We have yet to see the full detail of what the UK Government led by the Prime Minister David Cameron has agreed with the Scottish Executive (aka 'Government'), led by Alex Salmond, about the holding of a referendum to decide on the constitutional future of Scotland in relation to the rest of the United Kingdom - or, in the words of the Clash song from the 1980s Should I Stay or Should I Go? (the link is to a YouTube video-clip)
So far, what seems to have been agreed is that the UK Government will allow the Scottish Executive (aka 'Government'):
- to hold a simple yes/no in/out referendum, with that one question being the only one asked, by agreeing a 'Section 30' order;
- to set the precise terms of the referendum question and precisely when it is held (before the end of 2014);
- extend the franchise for the referendum to those who are at least 16 years old at the time of the referendum (instead of the current age of 18 for all other elections).
I think that this referendum is so important and crucial for the future of Scotland and indeed for the whole United Kingdom that the terms of the referendum question need to be agreed jointly by the Scottish Executive (aka 'Government') and the UK Government, under the supervision of the Electoral Commission to ensure that it is worded fairly and neutrally and is not partisan with regard to either of the two possible outcomes. However, it appears that the UK Government has conceded this to the Scottish Executive (aka 'Government') alone. Why? It seems to me utter madness and a very poor return for the reported 'concession' by the Scottish Executive (aka 'Government') that the referendum should contain only one question, rather than multiple choices which it had earlier indicated it was considering (cynically, not because it wanted this outcome itself, but because it said - with scant evidence - that some wished this according to its 'consultation' on the issue).
On the question of allowing those who have reached the age of 16 to vote in the referendum, but not in other elections either in Scotland or the rest of the UK, this appears to rest on extremely shaky logic and the viability of such an outcome is being questioned by former Scottish Secretary, Lord Forsyth (Conservative); Lord Wallace (Liberal Democrat), who advises the UK Government on Scots Law, says there are no plans to change the law. Now it is being urged upon the UK Government to allow the same voting regime for any referendum on the UK's future relationship with the EU. In short, it seems that this issue is going to result in an enormous divergence of viewpoints about the constitutional validity of this proposed change for one specific purpose, but not for other votes or plebiscite.
Just how cynical and self-serving the SNP Scottish Executive (aka 'Government') is being over this issue can be judged by a comparison with its earlier attempt to raise the current age for buying alcohol from 18 to 21.
It seems to me that many of the rights people acquire as they reach adulthood should be aligned so far as possible, rather than allow a further confusing and hard-to-justify mish-mash of different ages for different things. For instance one can get married at 16, have sex at 16, but vote only at 18. Currently one may buy alcohol at 18, but if this is raised to 21 (or indeed if the 'think 25?' policy of certain retail outlets is given legal force) then you would have the phenomenon of people allowed to vote in elections, but not buy a drink. Maybe people should gain all their rights at 16 because if they are considered old enough then to get married or enter into contracts at that age, then it seems bizarre they cannot vote until two years later. So I have no 'in principle' objection to people who have reached 16 being permitted a vote in the referendum relating to Scotland and the UK, but if they are allowed to vote in that decision-making process, then I can see no good reason to deny them a vote in any other election or referendum. However, I do not think one should play around with voting-age eligibility for what seem to me to be nakedly-partisan political purposes.
I look forward to seeing what form the final mooted 'agreement' to be reached next week will take with great interest and some disquiet at the apparent lack of clear thinking in what we have been told so far.