Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Group calls for shift in referendum debate

referendum consultation document
Image caption Alex Salmond has launched his government's referendum consultation

The debate over Scotland's future should be shifted from politicians to ordinary people, a new campaign body has said.

Groups from the voluntary sector, churches, trade unions and the business community have formed the coalition.

It will explore the possibility of a middle-ground option, which is short of independence.

The organisers said they wanted to see ordinary people engage more in the historic discussion.

The approach by the so-called civic Scotland thinkers was to consider more powers for the Scottish Parliament, sometimes referred to as devolution max.

However they stressed it would not push for any particular outcome or argue for a second "devo max" question on a referendum ballot paper.

Speaking at the launch, Alison Elliot, convener of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, said it had become "practically impossible to move" in the current debate "without being accused of being on one side or the other".

She said: "We need to shift the debate on the future of Scotland from powers, legality and timing to consider what we want Scotland to look like in the future, how we could do things differently and how to engage more people in this historic discussion.

"So far, we have only heard from those who have a fixed idea of the result they want in the referendum and who seek to narrow the debate. This coalition will build a wide-reaching, transparent discussion about the future of our country that considers people's aspirations and the challenges they face."

She added: "This is not about making the case for independence, devolution, status quo or anything in between. We do not have a fixed view about the outcome of the referendum. We want to open up everyone's minds to consider all options."

The coalition follows the launch of the Scottish government's own independence referendum consultation last week.

The government has said its ballot paper would contain the question: "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?"

First Minister Alex Salmond said the ballot could also include the option of greatly-enhanced powers for Holyrood. He said if there was "wide support" for devo-max, it is "only fair and democratic" that it is included.

The civic Scotland coalition has the support of two think-tanks - Reform Scotland and the Centre for Public Policy.

'Best way forward'

Reform Scotland has already set out its proposals for a devolution-plus model which would stop short of independence.

Its chairman, Ben Thomson, said: "The disappointment of the last two weeks is that [the debate] has become very highly politicised about the process, about whether there are two questions or two referendums, or how one uses the Scotland Bill, rather than focus on what is best for Scotland and what sort of powers would be best to deliver that.

"We are very keen to explore that middle ground that politicians don't see as necessarily the best way forward yet because two-thirds of the population support greater powers for Holyrood in all the polls that have been taken."

Scottish Trades Union Congress assistant secretary Dave Moxham said the organisation was "nowhere near taking a final view".

He said: "We believe that a significant proportion of our members are interested in other options other than the status quo, and other than independence, and we believe there is some space to be provided to enable that debate to go forward."

Ian Galloway, of the Church of Scotland, said the church backed a "wider debate", while David Watt of the Institute of Directors in Scotland said "massive issues" were still to be discussed, in terms of the economy.

The coalition will launch its website this week and has organised a conference for March.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites