Vote! How many questions should be asked in the independence referendum?

You’d think, given that there are still two whole years to go, that someone somewhere would call a truce and gies the summer aff.

So we could all go away and think thoughts.  Or just read books on a beach.

But no, there is still plenty of noise and heat being generated over the referendum, and the long, drawn-out positioning on the process continues apace.

I’d like to say negotiating, but that ain’t happening:  the preferred mode of debate is still to shout at each other from the pages of newspapers and across the twitter, blog and web-spheres.

In this grown-ups’ game of Top Trumps, many cards have been traded – the Scotland bill,  the date of the referendum, who gets to be in charge of it, and who gets to vote on it.  But both sides are holding on tightly to their shinies on the question or questions to be asked.  No one appears ready to trade on this, just yet.

For any reader who has spent the last few months in a cave, the defining procedural issue concerns whether the referendum should be a straight yes/no for independence or whether there should also be an option on the ballot paper for a devo-plus (some more powers, especially economic and fiscal ones devolved to Holyrood) or devo-max option (everything but the big nation state stuff like defence and foreign affairs being transferred from Westminster).  So, a multi-option puzzle.

And – just to add to our confusion – depending on how the question is put, we are talking about a one question or a two question referendum.  If we are offered to choose between two statements on independence – I want an independent Scotland or I don’t want an independent Scotland – that’s a two question ballot.  If it’s Scotland should be independent – yes or no, that’s a one question vote.  Yep, you can see why it matters.

But given that the consultation was on a yes/no basis, we’ll talk about a one or two question ballot – with the second question potentially being on devo-plus or max.

Only it’s still more complicated than that, because there are folk like me who want the No, or rather the status quo, option to be on a souped-up devolution offer.  So that what people are getting to choose is going the whole way or nearly there.  This, I like to think is supremely democratic:  no poll in the last few years has shown that the overwhelming desire of Scots is to stay as we are.  Indeed, most polls show that majority opinion favours “nearly there”.  It should be a given that this option is somehow put before the people.

It has been suggested that the First Minister and others in the SNP firmament would like the fallback position of devo-max on the ballot paper.  The only evidence to back up this assertion is a blog posted by referendum tactical supremo Stephen Noon way back in October 2011 (and a lot of things have shifted since then) and some casually thrown away remarks by the First Minister while out on Brave duty in the US.  I suspect he was flying a kite to see what the reaction was.

And reaction he got, with a flurry of folk on the pro-independence side coming out for a straight yes-no.  Not that many had ever really been in the closet on this, but there is an awful lot of chatter on it, including well-placed and un-named sources in high up Cabinet and Ministerial positions whispering outside the tent in order to achieve their objective.

But there are others who share the First Minister’s supposed caution, or rather, would also like a potential fallback position.  And at this point, Alex Salmond is trying to do what he does best:  tactically outmanoeuvre the opposition.

Since last May (have we really been talking about this for fourteen months?), the somewhat unholy alliance of Unionist parties, with Labour at its helm, have insisted that it will be a straight yes-no – a one question ballot – and Salmond and co are not getting to eat a cake, baked and decorated by them.  More devolution isn’t for this vote but for another one, as part of an election campaign.  Vote no and we’ll give you what you want later.  Jam tomorrow.

The problem is that none of the parties has decided what flavour of jam is on the menu.  Scottish Labour, which is determined to show that it is leading the process and the No campaign, promised a policy forum to develop its stance on more powers, but apparently, it’s not been set up yet.  So jam then, and we’ll all just have to trust them that it will be lovely when it’s made.  But we all know what happens if you don’t get the balance of ingredients right and don’t give jam enough time to set…

There is some movement in the pro-Union camp on this, though.  An interesting piece by Tom Peterkin in the Scotsman yesterday suggests that the Devo-plus lot, led by Jeremy Purvis, is trying to persuade the anti-independenistas to offer devo-plus as a defined alternative to full independence.  Their intention would be that this would effectively be the no option in the referendum.  And still, for it to be a one question rather than two question gig.

This is a prospect which gladdens my heart and quite possibly, allows the First Minister a quiet purr as well.  He may well want devo-plus or max on the ballot paper, but to keep independence supporters happy, really doesn’t want to have to bake this cake himself.

