Enough Neverendum, Please

     Over the weekend, Nicola Sturgeon once again talked up the possibility of another secession referendum if the people across the United Kingdom vote to end the country’s EU membership without a majority of Scots backing it. Once again, she used the emotive language about Scotland being taken out of the EU “against our will” and just as well, she cited this as a “significant and material change” that should trigger a second referendum despite the last result on this matter not even being two years old. Other than this, she said that a referendum would be held “if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people.”

     The problem for the SNP is that this does not appear to be case now and does not look likely to be the case for several years, if ever. Facing this, Sturgeon appeared to put the brakes on a second referendum at the SNP’s main conference last November by stating that another referendum would not be called until “strong and consistent evidence” of a change in public opinion occurred, and it has been suggested that support for independence would have to be at or around 60% for a sustained period of time in opinion polls. Such polls have showed that despite the surge in support for the SNP since the referendum, there has not been a corresponding rise in support for separation – with most surveys either showing a tie, a pro-Union majority, or something within the margin of error.

     If the First Minister called for a referendum under these circumstances and lost, it would truly set the SNP back for decades, so one would have thought that the SNP would put their signature issue to one side and instead, focus all energies on governing Scotland under the circumstances handed to it by the voters in September 2014 – that is, Scotland as part of the United Kingdom, and if the polls significantly changed in favor of independence, then the SNP would get its chance.

     But this is the SNP and at the top of their party constitution is its commitment to independence; they can’t be content with governing Scotland under the current arrangements because separation is their raison d’être, and for many of its supporters, the idea of an SNP not focused on “The Cause” is inconceivable.

     So, at the party’s spring conference in March leading up to the Scottish Parliament election in May, Sturgeon announced that instead of a firm referendum commitment, she and the party would seek to launch an initiative this summer to “patiently and respectfully” convince those who voted No in 2014 that Scotland should secede from the Union on the basis that it “really does offer the best future for Scotland.” This would not be, she claimed, about browbeating anyone or disrespecting those who continue to support the Union, but about listening to what people have to say and addressing the concerns they had from the last time around.

     Last Sunday on Twitter, Ms. Sturgeon reiterated much of this in a video announcing the launch of the SNP’s campaign manifesto for this year – talking about the initiative starting in the summer and encouraging people to be a part of it, so that a majority for secession can be built. One can only assume that the First Minister hopes that such a majority (and a sustained one, at that) will exist within the next five years before the end of the parliament which will be elected in May – in effect, so that she can call that referendum that she cannot lose (and at her party's manifesto launch on April 20th, she said she would "very much" like to hold a second independence referendum within the next five years).

     So much for once-in-a-generation/once-in-a-lifetime.

     Alongside these plans for a renewed separation push are the continued threats regarding the EU vote and its outcome if Scots vote for the UK to keeps its membership in the bloc, but the British people as a whole vote for the UK to end its membership, with the added proposition that Holyrood ought have the ability to call a referendum in such circumstances. Indeed, such threats makes it appear as though Scots have no voice or vote on the matter; the “against our will” rhetoric suggests that Scots literally do not have a vote on whether UK remains a member of the EU, so that the people of England, Northern Ireland, and Wales have the right to vote in the June 23rd referendum, but Scots do not.

     Nothing could be farther from the truth as the people of Scotland will have a vote just like any other Briton throughout the United Kingdom. All votes will count equally and only the overall UK result matters regardless of how the vote plays out in different parts the UK, and this goes for nationalists north and south of the border because only the United Kingdom (and not its constituent parts) has membership of the European Union.

     With regard to the SNP, their push to keep separation and the constitution at the forefront of politics, as well as talking up the possibility of another referendum, amounts to what appears to be an obsession which gets increasingly tiresome and wearisome by the day.

     Many people expected that the decision of the Scottish people would be respected and would stand for years if not decades to come, so that people of all stripes could move on and focus on the challenges that Scotland and the UK in its entirety face and must tackle. Instead, the SNP has treated the result as little more than a speed bump, and are arrogantly moving along as if the referendum never happened, or at the very least, as if the result is irrelevant despite the terms of the Edinburgh Agreement which both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon signed, and despite both of them claiming that the referendum would be once-in-a-generation/once-in-lifetime. Some of their acolytes patronizingly claim that the result from September 18, 2014 was merely provisional or temporary, and that the voters either didn’t know enough or were too “scared” to cast an informed vote. They also say that people’s opinions and attitudes can change in the course of time.

     This may be true, but wait can’t the SNP wait? Why can’t they show some respect for the fact that Scotland voted No and not treat the people as if they were misguided children who will soon learn the error of their ways?

     If the objective of the SNP was only to achieve that best governing/constitutional arrangement for Scotland, then they should be committed to focusing on what they can do under the present system as well as the new settlement that is gradually being phased-in. However, it appears they are not even giving time for the new settlement to work; it’s almost as if they are afraid that it will work and show that secession is not necessary, as the SNP and their supporters would have people to believe – not as though it was ever needed to begin with.

     More likely perhaps is the sense that the party needs to keep the separation conversation going and prevent it from being overtaken by more important day-to-day issues such as health, education, transportation, welfare, housing, taxation, economic growth and opportunity, and a host of other things which can be dealt with as Holyrood acquires powers akin to that of – perhaps more powerful than – a province or state in federal system, such as in Canada, the United States, Germany, and Australia. They can’t let it go because this is what motivates the core of their base. If anything, it would appear that the SNP is more concerned about its internal party management than anything else – holding the core which wants separation at all costs along with those who vote for the SNP for other reasons where separation is not the most important issue.

     And of course, the SNP also need to appear in near-constant mortal combat mode against (big, bad) Westminster. Why focus on governing and make tough decisions when they can blame others for their problems and further claim that only breaking up the UK will solve those problems?

     Indeed, it feels as though the referendum has never ended. Before the weekend following the referendum was over, independence supporters were claiming that media bias, voting fraud, and other supposed “misdeeds” were responsible for their defeat. Others shouted foul play and “betrayal” by Westminster over The Vow (which has been delivered), whilst still others turned their rage toward the three main pro-Union parties – Labour and the Liberal Democrats in particular – and joined the SNP to defeat them in the hope of bring about another referendum. At the top, Alex Salmond made suggestions about separation being achieved through other means, such as UDI – a unilateral declaration of independence. His successor has downplayed this scenario, but she has done her bit to unnecessarily fan the flames of discontent along with other SNP politicians and supporters – stoking division and resentment with the rest of the UK, which have not been helpful in healing referendum wounds or achieving political stability or certainty.

