The gamble of a referendum

Oh dear, I just can’t used to how bad the SNP really is. The persistent calls for the right to call a referendum when they want to inspired this letter to the Herald, and it was published last week. I was hoping to start a rammy, but there’s been no blowback yet. I sent it to my SNP MSP and SNP MP for comment; by chance I ran into Ben McPherson MSP over the weekend, and he said he would read it to see if “it’s worthy of a reply”. He has a week, or I’m entitled to conclude that there is no principle for government other than pursuit of their sole aim, and they remain committed to referendums as a means of government. I’ll post any reply here. Don’t hold your breath.

TO: LETTERS EDITOR, THE HERALD.
Repeated indications from the SNP that it aims to call for another referendum when it thinks it can win tells us three important things. Firstly, that they regard a referendum as a throw of the dice, a gamble which, since they only respect the outcome if they win, they can’t lose. Secondly, that, in office, its guiding principle for government is not good politics but the manipulation of politics towards its sole aim. Thirdly, both to upgrade Scottish politics, national and local, to a serious level, and to protect ourselves from another ad hoc referendum of questionable status, a Referendum Act is needed.

This is not a Unionist stance; it is in support of our well-established system of representative democracy which a referendum undermines. A referendum is the perfect vehicle for liars, bullies, fantasists and neo-liberals who don’t care for democracy.

Here are some start-points for a Referendum Act. If the subject of a referendum is a single piece of legislation then it must be fully drafted and debated in the campaign and, if approved, the parliament is required to enact it without delay or changes.

Constitutional change requires a super-majority; that could be 50% of the entire electorate or 66% of the turn-out on the day. 50%+1 of the voters on the day could be sufficient to start negotiating constitutional change, but secondary safeguards are required.

One possibility would be that the outcome of negotiations must be put in a final draft and submitted to a confirming referendum; another is that the parliament must endorse the final draft; in either case within two years and by a specified margin. Rejection of the final draft returns the situation to the status quo ante, and the matter may not be subjected to another referendum within, say, twenty years.

If there’s one thing the Brexit referendum and its aftermath has taught us, it is that the outcome of a referendum that is not secured in law can be a decision made in ignorance of the implications with far-reaching unintended consequences, is incapable of giving adequate authority for anyone to properly deal with towards an agreed outcome, and no-one is held to account. In Scotland we were within a whisker of all this in September 2014. Never again!