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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 Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

In opening for Labour, I acknowledge the work of the Finance and Constitution Committee in holding evidence sessions and producing a report for the stage 1 debate.

The committee supported the bill’s policy objectives. If we, as a country, were to want to move to a more direct democracy in which referenda were used more and more in decision making, the objectives that the bill sets out would be sound. That is not to say that the bill as it stands is sound: the committee made a number of key recommendations on how to improve some fundamental flaws in it.

However, the first point—indeed, the main point—that I want to raise is to question whether there is a need for the bill. Are we moving in the direction of the people of Scotland being engaged in more referendums? Are the people of Scotland at this time demanding more referendums? They want Brexit to be fixed, so if a people’s vote would give us the opportunity to move forward on that, I would say yes.

However, in my experience, the people of Scotland are sick fed up of constitutional conflict. I am not sure that there is demand for a bill on referendums at this time, and certainly not until the current constitutional crisis—which was created by the Tories, and has been made even worse by the Tories—is resolved.