7 June 2010

"When the people speak..."

Apologies for the prevailing quietude over the past few days. Its a busy time of year and my will-to-blog has of late been mildly sapped. Must be the bilious cloud cover, the swelter and the sweat of the southern summer - and the pollen-peopled air. Nevertheless, this morning I wanted to mention the Draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill which the wily Eck put out to consultation, to avoid its demolition pre-election by the opposition parties. It received 222 responses. Interestingly, examining the 189 which were published on the 6th of June, it is striking that very few of the usual creatures of "Civic Scotland" appear. There are some old familiars. Canon Kenyon Wright, for instance, who argues that he cannot...

... see how anybody who recognises the sovereignty of the people in such matters, ( as so many politicians and others did in the “Claim of Right”) can with integrity oppose the holding of a referendum – especially at such an opportune time.

That said, it turns out that the Fire Brigade Union is for it, as are the Scottish Youth Parliament.  Living Streets a charitable "society which stands up for pedestrians" helpfully identifies themselves as "neutral on the constitutional arrangements governing Scotland. We want to see the clearest, best arrangement of powers to help achieve safe, attractive enjoyable streets in Scotland where people want to walk." Thanks for letting us know. I'm sure doubts about your position were weighing heavily on all our minds. Doctor James Gilmour argues against the use of alternative vote in any referendum, while the de Borda Institute pushes their own namesake's voting procedure instead. Professor Andrew Hughes-Hallett kindly forwarded the Scottish Government a copy of an article on Scotland: A New Fiscal Settlement, written with his regular collaborator in such matters, Drew Scott of Edinburgh's Law School.

More whimsical and memorably personal touches can be found in other individual responses. What follows makes no pretence at representativeness, merely particular remarks and asides which caught my eye on a quick roll through the papers. Interestingly, many of these submissions were written with a relatively poor command of written English and inaccurate spelling. Not your usual gamut of elite respondent organisations, taking the time to make their views known here. Rather heartening, I think. Also significant, since these are people who took the time to fill in the form and send it off, whether on paper or electronically. Reading this, you should understand my cue here is more in the line of sociological curiosity, rather than partisan agitation. These are, after all, the remarks and thoughts of ordinary people, participating in the political process. We may well disagree with them - there may be one or two odd-bods in the mix - but they undeniably represent a section of interested Scottish opinion. As a result, I'd suggest that it is worth paying attention to the sorts of arguments and concepts they appeal to.

Asked Do you have any other comments about the proposals in the draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill? - one Tom Urquhart crisply remarks -

I would just like to use a quote my American wife is fond of using :- "Get it Done"........

Someone preferring to submit their views anonymously relates how...

I have been a supporter of self governance/independance for Scotland since the early 60s; memorably argued for it with a ''captive'' FO official about 2 miles from the Mekong river in 1968 (with a man from the Black Isle). Go for it!

Another anonymous contributor is less impressed, arguing that -

It is good that the Scottish "Government" is proceeding with its set-out promise of a referendum. It is necessary to prove that no further devolution is required and that sovereignty rests with the United Kingdom.

Another suggests that -

The argument for the referendum seems to be based solely on a political ideal fuelled by a subtle xenophobia which really wants full independence.

Meanwhile, a charming xenophobe from Scotland suggests that ~ 
only scottish people should be aloud to vote. as english liveing in scotland will try and block our progress

One Anne McLaughlan suggests that "Westminster know nothing about Scotland." Many, many respondents also highlight the finicky complexities of the proposals as presently drafted - "Simple questions which will provide real choices for the Scottish people" - one argues. One commenter, generally hostile to the referendum proposal commented that ~

I would also like to highlight the inaccessibility of this consultation process. Both the paper version and the online response form use language and content that is complex, layout is confusing.

Undoubtedly a fair point. The responses also contain a number of Nationalist jeremiads -  as well as a few by dissassisfied souls, who disapprove of Holyrood. Alexander McKay wants "an option to Cancel the talking shop that is the Scottish Parliament." Reference is made to localism one respondent argues that -

The attractiveness of "small" government needs to be emphasised. I have worked in New Zealand and have seen this first hand; closer to home, have appreciated the Conversation session at Melrose (although I didn't particularly like Mr Salmond's answer to my question !!

On voting eligibility, another chap argues that ~

"The proposals affect UK legislation and I believe all UK citizens should be eligible to vote. The proposals are in conflict with the Act of Union which affects both England and Scotland. As an English man I object to the unilateral ending of the Act of Union and I would like the eligibility to vote to be extended to UK residents living in England."

As I say, these are merely scattered selections from the full body of replies, which can be consulted here.


  1. I'm verging on agreeing with that last comment. England would no doubt welcome the opportunity to be rid of Scots, our leaching Barnett settlement, our moaning about not having enough money and our former Prime Ministers.

  2. I thought the remark was worth including - in part to make us think a bit more about the ideas underpinning enfranchisement in any referendum and our implicit untheorised premises about the whole project.

    The contribution's Act of Union predicated sense of entitlement so radically diverges from the hegemonic accounts of self-determination underwriting assumptions in the public discourse about the Scottish-only character of such a hypothetical referendum, that it seems worth returning to those self-same accounts, and reflecting just a little on what they imply.

    In particular, it is interesting to consider the sheer extent to which our thinking about any referendum as a mechanism for public decision-making builds on assumptions about national self-determination. The contribution based on the Act seems quaint alongside. The premises of Scotland as a nation, it being for Scotland to decide its fate, seems very much the entrenched general attitude towards the whole question of independence, at least in the dominant accounts in the public sphere. That the Act of Union version isn't compelling tells us much about the small "n" conceptual nationalism which underwrites the whole debate on any referendum, even among Unionists.