Independence, Devo-Max, Status Quo: 1, 2, 3

Back in December I wrote an article suggesting that the SNP should consider staging the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum (now scheduled for 2014) using a system of preferential voting based upon a series of optional questions.

“…no one is sure what rules will govern the referendum on Scottish sovereignty when it is held. It seems likely to have more than a simple “Yes” or “No” question on full independence. Several questions are possible. All of which would helpfully muddy the waters for the SNP – and not so helpfully for Nationalists of the Greater England variety. Additionally it may be a proportional referendum, with voters asked to number their choices in order of preference. That could certainly lead to some interesting results.

For instance, those voting “Number 1” for Independence would be very likely to also vote “Number 2” for Devo-Max (on the basis that if we don’t get full independence at least we 90% of it).

Many of those voting “Number 1” for Devo-Max would likely also vote “Number 2” for Independence (since I’ve gone this far in voting Devo-Max, I’m obviously dissatisfied with the current UK status quo so why not give my second preference to Independence?).

With those voting “Number 1” for the UK status quo the Independence choice is a highly unlikely option to make, so while some might vote “Number 2” for Devo-Max (better 90% of the way than the full 100%) most will probably go no further than their first choice.

In these circumstance a significant vote for Devo-Max looks likely, with Independence a strong second, and the current constitutional arrangement a poor third. A carefully worded and organised form of maximum devolution could then give the Scots the independence that many seek in the space of a few years as the new arrangements evolved and grew. There is certainly precedents for this throughout European history (not least in Ireland).”

Now this idea has been taken up by Quintin Oliver in a piece for Slugger O’Toole, as he examines the small print elements that may make up the Scottish drive for independence:

“My first observation here is the absence of much serious commentary that I have seen, on deployment of the recently tested (although rejected in the UK) Alternative Vote as a way out of the ‘Sweden Conundrum’, when voters in 1980 opted indecisively for conflicting alternatives on the speed of decommissioning the nuclear industry, one of which actually included an increase in nuclear turbines.

One could easily devise and negotiate the wording that would allow voters to opt in order, by the now familiar 1,2,3 for independence, for Devo-max or for the status quo; if the lowest successful option were then eliminated, and preferences transferred, a simple majority would then have been achieved for one of the three.”

If the SNP wish to reinforce their mandate to negotiate Scottish independence on the back of a positive referendum result then the best way to do that is to ensure that the poll vote reflects the widest number of voters in Scotland.