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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 Adam Tomkins Adam Tomkins Conservative

Not at the moment.

Not only is the SNP trying to steamroller us into a second independence referendum; it is trying to rig that referendum by playing fast and loose with its rules. Let us start with section 1, which says:

“the Scottish Ministers may by regulations provide for a referendum to be held throughout Scotland”.

That is an astonishing provision, which the Finance and Constitution Committee unanimously recommended must be amended. There is no equivalent power in the UK’s standing legislation on referendums. No referendum can be held in the United Kingdom without the authority of an act of Parliament, which is the highest source of law that we have, and yet here, Mike Russell wants to give himself the power, by a click of his ministerial fingers, to hold a referendum by order.

Alan Renwick of the constitution unit at University College London told the committee that he knows of no well-functioning parliamentary democracy in the world that gives ministers blanket authority to call a referendum in that way. The Institute for Government agrees. It said that section 1 should be removed from the bill and that primary legislation should provide the basis for any future referendum in Scotland. That is so obviously right that it should not need saying. Referendums decide things. They are not expressions of opinion but formal devices for making decisions. Scotland decided not to become independent of the rest of the United Kingdom in 2014; and the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union in 2016.