It seems that hardly a day goes by that Scotland takes one step closer to Independence Day. History will see the Edinburgh Agreement as hugely significant in determining our country’s future. Tuesday 5th of February saw the launch of the Scottish Government’s proposals for “The transition to an independent Scotland”. Of course this comes hot on the heels of the Electoral Commission Report “Referendum on Independence for Scotland, Advice of the Electoral Commission on the proposed referendum question.” This has given us the final question, with which many Yes campaigners will be as content as am I.
‘Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes/No’
Surprisingly, however, the Electoral Commission made further recommendations to both the UK and Scottish Governments urging them to reach agreement on a joint statement which will clarify what the process will be following the referendum. This should offer sufficient detail to inform people what will happen in the event of both a Yes or a No vote.
This is very welcome and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon immediately accepted the recommendations of the Electoral Commission in full:
“I am particularly delighted with the conclusion the Electoral Commission has reached on the question. While the Commission’s view is that our proposed question was clear, simple and easy to understand, I am nevertheless happy to accept their recommended change. I am also pleased with the spending limits proposed by the Electoral Commission – they deliver a level playing field and will allow a fair and balanced debate on both sides.”
George Orwell once said “All political thinking for years past has been vitiated in the same way. People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome. “
I wonder if the Better Together Politicians in the Parliament regret their posturing prior to publication of the Electoral Commission’s Recommendations. Did their natural visceral antipathy to the SNP cloud their vision and lead them to expect the SNP to reject the Commission’s findings and in doing so tie themselves in knots? This exchange in the Chamber at Topical Questions on the 29th of January, before publication, makes interesting reading:
Topical Question on Electoral Commission (Referendum Recommendations)
Patricia Ferguson (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (Lab):
2. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will accept in full the recommendations of the Electoral Commission regarding the conduct of a referendum on Scotland separating from the rest of the United Kingdom. (S4T-00231)
The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities (Nicola Sturgeon): The Electoral Commission submitted extensive comments in response to our consultation on the conduct of the referendum last year, and Scottish Government officials have been in regular contact with it on the development of detailed arrangements since then. As with referendums that are held under United Kingdom legislation, it is for the Government to propose the referendum question, the Electoral Commission to test that question and the Parliament to make a final decision. The Scottish Government will consider the wording of the question and, indeed, other matters relating to the conduct of the referendum in light of the Commission’s advice. Of course, the Scottish Parliament will have the final say during its scrutiny of the referendum legislation.
Patricia Ferguson: I thank the Deputy First Minister for that answer, but I am disappointed to note that even now, with the publication of the Electoral Commission’s advice imminent and with a growing clamour of voices—including that of Blair Jenkins, the head of her own campaign organisation—calling on the Scottish Government to commit to accepting the advice and recommendations that will be made, she cannot bring herself to reassure the chamber that her belief in independence extends to independent scrutiny. I ask her again whether, to ensure that the referendum is carried out in a fair and proper manner, she will accept all the Electoral Commission recommendations.
So, one might imagine that having called for full and unconditional support of the recommendations the Better Together parties would be ready, willing and able to act on the Electoral Commission’s recommendation that the Scottish and UK governments agree a “joint position” before the referendum, whether it is a Yes or No vote.
Not so! David Cameron has made it quite clear that he is “not for talking”.
As SNP MSP Bruce Crawford – who chairs the Referendum Bill Committee – said:
“This is a landmark recommendation by the Electoral Commission – which they base on the Edinburgh Agreement – and one which the UK Government must immediately commit to. The Tory-led government at Westminster and the No campaign have said time and again that the Electoral Commission recommendations must be implemented in full – therefore they must abandon their obstructionist stance of rejecting pre-referendum talks to prepare for a possible Yes result, in line with the Commission’s recommendation.”
