By Bob Duncan
The SNP has welcomed the “grudging” acceptance from a House of Commons group of MPs that the Scottish Government has the power to hold an independence referendum and determine the process.
In a report published today, Friday 11 January 2013, the Scottish Affairs Committee congratulated the London and Edinburgh administrations on the historic Edinburgh Agreement which paved the way for a “Section 30 Order” which grants control over a legally binding ballot to the Scottish Parliament.
Following the agreement the committee, which has published several reports into “separation” began taking ‘evidence’ which has resulted in yet another report published today, entitled: “The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: The proposed section 30 Order – Can a player also be the referee?”
Speaking on the day the report was published, Ian Davidson, the committee chairman and Labour MP for Glasgow South West, said: “The Edinburgh agreement was reached by compromise and consensus between Scots at Westminster and Scots at Holyrood, and we congratulate both teams.
“This referendum will be Scotland’s shop window on the world — it must be handled with pride and probity.”
However, in a provocative and bitter attack on the Scottish Government, the Labour MP ‘warned’ against the pursuit of “factional advantage” saying his committee “feared the worst”.
He added: “The worst option is to have the pursuit of factional advantage — the aggregation of marginal gains — by the majority who have control and who dread defeat. We fear the worst but hope for the best.”
The report itself also suggests that unless the committee’s wishes are implemented then the Scottish Government will hold a “biased, rigged or gerrymandered vote.”
The Unionist dominated committee has no SNP member, but has co-opted several English based MPs to make up for the lack of available Scottish Tory MPs. The sole SNP member of the committee, Dr Eilidh Whiteford, resigned last year following accusations of bullying by the committee chairman, Labour MP Ian Davidson.
The committee, which had its remit changed to allow it to focus on the independence referendum, has regularly signalled its desire for London to be allowed to influence and control the referendum process.
Shortly after Alex Salmond announced the Scottish government’s proposed referendum question, “Do you agree that Scotland should become an independent country?” the committee responded by publishing a report entitled “Do you agree that this is a biased question?”
The latest report, although acknowledging the right of the Scottish Parliament to control the entire referendum process, is laced with pejorative and divisive language throughout.
Welcoming the referendum, the report says:
“The Scottish people have now twice returned a separatist administration to office in the devolved parliament, so it is right to ask them whether or not they support separation from the United Kingdom.
“We agree that this is, in the end, a decision which only the Scottish people can take, and that, whatever their views on the matter, it is a decision which the rest of the United Kingdom should be prepared to accept.
“It would be wrong to seek to hold Scotland to the Union if the Scottish people voted for separation. Conversely, if the Scottish people confirm that the[sic] wish to remain part of the United Kingdom, then the question of separation should be regarded as firmly settled for a generation or more.”
On the subject of the Section 30 order itself, the report continues:
“It may be seen as disappointing that a referendum which would have been subject to no legal uncertainty, and which could have been perfectly easily legislated for at Westminster might attract unjustified criticism that it was not ‘made in Scotland’: but the aim of getting a result to which all will assent seems to us to be an overriding one, and we are therefore prepared to agree to the section 30 Order approach, and to discretion being given to the Scottish Parliament under that to arrange a referendum.”
However, in a quite extraordinary reference to the British cycling team, who use technological advances in order to gain an advantage, the report then suggests the Scottish government will try to corrupt the entire referendum process.
The report adds:
“We believe there will be huge temptation for the Scottish Government to follow the mantra of British cycling and pursue the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’ and to seek to gain partisan advantage from every element of the referendum process.
“We recognise that the Scottish Government, controlled by a party committed to separation, will be in the position of being both a player in the game as well as trying to exercise the role of neutral referee.”
The report also suggests that the referendum process should not be voted through using a majority of Scottish Parliament MSPs but should instead use an undefined system of ‘consensus’.
“It is thus our view that two principles will be essential if the proposed referendum is to meet the highest standards of fairness.
“The first is that decisions in the Scottish Parliament should be on the basis of wide consensus, rather than a majority being used to ram through partisan choices.”
In a reference to the Electoral Commission, which will review the proposed question and subject it to fairness tests, the report descends into near farce.
“The second is that the decisions of an impartial third party, in this case the Electoral Commission, should be accepted (unless an alternative consensus exists).
“The people of Scotland may have voted for a referendum to be held—but they were never asked to approve a biased, rigged or gerrymandered vote.”
The remainder of the report continues in a similar vein, finally opining that donations from outwith Scotland should be allowed, but only if they come from elsewhere in the UK.
In what seems to be a direct contradiction of their earlier acceptance that the referendum should be made in Scotland, it concludes:
“In our view, foreign donations should not be allowed. The referendum will be about the future of Scotland and the UK, and donations from outwith the UK should not be permitted.”
Welcoming the publication of the report, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani – who sits on the Scottish Parliament’s Referendum Bill Committee – commented:
“The report may be grudging, but we nonetheless welcome its recognition that the Scottish Parliament is the proper place to determine the referendum. MSPs on the Yes side of the debate will perform the duties expected of us with the highest degree of integrity in passing a Referendum Bill, and with a full and proper understanding of the importance of the issues involved.
“The referendum on an independent Scotland will meet the gold-standard for fairness in every single regard – which is particularly important when people remember the inherent unfairness of the referendum on devolution organised by Westminster in 1979 – with the Electoral Commission discharging its independent responsibilities in exactly the same way as it does nowadays for UK referendums.
“The more that No supporters in the Tory/Labour alliance complain about the scrupulously fair and open process that is happening at Holyrood, the more they give the impression that they are scared of the people’s verdict in the referendum.”