11 DRAFT REFERENDUM BILL AND OTHER COMMENTS
11.1 The consultation document included a draft of the Referendum (Scotland) Bill, which incorporated many of the proposals set out in earlier sections of the document. The final question in the consultation document asked for comments about the draft Bill.
Question 9: Do you have any other comments about the proposals in the draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill?
11.2 Question 9 had the lowest number of responses of all the questions in the consultation document. Altogether, 10,731 respondents (out of the total 26,219) left this question blank. In addition, more than 7,000 replied with responses such as "No', "No comment", "No views", "None", and so on. It was also common for respondents to simply say, "Fine", or "Looks ok".
11.3 Very few of the comments at Question 9 specifically addressed the draft Bill. Altogether, just over 50 people made a substantive comment on the draft. These included suggested changes to particular sections of the Bill.
11.4 In addition, while not directly related to the draft Bill, a small number of respondents suggested that Scotland should have a written constitution, and that this constitution should form the basis for the independence vote.
11.5 Respondents often used the space provided by this question to give their views (or to ask a series of questions) on a wide range of other subjects not related directly to the questions in the consultation document, including:
- The need for further information about the implications of independence (and / or devo max) - in particular, in relation to immigration, border control, pensions, defence, the currency, and so on
- The Queen as head of state
- An independent Scotland's membership of the European Union
- The cost of the referendum (in general, those who made a comment described it as "a waste of money")
- Concerns about biased reporting in the media, and by the BBC in particular
- Scottish Government policies on various issues (ranging from windfarms, to air rifles and handguns, to same-sex marriage)
- Views about and voting intentions in relation to independence.
11.6 In addition, respondents often also used this space to:
- Make a comment about which Parliament (the Scottish or UK Parliament) should have responsibility for making decisions about the referendum
- Reiterate or summarise their earlier comments
- Address issues which were raised in the consultation document, but which were not the subject of a particular question.
11.7 In relation to this latter point, two recurring themes raised by respondents at Question 9 related to the general issue of voter eligibility (beyond the specific issue of extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds) and the approval thresholds for the referendum (i.e. whether the result of the referendum should be decided on the basis of a simple majority). These two issues were not only raised at Question 9, but were occasionally raised in respondents' comments at other questions too.
11.8 As neither of these issues were the subject of a specific question in the consultation document, any comments made on these issues were likely to have been raised only by those respondents for whom they were particularly important. It has previously been noted in this report, that the findings of a consultation cannot be considered to be representative of the views of the general population. However, this point must be stressed again in relation to these two issues.
Comments on voter eligibility and the issue of a simple majority
11.9 As noted in Chapter 9, the consultation document proposed that eligibility to vote in the referendum would follow the precedent of the 1997 referendum and be based on the franchise for the Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government elections.
11.10 Although the consultation document contained no specific question on eligibility to vote beyond the inclusion of 16 and 17 year olds, a number of respondents did comment on the broader issue. Overall, around 1,700 respondents made a comment about eligibility to vote at some point within their response.
11.11 Just under half of these comments were broadly in favour of the franchise as proposed. Some respondents suggested that voter eligibility should be defined "as for other elections", although they did not always identify whether they were referring specifically to the franchise for the Scottish Parliament or that for UK Government elections. Other respondents stated that only people resident in Scotland at the time of the referendum should be allowed to vote. Reasons given for supporting the franchise as proposed tended to focus both on issues relating to fairness (residents will be the ones most affected by the result of the vote) and on issues relating to practical considerations (the current electoral register is the only reliable record of voters that could be in place by 2014).
11.12 Those who did not agree with basing the franchise on that for the Scottish Parliament elections mostly expressed the view that non-resident Scots should be allowed to take part in the referendum. For some respondents this included Scots living anywhere in the world, although others restricted the extension of the franchise to those living in other parts of the UK. Respondents who defined what they meant by 'Scots' generally referred to those born in Scotland, although an alternative definition offered was "those who would be entitled to a Scottish passport". A subset of respondents suggested that the wider "Scottish diaspora" should be entitled to vote. In supporting their argument, respondents sometimes noted that they, or members of their family, had left Scotland to study or find work, but still saw Scotland as their home and hoped to return one day.
11.13 Other respondents wished to see restrictions placed on the residents of Scotland who would be entitled to vote. Most frequently, respondents suggested that non-British citizens resident in Scotland should be excluded from the vote. Another suggestion was that people should have been resident in Scotland for a certain qualifying period before they become entitled to vote in the referendum.
11.14 Finally, there was a group of respondents who suggested that the whole population of the UK should be entitled to vote on this issue, as any future dissolution of the Union would affect not only those living in Scotland, but everyone in the UK.
11.15 The consultation document states that the referendum will not be subject to any minimum turnout requirements or approval threshold where approval is required by a minimum percentage of registered voters. This is the same basis as for the 1997 Scottish devolution referendum.
11.16 Although no specific question was asked, around 1,500 respondents made a comment on this issue at some point in their response. Overall, around two-thirds of those who commented agreed with the use of a simple majority to decide the outcome of the referendum. Those who explained their support for the use of the simple majority often cited the precedent of the 1997 referendum, as well as examples of other referendums held elsewhere internationally. Other respondents suggested that the use of a simple majority would be the only fair and democratic approach.
11.17 A range of different suggestions were put forward by those who took an alternative view. These included: setting a higher than 50% threshold for the 'yes' vote (for example suggesting that 60% - or some other figure - of those who vote must be in favour of independence for the vote to be carried); setting a minimum turnout figure (for example suggesting that 60% - or some other figure - of all registered voters would have to participate for the vote to be valid); or suggesting some combination of increased majority and minimum turnout. Respondents who were in favour of such thresholds often referred to the enormity - and perceived irreversibility - of the referendum decision. These respondents expressed concern that the simple majority approach could result in major constitutional change being enacted based on the views of a minority of the Scottish electorate.
Comments on the consultation document and consultation process
11.18 Finally, this last section provides a brief summary of comments received on the consultation document itself and the consultation process. Again, these comments were made by a relatively small number of respondents overall.
11.19 Some respondents welcomed the consultation and the opportunity to comment. There were positive comments about the consultation document, which was described as easy to understand, thorough, and comprehensive. Respondents also commented that it was easy to participate and to submit their comments. Some specifically mentioned that this was the first time they had ever responded to a government consultation and they had found the process worthwhile.
11.20 Those who made critical comments tended to focus on the perceived "one-sided" or "biased" nature of the consultation, for example in relation to the lack of balance in the document about the consequences of a 'No' vote. (The consequences of a 'Yes' vote were covered in detail.) There were also comments about the lack of detail on what independence would entail. In relation to the consultation process, there was a perception that it was not easy for people to participate if they did not have internet access; and that links to further information occasionally did not work. A few respondents were concerned about the possibility that multiple and anonymous responses could skew the outcome of the consultation; others were wary of how the responses would be analysed and presented.
Email: Alison Stout