Westminster questions ‘legality and morality’ of independence referendum

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by a Newsnet reporter

The Westminster Scottish Affairs Committee, dominated by Labour MPs, yesterday announced that it would be launching two official inquiries into the legality, morality and scope of the planned Scottish referendum.   

The first inquiry plans to investigate the process and mechanics of what the Committee chooses to call a “Referendum on Separation”.  The Committee intends to examine “which jurisdiction should conduct” the Scottish referendum, and how any such referendum should be carried out.

The Committee will also ask whether the referendum should be initiated by Westminster through a clause in the Scotland Bill currently passing through Parliament, amendments to this effect were brought forward by the Conservative and Labour peers Michael Forsyth and George Foulkes when the Bill was examined by the House of Lords.

The Committee also seeks to establish the “legal and moral basis” for the referendum and will look at the timing of the referendum as well as the roles of the UK government and the Electoral Commission.  Also being scrutinised is the question of whether 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote, as has been signalled by the SNP.

The second inquiry will examine Scottish Secretary of State Michael Moore’s “six questions”.  The Committee will examine the areas of; bank regulation, pension payments, the national currency, Scotland’s membership of international organisations, Scottish defence, and the “costs of separation”.

Speaking to the Guardian newspaper about his Committee’s surprise decision to launch an investigation, Chairman of the Committee Ian Davidson, Labour MP for Glasgow South said: “Our view is that the people of Scotland shouldn’t be ambushed by having a decision sprung on them.

“Dithering doesn’t help Scotland.  We believe that no single group or individual has a monopoly of wisdom, and therefore we will conduct an inquiry into how a referendum should be held.”

“We believe a referendum should be fair and open, and the rules should not be juggled or rigged to favour either side.”

SNP MP Eilidh Whiteford criticised the Committee’s plans, claiming that Westminster MPs were setting up a “partisan inquiry into something which has nothing to do with them”.

Dr Whiteford said: “These inquiries are a sideshow from the real issues affecting Scotland. It is obvious from the terms of reference that this will be a partisan and pejorative inquiry and that those driving it have already decided what its conclusions will be.”

“There are already questions over the chairman’s judgement after his ridiculous neo-fascist remarks during a debate on the Scotland Bill.  This just shows how Labour is obsessing about the SNP when the committee should be investigating the impact of Tory cuts.”

Dr Whiteford insisted that any referendum in Scotland is a matter for the Scottish Parliament and Government – and that the SNP had been given a “resounding mandate” to deliver a referendum by the Scottish people in May.

Dr Whiteford added: “The days of Westminster Committees or Tory and Labour Governments telling the people of Scotland what to do are over.”

Commenting on the terms of reference for the second inquiry, which include six questions listed by Scotland Secretary Michael Moore in his conference speech, Dr. Whiteford said:

“It’s absolutely extraordinary that the agenda for the Scottish Affairs Select Committee seems to have been lifted from a LibDem conference speech by Michael Moore! It seems Ian Davidson has been rummaging through Michael Moore’s waste paper basket looking for inspiration?”

Evidence

The Committee has invited initial written evidence from interested parties on any, or all, aspects of these inquiries.  Submissions relating to the “Separation” enquiry must be received by 18 November 2011.  Submissions relating to the “Moore” enquiry must be received by 11 November 2011.

Submissions should be in Word or rich text format and sent by e-mail to scotaffcom@parliament.uk.  Do not send in pdf format.  The body of the e-mail must include a contact name, telephone number and postal address.  The e-mail should also make clear who the submission is from.

Submissions must address the terms of the inquiry and should not, as a rule, exceed 2,000 words.  Paragraphs should be numbered for ease of reference, and the document should include an executive summary.