23 September 2015

William Johnson: Independence referendum? Scotland has it right


The referendum on independence to be held by Scotland in 2014 differs dramatically from the two referendums Quebec held in 1980 and 1995. The issue in Scotland will be clear: independence. Equally clear will be the referendum question, just 10 words long: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”

In 1980, Quebec asked a question that ran to 109 words, but still left the outcome uncertain and confused. The question began: “The Government of Quebec has made public its proposal to negotiate a new agreement with the rest of Canada, based on the equality of nations.” Who could object to such an agreement? There followed many words on sovereignty and association. Then the question concluded on this promise: “No change in political status resulting from these negotiations will be effected without approval by the people through another referendum; on these terms, do you give the Government of Quebec the mandate to negotiate the proposed agreement between Quebec and Canada?”
The 1995 referendum question would be shorter – 43 words, but still tendentious. It stressed “partnership” and “agreement,” not secession or independence: “Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?”

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