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.