The highest turnout for a national election in Scotland in the past fifty years seems to have been the February 1974 General Election, where over 78% of registered voters voted.
The turnout for the devolution referendum in March 1979 was 63.72%: 51.62% of those voted Yes to a Scottish Assembly, 48.38% voted No, a majority for Yes of 3.24%. But, according to the terms of that referendum, set down in 1978, the Assembly had to get over 40% of the electorate – there were 3,747,112 registered voters, so they needed at least 267,908 more votes for Yes to be allowed to win. 1,359,540 people were registered to vote and didn’t – the turnout was 63.72%, with only 0.13% rejected ballots.
The UK General Election in May 1979 got a turnout of 76.84% – that is, 532,198 more registered voters turned out to vote three months later than in the Assembly referendum. To win an Assembly under the 40% rule, the campaign would have had to get a higher turnout than average for 70s General Elections, and maintain its 51.62% share of the vote.
The British are second only to Americans in being the kind of foreigner who is an international stereotype for never understanding any language but English. (An English secretary, who understood French pretty well, travelling with her boss, who spoke only English, took advantage of the situation to eavesdrop on the English company’s competitors discussing the terms of the deal in French, sure that neither boss nor secretary could understand them. True story.) Still, the stereotype holds up alarmingly well: over two-thirds of the UK population are English-speaking monoglots: and thanks to Doctor Who and Star Trek, this is practically an interstellar stereotype.
“To create a constitutional order that reflects a broad public commitment to a more inclusive, egalitarian, and communitarian way, and to mark Scotland out as a ‘progressive beacon’, the following additional provisions might be considered:”
1. Enhanced constitutional rights (c) Cultural rights (ie for Gaelic, Scots)
Cultural rights isn’t just language, of course, but language is likely to be the most contentious of the cultural rights issue, both by those who take for granted it should be English and those arguing for Gaelic and/or Scots.
More and more the international festivals in Edinburgh in August seem primarily for tourists – the days are long past when you could get home from work, decide you felt like going out to a show, and pick something from the Fringe programme that was handy to get to and would cost a fiver or less for an hour or two – and when concessions for students, under-16s, unemployed, and pensioners meant half-price, not “so we’ll knock a quid off the £12 or more we’ll be charging you”. But once upon a time that was do-able: when I was reading Hamlet for Higher English I could and did go to all the perfomances one year on the Fringe, and it didn’t cost my parents their life savings the way it would if an enthusiastic schoolkid got the idea of doing that this year. We should keep the Scottish BBC funded by licence fee. We should be investing in written and spoken Scottish culture.
I also liked Kenneth Roy’s trenchant finish to his three-part dissection of the current state of Scottish newspapers in the Review, earlier this year:
The Scotsman needs to win back all the broadsheet people – the ones who take those decisions, the others who influence them – and move out from there to the idealists and teachers and artists, the many thousands of us who are alienated by the state of our mainstream media. We are there for the taking. We wait for something better. We long for it every day.
Can this be done by the Johnston Press? Clearly not. They talk not of newspapers, but of products. They have failed journalism and they have failed journalists. Their grave is fit only to be danced on. I suggest the Eightsome Reel. I issue this challenge to the wealthy patriots of Scotland, of whom there are many. Get out there, form your consortium, convince us of your honourable motives, and make a reasonable offer to this lot’s bankers to take a great newspaper out of their hands. Better still, let’s have a trust along the lines of the Guardian’s, safeguarding the paper’s interests and supported by all who care about Scotland.
But what language is our culture? Continue reading
“Public scrutiny of legislation; right of committees to conduct hearings, pre-legislative consultation; active petition system; guaranteed rights of opposition.”
You may ask, why do we need to make such a point of this? This is what we already do in Scotland. Why would we stop?
“There are two things in the world you never want to let people see how you make ‘em: laws and sausages.” - Leo McGarry, The West Wing, “Five Votes Down”.
I haven’t heard from Better Together voters who don’t like the idea of a constitution for Scotland.
But Yes Scotland voters who don’t like the idea of drafting a constitution for Scotland prior to the referendum or eve independence day, usually say something along the lines of: “Don’t you trust the SNP?” and when I say no, suggest that this is partisan. (Examples in comments at Our constitution: beyond yes and no and A New Claim of Right for Scotland.)
But I don’t trust any political party that far. Or any government. There is nothing special about the air of Scotland that makes politicians more anxious to have legislative work completely open to scrutiny: it’s just that the law requires it. The law that was passed at Westminster: the Scotland Act.
Public scrutiny of legislation
In the Scottish Parliament, this is a three-stage one-chamber process, described in Chapter 9 of the Parliament’s Standing Orders:
The introduction of a Bill in the Scottish Parliament (SP) is roughly equivalent to the First Reading stage of a Bill in the UK Parliament, but more is required of the member in charge of the Bill in the Scottish Parliament, in the sense of accompanying documents. This is in order to give the members of the committee more information.
Stage 1: After the committee has prepared the legislation, the Parliament will debate and vote on it and if agreed, it will proceed to Stage 2. The latter part of Stage 1 is equivalent to the Second Reading in the UK Parliament.