Would you trust the Law Society of Scotland to set questions on Scottish independence ? THE Law Society of Scotland has given the strongest hint yet, contained in the Society’s response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the independence referendum that it wants to set the tone of the SNP’s independence referendum by putting itself forward as an “independent body” to
rig determine the exact wording of the questions & format of the ballot paper. The Law Society is thought to want its hands on the role after it participated heavily in the Calman Commission on Scottish Devolution, having attended oral evidence sessions in October 2008 and February 2009 and provided the Calman Commission with written evidence on five separate occasions from July 2008 to May 2009.
A legal insider speaking to Scottish Law Reporter today said “As bad ideas go, this is one of the worst I’ve heard in awhile. The Law Society are not a very democratic organisation, either to its own members or with regard to the public interest. It is therefore not appropriate the Society be allowed to dictate terms of the independence referendum.”
While no one from the Scottish Government or Law Society would officially confirm the Law Society wanted the key role in the independence referendum, it is believed the Society has sought guidance on taking the place of the Electoral Commission in the referendum in a trade off with Westminster, given concerns expressed by some politicians of the Electoral Commission’s alleged bias for the union as an English based organisation.
The full response from the Law Society of Scotland to the Scottish Government's consultation on independence can be read online here Law Society of Scotland : Our terms for an independence referendum
The Law Society stated in it’s usual gun to the head style of wording that while it will not express a view on political issues, and therefore does not make proposals regarding the actual question to be put, or the design of the ballot paper, it actively engages and seeks to assist in the legislative and public policy decision making processes in furtherance of its responsibility to work in the public interest.
The Law Society omitted to publish any view on whether there should be a second question on the ballot paper, on the alternative of enhanced devolved powers, or "devo max", but says that if there is a second question, it should be clear, and its relationship with the first question, and the legal and political implications of positive or negative votes to each, should be clear and should be explained to voters in advance.
The Law Society also believes it is important that arrangements for a referendum are subject to scrutiny and oversight by an independent body, though whether that should be the Electoral Commission or another scrutiny body (hinting the Law Society itself could do it) is a matter of political judgment.
The Law Society supports initiatives to increase voter turnout, such as possibly holding the poll on a Saturday, and other measures provided there are safeguards against voter fraud or administrative error. And it believes the proposed spending limits are appropriate, "against a background of the need to ensure that referendum campaigns are run in a fair and transparent manner".
Within the Society’s submission, a concern has been expressed that the Government's draft bill precludes the court from entertaining any proceedings for questioning the number of ballot papers counted or votes cast, in that certification by a counting officer is not to be subject to judicial review, a blanket exclusion found in the Scottish and Welsh referendum Act of 1997 but not in more recent legislation.