Important Announcement: An Independence Referendum Will Take Place On 5th May 2011

Britain doesn’t do referendums.  The idea of allowing the people to take democracy into their own hands, and make important decisions by themselves, like adults, is alien to the British political system.  Clement Atlee once claimed that the referendum was a tool of dictators and social democrats have parroted his words ever since.

This tradition implies that British politics is best left to a professional elite in Westminster who think and act on behalf of everyone else.  It is assumed that Joe Public is too stupid to participate directly in democracy but is magnanimously granted permission to put a cross in a box every five years.

The only time there has ever been a British-wide referendum was in 1975.  The referendum question asked was: “Do you think the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community?”  The Yes campaign won by a margin of two-to-one.  And that folks was that for participatory democracy in the UK.

Scotland has a troubled history of referendums.  The infamous 1979 referendum on setting up a Scottish Parliament had a high turnout of 64%. The Yes vote won by a small margin.  But the Westminster Parliament rigged the election and over-ruled the majority decision of the people of Scotland.  A lesson in British-style democracy was learnt.

Now the London government has decreed that the second ever British-wide national referendum will take place on 5th May 2011. This referendum will be on whether or not to move to AV voting in each constituency.  In reality it is a minor electoral change to the Westminster system which will do very little to move towards genuine proportional representation.

If the London government propose tokenistic tinkering with their electoral system then fine, that’s up to them.  What is more significant for Scotland is the timing of the AV vote which has been scheduled for the same day as the important Holyrood elections in 2011.

As the SNP have commented: “It just shows that the Tory-led coalition government with the LibDems is treating the Scottish Parliament and the people of Scotland with contempt.”

It gets worse.  The British Royal Family have since announced that the wedding of the heir to the throne will take place on the Friday before the Holyrood election.  A national holiday has been announced.  The Scottish elections will be further diminished.  It is worth noting too that Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, has stated that this election will be fought primarily on the case for Scottish Independence.

It is hardly surprising that those of a more conspiratorial bent are suggesting that this is a grand pincer movement by the British establishment to diminish the importance of the forthcoming Scottish elections.  That may or may not be the case.  But we can be sure of one thing: neither of these events would EVER have been scheduled to coincide with elections to the Palace of Westminster.

  1. Q. How should Scots respond to this disrespectful imposition of an irrelevant referendum on the same day as the election of our national parliament?
  1. A. We hijack it.  We use it for our own, much more important, objectives.  We turn the AV referendum into a referendum on Scottish Independence.

So with this in mind, we, the undersigned, call for all Scots who support our country’s independence to write the word INDEPENDENCE in bold letters across the AV voting slip on 5th May.

Let’s make sure the piles of “spoilt” ballot papers rejecting the British electoral system – and rule from London – are greater than those voting Yes or No.

This way we can finally have our first national referendum on Scottish Independence.  The beauty of this initiative is that the London government will fork up their own cash to print and distribute a voting slip to every person in Scotland. Which is very generous of them.  Thank you London!

Spread the word.  Use your vote on 5th May.  Vote INDEPENDENCE.

Support this initiative by removing the names and organisation at the bottom of this message, insert your own, and circulate as widely as possible.  We are all Spartacus!


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  1. Alan Clayton says:

    What a superb idea. In fairness to Atlee he was syaing that in 1945,just years after Adolf Hitler had used referenda regularly to overrule and intimidate politicians. This is different.Let us show the Westminster Brownshirts with their Union Jackboots that we will not be intimidated.

  2. Doug Daniel says:

    I’ve never been entirely convinced by the spoil-ballot-paper-as-protest-vote idea, mainly because there are no categories of spoiltness, leaving ballots spoilt on purpose to be indestinguishable from ballots spoilt due to people not being able to place an X in a box.

    However, this referendum really is irrelevant. This change could have been enacted by parliament without asking the people. Fair enough if it was for a change to proportional representation, but AV is not proportional. The same parties will still win, so I don’t really care if the public votes for AV or not, which is made worse whenever I get an email from FairVotesNow or TakeBackParliament or one of those sites that tells me to “vote YES for fairer votes”, even though AV is arguably even less fair than FPTP.

    Therefore, I’ll join in this protest. I’ll also be voting for independence in the other poll. You know, the minor one that is being held the same day? Holywood election or something like that.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks to Doug and Alan – please help by promoting this article as wide as possible.

  3. john ferguson says:

    Time to take the claymor from the thatch. I will make sure I spell Independent correctly when the time comes

    1. Thomas Stevenson says:

      Well said John ferguson and i will stand beside you and many others too .
      The time is right .

  4. Ian Smith says:

    Is it not the case that the Scottish Parliament has the power to vary the date of the Scottish election by a month or two either forward or back from 5th May? I know the idea would be opposed by Unionists MSP’s but can someone confirm if right does exist?

