The recent 35 page coalition document presented by David Cameron and Nick Clegg held many interesting prospects for Scotland, not least of which was the suggestion that the Calman proposals would finally be implemented – or at least this alliances interpretation of them.

The new PM’s movement on the fossil fuel levy was well received, although it is yet to be confirmed that the money will indeed be released.  It is unlikely that we will see any further concessions from the new Westminster government over Olympic spending consequentials and accelerated funding for capital projects.

So, you win some you lose some is the Scottish theme of the agreement.

However, amidst the heavily trailed announcements, disagreements and reviews there was one little gem that escaped almost everyone’s notice.

The document contained the following pledge:
“We will give residents the power to instigate local referendums on any local issue.”

Now, this is an interesting point of principle from the Conservatives and Lib Dems.  They have basically conceded that the electorate have a democratic right to demand a referendum on issues they deem important and where there is sufficient ‘local’ support for such a popular vote.

The problem?  Well, both parties have repeatedly refused to accede to the express wish of the Scottish electorate for a referendum on the very issue that dominates the Scottish body politic – a referendum on Scottish independence.

Good enough for a local issue but not it seems for a national one - not that is, if it is Scottish.

This is precisely the discriminatory situation that exists - the Scottish electorate are overwhelmingly in favour of a referendum on constitutional reform but are being ignored.  In contrast the new Westminster alliance has acknowledged the demands from Wales and pledged to grant the Welsh just such a referendum.

The alliance document states that they will:
“introduce a referendum on further Welsh devolution.”

In fact it isn’t just local issues and Welsh devolution that have resulted in a selective breakout of ‘referenditis’.  Europe and the UK voting system are also areas earmarked for popular consultation.

On electoral reform the alliance have announced that:
“We will bring forward a Referendum Bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the event of a positive result in the referendum, as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies.”

On the European Union they say:
“We will amend the 1972 European Communities Act so that any proposed future treaty that transferred areas of power, or competences, would be subject to a referendum on that treaty”

So, a veritable referendum ‘free for all’, or should that be 'free for some'?

It isn’t just a point of principle though, remember that the so called ‘Calman proposals’ planned by this alliance will be their own interpretation of the said commissions’ proposals – neither the Lib Dems nor the Tories actually fought the election on any cleary defined constitutional changes.  It could be argued that their vote share in Scotland provides no mandate whatsoever for such cobbled together changes without the express approval of the Scottish people.

As the SNP ready themselves for the referendum bill to be put before the Holyrood parliament later this year then Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives should be mindful of the looming 2011 election campaign as they vote.

Should the Unionists vote down the bill, which will be against the wishes of the Scottish people, then this new ‘democratic deficit’ will surely be exploited by the SNP.

That, coupled with the ‘referendum apartheid’ from the Westminster alliance, would be quite a stick to hand the SNP as we enter the period of campaigning for the 2011 Holyrood elections.


# Holebender 2010-05-22 08:49
I have yet to hear a coherent argument against holding a referendum, or a consistent position from a Unionist.
# kevinad72 2010-05-22 09:03
The idea that the libdems and the tories can implement constitutional change of nay sort without a referendum, including any calman variant, is a disgrace.
# Jimmy The Pict 2010-05-22 09:18
True, but how can we stop this, the ConDems have a majority in Westminster and the laws governing how the Scottish Government is funded are reserved.

2011 Elections would be a good indication of how many people are upset by this, but only if it is explained what is being implemented by the media, however, the media have not been great at letting the SNP/Independence message get a fair hearing - present site excepted :)
# Astonished 2010-05-22 10:42
Surely the electoral commission will have to stand up for fairness and justice.....Aye, right !

After the judicial review of the anti-Scottish political debates, I think a national campaign will be required to replace everyone in the electoral commission and the BBC Trust with people who have integrity and command respect.

I think a seperate Scottish electoral commission and Scottish overseer of the BBC is an outcome worth fighting for.
# Clare 2010-05-22 19:29
Would that be the Electoral Commission who investigated the Wendy Alexander business and errrrrrrrrr......decided to take no further action?
# Diabloandco 2010-05-22 13:20
I'll give you a coherent argument against a referendum Holebender - Scotland might win!
It would be seriously detrimental to the UK govs health!
# Tocasaid 2010-05-22 14:33
Some referendeums are equal but...
# Clare 2010-05-22 15:01
The main argument against a referendum on Scotland's future is usually "We don't need it. The people don't want it." Really? Ask us then if there is nothing to fear. As I said yesterday, if they're so convinced about the answer why are they afraid to ask the question?
# Holebender 2010-05-22 23:40
The standard response to that one is "we're not scared, it's just a waste of money to hold a referendum as everybody knows nobody wants independence".

But then they go on to say you should never hold a referendum unless you know the outcome will be in your favour. Surely that's the real waste of money! Also, if you shouldn't hold a referendum unless you're sure of winning and you refuse an independence referendum, doesn't that imply fear of losing?
# Mac 2010-05-24 12:00
Word Count.

Labour party 2010 manifesto:
Calman - 1
Referendum - 5

Tory party 2010 manifesto:
Calman - 3
Referendum - 8

LibDem party 2010 manifesto:
Calman - 1
Referendum - 4

ConDem coalition 2010 agreement:
Calman - 2
Referendum - 12

Unionist Total Count:
Calman - 7
Referendum - 29

Comparison Count

SNP 2010 manifesto:
Calman - 1
Referendum - 9

Plaid Cymru 2010 manifesto:
Calman - 0
Referendum - 3

It is clear the more sensitive word is 'referendum'. The unionist parties are all agreed - you can have a referendum on EU powers, the EURO, UK electoral reform, Welsh Assembly powers, direct mayoral elections and to change local council decisions. Contrast that with 'Calman', it barely registers in any of the manifestos.

Further, and strangely so, the Tories manifesto has the most references to both 'Calman' and 'referendum'.

Also, the ConDem coalition agreement highlights that 'referendum', and not 'Calman', is the political game-changer.

That unionist sensitivity is probably expressed best in the SNP manifesto word count. The unionist parties are all making a strong case that the use of referenda are perfectly acceptable on a European, UK, devolved and local levels but not at a Scottish level. That is a weak position.

Worst still for the unionists is the proposed implementation of the Calman proposals. All the unionist parties have expressed concerns over Calman. It was not the answer to the question they posed, but they seem stuck with it. The unionists now rightly fear Calman will bring political, fiscal, financial and social instabilities into Scottish public life.

So I would argue that is best for nationalists to continually talk up 'referendum' as a postive and 'Calman' as a negative, because that puts unionists on the defensive. For they know Scots being denied a referendum on Scottish independence whilst having Calman imposed greatly weakens the unionist argument in Scotland.

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