Do you agree that “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?” is an independent enough question?
That is the question, apparently, or it certainly has been for the Electoral Commission that has deliberated on this matter for the past few months.
In order to look like they are doing their job, and to justify the length of time spent on this, a change will undoubtedly be made, most likely taking the “agree” out of the equation. Alex Salmond will have to sit on his hands and bite his tongue now that Blair Jenkins, and belatedly the SNP, have agreed to abide by the Electoral Commission’s findings.
It’s worth noting that it is smart politics to forego this battle as drawing an independent body into partisan bickering would have come at a significant price for the SNP, even if they did ramroad their preferred question through Parliament.
That said, I would argue that just because Salmond’s preferred question is the one most likely to lead to a Yes vote, that doesn’t necessarily make it unfair. Perhaps the other questions are even less fair, with the pejorative term ‘separate’ typically being preferred by the unionist side, even though Scotland isn’t geographically going anywhere.
This splitting of hairs can be extended to the fact that Scotland won’t be “independent” as we live in such an inter-dependent world. This is a favourite navel gaze of Labour MP Tom Harris but such trifling matters won’t both the Electoral Commission, one would hope.
There is, of course, a recent Scottish precedent in all of this.
In 1997 we were asked “Do you agree there should be a Scottish Parliament?”, which is interestingly entirely consistent with the SNP’s preferred question. I don’t really understand why that style of question was good enough then but isn’t good enough today but, at the end of the day, if voters aren’t convinced enough by the merits of independence that they may be swayed into voting No when they look at the question, then do we really want to embark on this great adventure at all?