‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?’

Well, the essential question proposed by Alex Salmond in his consultation paper is surely good enough to satisfy the UK government’s requirement for a clear question on independence. That’s one stumbling block out of the way, I reckon.  But Westminster ‘s rival paper is clearly opposed  to a second question on anything like devo max.

These are two different issues, and should be considered separately. If these two questions were asked together, there would be four possible outcomes, and potentially four different campaigns, each arguing for a different result. On an issue as important as whether Scotland remains part of the UK, the arguments must be presented clearly, to allow people in Scotland to make an informed decision. Having four different campaigns would not help to generate clarity.

The questionnaire in the UK consultation does not include a specific question on devo max, asking only:   “What are your views on the question or questions to be asked in a referendum?”

In his consultation paper, Salmond tiptoes round devo max:

 The Scottish Government has consistently made it clear in … its 2010 consultation paper on a draft referendum Bill that it is willing to include a question on further devolution in the referendum. That remains the Scottish Government’s position. It will listen carefully to the views and arguments put forward on this issue in response to this consultation.

No insistence there then on devo max as a hedged bet in the referendum, even if it might be the preferred option of a Scottish majority. Salmond seems also to have  conceded Westminster’s authority to delegate referendum powers to Holyrood under Section 30 of the Scotland Act – ( see this discussion), provided they are given “ without conditions” – whatever that may mean. On the other hand, while the UK coalition wants a referendum “sooner rather than later “ it looks as if their objections to Salmond ‘s timetable have eased for it to be held in the autumn of 2014:

 We have not set out a view on a specific date for a referendum in this paper and we welcome views on the date by which a referendum should be held.

  This would in any case give the “devo more ” ( not max)  forces time  to group and hone their arguments.  The Westminster consultation ends on 9 March, Holyrood’s on 11 May. Westminster then will get in the first blow, armed with the some assessment of public opinion.

Will they play hard ball and tell Salmond; it’s one question, for or against independence; do you want your referendum or not?


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  • Neil

    Will they play hard ball and tell Salmond; it’s one question, for or against independence; do you want your referendum or not?

    Will Salmond pay a lick of attention to English demands? If he decides to hold a referendum with his own desired questions in it, will the English be able to do anything about it?

    I suspect Salmond will do as he pleases and the English will be under extreme pressure to to honour the will of the people. Could the English disregard the outcome of a vote if it didn;t like the questions asked? I doubt it myself.

  • The unionists are fairly running scared if this diversion is the best argument they have against Devo Max. Brian neatly avoids the fact that the electorate is easily able to cope with at least a dozen campaigns every election. Two yes or no questions is hardly rocket science even for the most challenged of Scotchmen.

  • Neil,

    The problem is that in a referendum with more than two options, it’s not always clear what the will of the people actually is. Referenda work best when used as a popular veto on significant legislation (do you consent to the Scotland independence bill 2012? yes/no). What they cannot do is act as a substitute for representative deliberation – it is the job of elected politicians to reconcile the public’s contradictory desires and produce bills which can attract widespread support. The problem with non-binary ballot papers is that the result is a function not only of public opinion but of the framework, hence the perennial arguments about vote-splitting and preferential voting systems.

    The suspicion is that devo-max will be put on the ballot paper solely to split the anti-independence vote. If devo-max can be put on, then why not devo-lite? What about no devo at all? I’m sure there’s a few left who’d vote for that. Why can’t we put “independence in the EU” and “independence outside the EU” as separate options? What about independent republic vs independent realm? All these are valid issues, but they are separate issues. It is the job of politicians to sort through the options and find the best compromise. To do otherwise is an abdication of their responsibility.

    What could easily happen is that independence gets say 40%, devo-max gets 35% and no change gets 25%. Nationalists will claim a plurality for independence, unionists will claim a majority for devolution. Both will claim to have the will of the people on their side, and both will be justified in saying so.

    Result: chaos.

  • Drumlins Rock

    ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?’ is a very poor question.

    “Should Scotland become a Sovereign State.”
    Would be more accurate wording, the whole “do you agree” is a leading question, we naturally want to say yes when asked that question, “you have to agree Eastenders is much better than Corrie” “well yes… hold on I hate Eastenders!”, it is a subtle trick question, whereas “Is Eastender better than Corrie” will give a more honest answer.

  • ayeYerMa

    Indeed DR, ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?’ is an absolutely woefully biased question that mentions nothing about ending the UK relationship.

    It could be argued that Scotland already is “an independent country”, and Salmond is playing on this ambiguity.

    A more precise and honest question is “‘Do you agree that Scotland should leave the United Kingdom become an independent sovereign state?’

  • ayeYerMa

    … well, not that “independent” will mean much in the EU.

  • JR

    I think it is a perfectly clear question. If I asked you DR and AYM

    Do you agree that the island of Ireland should independent country?

