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Showing posts with label Referendum questions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Referendum questions. Show all posts

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The referendum questions: “Let’s be clear …” - Aye, right…

Lucky Jack, one of the failed Scottish Labour politicians who are now unelected Lords, in between fighting over coal sheds with his neighbours in Stirling, has offered his twopence worth on the referendum question. Despite his chaotic style and strange thought processes, he is in fact saying something similar to what I proposed some many blogs ago on the referendum questions. He thinks he is the first to offer this. Naw, yer no’, Jack. But judge for yourselves …

THE ‘EXPERTS’ AGAIN

I thought that experts couldn’t muddy the pool further in the referendum debate – I was wrong. Today’s Scotsman has an article titled - Lets be clear about this - by five – yes, five – “academic experts on devolution” from the University of Edinburgh grandly-titled Institute of Governance. Anyone who emerges blinking into the light after wading through this article has greater powers of understanding than I have.

Let's be clear about this - Scotsman

Let me attempt a precis of the turgid academic prose and see if there is anything of value to be teased out of it -

After a motherhood and apple pie opener about the desirability of this and that in the referendum, a signal of disagreement with the Scottish Office. Good! Points of disagreement?

1. Legality.

Using the Scotland Act to confer legality would be useful to avoid a contested referendum outcome, but in the light of the SNP mandate, political legitimacy matters more. UK Government has a role to play, but has no mandate to legislate.

2. Perceived legitimacy of process and outcome.

In the absence of a Scottish electoral Commission, the UK Electoral Commission is the best bet.

3. The Question(s)

After repeating what everybody has known for some time, the authors get to the nub of it – fears that the voters might be prevented from making “a fully informed choice.

They then make the same points that I, and indeed anyone who has thought about it, have made about the potential for confusion, and say again that the Electoral Commission are best placed to avoid the dangers.

But then, a statement which can only be described as hopeful, rather than purposeful -

But having an additional option in the referendum ballot need not compromise the clarity of the question or the decisiveness of the outcome.”

How do the authors propose that such clarity be achieved? We are bounced across to referendums outside of the UK – New Zealand and Puerto Rico – “which have delivered unambiguous and intelligible outcomes from multiple options.”

As most experts do in such popularised analyses, they avoid actually giving specific examples to the people who might read them, i.e. the electorate, who will actually do the voting. All of this is to be done behind closed doors by experts and the Electoral Commission. Such caution is understandable, since when experts do offer a specific example, they tend to wind up with the Curtice/Scotsman-type of second question. I refer you to my recent blog on this, (see below) and to the relevant video clip.

Neither the Scotsman nor Prof. Curtice have offered any comment, far less a correction on this, nor do the authors of this paper touch upon it. None of the explanations the authors offer come close to clarifying essential questions – they dismiss the difficulties airily with  -

We do not agree that such a system, or other alternatives drawn from international practice, if given sufficient public explanation by the Electoral Commission, would be too difficult for Scottish voters to understand or unable to produce a clear and legitimate referendum outcome.

A ballot paper that needs public explanation by the Electoral Commission is likely to be in trouble before it starts. The essence of any ballot paper is that it should be self-explanatory, and the options immediately evident to the voter in the ballot booth. The choices should be clear and unambiguous, and the voter’s intentions should not be subject to interpretation when the votes are counted.

Without a doubt, the simplest, most-straightforward ballot question is a single, unambiguous question requiring a simple, unambiguous YES/NO answer. The wording of the question may be argued over, but once decided, the choice is clear.

Second questions always imply problems of conditionality, of sequencing, of interpretation, as the nonsense of the Curtice/Scotsman question clearly demonstrated – or should have …

A multiple choice ballot paper increases the possibilities of contested outcomes, however sequenced and structured, and any analysis that purports to claim simplicity and robustness that does not specify ballot paper examples or consider a range of possible outcomes and their implications is simply a blind faith assertion – and there are a lot of those around.

A multiple choice ballot that requires extensive pre-ballot education and explanation, and worse still, post-ballot assumptions about what was in the mind of the electorate when they cast their votes, is by definition flawed and dangerously undemocratic. Professional elites, whether political, academic, social or commercial, have always shown a tendency to want to influence, circumvent and blunt democratic processes.

The Scottish people are going to have to keep a very beady eye on this ballot, the most important of their lifetimes.

EARLIER BLOG

Friday, 9 March 2012

Ask the bloody question(s)–Professor Curtice’s two questions

Professor Curtice is an eminent and respected academic, with a long honourable record of commenting on Scottish electoral matters. I am therefore astonished at his proposal for two questions in the independence referendum in 2014.

Assuming today’s Scotsman has reported him accurately in the little graphic (not shown in the online edition) at the head of Eddie Barnes’ article Expert offers three choice-vote in just two questions Professor Curtice has fallen into exactly the dangers and pitfalls of a two-question ballot paper that have been detailed by many, including myself at some length in previous blogs.