     Since the referendum campaign itself began in 2012, Scotland has been in a near constant state of political campaigning – with the referendum itself and the EU elections (which functioned as a pre-referendum proxy) in 2014, the UK general election in 2015, and the Holyrood election and EU referendum this year. Next year will come local elections at which the SNP is likely expected to do very well and extend their post-referendum dominance to council chambers throughout Scotland.

     After this, providing that there are no snap elections and no other referendums, Scotland will have about two years free of significant political campaigning.

     Regardless of how the votes fall this year and next year, there will be many Scots who I suspect will be pleased at the prospect of having some time without an election or referendum on their minds, as well as perhaps the day-to-day and wall-to-wall campaigning which have become regular features over the past several years with back-to-back elections and referendums (with the added bonus of focusing on Team GB at Rio 2016).

     To repeat, it probably cannot be expressed enough how quite wearisome and tiresome it has become – all the years of claims and counter-claims, arguments and counter-arguments, debates, advertisements, rallies, social media postings (and the drama they can generate), broadcasts, speeches, polling numbers, and everything else under the sun with seemingly no end in sight.

     With regard to the SNP in particular, their insistence on keeping up talk – in various modes – about independence and future referenda is very wearisome, because again, it’s almost as if the referendum never came to an end.

     Simply put, people are getting tired of this; they've had enough of the upheaval and wrangling of the last several years, and desire a break from it - at least 15-20 years - because it does feel as if their lives and all of Scotland have been put on hold by the SNP's obsession. Furthermore, and speaking as an impartial observer, there is a possibility that all the talk of trying to build support for independence may well hurt the SNP because there will be a perception that the party is putting independence first, rather than Scotland first, and the two are not the same.

     At some level, the people will have enough of the constitutional obsessions of the SNP, especially with the enhanced powers of Holyrood which will be available for the SNP to use. Prominent independence supporters such as Darren “Loki” McGarvey have voiced their displeasure at the SNP’s timidity and lack of progressive action on several issues, and have said that in the grand scheme of things, it’s not all about independence.

     Indeed, some have said – explicitly and implicitly – that so long as Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, the SNP ought to do all it can with the powers it has to improve the lives and prospects of the Scottish people and should not wait for independence to do it. More to the point, it should prepare for the prospect that Scotland will never become independent and that each year it excuses itself by claiming “well, if only we were independent…”, it will only hurt itself and “The Cause” in the long term as the clarion calls for separation become increasingly stale.

     On this point, I would go farther and say that it should be the duty of any Scottish Government of any political stripe to work toward delivering positive outcomes for the people and if need be, it should do so with assistance from the UK Government. We already see this with the city deals for Glasgow, Inverness, and Aberdeen, and I believe that there is much potential for greater cooperation for the benefit of Scotland and the United Kingdom in its entirety.

     However, in order to achieve this potential and to truly move Scotland forward, the constitutional debates must be put aside for the time being. The people of Scotland need to decide whether they want a party that offers little more than continuing down the road of obsessing about independence and perpetuating a neverendum. The SNP had its chance and it’s time to move on. Enough is enough.

New Settlement Unfair, You Say? Stick with the Current One.

The SNP is haggling over a new cash deal from Westminster. Image Credit:  Howard Lake  via  Flickr   cc

The SNP is haggling over a new cash deal from Westminster. Image Credit: Howard Lake via Flickr cc

     Through this week, there have been rumblings that the SNP may reject the “more powers” for which they have been agitating – and unconsciously concede that the United Kingdom has been good for Scotland.

     This has been going for some time, but it really came to the fore last Sunday, when First Minister Nicola Sturgeon appeared on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show at her official residence of Bute House in Edinburgh for an interview which covered a range of topics that will affect the political landscape throughout the year.

     Among the topics discussed was the new “fiscal framework” which must be agreed to by the UK and Scottish governments in light of the powers over income and other taxes and receipts which are set to be devolved to Holyrood in accordance to the Scotland Bill which was passed by the House of Commons last year. Basically, the new powers and the ability of Holyrood to tax within Scotland need to be offset with cuts to the block grant from Westminster which currently funds the Scottish Government, which is determined by the Barnett Formula.

     Technically, the UK Government can bring the bill into force when it passes its final stages at Westminster, where the House of Lords is in the process of scrutinizing it. However, it is an established convention that Holyrood should give consent to such legislation with regard to the devolution settlement and the ability to increase (or decrease) the amount of legislative authority controlled by Holyrood. Thus, the fiscal framework must, at least according to the SNP, be completed by mid-February in time for MSP’s to scrutinize the overall devolution package brought about by the Smith Commission in 2014, so that it can be brought into effect before the Scottish parliamentary election in May.

     In her interview with Andrew Marr however, the First Minister stated that there was “a long distance still to travel” in negotiations over the fiscal framework and warned that the UK Government must show “significantly more movement” on her demands for how the block grant is to be adjusted. Finance Secretary John Swinney has also stated that both sides are still a ways apart from a deal, and Sturgeon said that she will not “sign up to something that is unfair to Scotland” – effectively saying that her MSP’s (the majority at Holyrood) will vote to block the legislation and scupper the arrival of the new powers.

     Now to be fair to the First Minister, there are understandable issues that need to be worked out to the best and fairest extent possible. As The Herald noted on Saturday, although the changes to the block grant “should be straightforward on day one”, it is how the grant is adjusted in the years and decades to come which is “proving hugely complex and contentious.” It continued by saying that “small shifts in the relative economies and populations of Scotland and the UK could result in major changes” which under at least one scenario, could result in Scotland being “hundreds of millions of pounds worse off.” 

     Again, these issues must be given due consideration in the pursuit of a deal that does justice for Scotland, the other parts of the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom as a whole. However, this is what the SNP signed up for when they agreed to the Smith Commission recommendations in 2014. Yes, there was a “no detriment” clause to prevent Scotland and the rest of the UK from being better off or worse off as a result of the new constitutional arrangements, but it’s difficult to believe that this meant that Holyrood would continue receiving the same amount of public spending per person per year above the UK average.

     According to The Herald:

“Mr Swinney favours a mechanism known as per capita indexation, which would protect Scotland if, as expected, its population grows more slowly than England’s.”

Leading economists agree the method would be the most advantageous for Scotland, potentially adding hundreds of millions of pounds to Holyrood’s budget within three or four years compared with other systems for adjusting the block grant.”

