Lib Dems in two pronged attack on Scottish Government referendum plans

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By G.A.Ponsonby
 
The Liberal Democrats have launched a double attack on the Scottish Government’s referendum plans after the party’s current Scottish leader and former leader both claimed that the Scottish Parliament had no powers to hold a referendum on Scottish independence.
 
Speaking earlier today Willie Rennie, the party’s current leader at Holyrood, claimed that any referendum that asked about new powers had to include people from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

By G.A.Ponsonby
 
The Liberal Democrats have launched a double attack on the Scottish Government’s referendum plans after the party’s current Scottish leader and former leader both claimed that the Scottish Parliament had no powers to hold a referendum on Scottish independence.
 
Speaking earlier today Willie Rennie, the party’s current leader at Holyrood, claimed that any referendum that asked about new powers had to include people from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Mr Rennie also insisted that any ballot on so called devo-max must be held after the 2014 referendum.

Mr Rennie’s suggestion of a split-referendum partially involving the rest of the UK was followed by a shock statement by predecessor Jim Wallace who claimed that the proposed referendum would be anti-democratic without the consent of London.

Now Lord Wallace, the Lib Dem peer issued what is the strongest hint yet that London may consider a legal challenge to the 2014 referendum if the Scottish Government doesn’t bow to Westminster pressure.

In a statement issued today he said:

“The UK Government’s legal view is that the Scottish Parliament has no power to deliver a referendum on independence.  It does not matter whether such a referendum is described as “advisory”, “consultative” or providing a basis for negotiations.  The Scottish Parliament has no power to legislate for a referendum on independence.

“There are important consequences which follow from this.  One is that to proceed with a referendum that is outside of its legal powers would be to act contrary to the Rule of Law.  This is not a mere legal technicality as some commentators have suggested.  Government according to law is a fundamental principle of democracy.  To flout this principle would be a very worrying step for a democratically elected government to take.”

First Minister Alex Salmond has already announced that the referendum will be held in Autumn 2014.  A consultation is to be held starting January 25th in order to determine, amongst other details, what question(s) any ballot should contain.

The intervention of the Lib Dem peer, who as Advocate General for Scotland gives advice on Scots law to the UK Government, is highly controversial.

Lord Wallace’s public statement is the clearest indication yet that the UK coalition may be willing to attempt to stop the Scottish Government from holding any referendum unless it accepts conditions set out by David Cameron’s Government.

It also suggests that Wallace himself may be prepared to head such a legal challenge that would controversially see the London based Supreme Court making the final judgement.

The role of the court itself will not be without controversy given that it was initially intended only as a means of speeding up Human Right’s hearings.  However there was anger after several Scottish criminal cases were referred, one of which led to a convicted murderer having his conviction quashed.

Lord Wallace has refused to back calls for Scots law to be given the same protection as English law which requires that cases in England can only be referred on the order of English judges.

If Lord Wallace’s threat is real then an attempt at blocking a clear democratic mandate given to the Scottish Government by the people of Scotland will herald a constitutional crisis that may well see the Union end in bitter acrimony.

Responding to the latest Lib Dem attack and demands that the whole of the UK be allowed to participate in a referendum SNP MSP Linda Fabiani said:

“The Lib Dems constitutional confusion gets worse by the minute.  First they want to deny the Scottish Parliament the right to set the terms of a referendum –  then they want to deny the people of Scotland a vote on more powers and now they want the decision to be made by voters across the whole of the UK.

“It seems the Lib Dems will do anything to avoid asking the public what they want.  This proposal is completely at odds with the Lib Dem’s own policy and importantly with the Claim of Right.

“It is the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs and the SNP will give them that opportunity with a referendum in Autumn 2014.

“If the Lib Dems have the courage of their convictions they should come up with proposals for devo-max and put them to the people alongside independence in the 2014 referendum.

“It seems ridiculous that the Lib Dems would go into the referendum proposing to give the rest of the UK a vote on more powers for the Scottish Parliament whilst denying the people of Scotland a specific vote on that option in the referendum itself.”