Maybe the referendum question is not so simple

I may have spoken too soon about the clarity of Alex Salmond’s preferred  referendum question : do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?  The Today programme took the trouble to ask a professor in Arizona who had never heard of Big Eck if the wording was fair.  Sure, it was completely loaded he said. To be fair, the question had to be balanced with a “or not “ in some form. Closer to home the Times reports (£) that elder Scottish statesmen in both main parties agree. And they’re supported by a leading pollster.

   Alistair Darling, the former Labour Chancellor and an Edinburgh MP, said: “The question is loaded. He is inviting people to endorse the separation of a successful independent nation. He is not asking if you want to remain part of the United Kingdom, which I would prefer. It is asking for trouble and if he tries to push through unfair wording someone will go to the Court of Session [Scotland’s highest court].

“It’s typical of Salmond, who wants to call the shots on the rules, the conduct, the wording and ultimately what the result means.”

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former Scottish Secretary, also attacked the question. “That can mean all sorts of things to different people. What this issue is about, and I don’t think Alex Salmond would deny this, is he wants Scotland, after 300 years, to leave the United Kingdom. That’s not an emotive phrase, it’s a factual point. So by saying, ‘Scotland, should it leave the United Kingdom, become an independent country’ then people can come to a clear and simple response on that fundamental question.”

Rick Nye, director of pollster Populus, said: “The statement begs all sorts of questions. It does not ask whether you ‘agree or disagree’ with the statement, leaving hanging the idea that invites agreement. It is therefore phrased in a way that invites the answer ‘yes’. It also leaves unclear what an ‘independent country’ might be. And it does not mention the United Kingdom.”

The Scotsman didn’t seem to notice the dissent.

Mr Salmond’s single question on independence was supported by constitutional experts last night. The UK government also welcomed the clarity of the question he proposes….He then side-stepped questions over how he would judge whether or not such an option had support or not. UK government figures last night suggested the vagueness over a “devo-max” option meant it was likely to be binned, as they want.

Brian Taylor, BBC Scotland’s Political Editor has a different take on the referendum questions, concentrating on how the SNP might like to deal with a devo max option.

Scottish Ministers are no longer simply talking of putting that devo max question in sequence with independence – such that one builds upon the other. That option was much criticised by those who said that devo max could massively outpoll independence – and yet both would go ahead if independence managed to achieve 51 per cent support…. Now, it is conceivable that devo max might be placed in competition with independence, perhaps with a paving opening question asking whether folk want change at all. That would allow adherence to the status quo to be tracked.

Suspicions were raised when Salmond appeared in his Holyrood statement  to rule out a role for the Electoral Commission is reviewing the questions. But he seemed to correct this later at the Edinburgh Castle launch of his campaign

“The Electoral Commission will have a role in assessing the questions, can I make that clear. I apologise if the process hasn’t been fully spelt out,” he said. But he would not say whether it would be allowed a veto over his preferred question.

Meanwhile the Guardian‘s Martin Kettle has no doubt what Salmond is really about. I’m glad someone knows.

Everything about Salmond’s emollient Hugo Young lecture in London this week, and everything about the proposals he launched in Edinburgh today in rather feistier language, points to an identical conclusion. The logic and goal of his strategy is not Scottish independence but Scottish home rule within the United Kingdom.

 

 

 

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  • Framer

    ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?’ is also a loaded wording. Use of the conditional word ‘should’ implies that you giving an opinion not making a decision that will come into effect.

    Properly it should be: Do you agree to Scotland leaving the UK and becoming an independent state?

  • Doug Daniel

    Three things:

    1. Adding “or not” to the end of the question makes it “Do you agree blah blah or not?” How can anyone answer “no” to that? Unless the options are then “agree” and “disagree”, then it makes no grammatical or logical sense to answer “no” to a question where all bases are covered.

    “Do you agree or not?”
    “Yes.”
    “Well, which one?”

    2. The goal of the SNP is independence for Scotland, not home rule in the UK. You and Martin Kettle are actually completely overlooking the game that is being played out. Unionists have put themselves in a position where devo max cannot possibly be put on the referendum. The SNP will be able to present a straight yes/no having given people the chance to debate devo max, but prevented from putting it on the referendum by the unionists. The debate is opening people up to the idea of giving Holyrood more clout, to the extent that the very idea of sticking to the status quo will soon become one of ridicule. Presented with a ridiculous option and the option that offers all the powers they’ve been talking about (but with a few more), people will vote for independence.

    I think you must have to be of a unionist mindset to miss this, presumably more through blind hope than anything.

