6 POSSIBLE INCLUSION OF A SECOND QUESTION
6.1 The 'Your Scotland, Your Referendum' consultation paper included a section that discussed the possible inclusion of a second question in the referendum ballot. This question would give voters the option to vote for greater powers for the Scottish Parliament short of independence. The Scottish Government's suggestion was that this second question might, for example, focus on full devolution (often referred to as 'devolution max', or simply 'devo max'). Under devo max, the Scottish Parliament would have (with certain exceptions) responsibility for all laws, taxes and duties in Scotland. However, responsibility for defence and foreign affairs, financial regulation, monetary policy and the currency would continue to be reserved to the UK Parliament.
6.2 The Scottish Government stated in the consultation paper that its preferred policy is independence, but that it would be willing to include a second question on further substantial devolution in the referendum if there was sufficient support for this.
6.3 In addition, the consultation document states that, for a one-question referendum, the outcome would be determined on the basis of a simple majority. However, in the case of a two-question referendum, a different type of voting system would need to be considered.
Question 3: What are your views on the inclusion of a second question in the referendum and the voting system that could be used?
6.4 A total of 21,712 respondents made a comment at Question 3. In addition, it was discovered during the analysis of Question 1 (which sought views on the proposed referendum question) that respondents often included comments at Question 1 which were relevant to Question 3. While these comments were sometimes repeated at Question 3, they were not in all cases. Therefore, to determine respondents' views on the issue of a possible second referendum question, their comments on this issue at Question 1 and Question 3 were considered together.
6.5 Altogether, 21,281 respondents made a comment specifically about the issue of including a second question in the referendum. An analysis of these comments indicated that 32% were broadly in favour of including a second question in the referendum and 62% were not; the remaining respondents expressed unclear or mixed views about the issue. The balance of opinion on the possible inclusion of a second question in the referendum is discussed further at the end of this chapter.
Comments on the inclusion of a second question
6.6 Many of the comments made in response to Question 3 were highly complex. Respondents who favoured a second question and those who did not often provided detailed and nuanced arguments in support of their views. In addition, it appeared that respondents often understood, appreciated and sympathised with the other side's arguments. Moreover, irrespective of whether people wanted a second question or not, it was common for respondents to express the view that the Scottish Parliament should have greater powers than it currently does, and that the status quo was not acceptable.
Main arguments in favour of including a second question
6.7 Respondents generally gave one (or more) of three reasons for wanting a second question in the referendum. The primary reason was that the inclusion of a second question would provide a greater choice to the electorate than the simple yes-or-no question to independence. Two points were often made about this issue of choice:
- Some respondents believed that many people in Scotland were unhappy with the status quo, but nevertheless had reservations about independence. There were concerns that if the referendum were a straight choice between independence and the status quo, many people would not wish to vote for either, and so may not vote at all. Not only would this have an adverse impact on voter turnout (thus making the outcome of a straight yes-or-no vote potentially open to challenge), but it would also disenfranchise a large portion of the Scottish electorate. Respondents argued that it would be "more democratic" and "more honest" to include a second question, since the result of the vote would then be a true and accurate reflection of the will of the Scottish people.
- Some respondents also said that, despite the statements of politicians, the question of Scotland's constitutional future was not a black and white issue, that the reality was more complex, and that a simple vote for or against independence did not adequately reflect the Scottish public's thinking.
6.8 This point was linked to another main reason that respondents gave for wanting a second question in the referendum: namely, that they considered devo max to be the next logical step for Scotland. These respondents suggested that, at this stage, particularly when the world economy was so uncertain, independence felt like a step too far too fast. There was a feeling that a progression to devo max would give the devolved Scottish Parliament an opportunity to demonstrate over a period of years that it can successfully manage increased responsibility.
6.9 The third main reason that respondents gave for wanting a second question in the referendum related to concerns they had about what would happen if the Scottish electorate voted no to independence. Those respondents said that they did not trust the UK Government to keep its promises to devolve further powers to Scotland if the Scottish people were to vote no to independence, and they felt a majority vote for devo max would give the Scottish Government a stronger negotiating position in any future discussions with the UK Government. However, others in this group questioned whether the UK Government would take any notice of a substantial yes vote for more powers. These individuals argued that the UK Government would need to agree in advance the specific powers which would be transferred to the Scottish Parliament in the event of a yes vote for devo max.
