By Dr Alexandra Kelso, Politics & International Relations
The Electoral Commission yesterday published its report on the wording of the referendum question that will be put to the people of Scotland in 2014 on the seismic issue of independence. While much attention has been focused on the relative merits of the arguments for and against independence, the detailed work undertaken to actually design an agreeable referendum question highlights the inherent complexity of constitutional policy-making in the UK.
The Scottish Government launched its own consultation process early last year – Your Scotland, Your Referendum – which asked respondents a range of questions about how the referendum should be run – should 16-17 year olds be allowed to participate for example, and what should the question look like? The original proposed wording was ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?’ The Electoral Commission conducted a lengthy inquiry into how different forms of wording might affect responses, testing out various questions on people around Scotland, and concluded that this question might lead people to vote yes, simply because there is often a tendency to agree when asked to (obviously there couldn’t have been any academics amongst those tested). The new wording is the far more straightforward ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ The Scottish Government immediately indicated its acceptance of this new wording, and yet another significant issue in the referendum process has thus been successfully resolved.
Both the Electoral Commission report and the preceding consultation process held by the Scottish Government are well worth some close examination, if only to discover how intriguing and complicated are the mechanisms that lie at the heart of constitutional policy-making and reform. These are issues we are about to explore in detail in my undergraduate Constitutional Politics in Britain class, and it’s good to know that there is no shortage of material for us to look at.