COMMONS

Scottish Government must pursue consensus on referendum issues

11 January 2013

The Scottish Affairs Committee calls on the SNP to legislate for a referendum that is completely fair and neutral – and therefore unquestionably legitimate - as possible.

In the Report, the Committee welcomes the recent agreement between the UK and Scottish Governments on a section 30 Order to allow the Scottish Parliament to hold a referendum on whether Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom or not.

It says it is of the highest importance that both sides of the argument will be willing to accept the result of the referendum - whatever that is - and that the losing side should have no basis to claim that the process was biased or illegitimate. For that reason, the Committee says it is right for the referendum legislation to be passed in the Scottish Parliament and so it should therefore be given the legislative competence to do so.

However, the Committee says that places a heavy responsibility on the Scottish Parliament to build the referendum bill on the widest possible consensus.

But the Committee is concerned that in a number of aspects of the process the Scottish Government appears to be pursuing partisan advantage, rather than seeking consensus. In a previous Report, Do you agree this is a biased question?, the Committee drew attention to the unsatisfactory nature of the question proposed, but the Scottish Government is persisting with it.

The Committee says that despite the real difficulties caused by prolonged delay, the Scottish Government is insisting on holding the referendum as late as possible. Despite agreeing to the impartial oversight of the Electoral Commission, it has refused to commit to be bound by the decisions of this neutral referee.

The Committee says:

  • that decisions in the Scottish Parliament should be on the basis of wide consensus, rather than a majority being used to ram through partisan choices
  • the decisions of an impartial third party, in this case the Electoral Commission, should be accepted (unless an alternative consensus exists)
  • there can be no question of delay in the referendum date beyond 2014
  • questions of who will be allowed to vote must be decided as soon as possible
  • the rules around donations should follow the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) framework, and no foreign donations should be allowed

Chair of the Committee Ian Davidson MP said;

"The Edinburgh agreement was reached by compromise and consensus between Scots at Westminster and Scots at Holyrood and we congratulate both teams.
It is right in principle that the practical details of the referendum be handled in the Scottish  Parliament – but with power comes responsibility. This referendum will be Scotland’s shop window on the world: it must be handled with pride and probity.
Ideally, the details will be agreed by consensus and co-operation during the campaigns, failing which by the Electoral Commission, acting as an impartial referee.
The worst option is to have the pursuit of factional advantage – 'the aggregation of marginal gains' - by the majority who have control and who dread defeat.
We fear the worst – but hope for the best."

Further information

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