But what do you all think?  How many questions do you want to be asked in the referendum on independence?

I had thought I’d done a wee poll on this before, but clearly I only dreamed I had….  So as we are in the silly season, and some of us haven’t yet made it to the beach, let’s see if we can shed a little light on this most vexing of issues.

Update:  I forgot the don’t know option.   And for the cynics, the no referendum at all one.   Poll now updated.  Sigh.


20 thoughts on “Vote! How many questions should be asked in the independence referendum?

  1. This is really all about empowering the Holyrood Government to negotiate on our behalf. Because before we go anywhere on the constitution, we will need to talk to the big boy down the road. His pals wont tell us what the big boy wants, so there has to be two questions, one answer for us, and if we get that answer then the big boy can’t touch us, and one we need for him. Because the big boys pals are scared of him, so we need to talk for them as well.

  2. Allan

    FFA is only possible with independence and I don’t understand why anybody believes otherwise. Anything short of independence leaves us jointly responsible for some areas of spending which we might not agree with so it is not FFA and of course is a recipe for interminable dispute.

  3. One question. “Do you agree that Scotland should become an independent country?”

    We are presently in phase of exposing the unionists’ inability to come up with devo max position that is not hugely complicated and demonstrably less useful than uncomplicated independence.

    I don’t think we should bother discusssing any of this

  4. There should be two questions. A yes/no question on Independence and a yes/no question on fiscal autonomy for Scotland – which should be a suitable workaround for the distinct lack of a definition for Devo-max (despite Devo max being the settled will of the Scotish people).

    By the way, i might be wrong here but have the backers of the “Better Together” camp ever ruled out offering Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland if either of the above questions are in the afirmative? I seem to remember Cameron ruling out Fiscal Autonomy from somewhere but can’t remember if this is true or not?

  5. It should be a straight yes/no. “Do you want Scotland to be independent from the rest of the UK?”

    No leading questions on the lines of “do you agree?”.

    The SNP dare not use a “Devo Max” type question. Not after all the hooha beforehand. It smacks of concern that they will not get their way with a straight yes/no.

    Peter, the “No” side do not need to tell us what that vote would entail. The “Yes” side have to give clear and transparent information as to what will happen if we vote for independence.

    The voters know exactly what a “No” vote entails. They already live in the Union. What is not clear is what will happen in an independent Scotland. All the utopian mince will not persuade any except the diehards. And at present there is a lot of confusion over Europe, Defence and Currency policies for starters. If that is not cleared up sharpish then support will drop even further.

    • “The voters know exactly what a “No” vote entails.”

      Then I trust you will grace us with the benefit of your knowledge. Tell us exactly what will happen with Scotland’s economy 5, 10, 20 years after a No vote. Tell us whether we will be members of the EU in 20 years time should the people of Scotland put their faith in the British state. What will happen to Scotland’s regiments? In fact, just take all the questions that are asked of independence campaigners and redirect them to the union proposition.

      I look forward to a lengthy and detailed response. But I’m not holding my breath.

    • The voters know exactly what a “No” vote entails. They already live in the Union.

      Can you direct me to the document spelling this out? I suspect the roses are blooming well this year in your neck of the woods.

    • Barbarian.

      That’s not really true. For example, are the Conservitives planning on scrapping Barnet post the next Westminster Elections? What powers are the Coalition/Labour planning on offering to Holyrood and what powers are they planning on… ah whats that phrase again… repatriating to Westminster?

      You are absolutely right to say that the “Yes” camp have questions to answer – questions they have singularly failed to answer. It’s just that the “Better Together” backers have dificult questions to answer as well. Otherwise it will just be a rerun of the last two big elections where the big parties competed with how little they told the electorate about how they were going to run things.

      • “You are absolutely right to say that the “Yes” camp have questions to answer – questions they have singularly failed to answer.”

        Such as?

      • Peter.

        I can give you three…

        1) What lessons have the SNP learned from the Eurozone with regards to creating a Sterling-zone with r-UK?

        2) Just what would I-Scotland’s position be regarding entry to the EU (do they have to apply or would they be entrants – as some people think – as a sucessor nation to the UK)? Also why should I-Scotland enter the EU with out a proper debate on whether we should enter/stay in the EU?

