Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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Scottish Affairs Committee publishes report on multi-question referendum
The Scottish Affairs Committee yesterday publishes the fourth report in its series of reports about the referendum on separation for Scotland. It follows on from a Report last week on the legal competence of the Scottish Parliament to hold a referendum on separation.
Commenting on the report, Chair of the Committee Ian Davidson MP said:
"It is important that any referendum on Scotland's future is clear and decisive. The Committee is of the view that a three option choice would be neither.
We were surprised how complex the process of a three sided referendum would be; in particular how the wording and layout of the question, and the method of counting, could affect the result. This, together with the uncertainty of how a triangular context could be regulated, opens up the prospect of interminable wrangling over process at the expense of debate on the substance of Separation.
We believe evolving devolution is the settled will of the Scottish people, as shown in the 1997 referendum and the General Election of 2010. Nevertheless, those who support Separation have, by gaining a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament in 2011, won the right to put their alternative vision to the vote.
There is no such mandate for any, as yet identified, pattern of devolution and we believe that while Separation can be agreed unilaterally, changes to the Devolution Settlement must be negotiated multilaterally, consensually and in good faith.
We believe a clear and decisive referendum requires a binary choice and urge both Governments to get on with it."
Widening the number of options to be put in front of the voters in a referendum may at first sight be an attractive proposition: but it suffers from a number of fatal defects. Leaving aside the charges of political opportunism which can quite fairly be laid against the Scottish Government in pursuing this option, the evidence we heard shows very clearly the challenges and defects of the notion.
The Scottish Government does not have a mandate to hold a referendum on greater devolution. What it promised was a referendum on separation, and we agree they should be enabled to hold that. It is for those political parties and organisations which genuinely support devolution to make proposals for developing it, and propose how put those plans before the electorate.
It is perfectly clear that there are, at present, no developed plans for further devolution. In particular, the idea of "devolution max" is no more than a phrase in search of content. No plans exist, and none are in prospect which could properly be put forward to the voters in any referendum.
A referendum is a way in which the voters make a decision, or a choice. It is entirely appropriate to deal with the question of separation. But changing the devolution settlement is a different kind of choice. A referendum could only deal with the question of more powers if there were a proposal, and if the voters could be assured that, were they to support it, it would be put into effect. That means such a proposal has to be developed and broadly agreed in advance in the UK and the Scottish governments and then. No such proposal exists, and none is being developed.