A model for recognising a mandate
The Scottish and UK Governments may not have agreed in 2012 about whether Scotland should become an independent country, but they agreed that such a decision was for the people of Scotland alone to take. They agreed that the Scottish Government had a mandate to hold a referendum following the 2011 elections, given the support of a majority of members of the Scottish Parliament for such a referendum. They agreed that the Scottish Parliament should be responsible for delivering the referendum. And they agreed that both governments had a duty, despite their different perspectives on the question, to respect the democratic principle that the question of Scotland's future should be decided in Scotland and to agree a lawful process for allowing the people of Scotland to decide.
That level of agreement was in accordance with well-established principles of good government, and with the democratic reality that the views of the people of Scotland on matters of national importance are expressed through elections. And it was in accordance with the principle-accepted by the Scottish and UK Parliaments and Governments-that the people of Scotland have the right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs.
The UK Government accepted in 2011 that a mandate to hold a referendum could be communicated by the people of Scotland through elections to the Scottish Parliament, and through the formation of a Scottish Government. As the then-Secretary of State for Scotland said-
This process began with the Scottish National Party's victory in the May 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections and its manifesto pledge to hold an independence referendum. From the very beginning, we recognised the political mandate that the SNP had secured for a referendum.
Following the experience of 2011, governments in Scotland, political parties in Scotland and, most importantly, the people voting in Scottish parliamentary elections will have made decisions about their policies, their manifestos and their votes in the expectation that electoral mandates would be respected.
The Scottish Government is clear that its preference is for a referendum to be held in 2020. This would allow, in the event of a vote for independence, the smoothest transition to an independent Scotland taking its place as a member state of the European Union. There would be clear advantages in Scotland being able to make a decision about its future as an independent country in Europe before any process of divergence between UK and EU law has begun. Other parties have expressed their views about the appropriate timing of a future referendum. These are contributions to a debate that, in the Scottish Government's view, is one for the Scottish Parliament to have and ultimately to decide on.
The Scottish Government is already taking steps to ensure that a referendum could be delivered to its preferred timetable through the Referendums (Scotland) Bill, which provides a framework for holding referendums in Scotland. The precedent of 2011 provides a basis for the Scottish and UK Governments to come to swift agreement over the legislation required to put beyond doubt the Scottish Parliament's power to use the Referendums Bill to hold an independence referendum.
The decision whether and when that referendum should be held ought to be for the Scottish Parliament, empowered to make such decisions by the people who live here. The Parliament is the democratic voice of the people of Scotland, and the inheritor of Scottish constitutional tradition.
We call on the UK Government to enter discussions about the Scottish Government's mandate for giving the people of Scotland a choice, and to agree legislation with the Scottish Government that would put beyond doubt the Scottish Parliament's right to legislate for a referendum on independence.