Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Referendum? What Referendum?

The most intriguing thing about Alex Salmond's scheduling of legislation for a referendum this year is the lack of excitement it has caused.

The blogs are not full of it, nor are the comments columns in newspapers nor even the letters pages, where you would expect to see the nat letter-writing teams trying to whip up a false furore in favour...

Why is that? On the face of it, the SNP administration's only reason for wanting power (and therefore for voting them into power) is to get this referendum. But when it comes, indifference rages. Nobody seems to care...

I think the main reason is the shallowness of support for independence. When questioned by pollsters a certain number of people will always say that they are “in favour” of independence. But when you probe a little deeper you find that it is not their top priority, or even their tenth priority.

What people really want, their real priorities, are more jobs (or in the recession job security) and better health care and education and roads and policing and housing. If I, or a close friend or relative, lose my job or have a serious health issue, it can be the talk of the steamie. A referendum? On idependence? Yawn and yawn...

So the voters are not really engaged by the idea of a referendum. It's a distraction, a waste of resources and a misdirection of political energy. It shows that the SNP has got its priorities all wrong and out of kilter with the real needs and desires of the Scottish people.

The SNP is playing political games while the economy struggles and Scots are losing their jobs and are just not all that interested in a referendum on independence.

They have other priorities, and it is these priorities that the SNP administration should be addressing instead of wasting their energy, and ours, on a futile party political exercise.


  1. Prepare to be bombarded by people who's main priority is Independence. It's certainly not mine.

  2. Well, it stands to reason that most people have 'other' priorities. When it comes to it, even I as an SNP supporter have greater priorities when it comes to our place in the world, military commitments, the economy and our public services. It's just that to achieve many of these priorities, I happen to believe that Independence is key to doing so.

    Whatever your view on constitutional reform, and all parties support it to some extent, it's an issue which is not going to go away. Independence remains the single most popular option for reform, even if a majority come out for varying degrees of lesser reform. A majority say they want a referendum, however they prioritise it and regardless as to how they would cast their votes. The issue is going to have to be put sooner or later - so why not following a referendum bill later in this parliament?

    Isn't the real nub of the issue that whatever issues you cite as being of greater importance, for many of those opposed to Independence, in economic upturn or downturn, it will never be the 'right' time to have a referendum that you simply never want to see?



  3. "Independence remains the single most popular option for reform"

    The way to complete seperation from UK is going to some clever word play and a multi-option referendum. The largest minority want Independence if we bring in options such as; remove the Scottish Parliament, Status Quo, Full Federal UK, More law making powers, Give the Scottish Parliament a coat of paint, Begin negotiations to see if we can get a good deal for Independence from Westiminister (and if we can't it's too late and you've made your descision, even if you thought you were going to be given a final vote)

  4. Richard, from the perspective of an SNP suppporter, it's difficult to disagree with what you say. But I'm not looking at it from the perspective of an SNP supporter, I'm looking at it from the perspective of the majority of Scots, which is a very different matter.

    As you say, the Scottish people do not rate independence per se as a high priority.

    So why go ahead with a referendum now, when the real needs are for unity and focus on the real priorities of Scots? Does the SNP actually care about the priorities of the majority, or is it so intent on extracting some hoped for political mileage from actually meeting one of its election promises, that the priorities of the rest of us can go to hell?

    It seems perverse to me.

  5. Braveheart,

    Let's not get into a game of who cares more about the 'priorities of the majority'. I think we can safely assume that both of us care equally as much about society and the economy - it would be silly to pretend that either of us has a monopoly of concern on that front.

    But to the issue. A majority, when asked, say they would like a referendum, regardless as to how they would go on to vote in that referendum. Claiming that a focus on a referendum thereby excludes consideration of 'real issues' is a false dichotomy - intelligent adults are usually capable of considering more than one issue at a time, after all.

    I note that you don't appear to be arguing against a referendum full stop, but rather, you argue against it in the present climate - fair enough. However, if now is 'not the time', then are you prepared to stick your neck out and venture an opinion as to when it might be the time to hold such a vote?

    We've had 2 chances to vote on devolution - in 1979 and in 1997 - but never a chance to vote on independence seperately from the competing arguments of a general election. If I'm right and you're not against a referendum in principle, then what might be the circumstances in which you feel it ought to be held?

  6. It's not a game. If you say you care about the priorities of the Scottish people and I say the same, how to differentiate between us? How does anyone judge which of us is telling the truth?

    Obviously, not just by what we say but by what we do.

