Politicians clash over referendum question

Politicians clash over referendum question

Brian Taylor hosts a special debate on Scotland’s constitutional future

Figures from Scotland’s main political parties have clashed over the independence referendum during a televised BBC Scotland debate.

Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran and former Tory leader Annabel Goldie said people should be asked a single question in the 2014 referendum.

Scottish Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said that was her preference but there was also support for increased powers.

She denied a second question on the issue would be a “back-up” for the SNP.

The Scottish government says its preference is to ask voters one question on the ballot paper: “Do you agree Scotland should be an independent country?”

But the government, which is currently considering the responses to its consultation on Scotland’s future, also says there is a degree of public support for more powers short of independence.

Its opponents claim the strategy is a face-saving move for the SNP, if people voted “no” to independence.

Ms Hyslop told The Big Debate: Choosing Scotland’s Future programme, which also included independent MSP Margo MacDonald: “I want to see an independent Scotland.

image of Brian Taylor Analysis Brian Taylor Political editor, Scotland

It was on the telly – but the Big Debate I hosted this evening on BBC One Scotland bore all the classic characteristics which I have come to recognise and cherish from my weekly wireless outings.

A large, lively audience; an excellent panel; discursive conversation mingled with a rumbustious rammy.

Lots of issues arising: the future of welfare provision, either within the Union or under independence; the economy; a challenge to Labour over their alliance in this cause with the Conservatives; a challenge to the SNP over their strategy.

“I will vote ‘yes’, but I recognise that there are a large number of people in Scotland who might not want to have all those powers, that might want other powers.”

Challenged on the opposition’s claims over SNP backing for a second question, Ms Hyslop responded: “Not at all”.

“I am absolutely confident that we can get a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum in two years time,” adding: “This is about democracy, it’s not about party issues.”

Ms Curran argued: “There is a very distinct difference about how we stay in the partnership and how we develop that relationship and whether or not we leave it.

“If you want to leave it, that’s a very credible argument – put that argument.

“But if you want to stay, then be arguing about how we develop devolution – don’t confuse the two, because they’re very different journeys.”

Prime Minister David Cameron has previously suggested that more power will be devolved to Holyrood in the event of a vote against independence.

Miss Goldie said: “At the moment we’re in the United Kingdom – the person who wants to change that and have independence is (First Minister) Alex Salmond.

Referendum ‘mess’

“It’s a perfectly fair proposition, I don’t agree with it, but he’s entitled to make that argument.

“He should put that question, because you do need a referendum to go from where we are now to independence – you do not need a referendum to change, develop increase, empower, alter the powers of devolution.”

Ms MacDonald, who supports independence, said the SNP had “made a mess” of introducing the idea of the referendum, because of a lack of information on policies.

“The idea of having two questions addressing quite different constituencies and different jurisdictions – the only one that we can answer of ourself is the independence one,” she said.

She added: “We have now got an English political society that’s alerted to the notion of independence and devolution, and they will want to have a say if further powers are going to be devolved, so I don’t think we can say that they shouldn’t have.”

The politicians were also asked if the fortunes of Scotland’s national football team – which has failed to qualify for the World Cup and the European Championships since devolution in 1999 – might improve under independence.

Ms Hyslop responded: “If devolution hasn’t delivered it, let’s make sure that we can have an opportunity.”

A good team, said Ms Curran, came from hard work and talent, adding: “We don’t need to be independent to do that.”

Hibs fan Ms MacDonald said: “One thing we could do as an independent country, if we wanted to, we could say were going to stage the world or European championships.

“One thing we will not be doing though – if I’ve got anything to do with it – is staging the Olympics.”

Switching the sport to tennis, Miss Goldie said: “The young guy I’m rooting for at the moment is Andy Murray – and he needs our support right now.”

Source:BBC news report 15th July 2012