New poll shows Westminster is ‘out of touch’ on pre-referendum talks

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   By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP has published the results of a new opinion poll which shows there is overwhelming support amongst the Scottish public for the Scottish Government’s attempts to seek pre-referendum talks with Westminster.

The poll finds that 67% of those asked were in favour of pre-referendum talks, with only 21% opposed, and that there is majority in favour amongst supporters of all political parties.

The Scottish Government has repeatedly asked Westminster to enter into pre-referendum talks in order to clarify outstanding issues such as the currency, financial regulation, and the share of debts and assets that would have to be settled if Scotland decides to regain its status as an independent state.

In January this year Scotland Secretary Michael Moore insisted that the UK Government would not enter into any negotiations over the terms of Scottish independence before the referendum, despite the terms of the Edinburgh Agreement between Holyrood and Westminster which calls on both governments “to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom”.

Mr Moore claimed that the Scottish Government supported there being no talks prior to the referendum, a statement which was strongly contested by the Scottish Government. 

Mr Moore said:  “We will not be negotiating in advance, which in fact the Scottish government support us on because, for one thing, we are UK ministers who have responsibility to the whole of the country.”

On 30 January, the Electoral Commission published a report urging the Scottish and UK governments to agree a “joint position” before the referendum, “so that voters have access to agreed information about what would follow the referendum”, whether it is a Yes or No.

The Electoral Commisson report recommended that the two governments provide sufficient detail to inform people what will happen if most voters vote ‘Yes’ and what will happen if most voters vote ‘No’.

Last month, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, made up exclusively of representatives of anti-independence parties, also called on the UK Government to enter into pre-referendum talks with Holyrood and warned the UK Government against “sleepwalking into independence”.

However, UK Goverment ministers have steadfastly refused to provide the necessary information, and have declined requests from the Scottish Government to enter into talks.  Speaking in response to the Lords Economic Affairs Committee report, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said:

“We have been clear we will not ‘pre- negotiate’ the terms of independence before people in Scotland have had their say in the referendum.  To do so would require the Government to act on behalf of only part of the UK.”

This week’s poll, which was carried out by YouGov between 1-3 May, asked 1006 adults in Scotland for their views on pre-referendum talks between Holyrood and Westminster in order to pave the way for negotiations between the governments in the event of a Yes vote in next year’s independence referendum.

The poll asked: 

“A referendum on an independent Scotland is taking place on 18 September 2014. In the event of a Yes vote, a number of areas would need to be negotiated between the Scottish and UK governments before Scotland became an independent country in 2016 – including issues such as currency, financial regulation, and the share of assets and liabilities that would accrue to Scotland and the rest of the UK.

“Do you think that the UK and Scottish governments should or should not hold talks before the referendum, to help pave the way for formal negotiations should there be a Yes vote?”

67% agreed that the two governments should hold talks before the referendum, with 21% against and 11% who did not know.  Both men and women and supporters of every political party support pre-referendum talks:

 

  • Among Labour voters, 67% support talks with 25% against.
  • Among Lib Dem voters, 66% support talks with 34% against.
  • Among Conservative voters, 53% support talks with 39% against.
  • Among SNP voters, 88% support talks with 8% against.
  • Among women, 69% support talks with 17% against.
  • Among men, 66% support talks with 26% against.

Welcoming the poll findings, Deputy First Minister and Depute SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon said:

“This is an extremely encouraging finding – which reflects the recommendation of the Electoral Commission – and indicates that the reasonable and constructive approach the Scottish Government are taking in the referendum debate is in tune with the vast majority of people in Scotland. By contrast, Westminster’s refusal to enter into pre-referendum discussions so that they can help inform the debate is out of touch with the people.

“Preparation is not pre-negotiation. Having discussions now to develop an understanding of the issues that would require negotiation after a Yes vote, what factual information would underpin that, and what attitude each government would take to negotiations in the event of a Yes vote, is not to pre-empt the referendum result – it is simply to ensure that if there is a Yes vote we can get to work quickly on implementing the democratic decision of the people of Scotland.

“The entire Westminster machine is focused on the referendum – producing a whole series of scare stories as part of the No campaign – and the people of Scotland clearly want some of that effort directed to constructive engagement with the government of Scotland.

“The UK government should heed public opinion in Scotland, and U-turn on their current intransigent position. Pre-referendum discussions would help ensure that the debate is as informed as possible, and that is surely in the interests of people in Scotland and indeed the rest of the UK.”