    3. Framer (above) almost has an unloaded question. “Do you agree to Scotland becoming an independent state?” That says all that needs to be said. Why add the “leaving the UK” part? It’s just superfluous, unless you’re looking to make people feel sad about “leaving” the UK – in which case, it’s a loaded question.

  • Brian Walker

    The argument is that this is still loaded as it implies a direction of travel towards change.
    Two questions might be better eg Do you want Scotland to become an independent state?
    Do you want Scotland to remain within the the UK?
    That might be fairer butin what order shoudkl they be asked on the page? And the problem then is that people might want to add conditions for remaining within the UK but can’t on the paper without devo and/ or status q. That’s only one problem.

  • john

    Is this not insulting to the electorate! Every man and his dog will know what the referendum is about unless they have been living in a cave for 10 years. The wording is going to make little difference.
    The Unionist will only be happy if the question is along these lines.
    Do you wish to stay in the Glorious United Kingdom the fifth biggest economy in the world with streets of gold and rivers of milk and honey or do you want to be a land of bog trotters living in perpetual poverty in a separate Scotland?

  • Drumlins Rock

    “Do you wish to stay in the Glorious United Kingdom the fifth biggest economy in the world with streets of gold and rivers of milk and honey or do you want to be a land of bog trotters living in perpetual poverty in a separate Scotland?”

    or

    “Do you wish to live in the FREEDOM of a Magnificent ancient Scottish Kingdom, finally released from centuries of bondage and oppression, flowing with Whiskey, Oil and Genius, taking it place alongside great nations like Norways, Switzerland and Leitchenstien?”

    Your right the words would make no difference whatsoever…. yet 16% in one survey changed their mind from yes to no when a third option was included, small things make a big difference.

  • Doug Daniel

    But it’s nonsensical to word the question in favour of the status quo.

    “Do you want to stay in the UK?”
    “Why, what’s my alternative?”

    We are asking people if they would like to make a specific change to the constitutional arrangement of Scotland. Therefore, it is obvious that we should word the question to that effect: “Do you want to make this specific change to Scotland?”

    Honestly, the longer unionists prattle on about the number of questions, the wording of the questions, the timing of the referendum etc, the less time they have to argue the lesser-seen “positive case for the union”. Meanwhile, the SNP are just getting on with putting forward the case for independence. Which strategy is more likely to go putting people off? I think the direction of travel in the polls – as well as the ever-growing membership of the SNP – tells you the answer to that.

  • JPJ2

    “Do you agree to Scotland becoming an independent state?”

    I think it might be acceptable (from a pro-independence perspective) to make the question:

    “Do you agree or disagree to Scotland becoming an independent state?” Answers being:

    I agree or I disagree.

    Anything more favourable to the anti-independence position would itself be biased. e.g. references to leaving the UK really does not work as many see (possibly historically inaccurate I know) the United Kingdom as continuing, as the Queen will remain monarch of both Scotland and England.

    Many will also see the concept of social union as meaning we are not leaving in a meaningful sense..

  • http://andrewg.wordpress.com Andrew Gallagher

    It is not possible to put the full argument into the question. One must therefore put a summary of the argument into the question, but summarising an argument is a subjective process.

    The only fair way is to remove the argument from the ballot paper entirely, and word it clinically along the lines of “do you consent to the Sovereignty (Scotland) Bill 2012″. Note that this does not ask your opinion on sovereignty itself, but to the particular provisions of the bill to be introduced.

    This of course assumes there is a bill to be voted on. And this is the real problem with referendums – you are buying a pig in a poke. Introduce a bill with all the details fleshed out and ask the people to vote on something concrete. This is how it is done in the Republic, and how we ratified the GFA. Anything else isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Andrew, think you hit the nail on the head there, but obviously a full bill can’t be negotiated before 2014, unless both side work together, which is impossible. At best this referendum should really only be on opening discussions on formulating such a bill, with the end result being put to the people also, its a big enough issue to warant two refferendum, infact its too big for just one as personality and events can sway people too easily.

  • Brian Walker

    Interesting point Andrew, but I don’t think it’ll happen that way somehow.

  • JR

    The problem with that Andrew is that the onus then falls on the people drafting the bill to get it exactly right. The pro indipendance side will loose votes because specific aspects of the Bill pro indipendance voters may disagree with eg national debt issues, issues with the EU, Oil issues head of state issues.

    These are all things worked out by the Scottish people if the desire is there to have a country of their own.