  5. Bob says:

    Good idea. Suitable posters should be made nearer the time using a “tag line” / theme. Something short and catchy. (very quick eg: Scotland Speaks – spoil the AV referendum in protest, 5th May.)

    You’d likely need to state what to do, and why exactly in smaller print. Less talk though, more action. Perhaps a web site too. Download web banners, posters, etc. Something coordinated in a campaign.

    I have to say it would be far easier to generally spoil it than all write independence. Easier to do. Also brings in those who aren’t for independence but still support greater say with devo-max, which is still being blocked / prevented.

  6. John Keith says:

    AV will not alter Wasteminister at all. Same old same old. However the Scottish people have been denied the right to hold a referendum on a matter of great Importance. The so called “Unionist” parties have conspired together to deny us even although they couldn’t agree on the colour of shite.
    I fully support using the May 2011 election to support Independence for our Nation.

  7. Wee fifer says:

    Excellent idea. I see Bob’s point, but it is important not just to spoil it, but to re-inscribe the meaning of the ballot with an unambiguous message – independence. People can take a black pen in and be asked to write it in block letters in a specific place on the ballot paper.
    There are more people that support independence than we think.
    This would also make it possible for people who are present at the count and get a chance to look at the spoiled ballots to give a tally of ballots with independence written on them at each counting centre.
    Mass mobilisation on this one. A massive spoilt ballot count from Scotland, whatever is writtne on the ballot still tells a story, and it’s a way also of telling Clegg etc. to FO, so the choice can be spoil, or spoil plus (i.e. write independence). Spoil max if you like.

  8. Aucheorn says:

    I have to say it would be far easier to generally spoil it than all write independence. Easier to do.

    No, NO, make the effort, then spoiling your ballot paper has purpose !!

  9. HamishScott says:

    Great idea. I don’t think it matters what is written if the thing is done with a high enough profile. What would count, literally, would be the amount of spoilt papers in excess of what could be expected by comparison with the count in Rest of UK.

  10. Observer says:

    ”It is hardly surprising that those of a more conspiratorial bent are suggesting that this is a grand pincer movement by the British establishment to diminish the importance of the forthcoming Scottish elections.”

    That is just sheer paranoia.

    The reality is that practically no one in Scotland cares about the AV referendum so by all means write independence on your ballot paper, but it will just add to the number of other spoiled ballot papers or ballot papers just not filled in. I agree with encouraging a boycott of the AV referendum but disagree with the rest of your article.

    You can’t turn the AV referendum into a referendum on independence because it hasn’t been constituted as that.

    If you want a referendum on independence then go out & argue for one on the doorsteps & please stop being so paranoid, it is an unbecoming feature.

    If you want a referendum on independence, as I do, then you will need to win one, not make up a conspiracy theory.

    Incidentally people counting the ballot papers don’t pay any attention to what is written on them as they don’t have the time, they just put them in a pile as spoiled ballots. An electronic system would act likewise.

  11. Jeff says:

    A fine bit of thinking outside the (ballot) box but I’m not clear what a win for you is here.

    Were the result to be:

    Yes – 54%
    No – 44%
    Spoiled – 2%

    how would the independence movement be furthered?

    Not trying to rain on anyone’s parade, just testing out the theory….

    1. stephen melvin says:

      yes to scotland independens

  12. bellacaledonia says:

    Hi Jeff – thanks for your comment and thanks for all the responses. I think its important to make a distinction: this isn’t a referendum on independence.

    It will be great if we can get some support, for me AV is the worst kind of reformist crap, typical British soft-shoe shuffling – like reform of the House of Lords or some such shit.

    So I’m not concerned about % here or there – I’m interested in a conceptual shift that ‘politics’ and especially ‘democracy’ isn’t something done to you or a game your allowed to participate in every four or five years.

    I appreciate your idea / worry about backlash but I think that we can’t always be feart and careful, otherwise we’d never do anything.

    I hope you and everyone at Better Nation can get behind the campaign – its not about party – it’s about people.

  13. Dave Coull says:

    “An Independence Referendum Will Take Place On 5th May 2011” – that’s not true.

    While recognising the good intentions of Kevin and Mike, it does have to be said that, whatever happens on 5th May 2011, it won’t be a referendum on independence.

    I never had any intention of participating in the pointless AV referendum, and I still have no intention of participating in the pointless AV referendum. I might decide to show up at a polling station in order to spoil my ballot paper by writing “INDEPENDENCE” in big lettering across it, but that won’t be a referendum on independence. It will be a protest against having a pointless AV referendum, and against being denied a referendum on independence.

