There was a discussion on Radio 4 this morning about a possible referendum on the EU. One contributor made the excellent point that asking a simple “in or out” question without more information offered on what either of these options would actually mean would be ridiculous. It would, she said, be asking people to make a decision based on “blind trust – and that’s not democracy”.
This brings me back to the Scottish referendum. It asks a very simple question: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?” But it gives no information at all about what that would mean. That’s obviously because no one knows what it means.
Whatever the SNP might say, they can have no more idea than the rest of us what might or might not happen.
They can’t tell us what currency Scotland would have, for example; how much oil it would have; how much tax revenue it might or might not raise (the list of companies talking publically about “registering entities” down south is getting pretty long); whether it will be in the EU or not; whether it will continue to be able to subsidise its renewable energy industry with UK taxpayers money; or who will regulate its financial industry.
The SNP can’t even tell us – and this is pretty vital – who will be in government on the day of independence. The independence vote is on 18 September, 2014. The SNP thinks that negotiations will take about 18 months – taking us to March 2016.
But most people think it will take a lot longer than that. And there’s a Scottish parliamentary election on 5 May, 2016, one which the SNP are looking pretty unlikely to win. The polls show Labour well ahead and the SNP not much more popular than the Tories.
So here’s the problem: in this referendum Scottish residents are being asked to make a decision about their future and their children’s future based on “blind trust” in a political party that may not even be in power when the time comes.
Compare this with the question put to the people of Quebec when they had their own referendum on independence back in 1980. The question did not ask for any final decision. It simply asked for a mandate to negotiate for sovereignty with any deal being put to the electorate again for a final decision.
The question was this. “The Government of Quebec has made public its proposal to negotiate a new agreement with the rest of Canada, based on the equality of nations; this agreement would enable Quebec to acquire the exclusive power to make its laws, levy its taxes and establish relations abroad — in other words, sovereignty — and at the same time to maintain with Canada an economic association including a common currency; any change in political status resulting from these negotiations will only be implemented with popular approval through another referendum; on these terms, do you give the Government of Quebec the mandate to negotiate the proposed agreement between Quebec and Canada?”
Better isn’t it? I think Scotland needs to start again.