    This referendum is about one thing and one thing only. Should Scotland be an independent country. What sort of independent country is a mater for another day.

  • Drumlins Rock

    So if it is a dictatorship or demorcracy, communist or capitalist, republic or monarchy, is a matter for another day?

  • Alias

    “The logic and goal of his strategy is not Scottish independence but Scottish home rule within the United Kingdom.”

    I would think there is some merit in that. If you look at Greenland, you’ll see Scotland. It gained ‘Home Rule’ from Denmark in 1979 (and three years later it became the only country to ever vote itself out of the EU). As it was in the EU at the time it became an autonomous region it was able to retain its membership of the EU.

    The difference between independence from the UK and Home Rule within the UK is that if Scotland left the UK then it would have to apply for EU membership (the SNP deny this), whereas its status as a member state could be negoiated if it remained as a member of the UK.

    The main advantage of Home Rule is that Scotland can take advantage of opt-outs and treaties that exist between the UK and the EU, and may also be able to pick and choose from treaties and trade agreements etc that exist with other countries.

    Without these opt-outs an ‘independent’ Scotland will lose the advantage of a monetary and macroeconomic policy that is broadly compatible with its economy, and will also lose control of fiscal tax policy (its oft-touted competitive corporate tax rate) when it loses the benefit of the UK’s non-CCCTB member state status.

    It would be economic suicide for Scotland to be forced into the eurozone – and that would ultimately mean crawling back to Mother England.

    Apart from the EU elephant, the room has a rather large number of expenses (defence, cost of foreign affairs, tax collecting systems, ect) that currently don’t factor into the local budget.

  • http://[email protected] joeCanuck

    Following our last Quebec referendum which was a very convoluted question, our Federal government passed a “Clarity Act”. This requires the Feds to open negotiations following any future separation vote but only if the question is clear and that there is a clear (not defined) majority. Our Supreme Court has ruled that the Law is constitutional.

  • JR

    DR essentially yes.

    Dictatorship or demorcracy- don’t be flippant.

    communist or capitalist,- Well the level of puplic service provided by the state will vary through the generations as it has in the UK as times change and the will, needs and means of the scottish people change.

    Republic or monarchy – The south started out as a monarchy but went republic years later. I think, should Scotland decide to go it alone it will be for the people of Scotland to decide their head of state on a differant day.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Joe, the the idea of a Clarity Act could be usful in the UK,

  • Comrade Stalin

    The question does not have to be yes/no. As with a regular election vote, it could be a (small) set of choices eg :

    Please vote for your preference :

    “I want Scotland to become an independent state”
    “I want Scotland’s current status to remain unchanged”
    “I want Scotland to have greater autonomy within the UK”

    etc

  • http://[email protected] joeCanuck

    Comrade,

    I can’t see that working. What if no option gets more than 50%?

  • http://andrewg.wordpress.com Andrew Gallagher

    JR,

    Yes, they do have to get it right. That’s what they’re paid for. And yes, if there is no agreement amongst Scots themselves about the detail, then they should keep working at it until there is. Would you buy a house from an agent who said “don’t worry about the details, we’ll work them out after you pay us the money”?

    Consider the Act of Union 1801. Part of the implied deal was that Catholic Emancipation would follow, but repeated delays caused the mood to sour quickly. Wouldn’t it have been better if emancipation had been included at the start? Or take the repeated attempts at Lords reform. Every time it is done, it is sold with the promise that a second step will follow to fix the problems. We’re still waiting.

    Yes, I’m a firm believer in getting it right the first time.

    Alias,

    Whether Scotland would get automatic membership of the EU or not is an open question, as it has never happened before. It would certainly be within the power of the EU to make it so, if they were minded. But that depends entirely on the political climate in Catalonia, Euskadi, Corsica, Flanders… As for the euro, Scotland could use the Swedish technique (wilful breach of technicalities) to hold off the fateful day indefinitely.

    CS,

    What method do you use to tally up the preferences? FPTP? AV? The choice of method and the number of options available on the ballot will influence the result, as any fule kno who has even a passing interest in psephology. Whatever the result, the losers will cry foul.

  • Alias

    “Whether Scotland would get automatic membership of the EU or not is an open question, as it has never happened before.”

    It has happened before: when Greenland got Home Rule from Denmark. Greenland then decided that it didn’t want direct rule from the EU either, and promptly left the EU.

    The point being that Greenland received the same terms of membership as Denmark because it got Home Rule after Demark had joined the EU. The Faroe Islands (also part of the Danish Realm) had Home Rule before Denmark joined the EU.