    Labour has taken its years in power to achieve certain things (national minimum wage, more new schools and hospitals, more and better paid doctors, nurses, teachers, policemen, and so on). You may not agree with these priorities, but they are there for everyone to see, and they show Labour's commitment to the Scottish people(IMO).

    What has the SNP achieved? No new schools commissioned yet, after 2.5 years. Most new teachers unemployed after their probationer year. Class sizes of 18.. nowhere. Most of the SNP's other election promises broken as well.

    And the SNP priority for this legislative year, the only real piece of legislation that they have brought to Parliament in their years in power? A referendum on independence, a referendum that even you admit is not most peoples' priority.

    So you care and I care, but I care enough to actually try to deliver, today not at some unspecified future date, and I care enough not to want distractions like divisive constitutional referendums.

    As for "the time is right" argument, it's much the same: a referendum costs time and money and political energy and it causes or heightens divisions. So I am not kennly "in favour", but 17% of the electorate di vote SNP, so it has to be considered.

    I was with Wendy and "bring it on" last year, but that was before the crash. "Let the SNP lose and we can get back to caring for our electorate" was the rationale.

    But the time is not right now. In the recession we need to work together for the best outcomes for the Scottish people.

    If the politicians in charge want to have a referendum they should have it at a more opportune time for the Scottish people...

    ...if they really care, that is.

  7. Well, if you'll forgive me for saying so, it does seem like a bit of a game for you, at least in rhetorical terms. The fact I want something you don't doesn't diminish my concern for those things that we both claim to want.

    After all, there's no upper limit of concern - if you were to say that you cared about education and I were to say that I cared about education and health, would that mean that I cared less about education or you about health? To argue that would be nonsense - just like the argument that a desire for a referendum implies any lesser concern for other objectives. Superficially good politics, maybe, but a rubbish argument nonetheless.

    There's no need for anyone to 'judge' this - we should be able to accept eachother's good faith that we both care about the economy and society. And really, there's no need to go regurgitating propagandist nonsense about the alleged shortcomings of the government - if we're really that bad, the opposition parties have the power to vote us down whenever they like.

    If the politicians in charge want to have a referendum they should have it at a more opportune time for the Scottish people...

    ...if they really care, that is.

    You may well get your wish. Apropros nothing, though, telling people why they shouldn't be given a say on a subject has never tended to be a route to electoral popularity. And plaintive claims that it comes out of irreducible principle tend to ring rather hollow in the electorate's ears after a while :-)

    Anyway, that's a point on which we'll have to agree to disagree. You've clarified where you stand on a referendum, so for that, thank you.

  8. Richard the fact that the SNP wants a referendum now and it gives a greater priority to a referendum than the other things we both care about, is evidence that the SNP cares more for the referendum. That's what "priority" means in practice. You care more about your top priority and less about prorities 2, 3, 4 etc., otherwise something else would be your No 1 priority.

    First, because they put the referendum at the top of the legislative programme.

    Second, because the referendum is divisive. Any campaign will cost money and political energy and it will emphasise difference, whereas to deliver on the other priorities we need unity.

    So let's accept that you care and I care, in equal measure, about the priorities of the Scottish people.

    And let's accept that, during the recession, politicians should be cooperating and uniting to address the real problems of unemployment, funding shortages and delivery of services in straitened time.

    And let's accept that a referendum is not the top priority of the Scottish people at this time, nor will it help to address these problems.

    So please explain, if you can, why Alex Salmond wants it as his priority and you are wiling to efend his decision?

  9. I think I’ve explained pretty well already why your premise about ‘priorities’ is false, so I don’t intend to rehash it further. However, you should recognise that attempts to try to claim that “if A is important to you, then B must be less important” are self-serving spin and nothing more.

    I came here to query your stance on a referendum, and I think I’ve had my answer. I could give you chapter and verse if you wish on why independence (and therefore a referendum) is essential to ensuring a range of more positive outcomes for Scotland in these difficult times, but given there’s not many likely to be reading this who aren’t already committed one way or the other, I don’t see that it would do either of us a lot of good. Maybe some other time.

    The exchange of competing ideas is the lifeblood of politics and government, even in a recession. Maybe I’ve got an unrealistically high opinion of voters and politicians, but I’m pretty sure that most are capable of conducting a debate on the constitution while getting on with everything else that matters to them as well.

    Anyway, I’m happy to wait and see what parliament decides, and if need be, to take the case back to the voters in 2011. Somehow, I don't think it will be my colleagues who are having to explain themselves to voters for wanting to give them a choice...