6.10 Another argument in favour of a second question - sometimes used in conjunction with one of the three above - was that it would be more efficient and economical to ask a question about devo max and independence in the same referendum. Respondents suggested that the alternative would be to have a second referendum (on devo max) if the outcome of the (first) referendum vote did not show support for independence. However, they argued that this would be costly, and that there would also be a potential for a low voter turnout in the second referendum.
6.11 In their comments, respondents in favour of a second question sometimes challenged the perception that including a second question would cause confusion among voters. These respondents believed that being asked to answer two questions was not complicated, and that Scottish voters would not have a problem with this.
Request for a second question (or more) on other subjects
6.12 Around 150 respondents commented that they would like a second question on something other than devo max. The suggestions made most often were:
- Whether to dissolve the Scottish Parliament and return to pre-devolution arrangements
- Membership of the European Union (those who suggested this were largely opposed to Scotland's membership in the EU)
- Whether Scotland should adopt the Euro or continue to use sterling as its currency
- Whether the Queen should remain as head of state in an independent Scotland.
6.13 Less commonly it was suggested that the Scottish electorate should be given a menu of options to vote on. The aim would be to identify what degree of autonomy Scottish voters wanted for their country.
Arguments against a second question
6.14 The principal argument against the inclusion of a second question in the referendum was that it would complicate matters and cause confusion. Respondents repeatedly stressed the need to avoid "clouding the issue". Several points were made in relation to this argument:
- The inclusion of a second question could introduce a lack of clarity about the result of the vote. If the vote for independence received a slim majority, but the vote for devo max received a larger majority, there would be potential for disagreement about whether the independence vote should be carried or not.
- The inclusion of a second question would also complicate the campaign for independence. Respondents who made this point argued that it would be hard enough for people in Scotland to fully engage with and understand the implications of independence before voting on it. Adding a campaign for devo max into the mix would merely confuse people.
- Occasionally, respondents suggested that a second question would increase the number of spoiled ballot papers due to the added complexity of the voting procedure.
6.15 A strong theme within respondents' comments against a second question was that the vote for independence should be resolved first, and then, depending on the outcome of that vote, further devolution could be considered at a later date. Respondents suggested this could be done in three ways: (i) through the normal negotiation arrangements already in place between the Scottish and UK governments; (ii) through a second referendum; or (iii) through the route of a general election in which individual party manifestos would identify their respective positions in relation to further devolution.
6.16 Another common argument against a second question was that a formal vote on devo max was entirely unnecessary. Respondents who made this point argued that the Scottish Government already has the right, and a mandate from the Scottish people, to negotiate for additional powers, and indeed had already successfully begun to do so in the Scotland Act 2012. These respondents believed that further powers would continue to be transferred to Scotland on an ongoing basis, making a referendum vote on devo max unnecessary.
6.17 Unlike those who were in favour of a second question because they saw devo max and independence on a continuum (see paragraphs 6.7 and 6.8 above), some of those who were opposed to a second question saw devo max and independence as fundamentally different. These respondents argued that independence is a constitutional matter, and it was right and proper for only the people of Scotland to vote on this. In contrast, they saw devo max as a matter which affected everyone in the UK. Therefore, it was not appropriate for the people of Scotland alone to make a decision on what further powers they wished to be devolved from the UK Government.
6.18 Three other points were occasionally made among respondents who did not want a second question:
- Some were concerned that the inclusion of a second question could have a significant adverse impact on the response to the independence question - in particular, they believed it would "split the yes vote". In general, these respondents thought that if there was only one question, for or against independence, people would be more willing to vote for independence because of a strong dissatisfaction with the status quo. However, if a second question were introduced, many might be tempted to "sit on the fence" and vote for the "middle" or "compromise" option.
- Respondents who were not in favour of independence suggested that the introduction of a possible vote on devo max was a ploy by the SNP to allow them to "save face" in the event that independence is not supported.
