An interesting take on Scottish, UK and international politics that hopefully stimulates a little debate on topics where there is too little debate.



The Referendum Debate: State of Play

A quick glance at the Scottish Politics pages tells us that the debate over the independence referendum is alive and kicking. George Osborne has said ‘uncertainty’ over the referendum is damaging investment in the economy and Ruth Davidson is on message with her ‘colleague’ George, questioning Scotland’s future membership of the EU. Even Brian Taylor is blethering about the legality of the referendum. But that’s just the problem: the debate is over the referendum not independence. 

This is exactly where masochistic Unionist politicians want the debate to be: they failed at stopping a referendum, now they’ll try to discredit it by any means. Masochistic because in order to discredit the process, they are in danger of making themselves sound relentlessly negative. Just a quick look at the Twitter accounts of Tom Harris MP and Lord Foulkes shows just how obsessed they have become. This dog-whistle politics does them no favours and is not the path back to government, far less winning a no vote in the referendum. Tom Harris’s already slim chances of becoming Labour leader seem to fade with every nationalist baiting Tweet: it’s unstatesmanlike and it’s getting embarrassing. I must add, however, that Anas Sarwar has shown that this negativity will not necessarily be the future of Labour politics.

I must be sounding like broken record now but it’s not to late for us all to raise our game. 



Will the Member for Glasgow South take an intervention?


There was a time when the only people that discussed the finer points of constitutional referenda were legal academics at obscure Quebec universities: not now.  No, the champion of fairness in referenda is now none other than the Honourable Member for Glasgow South and would-be Scottish Labour leader Tom Harris. Mr Harris has made it his personal mission to challenge every aspect of the SNP’s plans for the independence referendum and spoke on the subject in the House of Commons on Tuesday. Amongst a raft of issues he has with the referendum is the plan to reduce the voting age to 16, he said the following on the matter on Tuesday:

"Nor does the SNP manifesto feature a commitment to lowering the voting age for the referendum, yet that seems to be exactly what the SNP is planning, since it clearly believes that the chances of the people endorsing their plans for independence would be less if the existing franchise were used. The SNP will, no doubt, point to its long-standing commitment to joining Nicaragua, Cuba, and Ecuador in the group of nations where 16-year-olds vote. Polling suggests that younger people are more likely to support independence, so who can doubt that a one-off reduction in the voting age for one specific event can be anything other than the most cynical move to get the “right” result? If the SNP really cared about enfranchising younger people, why has it made no progress towards lowering the voting age for local authority elections, over which it does have legislative control?”

It is the last section of this quote that I take most issue with. Firstly, it is factually incorrect: the Scottish Parliament does not have legislative competence over the voting age for local government elections. To be precise Schedule 5, Part II, Head B, Section B3 of the Scotland Act 1998 reserves “The franchise at local government elections” to Westminster. 

Secondly, votes at 16 has been SNP policy for a number of years and when the Health Boards (Membership and Elections) Scotland Act was passed in 2009, it included votes for 16 and 17 year olds in the pilots for health board elections. Where the Scottish Government has the power to enfranchise 16 and 17 year olds they have, contrary to Mr Harris’s assertion. 

Was Tom Harris deliberately misleading Parliament or did he really not have a grasp of the Scottish Parliament’s legislative competence? Answers on the back of a stamped addressed envelope please!