    If Scotland got Home Rule from the UK then the precedent for continuing as a member state is already there. However, if it left the EU then there is no preceedure for automatic membership. It is then a case of Scotland making an application to join, and doing so on terms that are dictated by the EU. That means no opt-outs such as those that have been negotiated by the UK, i.e. no opt-out from the EMU, Schengen Agreement or CCCTB.

    That is why Scotland will go with Home Rule, and why Salmond is no threat to the union at all.

  • Alias

    Typo: “However, if it left the UK then there is no precedure for automatic membership.”

  • Dewi

    Do you think:
    “..for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

    Seems a reasonable enough question to me?

  • http://andrewg.wordpress.com Andrew Gallagher

    Alias,

    Eh? I didn’t say anything about an autonomous Scotland. As far as the EU is concerned, all territory under the sovereignty of a member state is EU territory unless specifically exempted. Whatever internal arrangements Edinburgh and Westminster come to is beside the point. The Faeroe islands are outside the EU not because they had autonomy before Denmark joined – so did Gibraltar. They are outside the EU because Denmark’s treaty of accession said so. Under the treaty of Lisbon, any dependent or autonomous region of a member state can change its status within the EU in either direction at any time, subject to approval by the council, which is essentially a formalisation of the Greenland precedent.

    An orthodox reading of the treaties is that a newly-independent Scotland would have to apply through the usual process and would get no favours. This would certainly be the case for most international organisations, such as the UN. But the EU is not just another international organisation, and has been creative with intepretation before. I would not be surprised if it was decided that Scotland was EU territory regardless of its changed sovereignty, and would have to specifically apply to leave. Alternatively, the council and commission could just assume that all the conditions for Scottish membership were automatically met, and let its application pass on the nod. Just because there is no procedure does not mean that it cannot be done. It just means that nobody knows.

    Ultimately, the terms and conditions of Scottish EU membership will be whatever is specified in its accession treaty. Same terms as Croatia? Perhaps. Same terms as the UK? Perhaps. In theory the terms could be anything at all, so long as they are politically acceptable to the existing member states. This is why the potential precedent will be the clinching factor – do Spain, France, Belgium etc. want to fire a warning shot across the bows of their secessionist regions or will they calculate that this will do them more harm than good? As always in the EU, it will be a political decision.

  • Alias

    “As far as the EU is concerned, all territory under the sovereignty of a member state is EU territory unless specifically exempted.”

    That is not true. In fact, the converse is true: no “territory under the sovereignty of a member state is EU territory unless specifically” included. There are 9 OMRs and 21 OCTs (the UK has 1 or 2 of them). They are not part of the EU, and are only subject to EU provisions insofar as they have opted into them. Gibraltar, for example, did not hold elections to the EP until 22 years after becoming part of the EU. These OMRs and OCTs are only subject to any treaty that existed at the time, but not to any subsequent treaty. Maastricht, Nice, and Lisbon have blissfully passed them by.

    None of those citizens of those regions are EU citizens by default, so it is clearly false to claim they reside in EU territory. Some of them are EU citizens because, in the cases of the UK and Denmark, they are citizens of those member states and are thereby entitled to EU citizenship. In Greenland’s case, it’s citizens are Danish citizens. It wasn’t until 2004 that the UK granted citizenship to its overseas territories – which, incidentally, means that they have the same rights to live and work in Ireland as they have in the UK due to bilateral Irish-British agreements.

    “Whatever internal arrangements Edinburgh and Westminster come to is beside the point. The Faeroe islands are outside the EU not because they had autonomy before Denmark joined – so did Gibraltar.”

    Wrong again. The Faeroe Islands are outside the EU because “they had autonomy before Denmark joined” and thereby decided not to join. That option was not available to Greenland. Gibraltar is the only one of the UK’s OCTs that is a part of the EU, with its government deciding to join as a sub-state of the UK at the same as the UK joined.

    “They are outside the EU because Denmark’s treaty of accession said so. Under the treaty of Lisbon, any dependent or autonomous region of a member state can change its status within the EU in either direction at any time, subject to approval by the council, which is essentially a formalisation of the Greenland precedent.”

    I’m not sure what this has to do with anything?

    “An orthodox reading of the treaties is that a newly-independent Scotland would have to apply through the usual process and would get no favours.”

    Yes. It isn’t even in doubt. It’s in plain and simple language in Article 49.

    “Alternatively, the council and commission could just assume that all the conditions for Scottish membership were automatically met, and let its application pass on the nod. Just because there is no procedure does not mean that it cannot be done. It just means that nobody knows.”

