Here’s a letter I sent to The Scotsman but it wasn’t published. There’s a bit of a rush to set out the pitch for the Holyrood elections.There is an academic piece saying that the EU is under no obligation to accept into membership any “state” whose government does not carry the broad support of its people. Even Joanna Cherry must know that at a referendum she can’t promise Scotland would join the EU. It’s pretty clear to me that the SNP is boxed into a corner – it needs to make a move but has nowhere to go. Meantime, all this is a useful distraction away from the shortcomings of their performance in the day job.
Our voting procedures, with accompanying legislation, are designed to elect named individuals to a particular office for a fixed period.
Transference of the procedures to another function – the testing of an abstract idea in a binary question in a referendum – renders the legislation ineffective. Illegal conduct and undeliverable promises made during the campaign do not invalidate all, or part, or any interpretation of the result, and nothing prescribes the effect of any particular outcome. 50%+1 will be a winning margin, the narrowness being no constraint on extreme interpretations.
There is always some “material change of circumstances” after an event. After September 2014 first there was the dramatic collapse in oil prices, upon which so many rosy pro-separation forecasts were predicated, then there was Brexit. The invention of a clause making such a change reason enough for doing it all again, means that no referendum is “final”.
Strength of opinion on a particular subject is best determined by opinion polls. To the question “Should Scotland separate from rUK?” answers are conditional, something like this:
YES but (only if Scotland is in the EU) (separation negotiations to be conducted by a Holyrood-appointed Commission) (not if it means a hard border with rUK) (Scotland must be a republic).
NO but (UK must undergo serious constitutional reform).
Opinion polls pick up that any condition that cannot be guaranteed changes the answer. Reducing all this to a crude binary question before anything can be guaranteed is a travesty of proper consideration of an important and complex matter.
As things stand a referendum is a loose cannon, of no more standing than the handshakes and solemn but meaningless undertakings of here-today-gone-tomorrow politicians to “respect the outcome”. Before we come to the matter of separation or not, we need a legal framework and a fully worked-out justification for use of a referendum in the decision-making process.