Scottish Secretary Michael Moore has threatened to prohibit the Scottish
independence referendum unless the Scottish government meets Westminster demands
Scottish independence: Westminster threatens to prohibit Scotland’s referendum
by Emily Badiozzaman
Speaking for the UK government, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore has said that the Scottish government will not be given the legal right to hold a vote on independence unless it meets Westminster demands relating to the vote.
The UK government claims a ‘section 30 order’ from Westminster is required in order for Holyrood to permit Scots a consultative referendum on political independence.
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Although the Scottish government has the political mandate to hold the referendum on behalf of the nation, Westminster aims to influence the rules of the vote using the 'section 30 order' as leverage. Demands are thought to include issues such as the voting age for the referendum, the wording and the timing.
At the heart of discussions between the two governments lies the argument over having a simple yes/no question or having two questions which might include increased devolution, as Westminster demands there be only one question.
Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to hold informal talks about the referendum tomorrow but has reiterated that the one issue he will not negotiate on is that of a single question. Additionally, this is the first time the UK government has said it would be a legal obligation as part of the Section 30 order.
The risk for Mr Cameron is that the Scots will perceive his involvement in Scotland’s referendum as external meddling in what is a decision that, to be viewed as decisive, must be designed and regulated by Scotland’s own parliament.
Michael Moore has stated: “I think it is pretty essential that in transferring the power, we set out what that power is.
"I don’t think we can have a referendum on independence if we don’t we have a single question.”
The development comes after comments from Scottish political legend and former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars warned that Alex Salmond must cooperate with David Cameron over the independence referendum rather than go it alone without Westminster support.
Mr Sillars warned that the Scottish government is taking a considerable risk over planning to stage the referendum in 2014 without the consent of the UK government. He argued that the referendum could be blocked by the courts, should a legal challenge be presented by the UK government, as the legislation would be “outside the competence powers” of the Scottish parliament.
He urged the First Minister to “go and negotiate with Cameron, to take his offer and turn it your advantage.”
Reiterating arguments over the legality of the upcoming referendum, Mr Sillars argues that Alex Salmond holds “none of the legal cards” and any attempt by the Scottish government to stage the referendum itself would see its end in the courts.
Mr Sillars said, “Salmond has the political mandate, but holds none of the legal cards. Cameron has them, but no mandate on a Scottish referendum. The mandate should triumph over the legalities, but will it in a court of law? It’s a big risk.”
Mr Sillars called on the First Minister to use any talks with Mr Cameron to accept the Conservative leader’s offer to “give powers to Alex Salmond to hold his referendum, removing all possible legal challenges” and to accept the “strings attached”.
The said strings that Mr Sillars refers to is that the UK government wants to influence various aspects such as the wording (proposing a straight yes or no question on independence), the timing of the referendum and the voting age.
Westminster’s legalistic approach will be perceived by critics as an attempt at interfering in Scotland’s referendum. Many Scottish civic organisations have already expressed frustration that the legalistic wrangling is leading to widespread frustration as Scots want to get down to debating the issues.
The UK government’s legalistic position raises concerns over whether (if they do attempt to prohibit the referendum based on a legal argument) such actions will cause it to lose political legitimacy across Scotland.
Mr Salmond’s spokesman said the SNP government was “entirely confident about the legal basis to hold a consultative referendum” and dismissed Mr Sillars’ claim that the bill would be blocked based on legalities.
The spokesman said: “Of course, we have absolutely no objection to a Section 30 enhancement of Holyrood‘s powers to hold a legally binding referendum, but what we cannot possibly accept is Westminster dictating Scotland’s referendum.”
Echoing Mr Salmond’s spokesman, a spokesperson for Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “This is Scotland’s referendum, and the arrangements for it should be made in Scotland, not dictated by Westminster.”
During the Scottish affairs select committee session yesterday, Labour MP Ian Davidson enquired as to what would happen if both parliaments could not come to a compromise.
Mr Moore replied: “Then the legislation is not devolved. This whole process has to be approved by both parliaments. Without that the law stays as it is at the moment.”
Mr Moore, who is due to hold formal talks with Nicola Sturgeon today, told the committee he believed that an agreement could be reached by 22 October to fit in with Scottish Government’s timetable for a referendum bill by 2013.
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âAll peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural developmentâ.
There have been numerous restatements of the law by the UN and other international authorities, for example by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, at its follow-up conference in Vienna in January 1989:
“[The participating states] confirm that, by virtue of the principle of equal rights and self determination of peoples, and in conformity with the relevant provisions of the [Helsinki] Final Act, all peoples always have the right, in full freedom, to determine, when and as they wish, their internal and external political status, without external interference, and to pursue as they wish their political, economic and cultural development. (Questions Relating to Security in Europe, No. 4)”
This is fully valid law that is superior to, and supersedes, anything contained in the devolution or later legislation, and is also actionable at international level. The status of the Scottish people as an entity possessing the right to self-determination under the United Nations definition, is beyond question. The case is set out in Scotland’s Status as a Nation in the Constitution/Independence section of the SDA website: www.scottishdemocraticalliance.org