  10. Richard, the point of the original post was that there is no welcome for this referendum. The Scottish people don't want it. Or do you believe that they do?


    .... "I could give you chapter and verse if you wish on why independence (and therefore a referendum) is essential to ensuring a range of more positive outcomes for Scotland in these difficult times, but ....."

    You wouldn't believe the number of times I've heard this type of thing from Nationalists, "..I could blow you away with my wonderful arguments in favour of independence...the facts and logic are irrefutable....but not at the moment.. pressing business, you understand. Night shift calls. Got to watch the fitba'. The milk's boiling over...maybe another time...". It's absolutely predicatable and, eventually, comical.

    Somehow or other we never seem to get around to any attempt at a cogent explanation of why independence is a good thing...

    So never mind "Maybe some other time" Richard. Give it a go now. Who knows, you might even persuade me....

  11. Richard, the point of the original post was that there is no welcome for this referendum. The Scottish people don't want it. Or do you believe that they do?

    Every opinion poll indicates that a majority wants the referendum, whether they want independence or not.

    I know what the original point of your post was. Believe it or not, I just wondered whether you supported a referendum at some point in the future or not at all - nothing more and nothing less. A pitched debate about why you, or I, was right about independence seemed extraneous and out of place.

    I have to admit, it's the first time I seem to have ripped someone's knitting by keeping my views to myself. However, if you want a debate, the comments section isn't really the forum.

    My email address is richard.thomson@snp.org. Why not lets have a correspondence about it, and we can publish the results on our respective blogs?

    Anyway, I'm (genuinely) about to head out canvassing. Look forward to maybe hearing from you later.


  12. I think most unionists would want a referendum when opinion polls show near to 50% support. Any earlier and it's a pointless and potentially economically damaging exercise.

  13. "Every opinion poll indicates that a majority wants the referendum, "

    Do any of these polls ask, when?

  14. Opinion polls....

    Suppose I ask: do you want me to give you £1000, no strings attached?

    Answer: Yes.

    Suppose I ask: do you want me to give you a packet of Tunnock's Caramel Wafers?

    Answr: Yes.

    Then suppose I say: Of course the caramel wafers come with strings.... you will have to give back a proportion of the £1000....

    Answer: Aye, mibbe, but no' the noo. Let me think about it...

    So, if I ask: do you want better social and affordable housing?

    Answer: Yes.

    And I ask: Do you want a referendum on independence?

    Answer: Yes.

    But then I say: Of course the referendum comes with strings attached.... It will cost money (and money is tight) and it will draw attention and resources away from delivering the social and affordable housing...

    Answer: Aye mibbe, but mibbe no' the noo...


    Anonymous makes a good point: people may "want" a referendum, but they do not appear to want it now.....

    which is what I said at the start...

  15. Richard,

    hope you enjoyed the canvassing...

    I don't see the point of conducting the debate via email. Surely that's the purpose of any blog... to exchange ideas in public.

    Anyway, why use email and then put it on the blog? It makes no sense, it just adds an extra step to the process.

    So, please give me all your compelling evidence and argument in favour of independence.

    Let's have the debate out in the open....

  16. Canvassing was quite productive, thank you. At least it was until kick-off time approached in the Champions League...

    My reason for suggesting an email correspondence was that typing away into a small 3"x2" box on Blogger, where there is also a character limit, isn't always the best way to exchange ideas. It can be awkward for others to follow comments and given you're at comment 16 on this post and rising, it seemed a shame to have what promises to be such an enlightened and civilised discourse buried away like that.

    Correspondences like that are an established way to do it - they often do it in Prospect Magazine, to give an example with which you may be familiar. For what it's worth, I appreciate that your anonymity may be important to you, so I'd be quite happy to continue on that basis if you wanted to do so using an email address which protects your identity.

    I'm not going to be precious about it, though. If you want to have it here, then fine. I just think there's better ways to do it and ways to publish the results.

  17. Richard
    I will start a new thread

  18. PS

    Sir Tom Hunter, who supports a referendum, agrees with me. From yesterday's Sunday Times...


    To quote
    "Although Hunter supports the idea of a referendum, he wants it postponed until the recession is over and Scotland is more prosperous.".

    Exactly the point I have been making here....

  19. PPS

    So 16 year-olds are to be given a vote in the referendum, presumbly based on polling evidence that they support independence proportionately more than other groups.

    Or am I being too cynical?