    “Let’s make sure the piles of ‘spoilt’ ballot papers rejecting the British electoral system – and rule from London – are greater than those voting Yes or No” – well, I agree it would be nice if this happened. But what if those in charge of the electoral process arrange things so that the “spoilt” papers are not all put into one neat pile whose size can be easily compared with the piles of “yes” or “no” votes? If you have publicly stated that this is your ambition, then, if no such obvious, favourable comparison can be made, supporters of the status quo will then say “they failed to achieve their aim”.

    This campaign is NOT a referendum on independence. It CAN’T be a referendum on independence. It’s silly to pretend that it CAN be a referendum on independence. It would be better to tell the truth: that it can be a good way of protesting against the completely pointless AV referendum, and of protesting against not having a referendum on independence.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Wouldn’t disagree with you Dave – as said elsewhere this isn’t and can’t be a substitute for a referendum. It is however an act of definiace and an organising focus for protest across Scotland which hopefully the whole of the independece movement can unite behind.

  14. Kevin says:

    This initiative will be what people make of it. If it is used to further the cause of independence then it will serve its purpose. A conscious thoughtful action in support of Scottish independence will always further the cause. Collective action even more so and the greater the degree of participation the better.

  15. Aucheorn says:

    I seem to remember from way back that if there was more than 12% spoilt ballot papers in an election the election had to be rerun. I know that this is not likely to apply to a referendum.

    Perhaps someone could correct or confirm.

  16. peter thomson says:

    Hi Bella,

    I have got up off my butt and done something after reading about this on Newsnet:

    Please go to:

    and sign up to join the event. There are 60+ committed already, 628 have read the message and only 11 have said no since 1730 on St Andrews Day.

    The real point of this is not spoiling the AV ballot paper ‘per se’ but creating a ground swell of opinion that our Unionist biased media can not ignore.

    I also have a piece at Democracy UK:

    under Discussions.

    If we want to win and not remain beholden to Westminster for hand outs of our own money it is incumbent on everyone who cares to ensure the wish for full fiscal autonomy for Scotland remains paramount. Independence (for those who want it now) will follow as Westminster’s grip continues to weaken.

    To begin is to be half done – we have now begun let’s not fall short for oue children and grand children’s sake.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks Peter – that’s brilliant, I’ll link to it and pass it on. Mike

  17. Malcolm McConnell says:

    Brilliant idea,
    I shall spread the word.

  18. Sennair says:

    I’ve done this before when I lived in London. It was called a ‘spoiled paper’ but to me it was a statement of mu democratic rights – “As none of the candidates represernt my views, I decline to put a cross on the ballot paper”, but I sneaked in a wee saltire with inscription, “Except this one”.
    I’ll happily do it again next May!

  19. Alex Buchan says:

    I think its a good idea mainly because in doing something you not only get noticed but you also feel empowered [look at the student demos]. I also think the lack of concern for the effects of the AV vote and Royal wedding on the Scottish parliamentary election requires a response. Incidentally for those who doubt the conspiracy theories it should be pointed out that the Royals have form. It is difficult to believe that the choice of St Andrews University wasn’t designed to counter disaffection with the monarchy and the British State. This election represents the British establishments best chance to set back the SNP and independence in a generation. The British establish has perfected the art of playing the long game.

    However, I think Jeff’s point wasn’t adequately answered. I don’t see Jeff’s point as just about percentage points, but about whether the outcome would be an anticlimax, and, if so, even more demoralizing that if you had done nothing. For that reason I think this initiative would be best seen as part of a wider effort to make Scotland’s future [ and exposing all the implications of Calman is a massively important part of that ] the focus of everything happening on May 5th. From this perspective the initiative becomes far more clearly focused as about, not just clawing back ownership of the referendum, but more importantly of May 5th itself. The point to be got across is that the AV referendum trivializes the significance of this election for Scotland’s future, which is exactly what the official view of the monarchy, coalition and BBC is. We need to demonstrate that we don’t accept these limitations.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Doing nothing is always an option. It’s a tactic we’ve been trying for decades. It’s low risk and never fails.

      It’s disappointing that some of these bloggers aren’t supporting this but hundreds are. Some of these people can’t decide whether to sit on the fence, to paraphrase Cameron. Hopefully the independent media will get behind it when they see how serious we are.

      1. Alex Buchan says:

        Do nothing?
        I am 100% behind this and will do everything I can to make it a success. The only point I was making was in answer to Jeff’s question. My point was that it should be seen as claiming back May 5th.

        1. bellacaledonia says:

          The ‘do nothing’ comment was aimed at those who suggest because something is difficult it shouldn’t be attempted…apologies if that wasn’t clear. Your idea of a general ‘reclaiming’ of the day is perfect.

