London under pressure to drop referendum threats and leave matter to Scots

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By Martin Kelly
 
The Scottish Government’s plans for an independence referendum have received a massive boost after the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) insisted that the ballot would be legal and there should be “no strings” imposed by London.
 
According to reports in the Herald newspaper the group, which is independent of political parties, has conducted research which has concluded that the democratically elected Scottish Government has the right to set the conditions under which the ballot will be held.

By Martin Kelly
 
The Scottish Government’s plans for an independence referendum have received a massive boost after the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) insisted that the ballot would be legal and there should be “no strings” imposed by London.
 
According to reports in the Herald newspaper the group, which is independent of political parties, has conducted research which has concluded that the democratically elected Scottish Government has the right to set the conditions under which the ballot will be held.

The group interviewed experts in legislative matters as well as researching the issues surrounding the referendum.

Speaking to the Herald, the society’s spokesperson Juliet Swann said: “At the Electoral Reform Society Scotland we’ve spent time poring over legislation, talking to experts, taking on board opinions and mulling over the options that would best respect democracy.

“To that end, we are recommending the Scottish Parliament be provided with a no-strings-attached legal mandate to call a referendum at a time and with a question or questions of their choosing.

“We also believe that the Scottish Electoral Commission is best placed to monitor the referendum, but they should be accountable not to the Westminster Government but to all members of the Scottish Parliament.”

The body have also indicated their support for the inclusion of sixteen and seventeen year olds in the ballot and argued that the extension of the franchise should be permanent.

Ms Swann also called upon Unionist parties to withdraw their demands that the vote be extended to include those living out-with Scotland, arguing that “the residency requirement is the one that best reflects democracy.”

Ms Swann added: “As a comparison we would suggest that decisions made by the London mayor affect those who work but do not live in London, visitors to London, and have an impact on the UK more widely, but only residents of London are eligible to vote in the mayoral elections.”

The announcement follows comments yesterday from Dr Matt Qvortrup, a renowned expert in referendums, in which he again stated that there was no legal barrier to the Scottish Government holding a ballot.

“The basic principle in international law is that the seceding country (in this case Scotland) decides whether it wants to become independent.”

Calling on the Westminster Government to withdraw its legal threats he added:

“Generally speaking, independence is not an issue in which the ‘mother country’ has a direct say.  A country becomes independent when it is recognised by the international community.”

The academic said that claims by Unionist politicians that the UK Supreme Court could block a referendum were not borne out by events last year when the court refused to declare an act of the Scottish Parliament void in a case brought by AXA insurance.

Dr Qvortrup went on:

“So unless London wants to follow the Soviet Union in 1990, it cannot block Scottish independence. The only ones who can do so are the Scottish voters and the Scottish administration. 

“Thus is the doctrine of self-determination, which has been recognised as a fundamental principle of international politics and law since it was established by US President Woodrow Wilson after the First World War.”

Welcoming the recent developments, Stewart Maxwell, SNP MSP for West Scotland and member of the Scotland Bill Committee, said:

“The ERS have spoken to experts and pored over legislation before coming to the conclusion that attaching strings is unacceptable and the referendum should be decided by the Scottish people and the Scottish parliament.

“This is welcome backing from an organisation that is fighting to improve UK democracy and championing the rights of voters.

“Only yesterday, constitutional expert Matt Qvortrup said the UK Government should back off from threatening legal action by the UK Supreme Court.

“The question now is will Westminster listen to these growing calls for the referendum to be made in Scotland and decided by the people of Scotland?

“I am also delighted that the ERS wants 16 and 17-year-olds to vote, endorsing the SNP’s stance for young adults to be able to vote in all elections.

“Young adults of this age should be given the right to have their say on Scotland’s future.

“In the face of this growing evidence that the referendum belongs to the people of Scotland, the anti-independence parties must rethink their stance and put the democratic rights of the people of Scotland at the top of their priorities.”

Meanwhile the Scottish Democratic Alliance is believed to have asked the Council of Europe to step in and monitor the independence referendum. 

The calls follow growing concerns of interference from Westminster which many Scots feel may be a contravention of the UN Charter on the right of peoples to self-determination.

Resentment is still felt amongst many Scots who witnessed the rigging of the Home Rule referendum by London in 1979 which meant that a result showing a majority in favour was ignored.

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