    I refer you to Article 49. This is simply not possible.

    “Ultimately, the terms and conditions of Scottish EU membership will be whatever is specified in its accession treaty.”

    Being prone to stating the obvious myself, I’d never condemn another for engaging in the dismal practice.

    “Same terms as the UK? Perhaps.”

    No. And as all member states must agree to whatever terms are offered to Scotland, it is quite clear that France and Germany are opposed to out-opts from the EMU, Schengen Agreement or CCCTB and will not allow Scotland these benefits. It is bordering on the fanciful to even suggest that such is possible.

  • Alias

    Typo: “(the UK has 11 or 12 of them)” – it’s actually 12.

  • http://andrewg.wordpress.com Andrew Gallagher

    Alias,

    Sorry, typo. It should have been “…all EUROPEAN territory under the sovereignty…” Article 355 paragraph 3 TFEU:

    The provisions of the Treaties shall apply to the European territories for whose external relations a Member State is responsible.

    Exceptions to this general rule are given in subsequent paragraphs. The Faeroe islands are explicitly excluded under paragraph 5a, for example. Whatever motivated the Danes to ask for this exemption for the Faeroes is beside the point. They still had to ask.

    Gibraltar’s lack of parliamentary representation was due not to an opt-out but to a deficiency of UK law, as member states are responsible for apportioning constituencies and the UK was found in court to be liable. Gibraltar is not an OCT – as a European territory it falls under article 355.3. Do not mix up “British Overseas Territory” and “British OCT” – they are not equivalent.

    Non-European territories are treated on an opt-in basis, as you say. Greenland is not a European territory and therefore is not a precedent for Scotland.

    https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Consolidated_version_of_the_Treaty_on_the_Functioning_of_the_European_Union/Part_Seven:_General_and_Final_Provisions

    I refer you to Article 49. This is simply not possible.

    Article 49 TEU:

    Any European State which respects the values referred to in Article 2 and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union. The European Parliament and national Parliaments shall be notified of this application. The applicant State shall address its application to the Council, which shall act unanimously after consulting the Commission and after receiving the consent of the European Parliament, which shall act by a majority of its component members. The conditions of eligibility agreed upon by the European Council shall be taken into account.

    The conditions of admission and the adjustments to the Treaties on which the Union is founded, which such admission entails, shall be the subject of an agreement between the Member States and the applicant State. This agreement shall be submitted for ratification by all the contracting States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.

    I don’t see where in this a fast-track application is excluded. All it requires is approval by the existing members. Like I said, political will.

    It is bordering on the fanciful to even suggest that such is possible.

    Perhaps. But I doubt they will be falling over themselves to force Scotland into Schengen, for example. The Swedes have proven that a formal opt-out from the euro is unnecessary. And I’m puzzled by your fascination with the CCCTB, which still does not exist (ten years later) and as a taxation measure is subject to unanimity.

  • Alias

    Andrew, why don’t we just ask the Danish government what the story is?

    What is Greenland’s relationship with the EU?

    Greenland and the Faroe Islands are parts of the Danish Realm. Due to their exceptional position nationally, culturally and geographically these parts of the Realm have an extensive type of self-government.

    Denmark’s membership of the EU took effect on 1 January 1973.

    Faroe Home Rule was established in 1948, so when Denmark joined the EEA the Faroese Government decided that the Faroe Islands did not want to be a member of the EEA. The Faroe Islands have concluded a fisheries agreement and a trade agreement with the EU. However, the Faroe Islands are not a member of the EEA.

    Home Rule for Greenland was first introduced in 1979. Hence Greenland became a member of the EC when Denmark joined the Community. After the introduction of Home Rule, Greenland held a consultative referendum in 1982 on membership of the EC, after which Greenland chose to leave the EC with effect from 1 February 1985.

    On its withdrawal from the Community, Greenland obtained special fisheries arrangements with the EU and is included as one of the so-called Overseas Countries and Territories enjoying association arrangements (special relations) with the E.

    As regards your confusion about overseas territories of member states being “EU territory”, Wiki can help you there.

  • http://andrewg.wordpress.com Andrew Gallagher

    Alias,

    None of that contradicts what I said.

  • Neil
  • RuthRuthless

    I am a research expert who has polled on Scottish independence before. I thought you might be interested to see my blog post about the referendum question wording, which makes reference to its legitimacy under the code of conduct of the Market Research Society.

    http://ruthlessresearch.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/referendum-question-do-you-agree-that-scotland-should-be-an-independent-country/