     However, with the devolution of setting income tax rates and bands (and less money going to the Treasury in London), such a system “would be unfair on the rest of the UK as increasing amounts of income tax raised south of the Border would be used to fund services in Scotland” as opposed to reducing it, which would seem to be the logical thing to do.

     Sturgeon says that she wants the new powers in the Scotland Bill, but the disagreement over the fiscal framework has the appearance of not wanting any of the consequences of having those new powers, as I wrote back during the tax credits debate at Holyrood last year.

     Indeed, the Daily Record’s editorial that week is apt for today’s circumstances:

"Moan, moan, bitch, bitch, whinge, whinge. Their response has been as negative as it was predictable. A cynic might argue that the SNP don’t actually want those new powers because it makes them more accountable to the people of Scotland."

     Therefore, one may wonder if this is an effort to stall the new powers from taking effect by setting out a negotiation that dooms the talks over the fiscal framework to failure. This thereby blunts the debate on the use of the new powers during the election campaign. Instead, the powers themselves and the fallout from the failure of an agreed framework will take up much of the campaign oxygen, which the SNP believes will benefit them and allow them to continue blaming Westminster and getting around the issues concerning their nine year record in government, which is not entirely sunny, to say the least.

     Like fracking and other issues, the government appears to be putting off final decisions on them until after the election, lest they cause splits in the SNP’s broad church of socialists, neo-liberals, progressives, environmentalists, fossil fuel promoters, free-marketers, social democrats, small “c” conservatives, and hard-core nationalists.

     Indeed, this has the hallmarks of former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill when he explained why he blocked the extension of voting rights to prisoners in 2014, despite supporting the idea. It was he said, “the wrong thing done, albeit for the right reasons”, and for MacAskill, the right reasons were to “avoid any needless distractions in the run-up to the [independence] referendum, to deny the right-wing press lurid headlines that could tarnish the bigger picture.”

     This time, the bigger picture is the election in May, and it may well be that the deal falls through now, but then the SNP suddenly signs up to it over the summer (after winning a second outright majority and unprecedented third term in Holyrood), with Sturgeon, Swinney, or another senior member solemnly stating – as they always do on these matters – that it doesn’t go far enough, but they’ll make do.

     If this happens, they will have tested the delicate constitutional and fiscal system to destruction, but to what end?

     When the First Minister said she would “not sign up to something that is unfair to Scotland”, her husband and SNP chief executive Peter Murrell tweeted this statement on Twitter, and this was followed by my fellow blogger Kevin Hague (@kevverage), who said: “you relentlessly claim we’re being hard done by the UK, but now you’re desperate to preserve the benefits of union?”

     From this question by Kevin, I chimed in with a question of my own: “By implication, are they saying that the UK has indeed been fair for Scotland all this time?” Kevin responded in a retweet that it was “quite hard to avoid this conclusion.” 

     Logically speaking after all, if this new settlement is deemed unfair, what does it say about the current one?

     Under the current system, the Barnett Formula automatically dictates the amount of public spending in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland based on adjustments to spending in England, so that when spending on health or education are changed in England, this changes the amount of public spending (known as “Barnett consequentials”) for the devolved governments of the UK.

     It was created in the 1970’s as a temporary measure, but has all but become a permanent part of the UK constitution. With regard to Scotland as Brian Wilson noted in The Scotsman last week, it came about in the era of administrative devolution when responsibility for Scottish matters were primarily in the hands of the Scottish Office and the Secretary of State for Scotland in the UK Cabinet. With legislative devolution, the formula is the primary means by which the Scottish Government is funded – a “valuable legacy which Holyrood inherited”, says Wilson.

     The formula has been heavily criticized for that fact that it typically results in more spending per head in Scotland than the UK average (and higher than all parts of the UK except Northern Ireland), but Wilson argues this is defensible “on grounds of geography, historic needs and indeed past distribution in the other direction.” On the last point, he refers to the three out of past 15 years when Scotland (on the back of high oil prices and revenues) paid more into the UK Treasury than got out, but adds that that in the course of time, the net flows of cash can go both ways so that it balances out in the grand scheme of pooling and sharing throughout the United Kingdom.

     In the current circumstances, Wilson refers to Barnett as “a safety net which benefits Scotland” – this year to the tune of around £10 billion more than Scotland’s contribution to the Treasury. Despite the dramatic collapse in oil prices and revenue (only a small fraction of overall UK revenues), whatever is spent in the UK overall, Scotland gets a fixed share that (again) is higher than the UK average per person which explains the “bigger public sector” and therefore, “higher average wage rates.”

     Furthermore, says Wilson, there is the matter of “dollops of additional money in the course of a year” which result from Whitehall spending increases for special projects and emergency needs. Here, he refers to the recent flooding that has taken place throughout the UK, so that when additional money was allocated for flood relief and recovery in England, Scotland automatically received an additional nine million pounds. Even more crucially, he pointed out that Holyrood stands to receive an extra £1.5 billion in Barnett consquentials resulting from the proposed HS2 project in England. Still further, if a third runway at Heathrow is constructed, even more cash will get sent to Holyrood, and just this week came the signing of the £500 million City Deal for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, which will be jointly funded by the UK and Scottish government’s (which is similar to some joint federal and state initiatives in the United States, such as the harbor deepening project in my hometown of Savannah, GA).

     Once Barnett cash (funded by taxpayers throughout the UK, including Scotland) arrives at Holyrood, it is entirely up to Holyrood to decide how it is spent. So for example, if spending on education goes up in England, there is no obligation on Holyrood to spend an additional proportionate amount on education in Scotland; how Barnett consequentials are spent is at the discretion of Holyrood. As Wilson states:

“The decision to give £500m less to local authorities while Scotland’s block grant increased by £250m (with an underspend of £350m from last year) was taken entirely in Scotland. The decisions to allocate Barnett consequentials so that NHS expenditure in Scotland has risen by less than in Tory England are taken entirely in Scotland.”

     It is therefore disingenuous to claim that the root of all of Scotland’s problems lay with Westminster and the “austerity agenda”, for it is the Scottish Government led by the SNP that has the money and tools (with more to come) at its disposal to help improve people’s lives and prospects in Scotland. What matters is how it uses those tools.

