Thursday, August 30, 2012

Michael Moore: It's time to crack on and sort out the referendum details

Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Scotland Mike Moore has used a speech to a business conference in Edinburgh to talk about the next steps in the preparation for the referendum on independence to be held by the Scottish Government.

He's repeated the point he made so well in January that a referendum legislated for solely by the Scottish Parliament would be illegal and could be open to challenge in the courts. Apart from the uncertainty it would cause, potentially for years, I'm darned if I want the Government to be spending gazillions in legal fees.

As I wrote then, the SNP know full well that they need the power to be devolved to them by Westminster to make the referendum watertight. What they are saying is that they should just be given the power without any negotiation. Now, if the Westminster Government were being incredibly prescriptive, it could attach all sorts of very narrow conditions. But, no, Mike Moore is way too reasonable for that. All he's asked for really is that there's a single question on independence, which is what the SNP say they want, that the electorate should be the same as for a Scottish Parliament election (ie no 16 and 17 year olds getting the vote, which makes sense seeing as the SNP aren't canvaassing 15 and 16 year olds next year, so it would be a disaster anyway), and that there's proper scrutiny by the Electoral Commission, reporting to the Scottish Parliament. Apparently, he wants the referendum as soon as possible, but he's been pretty relaxed about that and has pretty much agreed the SNP's timetable.

So, I don't really see any huge barriers to getting the date named and the Section 30 Order sorted. Mike Moore has said that he wants all the detail agreed by the end of October to enable all the legislation to be done in time for the SNP's own timetable. Again, perfectly reasonable.

In a well crafted speech, he outlined the need for a Section 30 Order:

Even the Scottish Government acknowledge that the Scottish Parliament’s existing power to pass an independence referendum Bill is questionable.
And the Scottish Government itself has said that it is willing to work with us to put that referendum effectively beyond legal challenge. Any Government that introduces a Bill that it knows to be – or that it thinks might be – outwith the Parliament’s competence, must expect a legal challenge to come. “On an issue as crucial as our nation’s future within the United Kingdom, the Scottish Government would have to anticipate that someone would emerge to challenge an independence referendum run on current powers. And a successful challenge would prevent their ballot from taking place. That’s no way to settle this issue. Scotland’s future must be decided at the ballot box, not in the court room. I am confident that on this point of principle also, Scotland’s two governments agree. An attempt to hold a referendum outwith the law would look like an attempt to ensure that there is no referendum at all.
That last little bit, about the Government attempting to hold a referendum outwith the law looking like an attempt to ensure that there's no referendum at all is quite a hard hitting thing to say - but it certainly reflects the view of some people that if the SNP didn't think they could win, they'd just let Scotland's future be tied up in the courts for years until, so the theory goes, that we all got fed up of it and voted for independence.

I doubt that they would be so daft - they would lose every ounce of credibility if they pulled a stunt like that, especially when they are being offered darned close to everything they want. 

The next steps include a meeting with Alex Salmond in a few weeks' time to try and sort things out.


It’s time to crack on. Time is pressing. The sooner we can get the process issues out of the way and get on to the ‘Great Debate’ itself the better for everyone. And the less damaging the uncertainty will be for people and businesses alike. But importantly, if the Scottish Government wants to meet its own timetable for the referendum, the powers must be devolved by next spring. And that means both Governments reaching agreement on a Section 30 Order by late October.
 Crack on? I'm quite impressed at these little colloquialisms creeping into  Moore's vocabulary. 

But, seriously, I expect my Governments to work together to deliver a referendum that gives a clear result, is fair and isn't going to be in the courts forever and a day. My Westminster Government has done pretty well. I expect it would be too much to ask for the SNP to settle all of this without any toys being thrown out of the pram, but they may yet surprise me.


Let's just hope it's all dusted so that we have a deal in late October along with the witches, ghouls and pumpkins that appear at that time of year.

5 comments:

cynicalHighlander said...

Oh dear a man who is making a complete fool of himself.

Last year he wanted the referenda this year and now this obscure section 30 thing it needs sorted to be in time for two years!

Where in the SNP manifesto was one question stipulated as he is asserting?

Try looking up Lord Cooper circa 1953 or is he rewriting the 1707 Treaty to suit himself.

This referenda is in The Scottish Government's hands and all the blustering from Westminster does and cannot change that except by force or is that the next threat being contemplated.

Oh by the way Icelanders must be cleverer than Scots as they are having a referenda with six, yes SIX questions.

And as to that 'Blitz' weekend leaflet it contains blatant lies which makes those distributing it as liars.

AnonDuck said...

Lib Dems have always supported federalism. It was in the last manifesto and many before that. The Steel commission outlined a Lib Dem version of devo max. You dismiss the lack of a second question/third option as a condition of a section 30 out of hand. But in reality it has the potential to be a big of a fiasco as the tuition fee policy u-turn. If the Lib Dems turn their back on devolution we'll have another very prominent broken promise to answer for.

