possible turnout, it seems to me that some people would not be satisfied unless they were able to vote in the comfort of their own home at a date and time which they have selected such that it didn’t in any way impinge on their lives or cause even minimal inconvenience.

    There may come a time when technology makes this possible. Until then, people need to realise that some small effort may be required of them. Maybe they just need to be a wee bit grown-up about the whole business.

    On the matter of the alleged leaking of the date, I personally doubt that there was any tip-off. Why would Salmond take even that small risk? Any moderately well-informed person could have narrowed it down to one of three or four dates. After that, it’s just a guess. In the absence of any official confirmation or denial that guess is going to look exactly like insider knowledge. And there was no way the Scottish government were going to offer either confirmation or denial.

    Other papers are certainly spitting tacks over this. But not because they’ve been scooped by a Sun on Sunday “exclusive” gifted to Murdoch by Alex Salmond. They’re sick as parrots because they didn’t think of the ruse first.

    • Mr Bell I believe you may have hit the nail on the head here.

      “On the matter of the alleged leaking of the date, I personally doubt that there was any tip-off. Why would Salmond take even that small risk? Any moderately well-informed person could have narrowed it down to one of three or four dates. After that, it’s just a guess. In the absence of any official confirmation or denial that guess is going to look exactly like insider knowledge. And there was no way the Scottish government were going to offer either confirmation or denial.”

      One thing it did was to reassure supporters of Johan Lamont that she has not lost her voice. No mean feat these days.

  3. I don’t really care about the date, I don’t think that is an issue. I do think the SNP has talked to the Scottish Sun and asked them to publicise the referendum and I think that’s an unmitigated Good Thing. Because the Sun can reach people it is hard for us to reach. We all know from canvassing that you can roughly divide the electorate in two. One half is very politically engaged, they understand the issues, they understand the way the electoral system works – and that’s important because we are maybe unique in Scotland in having a different electoral system in place for each type of election – and they are motivated to vote. The other half, however, are almost completely disengaged.

    That is a serious problem. Because it’s a vicious circle, if people aren’t engaged they don’t respond to political parties. Most importantly they don’t vote – and because they don’t vote political parties pay less attention to them. We know we shouldn’t but we do, because in the short term the objective of any election campaign is to turn out more of your supporters than the opposition can, so you focus on winning support among those who vote, not those who don’t. But as a consequence we have ended up in the position we are in now which is not healthy.

    There are two big things that need to happen over the next few years to maximise voter turnout – and whether or not people are in favour of independence I would hope everyone wants to see the highest turnout possible for a decision which will impact so much on peoples lives. Firstly we need a voter registration drive because the electoral register is very poor in some areas, particularly deprived areas. Secondly, we need to give people the confidence to actually vote. That’s not as simple as it sounds. If you are someone who has never voted in an election it’s actually quite a big deal to walk into a polling station. On a basic level people need to know what they are expected to do, they also need to know that they are not the only ones who are voting for the first time. If the Scottish Sun can play a part in motivating disengaged voters to want to become involved and can give them the confidence to get out and vote then three cheers for the Scottish Sun say I.

    I understand people thinking oh but Murdoch is a swine etc but I don’t think that is the point. And from an SNP perspective I am pretty sure that victory in the referendum is going to be dependent on getting to and motivating the disengaged, and in some cases unregistered, section of the electorate. It’s not going to be like a parliamentary election in that respect, where all the parties end up chasing the same swing voters. This is going to have to be different and I think we’ll see SNP politicians going to places that maybe you wouldn’t expect them to go and speaking to people that maybe you wouldn’t expect them to speak to in order to reach those people.

    There is an extent to which politics is a bit of a middle class enclave. Really only Tommy Sheridan has systematically pursued “the scheme vote” as it were. That’s not to say that the mainstream parties don’t canvass those areas – but at the same time you have at the back of your mind that folk there are much less likely to turn out than people living in areas with higher home ownership. Well now is the time – and many would say it is long overdue – that we change that way of working. We need to start using the marked up register to reach out to people who don’t vote, rather than only to people who do. Part of that is getting stories into papers that working class people actually read. It’s all very well us all tweeting Ian McWhirter’s latest piece you know – but it’s only people like us who read that. IMore people read the Sun and dare I say it the Daily Record too so we are going to have to give them more stories too. I understand that may stick in the throat a bit but it’s just too bad.

    • I am one of the few people in Scotland ever to run a voter registration and engagement scheme – for disabled people. So you are preaching to the converted.

      But taking such a stance involves a 90 degree shift from all the parties who focus on their vote and differential turnout. They’ve never done broad voter registration and engagement before and it’s a different approach and attitude required.

      Also, hope you don’t mind me asking – how long have you been an SNP member? how many elections have you done? by-elections?

      The SNP has always invested a lot of energy in the scheme vote because it pays off for it. Some of its strongest support comes from these areas, much more so than privately owned areas. Courtesy of a yoof mis-spent in the SNP🙂 I know my way round some of the biggest, roughest schemes in Scotland. And met hunners of decent folk as a result.

      • 20 plus years. I would have agreed on the scheme vote 20 years ago but things have changed – partly because of right to buy, many old schemes are now a majority of home owners. I think the kind of voter the SNP does well with comes under the general heading of “aspirational”. If you recall, after the Glasgow East by-election that was how Frank McAveety said the SNP had won – by getting the aspirational vote. Which is fine, but that’s in the context of declining voter turnout across the board. Part of that is down to the end of class-based voting as well, 20 odd years ago you did meet people who would vote Labour because their family always votes Labour etc – these days the same kind of people are likely to just say I don’t vote. There are of course many people who do vote in schemes etc and people who don’t vote in areas of higher home ownership. It’s not black and white.

  4. whilst my initial reaction was not positive, I see it as a mean to an end,Whilst the last election showed huge support for the SNP this will different and with the other branches of the media still being directed by unionist supporters, then any balanced of favourable reporting can be tolerated.

  5. I’ve got another concern.

    I don’t have any problem with a Saturday in principle, though I don’t see that it actually makes much of a difference other than increasing the cost substantially.

    I am in favour of extending the franchise to 16/17 year olds in principle.

    But any deviation from accepted and/or normal practice gives grist to the mill of those who seek to de-legitimise the exercise.

    That is a far cry from the result not being accepted for it would have to be if everything is done above board. But the result could very well be skewed if there is a body of opinion crying ‘foul’ that can point to ‘variations’ from established electoral practice as evidence.

    I am sure I am not the only SNP council candidate who has already been hit with the accusation that extending the franchise is simply an attempt to gerrymander the result. Once that idea has taken hold there is very little you can do to dissuade people of it because it looks shifty.

    We do need to tread very carefully here.

    • All fair points. The party could have taken the sting out of 16/17 year olds getting vote by pushing for it with last local government elections bill. Goodness only knows why they didn’t. Even in minority admin, Lib Dems and Labour surely would have supported it – or looked awfy silly opposing it.

  6. What is the betting that this is a deliberate leak by the SG – a tactic used since politics got involved with the media – to test the water. No doubt suggested by someone under Murdoch as it will sell more newspapers.

    Oh why the hell did they not hold the Referendum last October!!

    • I’m not convinced there is very much conspiracy here other than the SG was asked for an exclusive – or if it could provide one – for the launch. It gave the paper this one, either to fly a kite or because it wanted the date out there. Time will tell.

  7. Kate may know I had a right good old Twitter rant about the possibility of this being trailed/announced in the Sun on Sunday. For what it’s worth, Saturday seems a good idea to me, and I have every faith that in the end they will pick a date that does not enrage Mod contestants, SNP conference goers or folk on their holidays. I do want to say a bit more though about the issue of this discussion being ignited by the splash in the Sun on Sunday.

    1) I was not able to hear the FM on Radio Clyde so don’t know if he categorically denied that a member of the Scottish Government/SNP leadership trailed or leaked it. The denials I have seen so far say that the consultation is still ongoing and no decision has been taken, which is not quite the same thing. I will keep an eye and ear out for a statement which explicitly states that the Sun on Sunday made up the quote from an SG source “This date is being lined up as the day when people will get the chance to vote for independence and equality for Scotland.” It is all very well to say, “Oh The Sun on Sunday just guessed”, if so where did that quote come from?

    2) If this quote is made up or has deliberately misrepresented someone then I am not happy to throw my hands up and say “Oh well, same old, same old.” What is the point of Leveson if it is not to set new and higher standards, or rather to insist on adherence to existing standards of reporting? It is not okay to make quotes up or to deliberately misrepresent people. If no-one from the SNP spoke to the Sun on Sunday in the terms described then surely they should make a formal complaint?

    3) If the SNP do not want to give stories like this traction they need to react much more quickly and decisively on-line. I do find it odd, for example, that Peter Murrell would retweet an STV story on the splash (which did contain a government denial) but without making it very clear that the piece was speculation. Retweeting a story without clearly denying and/or condemning it unfortunately gives it credibility.

    4) It is not surprising that many people will be happy to believe that this was an SNP “trail”, coming as it did on the back of Mr Murdoch’s cryptic semi-supportive tweets and his conversation with the FM. No doubt the FM would say that it would be an odd politician who didn’t pick up the phone to a major newspaper owner who appeared to be minded to support his party. Maybe so, but the FM needs to be very wary of the impression that creates.

    5) Finally, it may well be that other parties trail announcements in the press that should rightly be made in Parliament. Well, they shouldn’t. Also, unfortunately for the SNP, I do think that part of their appeal to floating voters is that they are different, that they stand apart from the same old cynical political skulduggery. It is therefore, perhaps unfairly, much more damaging for them if voters suspect that they are not playing it straight.