     On this point, Naomi Eisenstadt, its own independent adviser on poverty and inequality has reported that two of its landmark policies – the council tax freeze and free universal services – are not helpful for those in poverty and hardship. On the former, she said that it at a cost to councils and “with disagreements about the equality and poverty impacts of the freeze” – noting that “those on low incomes at or above the poverty threshold…may not be covered by [the] full council tax reduction.” On the latter, she warned that free universal services may lead to “spreading a limited budget too thinly to help those who need the service the most.”

     In other words, these are Holyrood (not Westminster) policies that disproportionately benefit the well-off while those in poverty suffer from cutbacks either resulting from the provisioning of free services to people who can afford to pay or cash-strapped councils trying to adhere to the council tax freeze (under the pain of a financial penalty from the Scottish Government). She suggested shifting away from universalism to targeted provision of services that can be “delivered without stigma” and said that the government “should consider ending the council tax freeze from 2017/18 onwards.”

     This assessment was not surprising to many people – particularly in the Labour Party like Wilson – who have been making these points for some time as a means to bring the SNP to task for the claims that it is progressive party standing for social justice, when its actions in government are at the least more centrist than its rhetoric.

     For that matter, when it comes to government, choices have to be made. The SNP has chosen to fund the council tax freeze over allowing rates to rise on the better-off, and it has chosen to fund universal services (such as tuition-free universities) as opposed to spending money on those who need it most. When it comes to spending priorities with precious resources, the SNP has made its budgetary priorities known.

     The problem according to Wilson, is not one of persecution, as it is one of distribution and priorities, and that Holyrood only needs to engage in “modest tweaking” to reduce inequality, such as raising taxes a bit and revamping government toward helping those who are disadvantaged. This is bolstered by a report from Scotland in Union, which surveyed economic experts and think tanks from across Europe who concluded that with its current powers and powers yet to come, Holyrood “now holds most of the powers it needs to promote economic growth, jobs and prosperity in Scotland.”

     Instead, the SNP relies on the pitiful narrative about Scotland being the helpless, defenseless victim of the Union - always being flogged senseless and mercilessly by Westminster and belonging to a hopeless constitutional structure that does not work for Scotland and the Scottish people.

     But again, if the SNP is all about refusing to accept a new fiscal settlement on the grounds that it is unfair, then what does it say about the current one? It reveals that – far from being hard-up – Scotland does well as part of the United Kingdom under the current system. With smart decisions, it can do even better under the new arraignments, as opposed to the constant complaints over perceived and hyped-up grievances and the well-worn Nationalist adage that “only with independence…” can Scotland fulfill its potential.

     Even people who support separation acknowledge that going forward – having failed to break up the UK in 2014 – the goal is for a better Scotland. This was expressed by David Carr on Common Space when he asked: “Should we not simply be making Scotland a better place - for the hell of it?” To this end, he further said that “not everything…has to be about indy” and that Holyrood ought to use the powers it currently has (and is anticipated to have), because after all, not everyone supports separation – including many SNP voters.

     He didn’t exactly say it, but he seemed to imply that if this is possible within the Union (which I believe has been the case), then so be it.

     Meanwhile, The National stated in an editorial this week that the “SNP have always pushed for more devolution at all costs and have never shied away from that position” in the pursuit of independence, but now say that “Swinney and the government will have to ask if the powers promised in the Scotland Bill are worth whatever cost there may might be.”

     This is quite an extraordinary statement from some of the same people who could not credibly answer the currency and other economic/financial issues two years ago, and appeared determined to go for separation at any cost. This cost will become more stark in a few months than it was then with the release of the latest Government Expenditures and Revenues Scotland (GERS), which are expected to reveal the impact of oil prices well below what the SNP’s White Paper projected for an independent Scotland (which would have become a reality in March this year had there been a vote for separation).

     If the Nationalists cannot accept the cost of the promised powers – including the ability to set income tax and bands, keeping half of VAT revenues generated in Scotland, borrowing abilities, and new welfare powers – then how does this bode for accepting the cost of full fiscal autonomy or complete independence?

     At this point, with all of the effort that has gone into the Scotland Bill and the negotiating the framework, it would be a shame to see it collapse at this juncture. Indeed, it is especially a shame considering that Swinney previously endorsed a method known as “indexed deduction”, which he hailed as “the most robust mechanism” for recalculating the block grant, and which has already been agreed to with regard to Holyrood’s existing income tax powers.

     Either he got his figures wrong with “indexed deduction”, or he knows that with “per capita indexation”, he is offering an arrangement that the UK government cannot possibly sell the other nations of the UK and the UK as a whole. Their position has been that the Smith Agreement “was clear that Scotland should hold Scotland-specific risks, while the UK should hold UK-wide risks.”

     If the SNP thinks that the “Scotland-specific risks” are too great, then perhaps they should admit it, and instead propose a UK-wide convention or a Royal commission to work out a new governmental and constitutional framework for the country and its constituent parts, so that all corners of the realm down the council level can have their say on what should happen going forward and come to an agreement that is fair to all.

     Either that, or just keep Barnett the way it is. If anything, Swinney’s effort to “protect Scotland” financially shows how important the Union is to Scotland and that even the SNP is effectively conceding this reality.

Supermajority Rules and Future Referendums

The Scottish Independence referendum required only a simple majority either way., but should have required something more given the gravity of the situation.

The Scottish Independence referendum required only a simple majority either way., but should have required something more given the gravity of the situation.

     It’s hard to believe that four years ago, David Cameron and Alex Salmond were having their opening spats over the mechanics of the independence referendum. What resulted in October of that year was the Edinburgh Agreement under which the UK Parliament at Westminster would give the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood the temporary power to call a legally binding referendum on independence so long as it was held by the end of 2014 and asked only one up-or-down question on the matter. In exchange, the Scottish Government would decide on the wording of the question, the date of the referendum (and effectively, the length of the campaign), and the voting franchise.

     The aim was to provide a “clear legal basis” for the referendum being legislated for by Holyrood (since constitutional matters are reserved at Westminster) and to “deliver a fair test and a decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect.”

     A “decisive expression”, said the agreement. However, what did that mean, exactly? Was there more to this phrase than met the eye? At first glance, it would seem obvious that in a binary referendum – unlike an election where there may be more than two candidates – the side which secures more votes than the other has a majority of votes and that therefore, this means the electorate has made a “decisive expression” of its will. Indeed, Webster defines “decisive” as “having the power or quality of deciding”, and going by this, a decisive result in the referendum meant that one side gained a simple majority of 50% plus one.

