It won’t have passed your notice that the SNP Scottish Government have just launched a Consultation on a Draft Referendum Bill. You’ll see I call it something different, but they use the language they want to, so why shouldn’t I? I’ll hold off what I think about the Bill itself – you can guess – but I just wanted to focus on the nature of the consultation itself.
In a past life I worked for various public authorities and saw the idea of consultation evolve from perfunctory attempts to give a gloss of endorsement to something you were going to do anyhow, to notions like co-production where citizens are involved in the creation and possibly delivery of public policies and services. Fancy words, but you’ll get the point – that there are many steps on what some call a ‘ladder of participation.’
One of the points of good practice I tried to instil in colleagues was that you should always give people a chance to say what they want, not just what you want them to. At its most basic this is quite simple. After you’ve asked your questions you add a box that says something like ‘Are there any other comments you’d like to make? (Please write them here).’
The government’s mis-named ‘consultation on a draft referendum Bill’ falls down on this fundamental ground (amongst others).
What they want your views on are what might be called technical proposals related to a Bill:
- What are your views on the proposed arrangements for managing a referendum?
- What are your views on the proposed technical changes to polling and count arrangements?
- What are your views on the proposed changes to rules on permissible participants?
- What are your views on the proposed campaign rules and rules on spending?
- What are your views on the proposed changes to the rules on permissible participants’ expenses and transactions between qualifying and non-qualifying persons?
Nowhere can you offer an opinion on any other aspect of the subject. This is not a consultation on a draft Bill. It’s a consultation on some details related to a potential Bill.
What of course the government won’t get (and don’t want to hear) is the answer to the question ‘Do you want another referendum?’
That’s why, in the absence of an ‘Other comments’ box, I have answered their first question as follows:
and written ‘None’ against every other question.
I’ve said on the covering sheet that I’m happy for my response to be published along with my name. I will be interested to see if it is and whether the analysis of the overall response includes a statement along the lines of ‘x respondents said they did not want another referendum.’
You can of course ignore the ‘consultation.’ It will at least keep the baying packs of new-ish SNP members happy under the delusion that it makes a re-run of the 2014 referendum more likely. It won’t.