From Drop Box

The only fair referendum paper?

Referendum ballot questions

Problems with percentages?

The Stephen Noon blog

The first question – Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country? – poses no problems. It envisages two possibilities only, and one answer only - YES or NO – gives a complete and unequivocal voter response.

But the second question – If Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom, do you agree it should have “devo max” or the status quo? – has several weaknesses in construction.

Since it is conditional on the answer to the first question, it assumes a NO answer to the first question. But by whom? The voter answering the question or the outcome of the total ballot? Since answering the second question is not prohibited by answering the first, a voter may answer both questions making either assumption.

For example, a voter may legitimately answer YES to the first question and YES to the second, in other words, have a fallback choice. As a supporter of independence, that is exactly what I would do, and have the right to do, since my assumption is that if the YES vote fails, and Scotland remains a part of the UK, then I want devo max.

My YES vote to the second question would then be aggregated with what could be a minority YES to the second question by those opposed to independence. While I am clearly happy with that, it is evident from the comments of those opposed to independence that they would not be, and confusing and contested outcomes could result.

Of course, the Electoral Commission could rule that the second question will only be counted if a YES vote fails. But have they the right to make such an assumption and decision if in fact many voters quite reasonably completed the ballot on different assumptions?

The second question itself is badly structured and worded. If I say YES to the question - If Scotland remains a part of the United Kingdom, do you agree it should have devo max or the status quo? - what am I saying YES or NO to?

YES I agree it should have devo max  or  YES I agree it should have the status quo?

If I say NO, am I saying NO I don’t it agree it should have devo max   or   NO I don’t agree it should have the status quo?

In my view, the Electoral Commission should look critically at these questions and tell Professor Curtice to go back and think again.

POSTSCRIPT
I gave Prof. Curtice the benefit of the doubt, thinking the Scotsman graphic might have been at fault. But I was wrong - list to John Curtice state the question here.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The only fair referendum ballot paper? - but would it cause confusion?

_____________________________________

CONSULTATIVE REFERENDUM

Answer only one question - tick only one box.

If you answer more than one question, your ballot paper will be null and void. CHOOSE ONLY ONE OPTION - GIVE ONLY ONE ANSWER

I want a fully independent, sovereign Scotland.

I want Scotland to remain in the UK with no increased in current devolved powers to Scotland.

I want Scotland to remain in the UK with some additional powers devolved to Scotland.

I want Scotland to remain in the UK with all powers devolved to Scotland except defence and foreign policy.

N.B.  If you have answered more than one question, i.e. ticked more than one box, your ballot paper will be null and void.

________________________________________

 

COMMENT

A minority, presumably led by Lord Forsyth, may call for a fifth question - a reversion to pre-devolution status. I believe there is no evidence for other than a tiny Tory minority asking for such an option, and that it therefore should not be offered. (A caller on Call Kaye this morning asked for just that!)

Some nationalists - how many  I do not know - might want devo max as a fifth fall-back question if independence fails. I do not believe such an option should be offered, because it would require a transferable vote option.

Is it too complex? I do not believe it is. There are no gradations of independence - independence delivers devo max and negates the other options. The last three questions are all the reasonable options for those who do not want independence.

Some might argue for a YES/NO on independence, but that again would require a conditionality clause, and answering more than one question, e.g

If you say YES to independence, do not answer any other questions. If you say NO to independence, choose one, and only one of the following two options.

I want Scotland to remain in the UK with some additional powers devolved to Scotland.

I want Scotland to remain in the UK with all powers devolved to Scotland except defence and foreign policy.

This is too complex and confusing, in my view, especially since the first question, the independence question would be a YES/NO, but the other two would be box tick answers.

Doubtless, some will argue over the sequencing of questions, i.e. the order they are set out on the ballot paper. Since it is a referendum with the overarching theme of independence, I believe the order I have set out is reasonable.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Referendum – the Stephen Noon explanation

NConway kindly referred me to Stephen Noon’s explanation of how the independence referendum would work. Stephen Noon is the SNP strategist who played a huge part in the Party’s stunning success in the 2011 election, and he is very much a party insider. Although this comes from his blog, it can be safely taken to reflect Party policy and it is dated 26th October, the same date as my blogs, so it is bang up to date.

It asks the key question – what if devo max (and Stephen does use the term, which the SNP have rather tried to distance themselves from in recent statements) gets more yes votes than independence in the referendum ballot?

Stephen equates the Party’s favoured approach with the 1997 referendum, which was also a two-question referendum. I would make the point that it was not, however, an independence referendum.

Here’s what Stephen says – I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting him in full -

In the model proposed in the draft referendum bill in the last session, the choice would not be framed as an either/or. This is where the misunderstanding (or refusal to understand) arises.

Instead, the consultation paper sets out that voters would be asked, first, whether they want the Scottish Parliament to have responsibility for all matters except defence and foreign affairs. Then, they would be asked whether they want the additional powers that would take us to independence.