    I don’t think either of you are going to be more inclined to vote Yes because of the way the question was put. I would say you both are being a bit insulting to Scottish people’s intelligence.

  • HeinzGuderian

    I’m not sure your ‘clear’ question is all that clear,jr ?

    ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?’
    Evey single poll I’ve seen on the subject gives a resounding NO !
    Next question please……..;-)

  • Drumlins Rock

    JR, you just gave me the excuse to bring up this old clip of Yes Prime Minister, a true classic and forever changed my views of surveys of any sort, including referendum.


    As for the Scots or anyone else being easily lead, in a recent survey with leading questions like this one 40% were in favour of independence, yet it dropped to 26% when worded different and including a third option. I will be blunt and suggest you are lacking in intelligence if you are one of those 13% who changed their mind on such an important issue in the space of a few minutes. Devo Max no matter how you wrap it is not independence, so is a NO, if it is only a two question poll then anything other than independance is a NO. simples.

  • It seems the biggest risk to the UK’s future is the devo max option ending up put into effect which, for unionists here, a bad precedent this will set and result in devolution in the two parts [Scotland & N Ireland] becoming rivals for tax changing powers etc as if they were already rival countries in their own right. That will/would make a mockery of the title United Kingdom as it would then be nothing of the kind any more.

  • DougtheDug


    The SNP don’t want devo-max on the ballot paper, it is after all another unionist option, but they want it to be clear that it’s the unionist parties who are switching that option off.

    The SNP can’t put devo-max on the ballot paper because if they unilaterally define the powers of devo-max and put it on the ballot paper then telling the Scottish electorate that it will happen would be an outright lie.

    To implement it the unionist parties will have to get an agreement from a majority of MP’s in Westminster and the majority of MP’s are based in England. To get these MP’s to pass devo-max means they will be the ones who define what devo-max means so only the unionist parties can define what devo-max means in terms of fiscal, legislative and executive powers.

    I put an article on bellacaledonia detailing why devo-max will not be on the ballot paper because it is simply too hard for the unionist parties to define.


    Without devo-max the only choice for change will be independence.

    The unionist parties don’t want devo-max or anything resembling devo-max but their campaign is already based on, “Vote no for devolution”, though none have come up with what that powers that future devolution actually will entail.

  • To carry total legitimacy there should be a clear question about independence, no confusing of the issue with a supplementary question about devo max whatever that would entail. Otherwise there will be lots of room for mischief as happened here in Canada some years back when Quebec did or didn’t vote for separation. A large number, perhaps a majority, of the people voting didn’t understand the question; it was a whole confusing paragraph. And it was a close run thing.

  • GoldenFleece

    “Do you agree…” is biased. It infers that the consensus is FOR Scottish Independence and is already established. Thus it asks if you agree with the pre-determined consensus.

    A fair question is “Should Scotland become Independent and leave the UK?”

  • Drumlins Rock

    Joe, interestingly wikipedia says opinion polls now put those supporting independance as low as 30%, so if the close vote had of went the other way would it have been the wrong decision? Something so important should either be a weighted vote (an overall majority or two third majority) or two stage vote, first vote to enter negotiations, second vote to confirm the deal a year or so later.

  • GoldenFleece

    Salmond is a tricky dick, I will give him that.

    The question favours the SNP.

    If the Electorial Commision or the Major Parties reject it (as they should as its not really a fair question) he will pass it off as English intransgience and thus favours the SNP.

    I’m finding Celtic nationalism is all about “Get rid of the English and things will be fine”. Although the ROI will give and example against that.

    I wonder why Salmond does quote Iceland or Ireland as models for Scotland anymore?

  • Alias

    ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?’

    That would be a mandate to exit the EU in addition to exiting the UK. Scotland won’t be an independent country if it exits the UK. In fact, it will have even less influence over its economy than it has now.

    Under the current framework, Scotland’s macroeconomic and monetary policy is a reserved matter but, as its economy is aligned with the rest of the UK, those policies are broadly appropriate for Scotland. Under the new framework (Scotland will not be allowed an opt-out from Eurozone membership), those policies will not be set by Scotland in its economy’s interest but will be set by the EU in the interests of the economies of Germany and France. They will have no relevance, other than by sheer happenstance, to the needs of the Scottish economy.

    Scotland will not gain control of macroeconomic and monetary policy as a consequence of independence from the UK, and it will not gain control of the elements of fiscal policy that are reserved. There will be no opt-out for Scotland from the common consolidated corporate tax base, so, contrary to claims, Scotland will not have the sovereignty to set a competitive corporate tax rate.

    The UK has an opt-out from the eurozone and from the CCCTB. The hard reality is that Scotland will lose more ‘independence’ from exiting the UK than it will gain.

    For an example of how eurozone membership can utterly destroy a boooming export-led economy, see Ireland. It’s external debt stood at 11 billion punts in the year it gave up its sovereignty over its macroeconomic and monetary policy and its central bank to the EU. A mere 10 years later, it had an external debt of 1.84 trillion euros and its exports were half the level in real terms than they were before it joined.

