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Lord Rowallan: Does the noble Lord accept that if there is no referendum the parliament will have a sword of Damocles suspended over it for 10 years and it will not have a chance to get going because of that?
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: I believe that the Scottish people will become rather impatient with anyone who holds up the provision of better education, health and transport in Scotland by constantly holding out the prospect of a Scottish referendum. I believe that that would be counter-productive from the viewpoint of the SNP. The essence of this parliament is to get it working as well as possible. I believe that very quickly people will realise that what the Scottish parliament is about is not gesture politics but the real business of making the day-to-day life of Scots a better one. The parties who contribute to that will succeed at the second elections and the parties who do not will fail. I have great confidence that the experience of the Scottish parliament will prove to be a good one from that viewpoint. I cannot side with the noble Lord because the outcome of his amendment may be precisely the reverse of what he intends.
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: I, too, rise to oppose the amendment. I understand the motive and intention behind it and have heard the argument put by both Labour and Tory supporters in Scotland. I believe that the argument is misplaced and that the amendment is both unnecessary and undesirable. It is unnecessary because a referendum on the constitution has already been held on the basis of the White Paper. The Scots delivered their view unequivocally in favour of a devolved parliament within the Union. In the previous year, they also had the opportunity to vote for the SNP and an independent Scotland. They conspicuously failed to vote for it.
I believe that to introduce a further referendum simply on the basis of mid-term opinion polls is to undermine the constitutional process. It is like saying, "Do you really mean it?" On that basis, when would you ever stop?
As Jim Wallace said, pulling up the newly planted tree is one sure way of killing the tree if you want to examine its roots. The duty of politicians will be to get on with the business of running Scottish domestic affairs and address issues that really concern people, for example, education, health and employment. Everything will be new and all concerned will be learning as they go on. The eyes of the UK and the world will be on the new parliament to see how it handles its task. The last thing that the country needs at that moment is the prospect of yet another referendum hanging over it which would in any event solve nothing. In Quebec, where there have been repeated referenda on independence, the economy has been seriously undermined. Uncertainty, as we all know, is the enemy of a stable economy.
The time to judge the parliament will be after it has had time to prove itself and has demonstrated how well it is meeting the needs of the Scottish people. Imagine if a referendum did take place. What would the Scots be voting on? The SNP policies have never been properly challenged and tested, certainly not in a parliamentary forum. What does independence really mean? My belief is that it is not very much more than a slogan, and at the very least a period of debate and analysis, and the challenge of what the SNP stands for within the context of a properly established parliament will go some way to determining the issue.
If another referendum was held before the Scottish parliament was established, people would not be voting on the pure constitutional issue of independence: they would use the occasion to express an opinion on new Labour, on Tony Blair, on Donald Dewar's ineffectiveness, on local government mismanagement, on Sean Connery's knighthood and a whole raft of issues which have nothing whatever to do with independence.
As I stated in my speech at Second Reading, I believe that the surge in support for the SNP has everything to do with Scottish dissatisfaction with new Labour and not a lot to do with nationalism and separatism. I do not believe that there has been a sudden surge of belief in this philosophy and those principles. Anecdotal evidence has been referred to showing that most people who say they would vote for the SNP actually want what they are getting through the Bill, a devolved Scottish parliament responsible for its own domestic affairs within the framework of the United Kingdom.
We have a duty to put that to the test first. Referenda are blunt instruments and should only be used very sparingly to test major constitutional issues, above all in a parliamentary democracy like ours where the ballot box is the way people express their views. There is always the possibility that the result will be inconclusive and then nothing will be gained and much damage could be done. We have held a referendum and we have been given the answer. In the next general election the Scots will once again have the chance to express their views on the basis of how the parliament has performed, which is the right and proper way for them to do so.
Lord Watson of Invergowrie: My Lords, I also oppose the amendment, although for reasons slightly different from those so far advanced. The question as to whether or not there should be a referendum on independence and at what time is very interesting. I do not share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, that the amendment would remove a sword of Damocles hanging over the parliament for years on end. It may be his aim equally to shoot the SNP fox by holding a referendum, whereby independence would be beaten and sent scurrying into the woods never to reappear. The latter part of that proposition is quite wrong. The question of independence will never disappear from Scotland; nor should it while 25 per cent. of the people believe in voting for a party that advocates independence.
However, it is also dangerous to argue that the level of support enjoyed by the Scottish National Party at the moment is not an entirely accurate reflection of the people wanting independence. To argue that point one would equally have to argue that the positions of the parties of the noble Lord or the noble Baroness in the opinion polls were similarly suspect, and indeed that of my own party. That argument does not stand up to scrutiny. There is always an element of protest in mid term or in opinion polls between elections. It should not be assumed that people who vote for the SNP are always doing so as a protest; that would be dangerous and would signify complacency, which I would not wish to endorse.
The issue of whether or not there should be a referendum exercised Members in another place at Report stage and Third Reading. There were many exchanges on the subject of whether or not the Scottish parliament could initiate a referendum. Perhaps the Lord Advocate can confirm the position. My reading of paragraph 1(b) of Part 1 of Schedule 5 on the Union between Scotland and England is that it would be impossible, it being a reserved power, to make a change via the Scottish parliament, and the Scottish parliament could not therefore initiate the referendum.
The position could become very difficult if sufficient numbers of people living in Scotland voted for the Scottish National Party and gave it a minimum of 65 seats in the parliament. If the SNP then decided to use what would be a majority in that parliament to decide that there should be a referendum on independence, it could provoke a constitutional crisis. It would be interesting to consider how that situation could be avoided. As the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan said, the most recent opinion poll projected a SNP representation
When faced with the choice, I believe it unlikely that the majority of Scots would vote for independence. I would argue against it. However, I repeat the view I expressed at Second Reading. I would respect the views of a majority of Scots and people living in Scotland voting in a referendum if that is what they wanted. I firmly believe that that is what they should have, not because I do or do not believe in it but because it is democracy. We should not remove that basic right from the people of Scotland.
I oppose the amendment because it would delay the implementation of the parliament. It is not appropriate that we should decide at this stage whether or not there should be a referendum. I do not think there should be a block of 10 years put on until a subsequent referendum is held. For those reasons I oppose the amendment, but this very important issue will not go away and should be clarified. I repeat my request to my noble friend to clarify the position.
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