5 TIMETABLE AND VOTING ARRANGEMENTS
5.1 Question 2 of the consultation document asked respondents to comment on the proposed timetable for the referendum and on the voting arrangements. The consultation document set out the timetable from January 2012, with the referendum to be held in Autumn 2014. Other issues covered within this section of the consultation document included how to ensure the Scottish electorate is able to make an informed choice and whether there should be any minimum turnout or approval thresholds for the referendum.
Question 2: What are your views on the proposed timetable and voting arrangements?
5.2 A total of 25,263 respondents made a comment at Question 2. Of these, 23,897 respondents made a comment specifically about the timetable for the referendum. An analysis of these comments indicated that 62% broadly agreed with holding the referendum in Autumn 2014 and 36% did not; the remaining respondents had mixed or unclear views. The balance of opinion on the timetable for the referendum is discussed further at the end of this chapter.
Comments on the proposed timetable
5.3 Respondents who supported the timetable generally made only limited further comment. Among those who did go on to make further comment, one or both of the following issues were frequently raised:
- The referendum was considered to be the most important decision Scotland will make for many years. Hence it will be important to allow sufficient time for both sides of the debate to put their position to the electorate and then for the electorate to have sufficient time to give proper consideration to the arguments being put forward.
- The timing and arrangements for the referendum must be decided within Scotland. Respondents who made this point often went on to state that the current administration had been given a mandate by the Scottish electorate through the Scottish Parliamentary elections of 2011 to hold a referendum on independence. Furthermore, the SNP had made it clear prior to the election that its intention was to hold the referendum in the latter part of the 2011-2016 parliamentary term. Thus, these respondents saw the proposed timetable for the referendum as the fulfilment of a campaign promise.
5.4 Those who broadly agreed with holding the referendum in 2014 also sometimes suggested that they might have preferred the referendum to be held at a different time (usually earlier), although they were happy to go along with the Scottish Government's proposal.
5.5 Of the 36% of respondents who disagreed with the proposed timetable, almost all wanted the referendum to be held before Autumn 2014; it was rare for respondents to express a preference for a later date. Those who wanted the referendum earlier often suggested alternative dates - ranging from immediately through to Spring 2014. Others simply stated that it should be "as soon as possible".
5.6 Respondents who expressed a preference for an earlier referendum commonly made one (or more) of the following three points:
- It was felt that the Scottish economy could suffer in the two year period leading up to the referendum - in particular, inward investment could be affected by the (perceived) uncertainty over Scotland's future. Some also thought any concerns felt by the business community could also have a negative impact on the UK economy overall.
- Others suggested that the referendum was being held later than necessary because the current administration believes Scotland would not vote for independence at this time, and the pro-independence camp needs two years to convince the electorate of its case.
- There was also a view that the proposed timetable was part of a political ploy: Autumn 2014 had been chosen specifically in order to capitalise on a "feel good factor" after the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, or on the patriotic (and specifically, anti-English) sentiment that might be created by the 700-year anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.
5.7 Among those who wanted an earlier timetable for the referendum, one or more of the following issues were also sometimes raised, though less often than the three above:
- Some respondents thought that two years of debate could have a negative impact on the Scottish electorate, some of whom may already be tiring of the issue. There was a concern that many people may have lost interest entirely by 2014, and there were associated concerns that voter turnout for the referendum could be low as a result.
- Others argued that the referendum was a distraction. These respondents felt there were many important issues that the Scottish Government needed to prioritise - such as job creation or improving standards across health or education - and the current administration's focus and energy would be diverted from these critical policy areas and on to the referendum campaign.
- Others believed that many people have already made up their minds on the issue of independence, and that the full and informed debate suggested by the consultation document is not required.
- Finally, some argued that the responsibility for deciding on the timing of the referendum does not, or should not, lie with the Scottish Government and / or any administration that is in power when the referendum is being organised. Respondents who raised this issue suggested a range of other bodies that should make the decision, including the UK Government, the Electoral Commission or another independent third party (such as the European Union or United Nations).
5.8 Respondents who said they would prefer the referendum to be held later generally suggested that the referendum should be postponed for as long as possible (in essence these appeared to be respondents who favoured the referendum not taking place at all). However, a few suggested that two years allows insufficient time for a referendum of such importance to be arranged and for all the issues to be properly debated.
5.9 Other issues raised occasionally by respondents about the timetable were that:
- The vote should not be held until a range of specific issues have been clarified and the electorate equipped with sufficient information to allow them to make a decision based on fact rather than principle. This view was expressed by both those who agreed and those who disagreed with the proposed timetable. Some of the issues about which respondents sought information included (among others) the relationship of an independent Scotland to the EU and arrangements for the currency.
- The specific date chosen for the referendum should avoid main school holiday periods across Scotland and not just those for the major population centres.
Comments on the voting arrangements
5.10 In addition to commenting on the timetable, respondents often also made further comments about the voting arrangements more generally. (It was less common for respondents to make a comment about the voting arrangements only.) These respondents generally stated their broad support for the voting arrangements as set out within the consultation document. Respondents also raised the importance of continuity and sometimes suggested that it would be simplest and fairest to keep the same arrangements that are used for other major votes (such as Scottish or UK Parliamentary elections).
Balance of opinion on the proposed timetable
5.11 As mentioned in paragraph 5.2 above, 23,897 respondents made a comment about the proposed timetable for the referendum. Of these, 62% agreed with holding the referendum in Autumn 2014, and 36% disagreed; the remainder expressed mixed or unclear views. Annex 3 provides details of how responses were classified in relation to the extent of their agreement or disagreement.
5.12 The proportion of respondents who agreed or disagreed with the proposed timetable varied substantially among different types of respondents. (See Table A3.2 in Annex 3.) For example, just over half (56%) of individual respondents agreed with the timetable and a similar proportion (53%) of organisational / group respondents also agreed. However, among both standard and non-standard campaign respondents, the percentage agreeing was over 80%.
5.13 Other points to note are that:
- All three of the campaigns included a comment about the referendum timetable. The SNP campaign stated support for the Autumn 2014 date whereas the Scottish Labour and Lanarkshire campaigns both suggested that the referendum should be held earlier. Most of those who submitted non-standard campaign responses also tended to agree or disagree depending on which campaign their response was based on.
- Organisational / group respondents were more likely than other types of respondents to have mixed or unclear views and a number also stated that their organisation had no view or did not consider it appropriate to comment on this issue.
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