Grahame Smith, General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) has today (Thursday 12th January) written to the First Minister of Scotland, The Secretary of State For Scotland and the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party calling for the establishment of an independent Referendum Commission as follows:-
“The forthcoming Referendum on Scotland’s Constitutional future will be unquestionably the most important political event in Scotland for 300 years.
It is essential that the result of the Referendum, whenever it takes place, should be decisive. If this is to be achieved, the Referendum must have a legal basis that can resist challenge. As important, the process under which the Referendum takes place must generally be accepted as being fair and reasonable. It serves no one’s interest, whether in favour of Scotland remaining part of the UK either under the current devolution settlement or under a different arrangement, or becoming Independent, that the matter is not resolved by the Referendum either because its legality is questionable or because of a deeply held belief that the process was unfair and constructed simply to achieve a pre-determined outcome.
The acrimonious debate in recent days between the Governments of Scotland and the UK, and amongst the political parties, over the process for determining the arrangements for the Referendum has, unfortunately, raised serious doubts about the possibility of agreement being reached on fundamental matters such as the date of the Referendum, under whose auspices it should be run, who should be entitled to vote and what question or questions should appear on the ballot paper.
These, and other matters, require to be resolved with some urgency in order that the people of Scotland can engage fully in the debate on Scotland’s future in an environment free of such political wrangling.
To this end, and to ensure that the Referendum process is generally perceived to be fair and not biased in favour of a pre-determined outcome, the STUC believes that an independent Referendum Commission should be established immediately in Scotland, charged with the responsibility of making recommendations on the conduct of the Referendum, including those issues mentioned above.
While respecting the Scottish Government’s view on the legality of the Scottish Parliament holding a Referendum, the STUC believes that the UK Government’s willingness to devolve the power to hold a legally binding Referendum to the Scottish Parliament has the potential to resolve the issue of legal competence, if a mechanism can be found to reach agreement on the process. I believe an independent Referendum Commission offers such a mechanism.
It seems clear that an issue of particular contention is whether the Referendum should contain the scope for the people of Scotland to consider the option of further devolution of power to the Scottish Parliament short of Independence. It also seems clear that there is an appetite amongst some for a “third option” and for a two question Referendum. However, it is equally apparent that, while there is a range of possible devolution settlements different from the current position, apart from the proposals in the current Scotland Bill (the future of which will be determined prior to the Referendum), there is at present no defined scheme, established from a credible source, that would justify consideration in the Referendum.
If an independent Commission was established, should such a scheme emerge, the Commission could recommend whether and how it be considered in the Referendum.
For the reasons I have set out above, the STUC strongly believes that an independent Referendum Commission should be established and I would urge your support for this proposal.
We are due to meet within the next few weeks. However, should you wish to discuss this proposal or any other matters relating to the Referendum please do not hesitate to contact me.
Grahame Smith General Secretary”
• Copies of the letters are attached for your information
• For further information contact Kevin Buchanan 0141 337 8100