     However, the Webster definition also includes: “causing something to end in a particular way” and “very clear and obvious”. As I read the text of the agreement from my university dormitory (while taking a break from econometrics homework), I could not help but feel that a simple majority could not possibly be enough to be considered a “decisive expression” to change the constitutional status of Scotland and determine the existence of the United Kingdom. Yes, it would be a clear and obvious result, but not “very clear and obvious” and far from “causing something to end in a particular way” with a result that everyone would respect.

     On the other side, the same was true for a vote to retain the Union; a simple majority would not be enough to put the issue to bed for a generation, for the SNP and their allies would almost surely continue to pursue their all-important objective in the belief that they would need only “one more heave” to cross over the hump. However, what made a separation “Yes” vote different from a pro-Union “No” vote was that the Yes vote was the vote for constitutional change (and the uncertainties this entailed with a Scotland separated from the rest of the UK) while a No vote retained the UK (and what was known – for good and ill).

     Because such constitutional change should not occur without the overwhelming support of the people (and/or their elected representatives), I believed back then as I believe now that a vote for separation should have required a supermajority – of at least 60% – in order to be valid, and that David Cameron should have pressed for this.

     This was not out of fear of a pro-independence majority so much as it was a concern for constitutional legitimacy and stability.

     At the time, the polls were indicating that the separatists had a mountain to climb and were heading to a huge defeat by a 2-to-1 margin, which naturally would have put the issue to bed by a decisive margin. But I belived there was a possibility (based on the SNP’s electoral comeback in 2011) that the secessionists could turn things around and deliver independence with perhaps a slim majority, which would have been unacceptable as such a monumental change would not have had a consensus – or overwhelming – backing of the Scottish people, meaning that the case for that monumental change was not overwhelming in and of itself.

     As it was, the separatists did catch up and two weeks before Referendum Day, one poll showed that they were ahead on a simple majority of 51%-49% (with “Don’t Knows” stripped out). On the actual day itself when votes were actually cast and when it really mattered, the people backed the Union 55.3%-44.7% – a nearly 11 point margin on an 85% voter turnout.

     But imagine if this had not happened. What if the razor-thin result from Inverclyde on September 18th had been replicated in the overall vote total, but in favor of separation?

     Under the rules of the referendum as they were, had the result been in favor of separation by a few hundred or thousand votes (or less) Alex Salmond would have had a legal mandate to proceed with negotiations for Scotland’s exit from the Union to become an independent country. In this, there is no doubt, for in a binary referendum where one side would be all but guaranteed a majority of some sort (and only a simple majority required), he would have had a “decisive” result to move forward with his agenda. But he would have done so with half of the country having rejected his offer and facing such a situation in which there was not broad support throughout Scotland for separation.

     This is not to say that those who supported the Union would (or should) have agitated for another referendum to reverse the close result, but the fact that it was so close showed that the SNP’s proposition to change the constitutional status of Scotland and effectively terminate the United Kingdom was only supported by a bare majority of voters who could quite easily have gone the other direction at the last minute and flipped the result. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement for proceeding with the tortuous break-up of the UK.

     On the other end, the actual 55% support for the Union would have fallen short of a supermajority as defined here, but it was still 383,000 votes clear of those who voted for independence and therefore represented a more decisive result than the hypothetical wafer-thin separation vote. However, even without this 11-point margin of victory, the Union would have been maintained by default since there was neither support for independence nor sufficient support for it to go ahead.

     Going forward, there need to be an official and standardized rules regarding referendums and their use in the United, including a recognition that secession or any constitutional change requires more than a simple majority in a referendum to become effective. A simple majority may appear to be the democratic way to decide on such matters, but it fails to take into account a number of factors, such as the wide swath of people who did not vote for secession, consideration of the rest of the country, and the fact that such constitutional change does have the capacity to massively (and with some cost) alter the everyday decisions and concerns of ordinary people, and therefore needs a large mandate.

     In the United States, our Constitution of 1787 was designed to be amended in accordance to the changing needs of the new country and to correct imperfections in the document itself. Indeed, within five years of its creation, the Constitution had its first ten amendments (collectively known as the Bill of Rights) in response to objections and concerns during the ratification process that the document did not contain strong enough provisions regarding personal liberty and limiting government power.

The US Constitution features a steep process for amending it. Image Credit:  Mr.TinDC  via  Flickr   CC

The US Constitution features a steep process for amending it. Image Credit: Mr.TinDC via Flickr CC

     However, each of those amendments and the subsequent amendments over the next two centuries had to go through an uphill climb to become part of the Constitution, which provides for a two part process under Article V.

     An amendment can either be proposed by two-thirds of both houses of Congress or by a constitutional convention requested by two-thirds of the state legislatures; to come into force as part of the Constitution, the proposed amendment must then be ratified by – as chosen by Congress – either three-fourths of the state legislatures or by three-fourths of state ratifying conventions.

     In The Federalist (Papers), No. 43, James Madison – “Father of the Constitution and 4th President of the United States – provided an explanation for the amendment process by writing:

“It guards equally against that extreme facility, which would render the Constitution too mutable; and that extreme difficulty, which might perpetuate its discovered faults.”

     In other words, the Framers wanted a governing document that allowed for change when necessary, but not to the point where it changed at the whims and passions of a simple majority, because this would render the Constitution all but ineffective and meaningless, and – far from solving them – possibly exacerbate constitutional issues. Therefore, a high bar ensured that if the Constitution was changed, it would only ever be changed via the consent of the vast majority of people through their elected representatives at the federal and state levels, and not a fleeting simple majority (perhaps based on emotional spasms). Even the Constitution itself required the ratification of nine out of the thirteen states in the Union at the time to become effective.

     Further on with regard to secession of the states within the Union, the Constitution is silent on the matter, but in 1869 following the Civil War, the US Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. White that upon becoming part of the United States, a state entered into an “indissoluble relation” and that there is “no place for reconsideration and revocation, except through revolution or through consent of the States.”

Texas Cannot unilaterally secede from the United States. Image Credit: Public Domain ( Zereshk  via  Wikimedia Commons )

Texas Cannot unilaterally secede from the United States. Image Credit: Public Domain (Zereshk via Wikimedia Commons)

     So the states do not possess a unilateral right to secede from the Union as the some of the southern states did in 1860-1861 to form the Confederate States of America. The only way a state can achieve this is through armed conflict or if allowed to do so with the blessing of the other states. This was based on the fact that the other states through Congress admitted the seceding state into the Union in the first place; if they allowed it into the Union, then they must also be called upon via their elected representatives in Washington to decide if it shall leave as well, especially if the proposed secession has the potential to adversely impact them.

