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Wings Over Scotland

The third question

Posted on July 01, 2012 by

We’re bored of the “debate” about a second question in the independence referendum. The facts are plain and beyond any sensible dispute:

(a) the SNP has a majority government, and therefore a legitimate democratic mandate to conduct the business of government – including the referendum – any way it wants.

(b) The party’s 2011 election manifesto promised a referendum – it did NOT, contrary to the No camp’s constant assertions, specifically promise a single-question one. (A lie the media bizarrely never challenges.)

(c) All referenda in the United Kingdom are advisory rather than legally binding, so the reservation of the constitution to Westminster under the Scotland Act is therefore irrelevant, and

(d) …is in any event over-ridden by the universal principle of self-determination enshrined in the United Nations Charter and the Declaration Of Human Rights.

So that’s that. This blog, however, neither supports a two-question referendum nor believes for a moment that there will be one. As we’ve said numerous times, Alex Salmond has manoeuvered the Unionist parties onto the ground they instinctively want to occupy anyway – that of denying the people of Scotland the right to select their preferred form of government from the full range of choices – and has neither the desire nor the intention to actually put a second question on the ballot paper, which would all but guarantee the failure of the goal for which he has worked his entire adult life.

But more than that, a two-question referendum is unacceptable no matter which side you’re on. If we’re discounting the simple and reasonable “Yes-Yes” formula of the 1999 devolution referendum – as it appears we must on the grounds of Willie Rennie’s mendacious and disingenuous “51% rule” – and insisting on either-or voting, then the only legitimate number of questions for the referendum is either one or three.

Because there’s a group of Scottish voters who are being completely ignored in the constitutional debate so far. It’s a small percentage – polls suggest somewhere in the region of 6% – but it’s entitled to representation just like everyone else. It’s the section of the electorate that wants Holyrood disbanded altogether and full control of all government functions returned to Westminster.

Despite the embarrassing idiocy of most of the people prepared to be seen espousing the view in public (usually ultra-Unionists), there’s a perfectly valid and rational basis for it, particularly from the right wing of the political arena which believes in the smallest possible amount of government. To such people, Holyrood is just a further unnecessary layer of bureaucracy which wasn’t needed for the first 292 years of the Union and isn’t needed now, and while we couldn’t disagree more with their view it’s a legitimate one and they’re still entitled to a voice.

So if we’re to decide Scotland’s future by multiple choice, we need to have ALL the choices available, and that means three questions on the ballot paper: Independence Y/N, Devo max Y/N and Return to Westminster control Y/N.

That allows for all four possible outcomes, with a No-No-No vote representing the status quo. It would have its own complications – voting Yes to more than one option would have to be counted under such a system as a spoiled paper – but frankly anyone incapable of understanding the sentence “DO NOT VOTE YES TO MORE THAN ONE QUESTION” shouldn’t be having a say in the nation’s future anyway, and really ought to get back to Ibrox before they’re missed.

(We’re aware that such a formulation makes less sense than just having four options and having voters tick one, but that’s partly our point – as soon as the referendum is anything but a single question the word “question” ceases to have any useful meaning, so talking of a “second question” in the context of a binary choice is stupid anyway.)

A two-question referendum accepting a Yes/Yes response is in fact every bit as valid a concept now as it was in 1999, but we’ve been left in very little doubt that the Unionist parties would refuse to accept its result this time, so it’s off the table. A single Yes/No question is the best remaining option. But if we ARE to have more than one question, two just isn’t good enough.

The parties of the No camp aren’t only scared of a second question because they know they would lose it. They’re also scared because allowing a second question would put them in the position of having to accept a third, which would split their vote and increase the chances of independence winning outright. (Ironically, in part due to their own frantic polarisation of the arguments since last May.) Their fear of democracy, and their determination to silence the voice of the Scottish people, knows no limits.

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18 to “The third question”

  1. Stevie says:

    Another incisive referendum moment. 

    Your ‘blogs’ are ascending to that other level of valuable input that will help shape the debate.

    Though, I suspect the SNP is actually considering a second question.

    Time will tell — Salmond is a gambler, this shouldn’t be interpreted as he takes unnecessary risks but rather as someone who weighs up the options and sizes up the likely outcomes.

    If he thinks the independence single question is not winable then he’ll add a DEVO-MAX second question.

    A complete loss would be devastating for the independence movement — he won’t let that happen.

    I personally want a single question, if that fails, a second referendum immediately afterwards (within 2 months) on DEVO-MAX. 

    Let’s hope we win… though the actual YES win depends on two things in my view (at least generally speaking): 1) getting to everybody and communicating a solid economic argument for independence 2) the destructive force of Tory idealogical austerity and attacks on the poor and unemployed

    If we can communicate the economic argument then we can win, but the Big Debate communicated absolutely nothing of that on BBC this week. 

    It takes 2 years of constant repetitioon of an idea before that idea becomes fixed in people’s minds — that means that argument cannot wait till 6 months before the referendum.

    The Tories are like the scorpion, they can’t help themselves and have never been very smart.  Being sneaky and cunning is not the same thing.  They will probably destroy the poor and sick with no conscience and te Scots will see this… or maybe they’ll stop their natural behaviour till after the referendum.

    If 1) and 2) do not come to pass then I question our chances of eventual success.

    I especially question our chances of success if the pro-indy folk just speak to each other… time to spread our ‘Wings’ and reach the undecideds.     

  2. McHaggis says:

    Scottish independence is, in my view, guaranteed.

    However, it won’t happen in 2014.
    My heart wishes for a ‘Yes’ vote, but for whatever reason, I am surrounded by those in the ‘No’ camp – the vast majority of friends and family as well as work colleagues are simply scared of what independence might mean. Most of those have swallowed hook line and sinker at least some of the unionist scaremongering.

    Prediction — 40:60 Yes:No in 2014.

    Having said that, I do believe that rather than be a disaster for the SNP, they will sweep to an even greater majority at the very next elections.

    More power for Scotland in the form of some kind of devo-max will follow, then, within another 20 years or so through some means or another, independence will be delivered.

    So, I hope the question is a straightforward yes:no… anything else will be argued as a fudge. Sorry Rev, but a third question for the westminster lickspickles isn’t really relevant here… they lost the last referendum despite their best attempts to fix it with the ‘extra taxation’ question. There is simply put, no going back or even consideration of going back to having no Scottish parliament. If that appears undemocratic then thats only in the context of the 2014 vote – if the 6% want to bin Hollyrood then let them start their own movement to do so, not piggyback on the back of 2014.

  3. Holebender says:

    There’s only going to be one question; the independence yes/no question. No political party wants anything else, and the only people who could ever deliver more devolution are dead set against it.

    The SNP people are shrewd political operators and I see no reason to believe they haven’t thought this one through as much as they have everything else. (I’ve also had a pretty heavy hint direct from the mouth of Angus Robertson MP.) The SNP will keep the two question scenario alive as long as possible to show the unionist parties up as the nay-sayers they are and, more importantly, to raise expectations among the electorate. Once people accept that significant change is necessary it will be much harder for them to go back to the status quo than to take the additional step forward to independence. Add in the factor that the SNP will eventually portray the dropping of the multi-question option as being entirely down to those nay-saying unionist parties refusing to allow the electorate to make their preferred choice and the chances of the devo-maxers going for independence rather than no change increase significantly.

  4. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    “The SNP will keep the two question scenario alive as long as possible to show the unionist parties up as the nay-sayers they are and, more importantly, to raise expectations among the electorate. Once people accept that significant change is necessary it will be much harder for them to go back to the status quo than to take the additional step forward to independence. Add in the factor that the SNP will eventually portray the dropping of the multi-question option as being entirely down to those nay-saying unionist parties refusing to allow the electorate to make their preferred choice and the chances of the devo-maxers going for independence rather than no change increase significantly.”

    Yes. That’s what I’ve said Salmond’s strategy is all along.

  5. John says:

    I sincerely hope that we achieve independence in 2014. If we don’t though, and the SNP win a majority of Scottish Westminster seats in 2015, doesn’t that mean that we get independence anyway ? Excuse my ignorance if that’s a daft question.

  6. James Sneddon says:

    McHaggis  It is the opposite with me.  All friends and family are in the YES camp. Mostly, if not all, traditional labour voters 20 years ago.  But as it’s been said ‘labour left me’.  To be honest unionists are like nuns , you don’t see as much around as you used to!.  Taa Dahh !      

    I’ll get my coat.

  7. TYRAN says:

    re: guy in the picture. Anyone doing a review on last BBC Scotland debate show? I think the message got across last time due to the vast improvement. 

    John – I think with a majority in Holyrood, the SNP can stop the “Union With England Act”, which was passed in the Scots parliament of 1707, and in turn activated the Treaty. I don’t see why not. They are just being kind and asking the electorate.

  8. Doug Daniel says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how many journalists continue to state so utterly matter-of-factly that Alex Salmond wants a second question. The tactics are so blatantly obvious, and have been verbalised on several occasions, but they refuse to believe them.

    They’re almost as bad as Ian Smart, who continues to state that there won’t be a referendum, despite both YES and NO camps launching their campaigns. We’re too far down the road to go back now.

  9. Paula Abdul's Squirrell says:

    “Willie Rennie’s mendacious and disingenuous “51% rule””
    The resultant conclusion of Willie’s scenario is:


    51 percent are For Independence and more devolution

    48 percent are against Independence but For more devolution; and

    1 percent against any change.


    Independence is therefore the choice of the majority.

  10. I find it interesting that almost everybody seems to assume that asking more than one question necessitates having multiple options on one ballot paper.
    Surely it would be easy and sensible to have multiple ballot papers.  For instance, we could be given a blue ballot paper with the question “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?” and the options Yes and No, and also a yellow ballot paper with the question “If question 1 fails and Scotland continues to be a dependent nation, do you agree that Holyrood should be given full fiscal powers?” and the option Yes and No.  (If you like, you could even have a third ballot paper about abolishing Holyrood altogether.)
    The neat thing about this is that the blue vote could be done according to Westminster’s rules, so that London can’t complain about anything, while the yellow vote would be sponsored purely by Holyrood, and therefore advisory in nature (but almost impossible to ignore by Westminster, too).

  11. Macart says:

    @ Doug Daniel

    I’m actually fairly happy that the MSM are punting the FMs supposed desire to have a second question, its a win win.

    Regardless of the slant they put on this desire, the public have been told loud and clear that he wants it there, he’s seen to be proactive in trying to offer true democratic choice. The no camp on the other hand have been very actively trashing the idea since day one. Like others have said, I don’t think Q2 will appear, not without Westminster caving significantly at the last kick and placing devo max as their official offer on the table to retain the union. The chances of that happening are about the same as mine in seeing the sudden reappearance of my hairline again.

    The FM set that one up beautifully and so far Westminster and our obliging British media have been extremely helpful. 🙂

  12. John F says:

    A referendum with 3 choices with 1. independence:2. devo-max: 3. status quo. If no choice receives 50%+1 vote out of the total votes cast in the first ballot, a second ballot to be held between the top two choices.

  13. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:

    @James Gilmour

    Interesting reading and thanks for sharing.

    If we are asking for 2 separate options (with 3 outcomes) then my own preference has always been a multi question single ballot, i.e.

    Do you agree that Scotland should be Independent? YES/NO

    Should the Independence option fail to achieve the required majority (i.e. 50%+1)

    Do you agree that Scotland should have full control over all taxation and spending within Scotland except for defence and foreign affairs (i.e Full Fiscal Autonomy)? YES/NO

    As such, the second question only becomes relevant if the first question fails to return a majority.

    There really is no reason for Westminster to be so against the idea, unless of course they have no intention of offering more power within a devolved framework.

  14. Morag says:

    I’m with Scott.  If we have devo-max on the ballot, that’s how to do it.  Make it clear that this IS our independence referendum, and that is the primary and most important question.
    The second question only counts at all IF the primary question fails to achieve a majority.  Surely to God even Willie Rennie can cope with that concept.

  15. James Gilmour says:

    Technically that would be possible.  But politically, I think it is a non-starter as it could well (currently looks likely to) produce a 51% independence, 91% devo-max outcome.  That would result in political chaos, no matter how you worded the questions and no matter you stated again and again that the first question had absolute precedence.  The electorate would simply not accept such a result as a mandate for independence.  Quite apart from legal wrangling (for years) it would become politically impossible to implement the independence option.

    But we can avoid all such chaos and possibilities of misunderstand by adopting one of the approaches recommended in my paper.  A clear decision is essential.  That’s what they would give.

    James Gilmour

  16. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:

    @James Gilmour

    So we are back to Rennies riddle then? Well the answer to that is simple.

    51% of people voted for Independence as their first preference.

    Within the second question 91% Devo Max vote there is still 51% of people who voted for Independence as their first preference, so the figures are:

    51% Independence – First Preference
    40% Devo Max – First Preference
    9% Status Quo – First Preference

    i.e. Independence Wins

  17. Morag says:

    Precisely.  I’m quite concerned how innumerate some people seem to be on this simple matter.

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