This is the same approach as in 1997. Scots were first asked whether they wanted a Scottish Parliament  with responsibility for health, education, justice etc. Then, as the second question, whether they - in addition - wanted that parliament to have tax-varying powers. The two options weren't competing.

So if there is a 2 question referendum on independence the approach, based on the 2010 consultation paper, would, in broad terms, be as follows. First, people are asked whether they want the parliament to have responsibility for the economy, welfare, energy etc. (i.e. devo max). Then they are asked if they want the parliament - in addition - to have responsibility for the other policy areas that mean Scotland would become independent.

Going back to 1997, three-quarters of Scots voted for the Parliament and just less than two-thirds for the additional tax varying powers. On the argument being presented by the Lib Dems and others, this result should mean that because the 'parliament only' option had more votes than the 'parliament plus tax-varying powers' option then the 'parliament only' option won. That is patently nonsense.

I've heard some say that in the independence referendum the two options wouldn't be linked. If you look back at the draft bill, that's clearly not the case. And, given that many of these same people are describing the middle option as 'independence-lite', the obvious point is, you can't have it both ways.

The kernel of Stephen’s argument is the assertion that the two questions are not competing, but in some way he seems to regard the sequence of the questions as significant, e.g.

First the people are asked …. Then they are asked …” with the first question being devo max and the second independence, then later “ ..the two options wouldn't be linked” .

Two questions on a ballot paper are rarely linked by intent. To do so would require the placing of some form of explicit conditionality on the sequence and validity of answering them, e.g. If you answer YES to QI then ignore Q2, to take a random example.

Then, and only then would the sequence of answering them be relevant. Technically, a multi-option ballot paper usually offers stand alone choice, i.e. the ballot paper to elect an MP to a constituency. This should not be confused with electing more than one person on the same ballot paper, or second choice votes, single transferrable vote etc.

But the ballot paper that Stephen envisages is on the model – as I understand his blog – of my Option Two on my first blog of 26th October The Referendum and the Question(s)

Let’s look at what Stephen says specifically about the two questions the Scottish Government will ask in the forthcoming referendum (the red highlighting is mine, not Stephen’s) -

First, people are asked whether they want the parliament to have responsibility for the economy, welfare, energy etc. (i.e. devo max). “

This will presumably be the question at the top of the ballot paper (assuming a single ballot paper) but presumably the ballot paper will not prefix it by QUESTION ONE,  which would imply a sequence and linking, in contradiction of “ ..the two options wouldn't be linked”.

On the second question, Stephen says -

Then they are asked if they want the parliament - in addition - to have responsibility for the other policy areas that mean Scotland would become independent.”)

This is certainly a sequence as presented, and this matters, to me, at least - but will it be presented as such by numbering the questions?

Of course, Stephen does not present the actual proposed precise wording of the questions, and he is right not to do so, primarily because the wording will be hotly contested, and perhaps not only by the unionist opposition, but also by supporters of independence who are not SNP, and some party members and supporters. But he does suggest what the content of the questions will be, and their import -

On the ‘first’ question, the people will be asked to answer YES/NO to “ … whether they want the parliament to have responsibility for the economy, welfare, energy etc. (i.e. devo max).

Does Stephen envisage a check list of these questions, or an itemisation of them, or wrapping them up under a single term, e.g.  “devo max, etc..” Is it going to be a long, single sentence question including every power within the definition of full fiscal autonomy, or is a single term going to be used on the assumption that the voters know in advance what full fiscal autonomy, devo max or indy lite actually means?

Will this ‘first’ question include anything like the words ”while remaining part of the UK, with the UK continuing to control foreign policy, defence and retaining the sovereignty of Westminster.

Then they are asked if they want the parliament - in addition - to have responsibility for the other policy areas that mean Scotland would become independent.”

Does that this mean that instead of a simple question like “Do you want Scotland to be completely independent and leave the UK?” that the other “key policy areas” will be defined in detail?

AM I NIT-PICKING, AND DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER?

I can answer for no one but myself, as an eligible voter in the referendum, and claim to speak for no one but myself, and all I can say is that it matters to me.  I do not want one – or maybe two – of the most important questions that have been asked in my lifetime, questions that will affect the future of Scotland and the rest of the UK (where I have friends, colleagues and close relatives) for a generation, to be inadequate to their primary purpose of determining the democratic will of the Scottish people – and that includes the Scottish voters who don’t agree with me, and who may be members of different parties, or no party.

There is an old saying, one done to death by glib management consultants, but nonetheless true, that perception is reality. This critical referendum will be completed by eligible Scottish voters from diverse backgrounds, with a huge range of demographic variations of age and educational attainment and intellect. Few will be political anoraks, but rather will be in the midst of busy, demanding lives. A question or questions must be posed with great clarity, and making no unwarranted assumptions about what voters know.