     North of the border, our friends in Canada have been dealing with Quebec secessionists for the better part of the last half-century. The first referendum on whether Quebec should pursue independence was defeated by a two-to-one margin in 1980; the second one in 1995 was much closer, with Quebecers voting to stay part of Canada by a margin of just 1.16%. Following the second vote, the question of Quebec’s right to secede was put to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled in 1998 that the province did not have a unilateral right to secede from Canada.

     In order for the secession of Quebec or any other province to take place in a constitutionally legitimate and democratic fashion, there must be a “clear expression of the desire to pursue secession.” The Court did not explicitly explain what “clear expression” meant, but as Brian Lee Crowley – managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa – wrote in CapX, “it doesn’t require a Jesuitical mind to find that the legal requirement must…be something more than just 50 per cent plus one of those voting.” Even then, all a referendum could do is trigger a “reciprocal obligation” of all parties to “negotiate constitutional changes to respond to that desire” and the negotiations themselves may or may not lead to the desired secession. So long negotiations are held in good faith, neither the federal government nor the other provincial governments would be under obligation to allow the secession of a province within Canada – something which at the end of the day would require the passage of a constitutional amendment – and the government of said province could always decide to withdraw its case for secession.

Following the No Vote in Quebec in 1995, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the Unilateral Secession was not permitted. Image Credit: ©  Zorion ,  CC-BY-SA ,  Wikimedia Commons

Following the No Vote in Quebec in 1995, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the Unilateral Secession was not permitted. Image Credit: © Zorion, CC-BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons

     The court reached this ruling based on the notion that unilateral secession of a province “would purport to alter the governance of Canadian territory in a manner which undoubtedly is inconsistent with our current constitutional arrangements.” In this, they defined four central principals of the Canadian Constitution:

  • Federalism – The ability the federal government to act on issues of common interest of all Canadians while giving respect to the provincial governments, which have their own authority independent of each other and the federal government, as well as to create a sense of binding national unity.
  • Democracy – The principle of the right of self-government and democratic participation.
  • Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law – The idea that the government acts under the authority of the constitution, not above it, and that the passions of the majority should not prevent those in a minority from having a fair say.
  • Protection of minorities – This is found in all the aforementioned principles, but the Court gave it special attention due to the uniqueness of Canada with regard to its Aboriginal population and explicit constitutional protections dating back to treaty obligations upon the European settlers of what would become Canada, as well as the protection of others based on religion, language, and other backgrounds.

     “These defining principles”, said the justices of the Supreme Court, “function in symbiosis.  No single principle can be defined in isolation from the others, nor does any one principle trump or exclude the operation of any other.” With regard to democracy in particular, they noted that it “would be a grave mistake to equate legitimacy with the ‘sovereign will’ or majority rule alone, to the exclusion of other constitutional values.”

     Such constitutional values in Canada and other Western democracies are the reason why, for example according to Brian Lee Crowley, a candidate for public office and indeed, an entire political party, can win elections with much less than 50% of the vote. Recent examples include the 2015 Canadian federal election in which Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party won an outright majority of seats in Parliament with just under 40% of the popular vote, as well as the David Cameron’s Conservatives at last year’s UK general election who also achieved an outright majority on an even lower share of the popular vote at nearly 37%.

     Such outcomes – flawed as they may be – are nevertheless accepted because they are “dependent on other fundamental rules of fairness”, such as government actions being subject to protection for minority rights, independent courts holding the government to account for its actions, and the right of eligible citizens to vote (with universal adult suffrage at 18 years of age for most Western democracies). In short, the rules of the game allow for a party to be legitimately elected when it has the largest number of votes and/or the largest number of seats in the legislature – even if there were more votes against it than for it – so long there are constitutional safeguards against that government and its actions. (However, I would personally add that in such circumstances, there's a case for at least some prortional element to the system.)

     So sacred are these rules of the game which underpin constitutional fairness and governmental legitimacy, that Crowley points out that “most countries don’t permit mere governments or even electoral majorities to change them on their own”, and instead require “some kind of ‘super-majority’ or parliamentary and popular approval.” This is how the American and Canadian systems work with regard to constitutional change – placing high barriers which force the side advocating change to make an overwhelming case and requiring the consent of the affected parties.

     Nowhere is this truer than with regard to the constitutional status and make up of a country and its political subdivisions, because such arrangements affect everyday decisions on property ownership, taxes, labor rights, the economy, personal finances, general welfare, and a host of other issues. This does not concern only the people in area that desires to secede, but also those in the rest of the country, which is why the Canadian and US supreme courts have rejected unilateral secession with regard to the their political subdivisions, and in Canada’s case specifically, have declared that a desire to secede merely obliges the rest of the country to enter into negotiations. After all, as Crowley notes:

“if the secessionist region has a right to pursue its national interest, it does not trump the right of the country being rejected from doing the same on a wide range of issues, including sharing of the national debt and assets, management of natural resources, use of passports and currency, dual citizenship and more.”

     Anyone with memories of the Scottish referendum in 2014 remembers how the SNP produced the infamous White Paper – billed by the party and other activists as the prospectus of Scotland’s future as an independent country (but which one former insider recently described as “deluded”). That document contained dozens of promises to the people of Scotland on many of the aforementioned issues – promises the SNP was in no position to make because it simply could not demand for them to come to fruition, such as the proposed currency union between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK. Despite warnings that there would be no formal currency union, the SNP and their allies attempted to make the case that by voting for separation, the people were also endorsing the White Paper and all its provisions (including the currency union) and that this would have obliged the rest of the UK to go along with these provisions if Scotland voted for separation.

Concerns over a Currency Union (or lack Thereof) Likely doomed the "Yes" Campaign in 2014.  Image Credit:  Howard Lake  via  Flickr   cc

Concerns over a Currency Union (or lack Thereof) Likely doomed the "Yes" Campaign in 2014.  Image Credit: Howard Lake via Flickr cc

     In Canada, secession of a province can only become a reality when there is a “high degree of national agreement”, which means that the rest of the country have some bargaining power in shaping the new constitutional arrangements which may well be different – adversely different – from the pie-in-the-sky promises of the secessionist party and/or activists. Perhaps one reason why the SNP lost the Scottish referendum in 2014 was because the people believed (correctly) that there would be negotiations on Scotland’s exit from the Union and that the final outcome of those negotiations may well have been less than what the SNP was offering – therefore potentially leaving Scotland and themselves worse off.

     As noted by Crowley, the overall point here is that because of the known rules of the national status quo (which everyone, including the secessionists, live by):

“there is a strong presumption in favour of its protection. That presumption can be overcome, but the case for it to be overturned by a simple majority of those who happened to turn out in a referendum is very weak indeed.”

     Very weak because of the lack of constitutional safeguards to ensure that the proposed secession holds up to the rule of law, protects minorities, ensures that the rest of country has its say, and is supported by a large majority of the electorate in the seceding area (which depends on a convincing case for secession).

     With regard to the US Constitution, such safeguards amount to a system of checks and balances in which, as James Madison said in The Federalist No. 51, “ambition must be made to counteract ambition”, and the interlocking parts of the Constitution work – among other things – to prevent factions from changing it at will without the vast majority of the population supporting it, as well as to encourage broader consensus on issues facing the country (or any part of it) in general and guard against the destructive “factions” as described in Federalist No. 10.

     This is the reason why the Constitution has only ever been amended 27 times because the amendment process – with its supermajority requirements among Members of Congress and the state legislatures – prevents frivolous and unnecessary change by what may be the short-term passions and emotions of a fleeting majority. Some proposed amendments have had majority support, albeit not enough to cross through the hurdles of at least one stage of the process. The result is that it forces people to think hard about if they really want the change and ensures that the country broadly supports it.

     In contrast, the United Kingdom is a country that has been underpinned by majority rule via the sovereignty of Parliament (elected – in the Commons – by the people) and features an unwritten and uncodified constitution which has been lauded as flexible yet durable for hundreds of years. However, there may be need to have another look at that in light of the referendum which could have easily broken it up and in the face of the upcoming referendum on European Union membership, because relying on convention and various documents over the centuries may not be enough in the face of the heated passions and forces currently at work in the land.

The British System May have to change to accommodate formal referendum rules.

The British System May have to change to accommodate formal referendum rules.

     At the very least, there need to be codified rules which “governs and conditions the use of constitutional referendums” and allow constitutional changes – including secession – “on the basis of an established measure of consensus”, as suggested by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law’s report following the general election last year: A Constitutional Crossroads.

     With regard to referendums, the report noted that their use in the United Kingdom has been ad hoc, with no constitutional rule on when a referendum can be held or on what issues (with Northern Ireland being an exception because of the peace process which resulted in its devolution settlement including a provision for a referendum to be called by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on whether it remains part of the UK). It cited a House of Lords Constitution Committee inquiry into the use of referendums in the UK, which found that they had “significant drawbacks” in part due to their use more so for tactical reasons rather than principle. Therefore, cross-party consensus ought to be sought on what circumstances are appropriate for referendums, and the committee went on to say that their use should be restricted to “fundamental constitutional issues”, which it broadly defined as:

“any proposal to abolish the monarchy, to leave the European Union, for any of the nations of the UK to secede from the Union, to abolish either House of Parliament, to change the electoral system for the House of Commons, to adopt a written constitution, or to change the UK’s system of currency.”

     Further, the Bingham report noted that critical components such as the franchise, timing, and voting thresholds (if any) have been set for each referendum that has taken place, as opposed to be common rule being applied. With regard to franchise, the decision to exclude the 800,000 Scots living elsewhere in the UK and overseas from the independence referendum was met with controversy, just as was the decision not to allow non-British EU citizens to vote in the upcoming EU referendum. Similarly, while 16 and 17 year olds were given a temporary right to vote in the independence referendum, no such provision is forthcoming for the EU referendum.

     On the issue of voting thresholds, the report made note of how the infamous “40% rule” was used for the 1979 Scottish devolution referendum, but no similar threshold (either that or a supermajority) existed for the 1975 EEC referendum, the devolution referendums in 1997, the 2011 AV referendum, and the independence referendum in 2014. The Lords Constitution Committee took the view that “there should be a general presumption against the use of voter turnout thresholds and super-majorities”, but added that there may be “exceptional circumstances in which they may be deemed appropriate.”

Although there was no supermajority threshold for the 1975 EEC Referendum, the British Public voted by a two-thirds majority in favor of what was then the Common Market. Image Credit:  MrPenguin  via  Wikimedia Commons   cc

Although there was no supermajority threshold for the 1975 EEC Referendum, the British Public voted by a two-thirds majority in favor of what was then the Common Market. Image Credit: MrPenguin via Wikimedia Commons cc

     When discussing the frequency of referendums on the same issue, the Bingham report quoted Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon as saying that the 2014 referendum was a “once in a generation” event. Of course, both have back-pedaled from those statements as they and the SNP have, as said by Colin Kidd in the Guardian, “worked hard to soften up the media and general public, setting out circumstances that would compel another independence poll”, including the prospect of the UK as a whole voting to terminate its EU membership while a majority of Scots voted for the UK to retain its membership. On top of that, there is no constitutional rule preventing the SNP from going back on its “once in a generation” rhetoric and calling on another referendum within the next five years should it win another majority at Holyrood this year based in part on a referendum commitment of some sort in its campaign manifesto. Yes, Westminster can refuse, but it’s realistically difficult seeing that happening in the face of a mandate and the precedent that was set following the 2011 election, and this shows the pitfall of an unwritten constitution which relies so much on convention and precedent, and can be used to the advantage of the separatists.

     However, the Bingham report did state that “referendums are not opinion polls, but legally authorized means of deciding constitutional questions”, and that as such, they should not become “neverendums” with the same (or similar) question being repeatedly asked of the electorate until the “correct” answer is delivered for one side or the other.

     This therefore raises the following question: what’s the good of holding a constitutional referendum if it fails to settle a certain issue for a prolonged period of time? Furthermore, what good is a referendum on anything if another one appears to be around the corner within 5-10 years because one side refuses to accept the result they did not want? The result is a neverendum until the aggrieved side either gives accepts the result (for an indefinite period of time, if not forever), or gets what it wants. This does not do anyone favors – economically, politically, or socially – when such uncertainty and instability is in the air. Just ask Quebec.

     Therefore, as part of an overall plan to codify and standardize Britain’s laws and constitutional rules pertaining to referendums, there ought to be a period of time following a referendum vote when another vote on the same issue cannot be held. Already, as the report states, a repeat referendum on Northern Ireland’s constitutional status cannot be held within seven years of the preceding one. For the UK as a whole (including if possible, a revision for Northern Ireland), a period between referendums should last no longer than 15 years – which is how the Bingham report defines a “generation.” Such a period would place clear blue water between the two polls and allow the second one to be fought largely independent of the first – especially in the hope that the passions and emotions of the first will have subsided by then. This can also help to focus on more pressing day-to-day matters, such as policing, education, health, welfare, transportation, and the overall economy (which is helped by the reduction of uncertainty deriving from a neverendum).

