By a Newsnet reporter
Scotland’s most senior trade unionist, Grahame Smith, has given his support for the Scottish Government’s timetable for the 2014 independence referendum.
Mr Smith, who is general secretary of the STUC, also backed Alex Salmond’s stance on a multi-option referendum, saying it would be “daft” to rule it out.
He said: “We’re absolutely comfortable with the 2014 timescale because it gives us the opportunity to debate,
“We will as the STUC – and our affiliates and members will expect it – reach a view before the referendum on what our position should be.” and added: “It is absolutely ‘get off the fence time’, but there is still a period of time when it is legitimate to have that discussion.”
The comments from the STUC chief follow demands by UK Prime Minister David Cameron for the Scottish Government to hurry up the process and hold an earlier ballot.
They also come in a week that saw BBC Scotland report Canadian election expert Ron Gould’s claim that a multi-option ballot might “muddy the waters”. However the Canadian insisted that a separate referendum on Devo-Max should be held if Scots opted against independence.
Mr Smith’s comments will make for uncomfortable reading for the Labour party who support the Tory PM’s early ballot call and who also want to rule out a third option appearing on the ballot paper.
The comments from the STUC chief were welcomed by the Scottish Government. SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell said:
“This is a welcome contribution to the debate which recognises the merits of holding the referendum in the second half of this parliament.
“Mr Smith recognises the need for time for debate – which is why we have set out a proper, detailed timetable for the referendum in autumn 2014 which meets our election pledge.
“A referendum in Scotland is clearly a matter for the Scottish Parliament and Government.
“Autumn 2014 is the correct timetable for the referendum and the need for the fullest possible public debate on Scotland’s most important decision for 300 years, with all the questions answered.”
Polls have consistently shown a three way split between independence, devo-max and the status quo.
Yesterday saw the Scotland Bill rubber stamped, which means some powers returning to Scotland from London. The extra powers, described by the SNP as a “job half done”, will not be implemented until after the independence referendum.
Many political analysts believe that these powers are insufficient and argue that the Unionist parties will have to spell out what further powers they are prepared to offer prior to the referendum.
Meanwhile the Scottish Government received another boost with news that Children’s Commissioner Tam Ballie had backed calls for voting rights to be extended to 16 and 17 year olds.
Speaking in the Evening Times, MrBallie said: “Why shouldn’t 16 and 17-year-olds have their voices heard at the ballot box? Giving young adults – our current S2 and S3 school pupils – the right to vote in the 2014 referendum on independence for Scotland would reflect a widely-held vision of what we as a progressive, rights-respecting country could become.”
SNP MSP Humza Yousaf welcomed Mr Baillie’s backing for a key SNP policy. Mr Yousaf, the SNP’s youngest MSP, said:
“Mr Ballie’s support of enfranchising 16 and 17-year-olds is compelling and unanswerable. 16 and 17-year-olds are not the citizens of tomorrow, they are citizens of today – and they must have their say on the future of their country.”
Mr Yousaf expressed his hope that next Thursday’s local authority elections would be the last to exclude 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland and added:
“The claim by some who have previously supported votes at 16 – such as Scottish Secretary Michael Moore – that 16 and 17 year olds should only be allowed to vote in the referendum if they can vote in all elections is also hypocritical nonsense.
“If Moore genuinely supported young people’s democratic rights, he would take any opportunity to advance them – not just when he thinks it suits him.
“The SNP has long supported the principle of votes at 16 and where it has the power to do so – such as for elections to health boards and the Crofting Commission – the Scottish government has already ensured that they have that right. The other parties should listen to Tam Ballie and let Scotland’s young citizens have their say on Scotland’s future.”