What I think every voter has is a very clear idea of what the  independence of a nation means, despite the frantic attempts of some of those opposed to the independence of Scotland to muddy the water and obscure the definition.

The difficulties arise with a second question – I purposely avoid calling it the second question, because for some, it is the primary question, if the opinion polls are accurate. It may well be necessary to ask it in the name of democracy, but let’s not pretend it makes the Great Game simpler – it is fraught with difficulties that are not present in a single YES/NO question on full independence.

Each question has two possible outcomes, YES or NO. That gives the following possible outcomes

YES to full fiscal powers, YES to independence

NO to full fiscal powers, NO to independence

YES to full fiscal powers, NO to independence

NO to full fiscal powers, YES to independence

The first answers will be given by those totally committed to independence

The second answers will be given by those committed to the status quo and anti-independence

The third answers will be given by those committed to the UK but wanting devo ma

But with the fourth possibility – and it is a possibility, despite its apparent illogicality – we enter the perception-is-reality area, and even a tactical voting area.

There are many reasons for this combination of answers, among them -

Since full fiscal powers is automatic under the independence option, I don’t need to say yes to it, so I’ll say no …

I don’t think this question (FFP) should have been asked, so I’ll indicate my disagreement by saying no …

I want independence, I’ll get FFP under independence, but I don’t want to add to the vote for FFP as an alternative to independence, in case that vote is high …

The NO/NO option contains a possibility, admittedly of low probability, that some voters, committed to independence but deeply unhappy about the inclusion of another question on FFP, will see this as a way of rejecting the ballot format, without realising that they are effectively voting for the status quo.

The YES/NO option contains the possibility that a voter, committed to independence, but not to the SNP, will see this as a holding option till political power shifts, without realising the risk of placing independence out of reach for a generation.

These is are additional possibilities that may not affect the count, but will affect the political arguments that inevitably arise after a ballot which do not invalidate the result, but weaken the perceived mandate. This process has been observable after every general election and local government election. whether it is over the turnout or the percentage of total votes cast. (In the case of the 2011 landslide SNP win, the unionist parties came close to denying the SNP mandate, a ludicrous and indefensible argument, but one that is repeatedly deployed.)

This argument not only will be deployed after successful referendum outcome for independence, it is already being advanced hypothetically at the moment. Why does it matter? Because it will be crucial to the climate and dynamic of the negotiations with the UK Government that will follow a win for independence.

There is an additional possibility in the above voting outcomes that may be relevant to this aspect, e.g. some voters may elect to answer only one question. Dependent on the rules, this will either be acceptable or it will nullify the ballot paper. For example, a ballot paper that requires a YES/NO, strike-out-as-inapplicable response requires a voter response, and a failure to answer the question cannot be reasonably taken as a NO, and conceivably could spoil the ballot paper. On the other, a voting paper that requires that a box be ticked or left blank, as in a vote for a candidate for MP in a general election must be left blank if the option is rejected.

The motivation of voters for answering only one question may be varied, but it undoubtedly contributes not only to the result but to the analysis of the voting pattern.

SUMMARY

There is a pattern of response that I have encountered and observed all my working life, in management and in management consulting work. It is endemic in  the political arena, and it runs as follows -

Before the Plan is implemented …

That’s detail – we must keep our eye on the big policy picture …

That’s nit-picking – it will either never happen, or it won’t matter if it does …

After the plan has gone disastrously wrong …

No one could have foreseen that this would happen …

This was the result of unpredictable events – chance rather than risk assessment …

Oh, no it wasn’t , mate – it was clearly foreseeable, it was seen, it was predictable and was predicted – it was an entirely foreseeable possibility on any proper risk assessment, but the possibilities and predictions were ignored.

I don’t want that to happen to this referendum ballot. But I’m nine parts sure all this thinking has already been done by the backrooms boys and girls in Holyrood – maybe they just have good tactical and strategic reasons not to share their thoughts with the rest of us. Or maybe it hasn’t …

Saor Alba!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Referendum question(s) – initial follow-up

The follow-up to my last blog has happened, but not quite in the way I had anticipated. I’ve had one comment from Fourfolksache (see comments below and my reply) but a considerable number of email comments, some anonymously, some brief informal comments and some extended response from named individuals. The latter group, however, did not want to be identified, nor did they want their verbatim response to be quoted. I will, of course, respect their wishes to remain anonymous, but I will try to capture the essence of the points they made.

But first I must clear up a key misconception that emerged in the minds of some - at least I see it as a misconception, but I am happy to be corrected if I’m wrong.

Many correspondents seem to believe that Scotland has already had an independence referendum, when in fact it has not. The one that will be held in the second half of this Scottish Parliamentary term will be the first Scottish independence referendum.

