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.