By Alasdair Galloway
Over the last three days I have had an exchange with well-known Unionists and SIU member, Alan Fitzpatrick.
This was prompted initially by his letter on Tuesday
INDY QUESTION IS SIMPLE
IS Robert Frazer (Letters, October 11) kidding, or does he really believe that “tens of thousands of ordinary people” are so disinterested in understanding what they would be voting for, or so lacking in intelligence to care, that they would be confused by having to answer such a simple question in an Indyref2 as “Should Scotland remain in the UK? Yes or No”? I doubt such people would even bother to vote at all, but perhaps they could be encouraged to lodge a protest vote if there was to be a third option of “Don’t care” or “Too difficult”.
Alan Fitzpatrick, Dunlop.
I take from this that the question he would want to use was “Should Scotland remain in the UK? Yes or No”? and replied to this next day with this
A SLANTED QUESTION
ALAN Fitzpatrick’s letter (October 12) this morning is disingenuous in the extreme. It is a well-established fact that different forms of question on the same topic can produce different responses from the same respondent, irrespective of whether they are “disinterested in understanding what they would be voting for, or so lacking in intelligence to care”.
Is it mere coincidence that a correspondent with the unionist credentials of Mr Fitzpatrick should champion “Should Scotland remain in the UK? Yes or No”, particularly when that question regularly produces a balance of opinion against independence in polls funded by Scotland in Union?
No doubt there will be dispute about question wording at the next referendum, so we have to hope the Electoral Commission does its work. However the “reforms” in the current Elections Bill, which will put the commission under Westminster Government control, place that in considerable doubt.
Alasdair Galloway, Dumbarton.
Remarkably his reply to me (today) was
BIAS OF THE YES QUESTION
ALLOW me to correct Alasdair Galloway (Letters, October 13), who accuses me of being “disingenuous in the extreme” in his mistaken belief that I “champion” the question “Should Scotland remain in the UK? Yes or No”. I was not attempting to champion anything. All I was doing was making the very simple point that such wording was not at all difficult to understand, contrary to Robert Frazer’s assertion (Letters, October 11) that many people would be confused by it.
That I object to any referendum question involving a “Yes or No” answer should be obvious to any regular correspondent such as Mr Galloway from my occasional letters in The Herald on that very subject. As I have said each time, any such question is inherently biased in favour of “Yes”. That is the stated view of the Electoral Commission, and I am glad to see that Mr Galloway, in his reference to that commission, appears to share that view.
Alan Fitzpatrick, Dunlop.
Mr F seems to think he was not championing a particular form of question – especially given his connections with SIU, who have championed just that question with good results (from their pov) – moreover it appears in both his questions. If he thinks that should be the question, is that not to champion it? More seriously, he is disingenuous in that the issue with the form of question is not understanding, but what type of understanding – as I noted different questions on the same topic can produce different outcomes. I didn’t say there should be a Yes/No question, and as for the Electoral Commission, the proposals in the current Elections Bill, according to the Commission, will “fetter” their work.
So I replied this morning with this
In his response to me this morning Alan Fitzpatrick claims this the question he proposes for a second Scottish referendum “is the stated view of the Electoral Commission”. It is not.
The most recent Electoral Commission view is from 2016 when they were asked to review the EU referendum question originally proposed by the Westminster Government – “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union? Yes/No”. After consideration and their own research, the Commission decided that this the question was inappropriate because “it only sets out the ‘remain’ option in the question, and the ‘yes’ response is for the status quo”,
If we consider Mr Fitzpatrick’s preferred option of “Should Scotland remain in the UK? Yes or No”, it seems clear it faces the same two difficulties as the originally proposed EU question. First, in the same way it only sets out the ‘Remain in the UK option’, and the “Yes” response is for the status quo. It seems unlikely that the Commission would approve this.
A question such as “‘Should Scotland be an independent country or remain in the UK?’ Independent/ Remain in the UK” would be a different matter, but that’s not what he proposes.”
Whether this will see the Letters Page I don’t know – I doubt it as Drew Allan fairly consistently allows a Letter, a reply and a reply to the reply, and we have done that.
However, I have a number of reasons to write this
- To point to the facility with which these people lie – his reply to my letter has little to do with what I actually did write (he also avoids my point re the Electoral Commission), but in particular, as I show, what he claims is the “stated view of the Electoral Commission” is nothing of the kind. It doesn’t even make clear that they are against Yes/No type questions – just the one the WM govt proposed in 2016.
- The Commission’s view of the question proposed by the Government for the EU vote – “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union? Yes/No” – pretty much kills SIU’s favourite and much road-tested question stone dead, as it’s the same as the Government’s original EU question – substitute Scotland for United Kingdom and United Kingdom for the European Union and you’ve got it.
- They don’t want to talk about the Electoral Commission effectively being taken over by the WM government if the Elections Bill goes through. Basically, a strategy and policy document for the Commission will be published annually by the government, that the Commission will be expected to follow. To make sure they do, they will be supervised by a HoC Committee, chaired by the Speaker but with a majority of Government MPs (which shockingly is normal at WM – talk about marking your own homework!). If you want to know more about this see https://constitution-unit.com/2021/09/30/the-elections-bills-proposals-on-electoral-commission-governance-risks-to-electoral-integrity-and-devolution/ This is something that needs watched, since most attention has gone on the non-problem of impersonation at elections (justifying the use of ID at polling places), but also how democratic is it for the governing party to have this much influence over, in electoral terms, the referee?