I find myself more than a little infuriated at all the politicking that has broken out over the Independence Referendum. Prior to the election, all three unionist parties were adamant that the people of Scotland shouldn't be given the right to choose. Then, just as the SNP win a majority, suddenly they're all in favour of an immediate referendum?
This is the most important political decision that voters in Scotland will make, ever*. It is really important that it be done right - we should have the debate, have the arguments, have a lengthy period for sober reflection, and then determine the settled will of the people. This bickering over timing, because of the fashions of the hour, is not only undignified, but it shows a disrespect to the electorate.
* There are two possible exceptions - it's just about possible there may be an in-or-out referendum on the EU, and it's also just about possible that there may be one on the formal dissolution of the individual nation states in favour of an EU superstate. I don't think either is likely.
Here's what should be done:
- The referendum should be held in 2014. That's what the SNP campaigned for, and that's the only timing any party campaigned for. Moreover, having won the victory the SNP should be entitled to set the timing. This also gives us plenty of time to have the required debates and come to a settled conclusion. It's the right time.
- The referendum should include all the options. At the very least, it should include Independence, Demo Max and the Status Quo. There may yet be more options that haven't been considered - if there are any, they should also be included. (That said, don't weigh it down with trivial adjustments - there shouldn't be a "Devo Max, but without X Y and Z", for instance!) Whether this takes the form of multiple questions or a single question with multiple choices is irrelevant - people can handle both!
- The vote should not be given to 16 and 17 year olds. They don't get to vote in General Elections and they don't get to vote in Holyrood elections; they shouldn't get the vote here. (That said, there is a wider debate to be had about the "ages at which you can do things". It is insane that you can be a parent and/or join the army, but can't vote or take a drink. It is actually wrong that you can be required to pay taxes but can't vote. But that's a wider argument to be had separately - unless this gets properly rationalised by the time of the election, they shouldn't vote - there should be no exception from the norm for this one vote.)
- The vote should be overseen by an impartial body. It doesn't matter if that's the UK body or the Scottish equivalent - they're both impartial, and there's no concept of "one being more impartial than the other".
And that's it. The other parties are right to have a robust "No" campaign. The SNP, in turn, will have a robust "Yes" campaign. I expect the debates will be fierce. But that's the way it should be. Bitter arguments about whether Scotland get to have their say, and the terms and conditions thereof, are just wrong. We're the electorate - let us have our say!