Asking the right questions

I said last week that asking all the voters to take part in a decision can be complicated, because it isn’t easy to reduce important issues to one question, for everyone to vote “yes” or “no”. And if you can put a yes/no question, when and how you do it can influence the result.

You may have heard that the people of Scotland will soon vote on whether they want independence from London, which could break up the United Kingdom. The Scottish National Party, who control the Scottish parliament (restored in 2000 after nearly 300 years), asked for it but now they have doubts. They wanted voters to be given three choices:

(1) complete independence, (2) give the Scottish parliament more powers (i.e. take some power away from London) or (3) no change. The UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, is pushing for an early referendum which would only ask “ Do you want independence?” -“yes” or “no”, because he believes most Scots don’t want full independe-nce yet but they do want more control over how they are governed, which he is not prepared to grant.

The SNP fear that asking a yes/no question only on independe-nce now would produce a “no”, but they agree a 3-choice question would give a majority for increasing the powers of the Scottish parliament. Cameron aims to use the result as an excuse to close the question for a long time, and that is what the SNP fears most. That would be simpler if the people had been consulted on what question they should be asked.

Now we here face a referendum on the constitution, an issue where there are hardly any yes/no issues and very few with only three possible choices, but we are apparently to be given a complete document to vote “yes” or “no”. That would not be fair.

True, we are told we were consulted on the questions to be put, but how free were those consultations? How many of us were asked? In many areas violent supporters of one party in our “inclusive government” (code name for “low-level civil war”) prevented COPAC from meeting the people. In others, as I saw in Mbare, they tried to get through the business as fast as possible for fear that those thugs would interfere. The result was a quick string of yes/no questions and no serious discussion.

On one issue I proposed a third alternative, which should have been on their list; the proceedings were recorded electronically, but I don’t expect my reply will be considered, even though many other people might agree with me. That is bad enough, but we are waiting anxiously to see whether any of our answers are heard. Those thugs didn’t only disrupt the questioning.

Now their other wing is trying to get a report published which ignores any opinion but theirs. We’ve heard accusations of forgery in writing the report. We know that there has been a lot of discussion between the political parties in the traditional smoke-filled back rooms about every issue the thugs’ party want to force through or to block.

Then, if we hold a referendum, who will be voting? We are told there must be a new voters’ roll before we can hold elections, but will the old one be used for the constitutional referendum? That means those of us who qualify to vote according to that roll will be voting alongside the 14,000+ voters born on 1 January 1900, the late unlamented Desmond Lardner-Burke and his wife, every Mupostori child in the country and so many other ghost voters that if they all vote against us, we will be outnumbered.

Manipulating the questions is only one way the villains get their way. We’ve seen them manipulating the answers in the last four national elections and some of their tricks have taken such deep roots in our political system that we have an uphill struggle ahead of us. I get some hope from noticing that the other side are having to struggle also and they show more signs of tiring.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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