2 An additional question on the ballot
The changing position of the Scottish
6. The success of the Scottish National Party in
the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections was seen by many as giving
it legitimacy to call for a referendum on separation. This view
appears to be accepted by the United Kingdom Government. Provided
the legal difficulties about holding the referendum are sorted
out by agreement between the governments, such a referendum canand
now in our view shouldtake place. Over the summer period,
however, the position of the Scottish Government, and the Scottish
National Party, appears to be changing. Instead of being willing
to be persuaded by others that an additional question should be
included in referendum, the Scottish Government now seems to be
arguing for this themselves.
7. For example, on 1 July, the Sunday Herald
newspaper quoted the First Minister as saying that Scots had a
"right" to choose to have what he described as a "devolution
max" position, and that the argument for a second question
in the referendum was "attractive".
On the same day, the former SNP MSP Duncan Hamilton, writing in
Scotland on Sunday, said that supporters of separation
should favour a second question on the referendum ballot paper
as a step towards separation.
8. There is an obvious political motive behind the
changing position of the Scottish Government. Throughout the 13
years since the creation of the Scottish Parliament, support in
opinion polls for Scottish separation has remained broadly the
same level. It has seldom exceeded one third of those responding
to polls, and sometimes fallen below one quarter. Over recent
months, as debate on the possibility of separation has become
more intense, and the detailed policy issues which it raises begun
to be examined, support has fallen rather than risen. A recent
poll indicates support for separation 20 percentage points behind
support for remaining part of the United Kingdom.
So it is perhaps unsurprising that a nationalist government looks
for a way out, and tries to find a way of rescuing something from
a prospective referendum defeat.
9. This alone would be enough to condemn the idea
of a second question as an opportunistic political manoeuvre.
The political authority that was conferred on the Scottish Government
by the Scottish election results was not the authority to call
a for referendum on further devolution: it was for a referendum
on separation, and that is the mandate which it has. It is those
parties which campaigned in the 2010 General Election for a programme
of more devolution who have a mandate from the Scottish people
to pursue that; the Scottish National Party does not.
Is there demand for a further
devolution question on the ballot paper?
10. The first question to be asked is whether the
support which the Scottish Government says is needed does, in
fact, exist. The most obvious place to look is in the responses
to the two consultations. Although the Scottish Government consultation
closed in March, the results have not, as yet, been made public.
This contrasts with the United Kingdom Government, which published
in full all of the responses to its consultation on 17 May 2012.
It may be that those who responded to the Scottish Government
offered compelling arguments as to why there should be three options
in the referendum. This was, however, certainly not the case for
respondents to the UK Government's consultation.
11. Consultation is important, but it is not just
a question of weighing the responses. We are well aware that many
responses were in an identical pre-prepared format. Nevertheless,
of the 2,500 people who responded to the UK consultation on this
point, 75% were opposed to having more than one question in a
referendum, and most of those who expressed that view did so on
the basis that a single question would ensure a more decisive
outcome, on the critical issue of whether or not Scotland should
remain within the United Kingdom.
12. One respondent described including a second question
on further devolution as "a recipe only for voter confusion,
highly ambiguous results, and for widespread incomprehension".
Only about 12% of respondents favoured including a further question.
Some were unable to come to a view. For example, Scotland's national
academy, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, said:
In our view it is not possible to determine at
this stage whether or not it would be appropriate to include an
additional question. Before that, the proponents of such a question
would need to define, and explain to the electorate, the nature,
extent and implications of the further devolution which they envisage.
13. There is nothing in the published consultation
responses to suggest a widespread demand from those who favour
more devolution for an additional question to be placed on the
referendum ballot paper. We nevertheless considered this possibility
in detail in our own evidence sessions.
5 "Salmond: Scots have a right to second question
on devo max", The Sunday Herald, 1 July 2012 Back
"More honesty required on both sides of independence debate",
Scotland on Sunday, 1 July 2012 Back
"Support for independence falls to 30%, poll shows",
The Scotsman, 10 July 2012 Back
Scotland Office, Scotland's Constitutional Future: Responses
to the consultation, Cm 8326, April 2012 Back