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Referendums (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 7th November 2019.

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Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Time has moved on. We are five years on from 2014, and we have more experience of referendums and the testing of questions. In 2016, the Electoral Commission did not agree to a yes or no question.

The bill is an attempt by the SNP Government to gerrymander any future independence referendum and to rig its terms so that it is as favourable to the SNP’s cause as possible. That is simply not acceptable. It should not be acceptable to Parliament, and it is not acceptable to anyone who takes an objective view on how referendums should be run.

I will deal briefly with one other matter—the question of thresholds. I listened with great interest to John Mason’s case for referendum thresholds being higher than 50 per cent plus one, which has been the historical trend. I have often heard the case being made that it is bizarre that, when people want to change the constitution of a voluntary society or a golf club, a two-thirds majority is required, but we can change a country’s constitution simply on a majority of 50 per cent plus one. I can see the attractions of that argument, but there is no precedent for a threshold of more than 50 per cent plus one being used. I do not think that we should rule out creating a different threshold, but that might simply create more problems than it solves.