     When legal referendums are held, a supermajority should be required in order for the result to be binding. As has been noted, a supermajority is ill-defined, but at the very least, it does mean more than 50% plus one in terms of a vote share. However, in order for a supermajority vote to have any meaning with the aim of forcing the “change option” to get an overwhelming and clear mandate from the people, it will have to be well above 50%. Perhaps the definition of a required supermajority can start at 60% of the vote, but no higher than 75%. Any share of the vote within that window ought to be sufficient for the expression of an electorate’s clear, decisive, and unambiguous intent to constitutionally change something about their country, and to call all parties to the negotiation table in good faith.

     As was said above, the Lords Constitution Committee took a general view against the use of supermajorities and other thresholds outside of achieving a simple majority, but added that there were “exceptional circumstances” where a supermajority requirement would be “appropriate.” It did not elaborate on what that meant, but given what is at stake with regard to the constitutional status and makeup of the UK and its constituent parts, it is probably safe to say that another Scottish referendum and the upcoming EU referendum classify as very appropriate for being subject to a supermajority requirement. These are issues that are too sensitive, too critical, and too important for the future of the United Kingdom and its people; their outcomes will have impacts on the economy, jobs, finances (public and private), society, politics, and determine the very survival of the United Kingdom as a country and an influential world power.

     That should not be determined on the back of a flimsy majority and with potentially half of the country voting another way on such a paramount issue which will have repercussions and unintended consequences for years – possibly decades – to come.

     A supermajority requirement of 60% or more ensures that constitutional change proposal are carried through with the vast majority of the voting population desiring to make that change. To put it more explicitly, this would affirm that a substantial majority of the UK wishes to terminate membership of the EU and similarly, determine that the vast majority of Scots desire to become independent and break up the UK. With this higher bar, a simple majority would not be allowed to change everything unless at least an additional 9.9% of the voting population was behind them, because it is untenable for constitutional change to occur unless the proposition receives an overwhelming mandate, and this is most important. (For historical perspective, the original Scottish Parliament in 1707 voted 106 to 69 in favor of the Union with England – a 60.5% to 39.5% majority.)

Whatever the outcome of the EU Referendum, the result should be respected for at least 15 years, but also have a supermajority requirement to Ensure that "Change" result is overwhelming. Image Credit:  David Kellam  via  Flickr   cc

Whatever the outcome of the EU Referendum, the result should be respected for at least 15 years, but also have a supermajority requirement to Ensure that "Change" result is overwhelming. Image Credit: David Kellam via Flickr cc

     If there are enough votes for a majority, but not for a binding supermajority, then the initiative will fail, and the status quo will remain in place. It’s akin to most criminal trials in the United States, where the a jury must be unanimous in convicting a person charged with a crime and the onus is on the prosecutor to make a convincing case for conviction. If but only one juror has doubts about convicting a defendant, this results in a hung jury and possibly a mistrial, which can mean that he or she will not have been cleared of the charges, but nor will the person be declared guilty and sentenced. For all intents and purposes, the charged individual remains innocent by default, unless the state decides to bring a new trial on the same charge (which is not usually subject to the “double jeopardy” rule because the first trial was inconclusive and therefore incomplete).

     Similarly, if a referendum initiative on Scottish independence or EU membership fails to attract enough votes to hit or exceed the required threshold, then Scotland remains part of the UK and the UK retains its membership with the EU. Like the a prosecutor who failed to make a convincing enough case to get all 12 jurors to convict a defendant, the proponents of secession or any other major constitutional change will have failed in their effort to convince around two-thirds of the population to vote in their favor - again, with the onus being squarely on them to make an overwhelming case. Also like the mistrial that can result in a new trial, the matter can be brought up again, albeit not until at least 15 years have elapsed.

     There will undoubtedly be some people who will not like this suggestion of requiring a supermajority for constitutional issues, or of a time period during which a referendum on a specific issue cannot be held. In particular, some Nats have accused those who support the Union and wish not to see another referendum soon after the last one of being anti-democratic and against self-determination – saying that if Scots want another referendum, they should get one. That is democratic after all, isn’t it?

     Yet, as this article has repeatedly noted, there’s more to democracy than majority rule, for democracies are dependent on a firm grounding in the rule of law and ensuring that majorities don’t easily overpower or outmaneuver minorities. Otherwise, democracy descends into anarchy and laws are too easily based on the political winds and emotions at a particular moment in time. If there is an overriding thirst for change, or if the moot has shifted from one position to another in the course of time, it must be solid and sustained. 50% plus one does not offer that, but a supermajority requirement does (so it’s actually “super-democratic”).

     Other people of various political persuasions may also object to what they see as the Americanization or federalization of the British constitution, and the reaction of some friends and acquaintances to my suggestions for the House of Lords is a testimate to that.

     However, this is not about trying to make Britain into America’s image; after all, this article is partly based on the Canadian constitutional experience, and both traditions have their roots in what was developed in and exported from the UK. It won’t hurt for the UK to learn a thing or two from its former colonies on the merits and value of adopting constitutional structures which upkeep democratic traditions but with rules which allow constitutional change within the rule of law, as well as with due consideration and when the vast majority of the population and/or Parliament expresses favor for it. When the country decides on such issues, it must do so overwhelmingly and not take the decision lightly with a simple majority; the result must be truly “decisive.”

     This can help to strengthen the UK constitution and perhaps lead to a day when it becomes a written document that encapsulates the traditions and conventions worth keeping, while creating and establishing new ones. At the very least, this can bring clarity and formalization to the rules and conditions regarding referendums and constitutional change – especially with regard to issues such as secession – and how they ought to be handled, so that they can be handled in a consistent manner. This has the added bonus of preventing politicians from setting each referendum on their own (varying) terms, because the rules will have largely been made beforehand.

     If done the right way, fixed referendum rules with a time period between referendums, an established franchise, other measures regarding issues such as campaign lengths and financing, and above all, a supermajority requirement can bring much-needed fairness, stability, and durability to Britain’s constitutional arrangements in the current politically volatile atmosphere and provide a stronger foundation for the country’s future going forward.