Caron Lindsay said...

Anon Duck, you'll see our Home Rule Commission report this Autumn which will underline our commitment to giving power away from the centre - not just taking it from Westminster but putting it right down to local communities.

The referendum isn't the right place to have that discussion. Apart from the fact that everyone seems to have a different idea of what more powers should look like and even what devo max is, it just wouldn't give a clear result as every expert agrees.

Mike Moore has said repeatedly that the Scotland Act was part of a process of further devolution.

Labour and Tories would stick with what we have, or roll it back, SNP only interested in independence. This is why Liberal Democrats are so important in taking the greater devolution within union argument forward.

AnonDuck said...

>The referendum isn't the right place to have that discussion.

But we cannot deny that the discussion is happening at the moment. Independence, devolution are not questions that can be answered individually, both are components of the larger conversation that is taking place, what is Scotland's political future? And the polls consistently show that wide-ranging devolution is a very popular answer. This is not going to be sated by the Calman commission incremental approach.

Devo-max, which as a party we have put forward proposals for before is not so ill defined that it needs be dismissed from a referendum two years away. Indeed, the minutiae of what exactly need to be contained in devo-max do not need to be known. The 1997 referendum was off the back of a white paper with the bill not published until later in that year. I would even argue that it is better that the political parties sit back for a bit and have a civic approach like the Scottish Constitution Convention.

By standing next to the Conservatives and their line-in-the-sand for devolution we are betraying the federalist policy that we walked into the 2010 election with. We must not make the mistake of defining our policies in reaction to the SNP.

Galen10 said...

Caron, there is actually considerable debate about the contention that the Scottish Government lacks the legal authority to hold a referendum.

There are a number of questions coming from this: which courts, and what will the grounds be for any action? If you research the various legal authorities and experts who have examined the matter, there is certainly NO consensus that the position of the Unionist establishment is bound to prevail.

There are a number of fairly basic flaws with the Unionist approach. First and foremost of course is that the SG has an overwhelming mandate from the Scottish electorate to hold a referendum in the second half of the Holyrood parliamentary term.

Attempts by Unionists (whether Mr Cameron in January this year or the deeply unpleasant Mr Davidson and his democratically challenged SAC recently, or Mr Moore now) to attach pre-conditions to the granting of an S30 order, or to imply that Westminster can over-rule the SG, are as constitutionally illiterate as they are politically dangerous.

The second flaw is that for an advisory referendum (which is what 2014 is), there would be no legal basis for a challenge, which would in all likelihood be speedily dismissed by the courts.

Attempts by Unionist parties to raise the spectre of the process being mired in legal action are entirely disingenuous; they could easily grant an unconditional S30 order to prevent this if they chose, but are determined not to do so because (as Davidson has freely admitted) they think it is to their political advantage.

The third major flaw in the Unionist approach is that the "jam tomorrow" promises of more devolution in the future are no longer believed. As you say, everyone seems to have a different idea of what more powers would look like, hence the abject performance of deco-max or FFA supporters in formulating and presenting a coherent plan to the Scottish people for their considerations.

This seems a rather odd state of affairs, given that all the polls show an overwhelming majority in favour of such action. Of course even if the disparate supporters of devolution COULD come up with a plan, let alone a second question for inclusion in 2014, how would they plan to deliver at Westminster? The answer is of course that they have vanishingly little chance of doing so; there is no appetite in England and Westminster for changing the structure of the creaking UK political system to accommodate devo-max for the Scots.

If, as you maintain, the LibDems were truly committed to furthering devolution, why are you standing shoulder to shoulder with Unionist spoilers intent on ensuring it never happens? Why is your party aligning itself with those who are trying to hi-jack the 2014 referendum for selfish political motives, attaching anti-democratic pre-conditions, insisting it be held sooner rather than later, and that it should have only one question?

As a federal party, why have the Scottish LD's simply parroted the national line? Where are the voices arguing for a different path, like granting an unconditional S30 order, developing a second question on deco-max? Perhaps Mr Moore is too attached to his position as Scottish secretary... despite the fact the LD's campaigned to abolish the position?

As a former supporter of the LD's, I feel somewhat sorry for the party now, as well as desperately let down that it has now become a creature of the forces of reaction. Like many others, I have become increasingly convinced that independence would now be the best solution for both Scotland and the rest of the UK.

The effective electoral suicide of the LD's since entering the Coalition simply reinforces that belief; the only effective way to promote a redial, progressive agenda for Scotland is through independence; it is earnestly to be hoped that this outcome will give the creaking, crypto-medieval UK political system the kicking it so evidently needs.

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