The confusion seems to exist over concepts of home rule and devolution. The Scottish 1979 referendum was an attempt to get support for the devolved assembly under the Scotland Act 1978. Known to Nationalists as the Rigged Referendum, it failed in its objective, despite having a 51.6% YES vote on a 63.8% turnout of the Scottish electorate, which didn’t meet the requirement of 40% of the electorate eligible to vote. A second devolution referendum was held in 1997, which endorsed devolution and the setting up of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

It follows from this that criticisms of my analysis based on that assumption alone are invalid, since they ignore the fact that no option to leave the UK was included in either referendum, and this is the source of the problem when a third possibility in addition to IN or OUT is added, namely full fiscal autonomy.

All are agreed that a simple dual option on independence or remaining in the UK, presented as either as a YES/NO or two question ballot is the simplest. The nationalist all require a simple 51% majority vote – others require a higher percentage YES vote, or even a UK-wide vote.

All correspondents felt that my Option One methodology - my three option ballot - was either unfair because it permitted a minority of those voting to win the vote if they had the highest number of votes, or it was unfeasible because the unionists just would not accept such a methodology. The nationalist tended to say “It would be nice, but it’s no gonnae happen!

I agree – I simply put it up as a straw man to illustrate some of the difficulties of any methodology in addressing the overlapping objectives of part of the electorate.

The only criticism – so far – of Option Two is that the options can all go on the one ballot paper. This is true – the reason I suggested two ballot papers is to point up the fact the the result of each ballot stands alone. No one has yet offered any alternative that meets the problems that can arise over certain outcomes that I have identified. That, of course, doesn’t mean there are none …

A more general point, which I understand, is that I am over-complicating what must be a simple exercise and straightforward choices for the voter. All I can say is that every balloting and voting system in underpinned by complex planning and core assumptions that attempt to envisage and anticipate problems that may arise, and these are largely invisible to the voter.

When I press a button on my radio or TV, or a key on my computer, I do not want to know all of the complexities that lies behind it. All I want is a truthful outcome from a simple action.



Given the shambles that has resulted in the very recent past in Scotland from voting systems and mechanisms, I don’t think I am being unreasonable in wanting to avoid a recurrence in this most crucial of ballots.

And of course, there’s aye the politics …

The Referendum and the Question(s)?

Last night’s Newsnight Scotland highlighted the utter confusion in the media mind about the referendum, the nature and wording of the questions, the definitions of independence, full fiscal autonomy and its jargon titles – devo max and indy lite.

Neither Gordon Brewer’s questions nor the panel’s responses shed any light into this increasingly murky pool. There is a distinct lack of clarity of thought evident on this vital process – if anyone, politician or media interviewer possesses such clarity, they are doing a bloody good job of concealing it, for whatever reason.



(It’s not as if detailed consideration hasn’t been given to this – in February/March 2010, a detailed consultation exercise was launched, and I responded to it, both directly and in my blog. Unfortunately, I cannot trace my original blog response, but ones immediately after it are reproduced below. Of course all that was in the context of Calman, but the essential arguments are still there. Two alternative versions of the question on Ballot Paper 1 were  consulted through the National Conversation, not just to the opposition parties but to the entire electorate. So much for the unionist nonsense that the SNP hasn’t consulted the people of Scotland – they have. )

THE IMMEDIATE PROBLEM

I will leave aside the exact wording of the question or questions that may be put in the independence referendum. They will be the subject of much partisan argument, with the extremes of both nationalist and unionist caricatured as

Do You want your country to be free of the venal and warmongering UK ,and be independent at last?

to

Do you want to rip the heart out of a 300-year Union that has served the Great British People well by separation?

(In point of fact, the nationalist have never even come close to such an extreme version, but the unionists are trumpeting very similar phrases daily!)

The SNP wants full independence, a concept that has never required definition by any nation in history, and therefore they ideally want a single YES/NO question, which however it is worded, means Get out of the UK or Stay in the UK. In fact, my ideal question to a Scottish electorate would be Get oot or Stay in?

However, the elected Scottish Government are democrats, and all the polls indicate that the Scottish electorate see an alternative choice to the simple out or in choice, i.e. maximum powers to the devolved Scottish Government while remaining part of the sovereign state of the UK, sometimes called full fiscal autonomy, and colloquially devo max or indy lite.

Although the official stance of the main opposition parties at UK level is against such a referendum option, significant Scottish unionist voices seem to favour it.

So, both on the apparent wishes of the people of Scotland, and some significant Scottish unionists, another referendum choice seems inevitable, even if it is not what the SNP wants.

The SNP knows very clearly what full fiscal autonomy means, but the unionists seem to be in a state of deep confusion about what they mean by additional powers. Not unreasonably, the SNP feels that it is up to the unionists to define what they mean by it if it is an option that they want.

However, the bigger question is this -

What if successive opinion polls between now and the referendum continue to show a wish for this option by Scottish voters, but the unionist parties are totally against it?

If this is the situation, the democratically elected government of Scotland may feel that the voters must be offered this alternative to full independence.

 

THE UNIONIST ARGUMENT (as I understand it)

If the Scottish people vote for full independence, this will automatically deliver full fiscal autonomy. If they reject independence, this maintains the status quo, but does not preclude post-referendum debate about, and progress towards additional powers for Scotland, perhaps even full fiscal autonomy.

THE NATIONALIST ARGUMENT (as I understand it)

A simple YES/NO vote for or against independence would deny that sector of the Scottish people a voice who want full fiscal autonomy while remaining in the union. Neither outcome to the referendum would meet their dual objectives.

 

The positions I outline above represent the ‘respectable’ public positions of both unionist and nationalist – the realpolitik positions may be stated as follows -

THE UNIONIST realpolitik ARGUMENT

If the polls are accurate, a simple YES/NO option will be a finely judged gamble on a successful NO vote, but it is a gamble we must take, since the referendum is now inevitable. We must rely on our anti-independence campaign to swing the vote. A rejection of independence would remove it from the agenda for a generation, and might fatally damage the SNP.

A third option – full fiscal autonomy – has a greater chance of success, if the polls are accurate, and some nationalists might hedge their bet on that option. If successful, it would create a devolved Scottish Government powerful enough to force another referendum on full independence at a later date. We must reject such an option on the ballot paper.

THE NATIONALIST realpolitik ARGUMENT

If the polls are accurate, a simple YES/NO option would be a finely judged gamble on a successful YES vote if taken now, but it is a gamble we don’t have to take, since the referendum is at least two years away. A rejection of independence would remove it from the agenda for a generation, and might fatally damage the SNP. We will rely on performance in government and our pro-independence campaign to swing the vote.

A third option – full fiscal autonomy – may have a greater chance of success, if the polls are accurate, and some unionist voters might hedge their bet on that option. If successful, it would create a devolved Scottish Government powerful enough to force another referendum on full independence at a later date. If the polls are still finely balanced closer to the referendum date, we must insist on that option. If the polls are running significantly in our favour, it would still probably make sense to include it.

PRACTICAL DIFFICULTIES OF THE REFERENDUM BALLOT PAPER AND VOTING

My speculation above about the realpolitik  (which I regard as flawed in part in both cases) shows that in many respects the nationalist and unionist camps are mirror-images of each other – that’s politics …

If a single YES/NO question is adopted, there are few problems - other than the framing of the question itself – and providing a simple majority of those voting (not of those eligible to vote) i.e. 51%, will determine the outcome.

But if the full fiscal autonomy option is to be offered, there are problems. (They were examined back in 2010 – see below - in a slightly different context, but the essential arguments and problems remain the same.)

Let me leave aside any precedents on how previous referendums were conducted – I believe this one demands a fresh look. Here are the options I see – there may well be more -

OPTION ONE FOR A THREE CHOICE BALLOT

Treat the referendum ballot paper like an election ballot paper in a first-past-the-post electoral system, with three candidates -

FULL INDEPENDENCE (out of UK)

STATUS QUO (stay in UK)

FULL FISCAL AUTONOMY (stay in UK)

Choose only one option – no second preferences, no multiple voting. Option with the highest percentage of votes wins the referendum

This approach contains the key strength and key weakness of a FTP system – it is almost always produces a clear winner (don’t confuse this with hung Parliaments – it about selecting a single option) but the winner may represent a minority of the total votes cast.

A dead heat between the three options or between two of the options is highly unlikely, but clearly a possibility, and it must be specified in advance how such an outcome must be handled. As I see it, the only option to such an outcome must be a new ballot. An example will allow you to consider what your judgement would be in such a situation -

FULL INDEPENDENCE  - 34% of total vote

STATUS QUO  - 34% of total vote

FULL FISCAL AUTONOMY  - 32% of total vote

Some unionists might argue that this represents a 66% vote for remaining in the Union, but such an argument would be as invalid as advancing it if full independence had the highest FTP percentage would be.

A proportional representation argument cannot be advanced in a such a referendum, since it is in fact equates to single representative for constitutional change. It is of course an argument that can be advanced against the referendum ballot structure, and some would argue that a minimum 51% majority of all votes cast should apply. The dead heat example would have to be pre-specified, but any outcome short of a 51% majority would be criticised if this method were adopted, but the criticism could not affect the FTP result if one option had the highest percentage vote, albeit a majority of those voting.

Another dead heat option, albeit one that affects the initial ballot, is to allow the voters to choose a fallback option in the ballot  – a second preference  - (or to choose only one option)and in the event of a dead heat, – but only in the event of a dead heat - the second choice votes would be transferred to their first choice option if no option had the highest percentage of the vote.

All things considered, given the low probability of a dead heat, this seems an undue complication, therefore I favour the ballot re-run option in the event of a dead heat.

OPTION TWO FOR A THREE CHOICE BALLOT – the TWO BALLOT PAPER OPTION

This option recognises that voters who want to remain to remain in the UK and voters who want to leave it may also want full fiscal autonomy.  There also may be voters who want to remain in the UK and do not want full fiscal autonomy. It may be argued that those who want to remain in the UK without fiscal autonomy have their vote recognised by opting for the status quo, and those who want independence by definition get full fiscal autonomy by their vote. The argument for adopting the Option One voting mechanism is that those who want fiscal autonomy and to remain in the UK do not have their preference recognised by a simple YES/NO independence vote.

How else can this circle be squared?

Well, one way, imperfect as all the others are, is to have two ballot papersone, a simple YES/NO to independence and two, a full fiscal autonomy YES/NO ballot paper. The count for each ballot paper would be independent and produce a separate result, both determined by a simple majority. Electors would obviously be free to complete only one ballot paper if they so chose.

This method would produce one of the following outcomes -

1. A simple majority for independence coupled with a simple majority for full fiscal autonomy

(In this outcome, the independence vote has de facto delivered fiscal autonomy, it is supported by the other ballot, and the SNP Government’s path is clear. The UK is effectively at an end after negotiations are complete. But see caveat below on the size of the respective votes.)

2. A simple majority for independence coupled with a simple majority for the status quo

(This outcome is a mandate for the Scottish Government to negotiate the terms of independence, but with their negotiating position prejudiced by the status quo vote in fiscal powers. The worm in the apple is that, although the fiscal autonomy ballot cannot overturn the vote for independence. the size of the status quo percentage must be a concern.

It may be a highly unlikely outcome, if one makes the assumption that all voters complete both ballot papers, make no mistakes and vote consistently for or against the status quo, but strange things happen in the voting booth!)

3. A simple majority for the status quo coupled with a simple majority for full fiscal powers

(This outcome means that the Scottish Government may not negotiate the terms of independence but must attempt to secure full fiscal powers from the sovereign UK government, which now has little incentive to offer them, since the SNP Government has been seriously weakened by the vote against independence.)

4. A simple majority for the status quo vs independence, coupled with a simple majority for the status quo on fiscal powers

(This would be a decisive outcome for the UK Government. There would be no new referendum in a generation, and the SNP Government and the SNP Party would be seriously weakened.)

The other problem with this approach is that it faces voters with complex tactical decisions. The independence YES/NO vote is clear enough, except for the tiny minority of unionists who would refuse to complete this ballot paper, but would complete the fiscal powers ballot paper. But the fiscal powers ballot paper  gives rise to difficult choices for both camps, but especially nationalists.

The most problematical outcome, in my view, would be on outcome one, above, despite it being an apparently decisive win/win for the SNP Government -

A simple majority for independence coupled with a simple majority for full fiscal autonomy

Although each outcome is determined by a simple arithmetical majority – a minimum of 51% of the vote – the size of the majorities will be crucial to how the outcome is viewed, and how the outcome is viewed could divide the nation.

Consider this possible outcome – a 51% majority for independence and, say, a 90% majority for full fiscal autonomy. The SNP will argue that this is a decisive majority for independence, because each ballot stands alone, and full fiscal autonomy is contained de facto  within independence, but the Union parties and the Westminster Government will argue, that regardless of the two ballots, it is a mandate for remaining in the union with fiscal autonomy, and the 90% ballot trumps the 51% ballot.

SUMMARY

I found this very difficult to think through – as I did in 2010 – and my analysis may well be deeply flawed, have missed other possibilities and options, and may be contradictory in some aspects.  But I am trying, as a voter, to understand, and I don’t envy any thinking voter faced with such choices.

Please offer your contributions, corrections, value judgements, etc. but please don’t offer URL links unless you are prepared to insert the proper hyperlink codes at either end of the URL – I have not got the time to do it for you in the comments boxes.

 

The 2010 background -

Consultation Questions Scotland’s Future: My response in 2010

Draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill Consultation Paper 

Question 1: What are your views on the proposed referendum which seeks the people’s views on two proposals for extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament?

I am fully in favour of a referendum on the options on Scottish independence

Question 2: What do you think should be the first proposal in that referendum: full devolution (Version 1 of Ballot Paper 1), or the Calman-based option (Version 2 of Ballot Paper 1)?

Full devolution

Question 3: The Scottish Government proposes voting method 2 (two separate yes/no questions). What are your views on this?

I agree with two YES/NO questions

Question 4: What are your views on the wording and format of the ballot papers?

The wording and format are acceptable, but the voter choice of completing one or both ballot papers creates complex tactical voting options, and may confuse voters, however, I see no alternative that is more satisfactory. A lot of pre-referendum educational work (non-partisan)has to be done to ensure clarity for voters. Inevitably there will also be party propaganda from all interested parties and the media, and much distortion of the choice. Again, I believe this to be one of the untidy but necessary parts of democracy.

Question 5: What are your views on the proposals for how the poll is conducted and on eligibility to vote?

The poll should be conducted at a time well distant from any other local or national elections, and should be subjected to all the safeguards and checks and balances of a general election. Ideally, I would like to see all Scottish permanent residents of 16 years of age or over to be eligible to vote, but I realise that major difficulties would arise over eligibility of those not yet on the voters roll, i.e. under 18 years of age. My default is therefore all adults eligible to vote in a local or general election.

Question 6: What are your views on the proposed rules for the referendum campaign?

I am in full agreement with the rules as set out in the draft bill.

Question 7: Do you have any other comments about the proposals in the draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill?

They are all contained in my blog  26/27 February 2010

BLOG COMMENTS 2010

Friday, 26 February 2010

It has been pointed out to me that the two alternative versions of the question on Ballot Paper 1 are being consulted through the National Conversation, not just to the opposition parties but to the entire electorate. I accept this factual correction, but my view is still that it is in essence aimed at the opposition parties, since their reaction to it will be of major significance if one or more of them shift their total opposition to the independence referendum after the general election.
The electorate has no formal vote on this, just the opportunity to respond to consultation - not quite the same thing. Whether they can ever vote on Ballot Paper 1 in whatever form will depend on the opposition parties and Holyrood.
Nevertheless, I apologise if my analysis was misleading in this regard.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

I thought my analysis had perhaps over-complicated a simple choice, but more correspondence suggests that my analysis – and dismissal - of voter types Three and Four did not go far enough, and that I should leave such arcane speculation to psephologists. I accept the criticism, but reject the advice.

Ordinary voters are faced with this analysis and these choices, and need help in thinking it through. Who will offer that help?

The point has been made that Voter type Three has a more complex choice to make than I had originally stated, and that the option of disregarding one of the ballot papers is a valid option for him/her, and  requires more analysis. Let’s look again …

Voter Three believes that more devolved powers are a waste of time – what is required is full independence.

Ignoring Ballot Paper One and voting YES, I AGREE on Ballot Paper Two rejects more devolved powers but endorses independence, but it risks losing the chance of influencing devolved powers as a fallback if the overall independence vote fails to secure a majority.

However, voting YES, I AGREE on both ballot papers runs the risk that if the total number of votes cast for more devolved powers exceeds the votes for independence, opponents of independence can argue that one outweighs the other, and the electorate prefers the devolution option. (However, a simple majority for independence would still trump devolution – see below.)

Voter Four believes that more devolved powers are the right way to go, but believes that a vote on independence should not have been offered and is a waste of time.

Voting YES, I AGREE to more devolved powers on Ballot Paper One but ignoring Ballot Paper Two loses the opportunity to influence a rejection on independence, and is a far more risky option than ignoring Ballot Paper One, with much more significant implications.

Voting YES, I AGREE to more devolved powers on Ballot Paper One and NO, I DISAGREE on Ballot Paper 2 can only help his/her position, and runs no risk equivalent to Voter Three’s more complex choices.

The difficulty with the above analysis is that if a simple 51% majority determines the outcome, independence trumps devolution. If, say, 60% of the votes cast were for devolution and 51% for independence, an independent Scotland would still be the outcome.

More devolution is a fallback position for supporters of independence, but independence is not a fallback option for opponents of independence.

EXAMINING SOME POSSIBLE OUTCOMES

Outcome One:

49% vote for devolution option, 49% vote for independence.

Voter Three: By ignoring the devolution ballot paper, he/she has contributed to a no change outcome, and may have missed the chance of devolution max – surely a better outcome than no change?

Outcome Two:

90% vote for devolution. 51% vote for independence.

Voter Four: By ignoring the independence ballot paper, he/she has missed a chance to contributing to a defeat of the independence vote.

Although this should be a clear win for independence under the 51% rule, unionists might mount a challenge to the validity of an independence outcome, on the basis that a massive majority of voters preferred devolution extension to independence.

Although such a challenge ought to be invalid under the rules, and on the challengers’ unsubstantiated conclusion drawn from the outcome, don’t think that the unionist opposition parties wouldn’t use it, and don’t think it wouldn’t be a major negative factor in the Scottish Government’s attempts to negotiate the terms of the independence settlement.

Remember, a referendum ballot majority for independence doesn’t bind the UK government to grant it, and Westminster would use an outcome similar to Outcome Two to deny it.

POSTSCRIPT

I readily admit that I am finding difficulty in getting my thinking straight on the voting options, and I am open to any help I can get. My wee heid is hurting …

More pragmatic political animals might argue that all such tactical consideration should be ignored, and that everyone should vote on both papers for what option they believe in. They may be right …

But I fear that some confusion will reign in the polling booth unless some objective guidance is given. In a situation where unionists have no interest at all in the existence of an well-informed, politically-aware Scottish electorate, the default position will be emotional unionist rhetoric rather than objectivity.

The SNP, of course, will be on the side of the angels and will avoid such populism. Well, I can hope, can’t I?