  20. Alex Buchan says:

    Am going to pass on the links to my niece who is a sympathetic journalist on the Press and Journal so that hopefully this will start to get picked up by the mainstream press.

  21. bellacaledonia says:

    We have had hundreds of emails blocking our system with loads of positive feedback, ideas and initiatives firing off.

    Here’s just a few of the responses so far:

    Eric emailed us saying: “I think turning the AV referendum into an Independence one is a great idea. With the time we have before the referendum there’s every chance it can get round every interested party in Scotland.”

    Sid says: “Superb idea ,need to get as much publicity as we can. opportunity’s like this don’t come along very often and it would be a shame to miss the chance. Getting the unionist’s to count the spoilt votes(which they legally must) and announce it at every count is a masterstroke. Well impressed.”

    Grenscot: “Brilliant. Finally a way to hit back that fires the imagination and makes nonsense of Westminster’s attempts to overshadow the Scottish Elections.”

    bmc wrote:”I had planned to spoil my AV vote anyway. Now I can do so with some style – and in some great company.”

    Calum wrote: “This is a fantastic idea however the only way this will work is if it is known everywhere in Scotland. ”

    EdinScot wrote: “At last we are setting the ground rules and taking on the British at their own game. This is cunning as it is genius, for Scotland i will vote independence always. This needs mass publicity to spread the word, a video sounds a good idea as does posters/flyers/leaflets etc.”

    The overwhelming feedback seems to be that the idea has real merit and is potentially a game-changer, but that it needs co-ordination and the tools of areal campaign. We’ll be keeping everyone updated on what we’re doing t develop this – and making materials available – but it would also be good if you let us know what your up to and send links to places you have promoted this?

  22. Colin says:

    I had been planning just to draw a penis on the ballot, but your suggestion is probably a bit more productive. Let’s do it.

  23. lenathehyena says:

    I don’t think referenda are not used here because governments think the electorate is stupid, although undoubtedly they do, but from fear of the results – the unknown factor.
    While I can see that people want to make a statement I wonder how effective this will be. It’s not as if any of the unionist parties will give a toss about it and unless numbers are huge it will be ignored by the unionist media.
    It just could work if you spread the word into England where it could be picked up by Torygraph readers, you know the Scotland-haters, who might well be persuaded to join in and then the numbers could mushroom.

  24. Sennair says:

    “I wonder how effective this will be”
    It will be as effective as each individual wants it to be! We Scots are to fond of saying ‘Aye but…’. Let’s be more POSITIVE and concentrate on the goal and forget all about the obstacles that might (or might not) get in the way!
    AV= Alba Victorious!!

  25. March For Scotland says:

    Fantastic idea. An independence march is also being held on April the 9th through Edinburgh. It would be great if you could take part and suggest it to contacts.
    Multiple public action is precisely what will push the movement forward.

    Thank you.

  26. Siôn Jones says:

    I think this is an excellent initiative, and I wish you luck!

    Why not distribute sticky labels with an INDEPENDENCE option, with a box to mark your x against?

  27. wee willie bee says:

    Nothing to lose by this good idea so I am happy to pass it on.

  28. James Hunter says:

    If this is ever perceived as an “official” campaign to try and make a case for independance it could quite possibly be the Worst idea ever.

    I can’t see the spoiled papers making any kind of impact and to have it connected in any to some kind of independance movement would just make us look a bunch of “duffers”. I can just see Iain Gray’s smirking face right now.

    Our only way forward is to persuade current Labour voters that their party is defunct and that SNP is the only viable option.[ As it is they’ll by then have already voted in the Holyrood election so any kind of message is already redundant.] If we make ourselves instead look like a bunch of chancers our powers of persuasion will be diminished greatly and set us back.

    I personally will be voting yes for AV as it will provide much more scope for causing ‘mischief’ in the Westminster elections.

    I do agree though that the timing of this referendum is highly cynical and typical of the disdain shown towards us by Westminster.

  29. stephen melvin says:

    scotland free from westminster 5 may 2011 nanana good bye good to see the back of the queen sacked 5 may 2011

  30. stephen melvin says:

    scotland free of england 5 may nanana good bye burn uk flag

  31. stephen melvin says:

    scotland free from england 5 may 2011

  32. michael says:

    I wish you would hurry up and become independent. No United Kingdom with unequal rights between each country.
    As regards the 5th may I will be spoiling mine by writing proportional representation.
    AV is no different to first past the post.

  33. stephen melvin says:

    nanana good bye england 5 may 2011 dont need england now snp go ahead and split uk good for scotland independence

  34. stephen melvin says:

    scotland free of england at last nanana good bye for the last time sack all mps

  35. stephen melvin says:

    scotland better off free of england scotland has oil dont need you eny more

  36. stephen melvin says:

    scotland free of westminster no more haha

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