To whom it concerns,
I enclose my response to the questions raised in the Scottish Government's Consultation Paper on the Independence Referendum. I draw particular attention to my recommendations in respect of the franchise and the need for a public and legally clear second question so as best to make clear independence takes primacy in the event of a double-Yes vote,
Q1: What are your views on the referendum question and the design of the ballot paper?
A: The question is straight-forward and accessible. I'd rather the paper properly addressed the mechanics of a second question (to put that issue to bed once and for all) instead of vaguely mentioning that it could be added if there was a call for it. I disagree with the Scottish Government's view that, per para 1.5 the question could circumvent s29 and Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act in the event a s30 order or extension of power by Act of Parliament was not forthcoming.
Q2: What are your views on the proposed timetable and voting arrangements?
A: They are satisfactory.
Q3: What are your views on the inclusion of a second question in the referendum and the voting system that could be used?
A: I believe a second question asking "notwithstanding your response to Q1 should the powers of the Scottish Parliament should be extended to include full tax-raising powers and other competences which are presently reserved matters" or words to that effect, should be on the ballot paper. As a Liberal Democrat, I have urged my party to work with the Scottish Government to define the parameters of this third option and I would hope that a bit of give and take would be forthcoming on both sides. The first question on the ballot, contrary to the original Referendum Bill in the last Parliament, should be the independence and not the extra-powers question. This leaves the voter in no doubt whatsoever that the primary issue at stake is independence and that devo-max is a related but alternative proposition that will only come into play if the first question results in a No vote.
As a word of caution, I would avoid using "but remaining with the UK" or any reference to such in the second question, because it makes the propositions not merely related alternatives but mutually exclusive propositions. This should remove any pretence of uncertainty with reference to what has been dubbed "Rennie's Riddle".
Q4: What are your views on the proposal to give the Electoral Management Board and its Convener responsibility for the operational management of the referendum?
A: I am content with these propositions. It is a welcome development that the SNP has disposed of its proposal for a separate Referendum Commission, which would have been an unnecessary complication, not terribly expedient, and would have shown a disregard for the good, independent, and impartial work of the Electoral Commission in both UK-wide and devolved referenda.
Q5: What are your views on the proposed division of roles between the Electoral Management Board and the Electoral Commission?
A: No objections.
Q6: What are your views on the idea that the referendum could be held on a Saturday or on other ways which would make voting easier?
A: I see no compelling reason to hold it on a Saturday. By Autumn 2014 the football season will have gotten well under-way and many fans will be quite far away from their polling station in any case. The standard mid-week position is one that should be adopted. I don't see any great need to change the existing polling location arrangements either. That's a matter for the local authorities' Election Boards.
Q7: What are your views on extending the franchise to those aged 16 and 17 years who are eligible to be registered on the electoral register?
A: I wholeheartedly agree with the principle of votes at 16. I cannot, however, agree with the mechanism the SNP has described. There are severe legitimacy issues when it comes to an ad hoc reduction of the franchise as part of the same Act of Scottish Parliament that provides for a one-off plebiscite. Further, the manner and form of registration on the Electoral Roll for 16 and 17 year-olds is inexact and the cut-off would not be as clear (with some 16 year-olds being eligible to go on the roll and others not). The reason this group are registered on the roll at all is to guarantee that they will be on the roll by the time they are eligible to vote at 18. It comes across as incredibly ad hoc and doesn't further it for the right reasons in the constitutionally appropriate manner
If you are going to extend the franchise you have to do it properly and by separate Act of Parliament. I have a lot of sympathy for the SNP in this area since both the Gould Report and Calman Commission supported the devolution of elections in Scotland to the Scottish Parliament. I would suggest that the Scottish Government issue a specific request to be given the power to set the franchise in Scottish Parliamentary and local elections, and by extension any referendums held in Scotland only. Then they could introduce a Representation of the People (Scotland) Bill prior to the passage of the Referendum Bill into law, extending the franchise to 16 for all Scotland-only elections.
Q8: What are your views on the proposed spending limits?
A: I see nothing objectionable.
Q9: Do you have any other comments about the proposals in the draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill?