01 Jan Milena
A referendum on Scottish independence should be a constitutional impossibility. After all, one of the reasons behind choosing the Additional Member System for elections to the Scottish Parliament was to deny any single party (and, one suspects, the SNP in particular) a majority. Yet some time between March and May this year, something spectacular happened.
The SNP attracted enough former Labour voters to gain an absolute majority even under a proportional system. While traditional wisdom has been that this happened despite, rather than because of, the SNP’s commitment to Scottish independence, in recent weeks we have also seen the first polling data which puts the pro-independence vote ever so slightly ahead.
If there is one thing to be learned from the monumental failure of the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign to convince the UK public that a change in the voting system was needed, it is that any referendum on constitutional change should be approached with respect. This is something which none of the actors in the AV referendum did – not Yes to Fairer Votes, not No2AV, and particularly not the media. Arguments were boiled down to ridiculous images, one-liners and downright lies. In an attempt to appeal to the risk- and change-averse demographic the Yes campaign, too, sought to down-play the importance of the referendum with its “Small change, big difference” message – a message I became intimately familiar with over the six months of pounding the pavements, handing out leaflets, knocking on doors and trying to convince the British public that constitutional issues mattered. The media’s standard introduction to any report on the referendum was “We’re sorry, we know this is boring, but here’s something about AV.”
Scotland already has one big advantage when it comes to the independence referendum – instead of six months, there will be three, maybe four years to have an informed debate on the issues. Cynical attempts by Westminster Conservatives to bring the referendum forward notwithstanding, it will most likely be held towards the end of the current Scottish Parliament. It is tempting to think that we should therefore hold off any discussion on independence until closer to the time – a lot can change in four years after all. It is, however, vitally important that we start this conversation now, on both sides of the border. Scottish independence is likely to dramatically change the political landscape in both Scotland and the rest of the UK. An independent Scotland would be able to make its own choices on a wide variety of subjects where it is currently partially or wholly dependent on Westminster: taxation, the welfare state, energy and climate change policy, membership of the European Union and the Euro, and many more. What kind of Scotland do the Scottish people want? And what will
Scottish independence mean for the rest of the UK? These are hugely exciting questions, and I am delighted that the Scottish Times will offer a platform for these debates. I am looking forward to seeing competing visions laid out and issues explored in-depth.
For most people, the opportunity to completely re-imagine their country never comes. This is a once in a lifetime chance and I am incredibly excited to be part of it.
Milena is an economist and political scientist by education, an IT manager by trade, and a campaigner for digital rights, equality and diversity by persuasion. She lives in England, is a passionate European and has a huge soft spot for Scotland. Studying political science has left her with a strong interest in political structures and constitutional issues.