by Susan Smith
THE debate about Scottish independence must move away from party political wrangling, civil society leaders said this week.
Following the release of the Scottish Government’s consultation on an independence referendum, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) called for the third sector to ensure its voice is heard in the debate.
The government’s consultation suggests a simple yes/no ballot paper but does not rule out the possibility of including a third question – the so-called Devolution Max question.
It suggests that only residents of Scotland should be able to vote in the referendum, set for autumn 2014, but wants to extend voting to 16 and 17 year olds.
The move comes after a month of intense debate between the UK Government and the Scottish Government, over the nature of a referendum on Scottish independence.
Martin Sime, chief executive of SCVO said: “So far the debate on Scotland’s future has been dominated by political disputes over legal powers, timing of the referendum and what the questions should be.
“Now that both public consultations are underway, politicians ought to step back and give people a chance to think about what the referendum means to them and the type of Scotland they want to create.”
He urged third sector organisations to take part in the consultation, which will close on 11 May this year.
“It is very important that we create the right conditions for a debate that is opened out to everyone and is connected to the issues people face and the aspirations they have for the future,” said Sime.
“Scotland’s constitutional future concerns us all.”
Announcing the consultation this week First Minister Alex Salmond said that Scotland cannot reach its potential without independence.
“We are limited in what we can do to create jobs, grow our economy and help the vulnerable,” said Salmond. “To achieve this we shouldn’t have a constitution that restrains us, but one which frees us to build a better society.
“Under independence, Scotland would take its place as a responsible member of the international community while continuing as a friend and good neighbour to the other nations of these islands, continuing the strong social union which will always bind us together.”
The implications of Scottish independence and whether the option of Devolution Max should be included in the referendum is being hotly debated across all section of Scottish society.
A consortium of organisations from across the third sector, businesses, trade unions and think tanks are set to launch a campaign next week to debate the different options away from party politics.
A conference in Glasgow at the start of March will bring many of the different voices together.
The Reverend Ian Galloway, convener of the Church of Scotland Church and Society Council, said: “This is an issue that is beyond politics and concerns the whole Scottish people, so it cannot be left to politicians alone.
“Nor should we be focussing on just on process questions as the important ones. We support the conference as a first stage in stimulating debate.”
David Watt, executive director at the Institute of Directors Scotland, said: “We intend to be involved in a variety of forums to have open and frank discussions about what would be best for the future of Scotland.
“We will be looking at what kinds of things we should be considering, such as what Devo Max will mean, if we have that question. Without taking a view ourselves, we want to give our members an opportunity to engage in the debate.”