CHAPTER 10 CHOOSING SCOTLAND'S FUTURE
10.1 As a nation, Scotland can be proud of its achievements over the last 10 years. The Scottish Parliament has introduced innovative and successful reforms, making a real difference to the lives of the people of Scotland. Two-thirds of those living in Scotland now want the Scottish Parliament to have more responsibilities and 70% want it to have the most influence over the way Scotland is run. 131
10.2 This paper provides a vision of the further opportunities for Scotland if the Scottish Parliament's responsibilities were extended in order to allow for independence. The current economic situation reinforces the arguments for ensuring that Scotland can determine its own economic policies. The international situation raises important and relevant issues of peace and war. The crisis in British democracy shows the potential for a better system of government for Scotland, which might be an example for the rest of the United Kingdom.
10.3 The debate about the way forward for Scotland encompasses a wide range of views and that range of views should be heard: and not just the views of the political and civic establishment - everyone in Scotland should be given the opportunity to have their say.
INVOLVING THE PEOPLE
10.4 Ensuring the public can participate in the democratic process is a central tenet of modern Scottish society. The Claim of Right of 1989 reaffirmed an ancient Scottish tradition which asserts that it is the people of Scotland that are sovereign.
10.5 During and after the restoration of the Scottish Parliament, the nation has sought to be defined by a more inclusive form of democracy than that which prevails in the United Kingdom Parliament. Indeed the founding principles of the Scottish Parliament include access and participation, principles that the Parliament has worked assiduously to embed into its day to day work. The Scottish Parliament is now one of the most open and accessible Parliaments in the world.
10.6 The Scottish Government is similarly committed to encouraging the participation of the people in shaping policy. This is evident than in the way in which the Scottish Government has approached the issue of Scotland's constitutional future.
10.7 The National Conversation has been an exercise in participative democracy. The whole process has allowed the people of Scotland to express their views on the future direction of the nation, from public events held in all parts of Scotland, to publication of policy papers and an online portal where anyone could leave comments and join in the debate.
10.8 The next step is to ensure that the whole of Scotland can give its view on the extension of the responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government proposes that a Referendum should be held in Scotland in 2010 to allow that view to be heard.
A NATIONAL REFERENDUM
As the speakers said,
it is the decision of
the Scottish people as
to what road they
want to take. It
should not be
politicians who make
(Haddington National Conversation event, 28 September 2009)
10.9 The Scottish Government believes that the future prosperity and development of Scotland is best served by becoming an independent country, a view shared in the Scottish Parliament by the Scottish Green Party. The Scottish Government favours a referendum which presents a clear choice between achieving that aspiration and the current devolution settlement.
The Scottish Government's preferred option
10.10 Under independence Scotland would assume the rights and responsibilities of a normal sovereign state. This would include all decisions on economic and fiscal affairs, currency, the constitution, foreign affairs, security and defence. Scotland would be recognised as a state by the international community and be part of the European Union as a full member state.
10.11 The opportunities and challenges of independence for specific policy areas have been described in this paper and have been the subject of debate and discussion in Scotland for many years. Those who favour this vision of Scotland will be able to indicate their support for Scottish Ministers seeking to extend the responsibilities of the Parliament to allow for independence to be achieved.
Current devolution settlement
10.12 It is accepted that some voters do not wish Scottish Ministers to take any steps to seek to extend the responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament.
10.13 Therefore there will be an opportunity for those who do not support any extension of current responsibilities to express that view in the referendum.
A multi-option referendum
10.14 However, despite the Scottish Government's preference for a single choice, it acknowledges that there is support within Scotland for a range of positions seeking a variety of increased responsibilities for the Scottish Parliament. During the National Conversation such support has been heard at town hall meetings, and the National Conversation policy papers have included information on at least two such options.
10.15 The Scottish Government also accepts that a multi-option referendum might be more likely to command the support of other parties in the Scottish Parliament, if they are consistent with their previous positions on the matter, and it would enjoy a measure of support within the country. The Scottish Government can also see some democratic advantage in posing more than one question.
10.16 However there is a problem in deciding what the other option should be. It has been suggested since the Commission on Scottish Devolution reported in June 2009 that its recommendations should be placed before the Scottish people. Those who sponsored the Commission have refused to allow that to happen. In addition, the proposals not only fall short of being a coherent package, but they also fall short of the increase in responsibilities that would normally be seen as requiring referendum consultation. Furthermore there is some doubt as to whether the parties who previously supported the Commission process are still unanimously in favour of the fiscal proposals.
10.17 There is a further problem in suggesting that the Commission recommendations form an option in a referendum. As both the Scottish and United Kingdom Governments support many of the recommendations, and as the Scottish Government has published an approach which would implement legislative changes within a matter of months, providing the United Kingdom Government agrees, many of the proposals could be implemented well before a referendum could be held. The Scottish Government is also working to attempt to facilitate, with the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Parliament, early progress on non- legislative Commission proposals regarding Scottish Parliamentary Procedures and inter-governmental relations.
10.18 However, there is an alternative set of proposals which would seek to extend the responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament, short of independence. Contributions to the National Conversation have indicated support for a range of proposals which reduce the reservations of policy areas under the Scotland Act, but do not eliminate them all. For example, the devolution of broadcasting, taxation and benefits could form elements what has been called "Devolution Max".
10.19 Unfortunately the various proponents of this approach have yet to bring it forward in a form in which it could provide the basis for a question in a multi-option referendum, although the inclusion of the concept in the National Conversation policy papers, and in this paper, will have helped that process.
10.20 The Referendum Bill will be introduced into the Scottish Parliament in early 2010. There will therefore be an opportunity during the Bill process for one or more of the opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament to bring forward such a proposal. If it were brought forward, the Scottish Government would be prepared to consider it as a serious option for inclusion in a multi-option referendum. Accordingly the Referendum Bill will be constructed so that the Scottish Parliament can, if it so chooses, offer the Scottish people the opportunity to vote for a proposal about further devolution of other responsibilities to the Scottish Parliament as part of a multi-option referendum, even though the Scottish Government does not favour this option and will not campaign for it.
10.21 A referendum is essential because the Scottish Government believes that this debate cannot be restricted to the Scottish Parliament. The National Conversation has allowed the people to articulate their views, and it is now time for them to be invited to express those views in a formal way.
10.22 The Bill as introduced will provide the detailed framework for holding the referendum and will contain the precise form of the ballot paper for the choice described in paragraphs 10.10 - 10.13 above. The referendum will be held on a similar model to 1997, but with additional provisions to govern the scrutiny of the process through an independent commission, the levels of finance that can be spent during the campaign, and the mechanism for the count. The arrangements will conform to or exceed the best international practice.
THE NEXT STEP
10.23 The Scottish Government intends to bring forward the Referendum Bill early in 2010. The Scottish Parliament will be invited to pass the legislation.