- In contrast, SNP supporters urged the SNP leadership to hold fast to their party's commitments and ideals, and not to dilute their push for independence.
Comments on voting systems and the ordering of the questions
6.19 Respondents who were in favour of a second question made a wide range of comments about voting systems. Furthermore they often set out two or more possible alternatives. Respondents generally saw value in using a simple majority system or some form of preferential voting system, depending on the order of the questions and whether they were asked as a single question with three options, or two separate questions.
6.20 In general, people who advocated the inclusion of a second question argued that the first question - that is, the question on independence - should take precedence over the devo max question. In other words, a simple majority vote for independence should result in Scotland becoming independent, irrespective of whether a greater proportion of people voted for devo max. It was rare for these respondents to suggest that a larger vote for devo max should take precedence over a majority vote for independence.
6.21 Respondents made suggestions about how the two questions should be ordered on the ballot paper. The most common are described below.
- A gateway question with the independence question first. In this case, a vote in favour of independence would also be counted as a vote for devo max if independence did not achieve a simple majority. For example:
Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?
[Yes / No]
If no, would you support devo max?
[Yes / No]
- Two separate questions, both of which should be answered by all voters. In some cases respondents suggested that the questions should appear on two separate ballot papers, and that the ballot paper with the devo max question on it should only be counted if the vote for independence did not achieve a simple majority. For example:
Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?
[Yes / No]
If the result of the first question is No to independence, would you support devo max?
[Yes / No]
- A single question with three options. Respondents who made this suggestion generally thought that the options should be ranked in order of preference. It was less common for respondents to suggest that only one of the three options should be ticked. For example:
- A gateway question as proposed in the consultation document.
Do you agree that the Scottish Parliament should have greater powers?
[Yes / No]
If yes, tick one of the following:
Comments on the meaning of devo max
6.22 A recurring theme in the responses to this question (both among those who were in favour of a second question and those who were not) was that respondents were often not sure what devo max meant. It was common for people to qualify their agreement to a second question by saying, "… but it needs to be defined", while some of those who were opposed to the inclusion of a second question made the point that the electorate could not be expected to vote on something that was so ill-defined.
6.23 Other respondents often used the term "full fiscal autonomy" to refer to devo max. This term clearly included full control over taxation and spending. A few respondents also suggested that a second question should focus on "home rule" - occasionally clarifying that this did not include responsibility for defence, foreign affairs, monetary policy and the currency. Still other respondents spoke about the creation of a "federal United Kingdom".
Balance of opinion on the proposed referendum question
6.24 As mentioned above in paragraph 6.5, 21,281 respondents made a comment specifically about the issue of including a second question in the referendum. An analysis of these comments indicated that 32% were broadly in favour of including a second question and 62% were not; the remaining respondents expressed mixed or unclear views. Annex 3 provides details of how responses were classified in relation to the extent of their agreement or disagreement.
6.25 Among individual respondents, the proportion agreeing and disagreeing with the inclusion of a second question followed a similar pattern to the proportion overall. (See Table A3.3 in Annex 3.)
6.26 Other points to note are:
- Among those who were in favour of including a second question in the referendum, it was not usual for respondents to qualify their agreement - that is, they were happy for a second question to be included so long as certain conditions were met (e.g. "as long as the question is clear"; "as long as there's a binding agreement by Westminster to deliver it"; "as long as each question is considered separately"). Overall, 7% of those who had a view on this issue expressed qualified agreement.
- Among those who were not in favour of a second question, a greater proportion expressed definite disagreement with the idea. Overall, just 3% said that their preference was not to have a second question, but they would be willing to do so only if certain conditions were met (e.g. "only if it can be shown that there is sufficient demand for it"; "only if someone is willing to define devo max and campaign for it").
- The Scottish Labour and Lanarkshire campaigns both included a statement which opposed the inclusion of a second question in the referendum. The SNP standard campaign response did not include a comment on this issue.
- Organisational / group respondents were more likely than other types of respondents to have mixed or unclear views on this issue.
Email: Alison Stout