IT must surely be obvious to everyone in the UK, as it has been to many in Scotland since 2014, that referendums do not settle issues “once and for all” and cause more division and harm to the body politic than can possibly be justified. However, if they are to be on the scene as a permanent running sore in the UK, it is surely time to improve on their conduct in the light of experience.
I therefore have some sympathy with William Durward (Letters, April 1y) and his proposal that future independence referendums should require a two-thirds majority. This is indeed the requirement of the SNP in its own constitution, as it is in other countries as such as the United States. Likewise, Nicola Sturgeon herself said that she would only call for another referendum when there was sustained support of more than 60 per cent for independence (which is as near as dammit.)
Another way of ensuring a decisive result for a referendum is to require a double majority – that all or a majority of parts of the country need to agree to the proposition. I have agreed with Ms Sturgeon in these pages that the Brexit referendum should have needed such a double majority. I am sure she will agree with me that it is just as reasonable to require that all or a majority of the regions and islands groups of Scotland should be required to vote for a Yes majority.
The danger of proceeding on any other basis would be that No-voting areas such as the Borders and Orkney and Shetland might wish to follow Ms Sturgeon’s own example and say “we didn’t vote for it, so were not having it.” They might then – again following the First Minster’s example – seek respectively to rejoin the UK and become Crown dependencies, like the Bailiewicks of Guernsey and Jersey.
Peter A Russell
“YOU can’t always get what you want” was an unlikely campign anthem for Donald Trump but it should be the motto of every practical politician, a Rolling Stones verson of JK Galbraith’s famous advice to JFK that “… politics is not the art of the possible. It is frequently the choice between the unpalatable and the disastrous”.
There can be few better examples of this than the mess over Brexit. However, there is way out of potential disaster which might be the least unpalatable choice for a majority of the people.
This would be for Parliament to define the choices available and then to vote on these in an exhaustive ballot until two options only were left. These would then be voted on by the public in a referendum, which could be held on the same day as the European elections. (If the result was to leave, the votes in that election would be counted and successful parties and candidates could decide whether to take their seats until such time that withdrawal was complete.)
This procedure is the same as that followed by the Tory Party in choosing its leader, so Conservatives should be happy. Those in favour of a People’s Vote should be happy. Those of us who believe that, in a representative democracy Parliament should be in charge of the process, should be happy. And as the song says “if you try some time, you just might find you get what you need.”
Peter A. Russell
YOUR correspondents are absolutely correct in their assessment of the inadequacies of referendums as a means of taking decisions in a parliamentary democracy (Letters, March 18). Personally, I regard them as being a bit like root canal surgery – I would like never to have to experience one ever again.
However, if there is a need for further referendums in the future, the time has surely come to regulate them much more stringently.
What we need is a new Act of Parliament which sets out a limited range of subjects on which a referendum may be called (so as to avoid referendums being called for spurious or party reasons); a requirement for a minimum number of MPs voting for a referendum (possibly the same as to dissolve Parliament under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act); and strict rules on majorities required.
These same requirements would of course apply to proposals for future Scottish independence referendums as well as all-UK plebiscites. To not learn the lessons of Brexit would be negligent in the extreme.
Peter A Russell
THE disproportionate furore over the proposed car parking tax is symptomatic of a much wider malaise in Scottish politics.
Those of us with long memories can recall that when the Scottish Parliament was set up, the intention was that it would be a less adversarial legislature than “two swords’ length” Westminster. This would mean even the most contentious issues could be decided by rational and pragmatic discussion and that parties would combine to get the best possible outcomes in the governance of the country. In the early years of Holyrood, this concept was upheld by the Labour/LibDem coalitions, and by the SNP/Tory arrangement that followed.
However, then came the independence referendum of 2014, and the reckless populist Yes campaign which specifically set about demonising every party that did not support independence. Few can forget the way in which the SNP and its supporters traduced those who disagreed with them, calling them traitors, quislings and cowards.
It was the duty of the Scottish Government to bring the nation back together after that bruising and divisive episode. Instead we have had to put up with an utterly irresponsible First Minister who could not even find it in herself to attend a service of reconciliation. She has since then continuously worked to undermine the decision taken by the Scottish people in 2014 in naked pursuit of party political advantage, urged on by her fanatical support.
As a result, the situation in which Scotland now finds itself is one where even modest changes in public policy become proxy battles in the Yes/No culture wars. Likewise a single awkward question being asked of the SNP on a late-night television panel show sparks conspiracy theory outrage.
The populist genie is out of the bottle, and we cannot expect political debate and decision-making to improve at any time soon.
Peter A Russell,
[Edited by Herald – original had word ‘moneymaking’ before ‘wheeze.’]
IT is interesting that Angus Robertson’s new wheeze has an objective of “in depth polling” (“Robertson heads new polling group in bud for Indyref2”, The Herald, February 4). In a spirit of helpfulness, I would like to suggest a few in-depth questions he might like to ask the Scottish public, namely:
If leaving one union (the EU) is a Bad Thing, do you think leaving a longer-established and more economically valuable union (the UK) is a Good Thing?
Are you happy to have your salary, benefits and pensions to be paid in a different (as yet unknown but probably less valuable) currency if Scotland leaves the UK?
Do you support giving up our nuclear deterrent at a time when our enemies are developing new nuclear weapons?
And of course:
If politicians define that a referendum as Once In A Generation, should they honour that promise? And how long is a generation?
You’re welcome, Angus.
Peter A Russell
John Hume has dementia, and cannot remember what he achieved in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. We should not allow the world to not remember.
I had the privilege of meeting him when he delivered the Glasgow Fabians Lecture in the late 1980s. (I also bought him a drink. Or maybe two)
This poem is about him and Seamus Heaney.
The St. Columb’s Old Boys Club.
John said let us spill not our blood, but our sweat together,
His father taught him on St Patrick’s night you can’t eat a flag
Seamus made poetry’s redress with words as harsh as weather
And gave it a glorious shake in the Good Old Rattle Bag
And John left off with a whiskey from the priesthood way
To give his people cross-border credit in unions where it was due
Seamus put poet’s pen to Ulster paper to grapple and to play
With lines to define like the Bann and Foyle and make the world anew –
So bordered, confessional lives need be not blessing nor curse
The craft and sweat of labour that those obdurate men could give
Bring blessings in themselves to save them and us from worse
Making room to argue out loud together as well as love and live
John, Seamus, from two-name city, an island, people, province of divide
From a school that made peace and poetry equally Nobel prized.
(Part in italics cut by the Herald.)
IN the present chaos that is British politics, Nicola Sturgeon could have easily stood out.
Although she has limited ability and zero imagination, all she had to do was to show competence, and she would have had a good Brexit war by default.
Her role was to remember her lines and not bump into the Bute House furniture.
However, that was before the Salmond case and the blunders and appalling judgment which she and those closest to her have displayed in this sorry and shambolic affair.
If the SNP was not controlled by the First Minister and her husband, Peter Murrell in a manner reminiscent of the Honeckers and the Ceaucescus, her party would call for – and would deserve to have– her head.
But the whole world will know from now on: never again can Ms Sturgeon pretend to be the only grown-up in the room and get away with it.
Peter A Russell