Which brings me back to our latest historic day – 5th February 2013 and the publication of “The transition to an Independent Scotland”. This is the Scottish Government’s pathway to establishing a constitutional platform for an Independent Scotland. Everything is there: timetable, co-operative transition, a written constitution and the Electoral Commission itself gives clear support to our approach of making clear to the voters of Scotland what the path to Independence will look like.
It’s time for the nay sayers to step up – if they can!
Just how far have Labour fallen?
My last piece for the Flag in the Wind I expressed my outrage at the speech by Joanne Lamont about “The Something for nothing Society”. You will recall Labour calling for a debate on universal services. In December this year the Jimmy Reid Foundation published a report on the “The Case for Universalism”. I lodged a motion the same week, seeking a Member’s debate on the motion (the text of which is below). Sorry for the necessary technical minutia, but prior to the formation of the Independent / Green group the support of one Political Group, in addition to the proposer’s, secured the Member’s debate. However, the formation of the Independent / Green technical Group meant that for a debate to be secured two additional member groups needed to show support. This was missed and the Debate appeared scheduled in the Parliamentary Bulletin. There was significant interest in the debate not least from the Jimmy Reid Foundation but also Trade Union representatives. What happens next is almost beyond comprehension! Having spotted the mistake the Labour Party lodged a complaint. They had three options.
- Ignore the technical complaint and allow the debate (which they were calling for) to proceed.
- Lodge the Complaint and in doing so support the motion and allow the debate to proceed.
- Lodge the Complaint and kill the debate.
It will come as no surprise that Labour killed the debate. As someone brought up in the traditional Lanarkshire Labour values and fully supporting the trade union movement I can think of absolutely no justification for the Labour Group at Holyrood to find themselves unable to support a motion about universal services – one of the founding principles of the Labour movement. I have written to the three main Party Leaders seeking their support. To date only the Conservatives have replied, politely declining. Form Labour? Deafening silence. I would urge you to ask any Labour supporting friends, family and colleagues why a Labour Group finds itself unable to support the motion below. And then ask if Labour has any credibility left when it comes to Social Justice and principle?
Motion S4M-05102: Clare Adamson, Central Scotland, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 04/12/2012
The Case for Universalism, the Jimmy Reid Foundation Report
That the Parliament congratulates the Jimmy Reid Foundation on the formulation and publication of what it considers its recent incisive report examining the evidence of the impact of universal public services; understands that the report’s overriding conclusion is that the group that will be most affected if universalism is rolled back is poor people; notes further the report’s finding that moving from universal to targeted services creates “stigma, reduces take-up rates, causes enormous increases in administrative costs and eventually leads to less public support for services which in turn leads to significant decline in the quality of those services”; welcomes the report’s conclusion that universalism is also highly efficient in avoiding error and fraud; further welcomes what it considers the report’s challenging finding that “there is a well-documented ‘paradox of redistribution’ which shows that the best way to benefit low-income groups is to not target benefits at them but at the wider population”; notes the report’s conclusion that historical and contemporary evidence “strongly suggest” that increased universal provision is an appropriate response to austerity, which would stimulate economic activity and improve both government and wider economic efficiency; believes that universal benefits have greatly helped the people of Central Scotland and the rest of the country, and commends the report and its conclusions to all those with responsibility for formulating and implementing social policy in Scotland.
Supported by: Annabelle Ewing, Richard Lyle, John Finnie, Christina McKelvie, Bill Kidd, David Torrance, Dennis Robertson, Mike MacKenzie, Brian Adam, Stuart McMillan, Marco Biagi, Patrick Harvie, Dave Thompson, Colin Beattie, Adam Ingram, John Mason, Nigel Don, Jean Urquhart, Jamie Hepburn, Bruce Crawford, Kevin Stewart, Roderick Campbell, Gil Paterson, Christine Grahame, Linda Fabiani, Angus MacDonald, Colin Keir, Aileen McLeod, Maureen Watt
Current Status: Eligible for Members’ Business, Pending Cross Party Support