    6) My concern that the date may have been given to the Sun on Sunday is not about party politics. It is not an exercise in SNP bashing. My concern is absolutely about the point of principle. I have seen tweets from SNP supporters suggesting that some folk are looking for an excuse to be outraged. Trust me, I’m really not. There is a wider point here which is that supporters of all parties, but in my experience particularly the SNP, need to accept that not all criticism is politically motivated. I am tired of being accused of having a party allegiance of one sort or another just because I dare to have an opinion.

    Sorry v long comment. Maybe I should have written my own blog!

    • Delighted to have you commenting on this – all your queries/concerns legitimate. And welcome to the world of being bashed by over exuberant Nats! Not that it is something they should be proud of, or you or anyone should have to put up with.

      Shoulda done your own blog, but happy enough to have you comment here. Moderated once, now free to come back without being held! Do visit again soon Shelagh!!

  8. Pingback: Salmond and Murdoch up a tree | Grumpyhatlady and Chums

  9. The thing that really annoys me is that News International seem to be pulling the strings – not Alex Salmond.

    Oh true, he’s the First Minister and Party Leader, but what price the support by Murdoch?

    The SNP keep harking on about how important the Referendum is to the people of Scotland, and how much of a fundamental change in their lives could result – all for a tabloid with a murky reputation telling us all when it will happen.

    As to the date, I think it would be better AFTER the SNP conference. More opportunity for a bit of publicity, and avoids what could turn out to be a bloodbath if the Referendum campaign fails.

    • Lol SNP Conference is not really the crucial point here. That’s an internal consideration, I wouldn’t expect it to affect Scottish Government decision making but equally it suggests to me date is possibly not as set as Scottish Sun suggests.

      All in all I would say today’s press has worked quite well for SNP and SG. Got everyone talking about Saturday voting which I think was the intention.

  10. This “Big Naming of The Date” thing has more to do with Murdoch trying to cash in on the politics in Scotland than any policy making by the SNP. Let’s just wait until the consultation period is over before we all get mad at them.
    Murdoch threw the bait in, and everyone with a moan about anything bit hard…

  11. While I generally agree with you, how does moving the vote to a Saturday make it more accessible for everyone? Accessibility is, I would guess, no different to a Thursday, assuming the same hours.

    Speaking as someone who has worked most Saturdays of the last 18 years, I’m not sure that it would be easier for people who work weekends.

    • Yep you make a fair point. Just as many folk would find it hard to vote on Saturdays. Back to the drawing board…

    • But it would be easier for those who work during the week, which I’m sure you’ll agree is by far the majority of the working population. Remember those scenes after the 2010 election of people being refused entry to polling stations because they’d left it so late. Could it be that these people did not have time to vote before work, and by the time they got home – perhaps after doing some overtime followed by a long commute – the time left to go and vote was restricted?

      There will never be a fits-all solution as long as we have one specific polling date. With that in mind, we have to look at what day of the week is most suitable for the majority of people. Those who work weekends are far less likely to be of the 9-5 variety, and even less likely to require a long commute to and from work, all of which renders the polling hours for many in the working population to shrink from 7am – 10pm to something like 7pm – 10pm.

  12. Surely the SNP wouldn’t want to dictate to local authorities when they should have their holidays?

  13. Isn’t Saturday a quite poor day for the voting. Don’t some people go away and do stuff on a Saturday?

    • From 7am to 10pm? Besides, having to go and earn your wage is a far more compelling reason to be unable to vote than going for a family jaunt, or to the football, or whatever.

  14. Incidentally one further point on why SoS may be flying a kite on date – October break is when SNP Conference is held. Not sure how far ahead SNP HQ has thought and clearly referendum will take priority over conference but I can see good argument for holding a possibly truncated conference after the referendum, Will be decisions to be made regardless of outcome. So my bet would be ref on 1st Saturday of October with perhaps SNP gathering on 18 October.

    • Ooh had forgotten small matter of SNP conference! It’s cos I still think of it as a September gig!!

      But you are right. Alternative would be before the vote? although Electoral Commission rules might scupper any publicity potential. So afterwards. I think the membership would cope with it being shifted, just this once….

      • Yes they would indeed. It could happen at any date really. It’s just another reason to think actually October 18 is not set in stone, I think they’re just trying to get people thinking in terms of Saturday voting.

      • Ooh, tactical you mean. Fair enough. Though the debate around that has been crowded out by faux anger around announcement being made in the papers. So kinda defeated the purpose, if that was the case!

  15. Don’t see the big deal myself. Totally agree re Saturday voting and making it easier – post offices where there is space, supermarkets etc. Hospitals – make it easy for staff and also patients. Why should you miss the chance to vote if you have to go into hospital and haven’t organised a postal vote? Unfair.

    As for the actual date – may be 18th, may not be. still a lot of discussion ahead. But a Saturday in October sounds good to me.

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