        3) If there is a yes vote, what happens when Cameron & Osborne don’t succumb to Salmond’s charm and agree to all/most of the SNP’s terms? What happens if Osborne digs in over, say, Oil revenues?

      • All of these have been answered repeatedly. You need to develop your listening skills.

      • Peter.

        These questions have not been answered, and most certainly not in an adequate fashion that will help to sway people towards voting yes for Independence.

        On the SNP’s proposal to create a Sterling-zone, we’ve not heard much apart from flannel and flummery from Swinney with proposals that are non-fliers and show no evidence of learning about the Euro-zone crisis. On I-Scotland’s relationship with the EU, there is conflicting legal advice regarding whether I-Scotland would be within the EU or have to apply to join. On this issue there should be a post Independence debate and referendum on whether Scotland should join anyway. On the SNP’s negociating skills, Mike Russell seems to think that post a yes vote, Scotland will be Independent by 2016 (by inference that Cameron & Osborne will roll over, that will not happen).

        I remain convinced that the SNP missed a trick by not turning their 2010 Westminster Election campaign into a dry run for this referendum, and I remain even more convinced by the “Yes” camp’s non success (to date, there is time to remedy this) with the big battle ground issues.

  6. Salmond does not want a second question at all. He is only raising the possibility as it focuses the discussion on Trident and foreign wars, which is what devo-max or plus or whatever else you want to call it, is about. Few people, I suspect, would sign up for that if they really understood it. By suggesting that the option might be given if people want it, but then making it clear that there is a binary question only because of the perfidious will of the unionists, he will influence a lot of ‘undecided’ voters in favour of the result that he desires. Clever man!

    • All I want is to live in a country that has the same rights as every other country in the world, independence, not too much to ask in fact it is every country’s right to self determination.

  7. Pingback: Vote! How many questions should be asked in the independence referendum? | Referendum 2014 |

  8. For all the fuss that the anti-independence campaign makes about the need for greater clarity about what a YES vote would mean, the real mystery is the implications of a no vote. In reality, there is a great deal of information “out there” about the SNP’s vision for an independent Scotland. One of the many contradictions of the NO campaign is that it simultaneously derides that SNP vision while denying the existence of any information on which to judge it.

    Alternative visions are offered by the likes of the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party, and with the establishment of the Yes Scotland campaign it is likely that the options for an independent Scotland will be further explored and better articulated.

    But nobody will tell us what a NO vote means. Few are even asking the question. The mainstream media certainly aren’t pursuing answers from the Tory/Labour/LibDem coalition with anything remotely approaching the fervour with which they interrogate the SNP.

    It is because of this lack of definition of the NO vote that I have chosen the third option in the accompanying poll. The forces of the British state would dearly like to leave the implications of a majority NO vote as vague as possible in order that they can claim a mandate for whatever they choose to do. They must be forced to state explicitly what is on offer. Or it must be made clear that a NO vote is a vote for the status quo.

    Independence campaigners are criticised for asking people to vote for something that can only truly be defined once independence has been achieved. But anti-independence campaigners are asking for precisely the same. The difference is that, with independence it is the people of Scotland who will do the defining. A NO vote takes that power away from the people of Scotland and puts it in the hands of the British political establishment.

    NOTE: My recent blog on the subject of a NO vote may be relevant – “What does no really mean?” Also, an earlier blog on “Salmond’s second question strategy”

    • Peter – I have to agree with all that you say, apart from the assertion that a NO vote will be a vote for the Status Quo – it would be a vote for rolling back what little self determination that you have not keeping it the same.

      • The point is that the unionists have to admit that it’s a vote for the status quo. At present they are trying to pretend that a NO vote will mean something better. They just won’t say what. So they have to be made to specify what they are offering. Or, at the very least, guarantee the status quo. At present, a NO vote means whatever they want it to mean.

  9. “If we are offered to choose between two statements on independence – I want an independent Scotland or I don’t want an independent Scotland – that’s a two question ballot.”

    This is one question – if it were two questions there would be two pairs of boxes for voters to put a cross into (eg Yes, I want and independent Scotland, and Yes I dont want an independent Scotland).

    This is just one question presenting two options and is just a rephrasing of the independence yes-no question.


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