  • antamadan

    To get back to the question ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?’ My answer is Yes if they want. and No if they don’t.

    However, my experience of visiting Scotland on business (to the sister office to the one in RoI) was 1. Shock on the anti-English narrative from the Scots, something I found tedious to be honest, as I thought they could vote for the SNP instead of ‘bitchn’ 2. The other thing was my own ignorance of Scotland, despite being pretty good on world geography and histoy, I guess because it isn’t a sovereign state.. Going into the office where the union jack was flying and also a blue and white one, I almost asked my host what was the blue and white flag. (In the RoI office, they flew the tricolour and the county flag). There is something in being sovereign, ruling yourself and sitting in the UN; but the South is in such a mess I wouldn’t advise the Scots to rush. Nonetheless, looking at some historical photos recently, the site of people marching with signs saying ‘No Home Rule’ can strike one as a bit pathetic, … but I know why

  • gréagóir o frainclín

    I agree that Scotland should be an independent country, but given the current state of international economics I think Scotland is better off remaining within the UK just as is Northern Ireland.

    I bet less of an Anglocentric bias to the current Union would appease nationalist Scots instead.

    BTW, I am not a Unionist, I adhere to Republican ideals but not the hotch potch Sinn Fein/IRA contrived version.

    Besides I don’t think Scotland has the balls to go all the way and pursue full independence. I think some Scots are rather mouthy regarding Scottish independence. Indeed, they can thank the English for a lot of things including their somewhat contrived trappings ie kilts

  • JR

    Good clip but I would point out that there is a big difference in a poll and a referendum. I have been approached on the streets and to be honest if it is a subject I am unsure about I will say anything. By the time the referendum comes everyone will be well aware of which box they should tick if they are for or against independence.

  • Neil

    Joe, interestingly wikipedia says opinion polls now put those supporting independance as low as 30%

    What wiki actually says:

    There have been a large number of polls conducted on support levels for Scottish independence.[81][82][83][84][85][86][87] Professor John Curtice stated in January 2012 that polling shows support for independence at between 32% and 38% of the Scottish population.[88] This has fallen somewhat since the SNP were first elected to become the Scottish Government in 2007.[88] The research also shows, however, that the proportion of the population strongly opposed to independence has fallen significantly in recent years.[88]

    Polls show consistent strong support for a referendum, including amongst those who support the continuation of the union. Most opinion polls performed have a figure of in-principle support for a referendum around 70–75%.[89]

    2014’s a long way off, and with Dave’s instinct for smart moves (think UCUNF if you can bear it) and other Westminster contributors like George Osborne, who seems to be sporting a top hat and tails even when he’s not, we can’t be too certain. Especially when according to wiki a median of 35% support independence (potentially as high as 38%) and ‘strongly opposed’ numbers are dropping. Bit different to the seemingly biased reading of wiki that only 30% support independence,

    Digging a little further the details of that surprisingly negative yougov poll, it was conducted in April of 11. Maybe, given this is such a fluid issue we should look to the most recent polls on wiki and average them out, instead of looking at one from nearly 12 months ago:

    Sept ’11 – Yes 39%, no 38%
    June ’11 – Yes 37%, no 45%
    April ’11 – Yes 28%, no 57%
    November ’10 – Yes 40%, no 44%

    Average – Yes 36%, no 46%

    Interesting that the beeb should decide to use the most oppositional poll, from a year ago, for their article when there are several more recent polls and if you look at the %ages it suggests that the Yes vote is around 40% apart from that poll and the no vote is between 38% and 45%. It would appear that the poll the bbc have chosen is a) old and b) the only poll which appears to stick out in that the numbers don’t seem similar to any other poll available.

    One might even think the BBC’s impartial ‘journalist’ has overlooked several more recent polls to choose the one which supports the argument the British government wants. Impartial? No not really.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Neil, sorry mate I was referring to Quebec in reply to Joe, realise I didn’t make that clear. I still believe the question asked can make a big difference in these polls, less so in the referendum, but a tiny difference is all it takes.

  • Neil

    Ooops. My bad.

    Damn, thought I had ye there.

  • DR,

    I replied on the other thread. We had serious voting irregularities in that close vote.

  • the future’s bright, the future’s orange

    the wording of the question is halarious!!! it’s possibly the most leading question I’ve ever seen. No doubt Salmond et al., think they are being remarkably clever with their trickery but flippin eck, surely anyone with an form of education would laugh their head off at such a question. Newspaper and the media generally should be highlighting this fact and taking the micky out of the eejit who came up with it. The 1st rule of any questionnaire is not to make leading questions.
    Ultimately they are trying to hoodwink folk who ain;t the sharpest tools in the box and for a government to try that ain’t too clever in my book.