On the Politics Show, Sunday 02 March 2008, Jon Sopel held a discussion with Derek Scott and Bill Rammell
JON SOPEL: To discuss all this and some of the results from the individual constituencies, we have in the studio Derek Scott, the Chairman of the campaign and Bill Rammell, the Education Minister, who we saw in Paola's film there, who represents Harlow and who was bold enough to make a prediction.
You said the turn out would be very, very low. Are you prepared to eat your words?
BILL RAMMELL: No, I think it is a low turnout. This is an exercise where only 50% of people on the open register, were contacted. You then had to ring up if you were on the other 50% to get a ballot paper. Many people, myself included, made it perfectly clear we were having nothing to do with the referendum. Only one side of the argument was put and we end up, in my constituency, with a turnout figure, for the whole constituency, lower than any local government election, I've ever participated in. To me, that does not suggest it is a representative ballot.
JON SOPEL: Derek Scott, answer that point, that it was a very low turnout if you look at the whole register.
DEREK SCOTT: Well, we've taken the most up-to-date and the only publicly available register there is and on that basis, it is a very substantial turn out. Clearly, that's not the whole of the electorate but we don't have access to that. But there's absolutely no reason to suppose that those people who are not sent ballot papers, because they'd decided to come off the full electoral register, would vote any different from the rest of them. And I think it's interesting, well you know, we're quibbling about this when there's a very significant number of people across the country, voting in favour of a referendum.
Bill Rammell MP
BILL RAMMELL: But there's a significant number, myself included, who made it abundantly clear that we did not regard this as a representative exercise and we were not going to take part.
JON SOPEL: But doesn't that make it even more staggering, the number of people who voted, if you've got a whole campaign not to participate, you send out what, four hundred and twenty thousand ballot papers, a hundred and fifty thousand in ten constituencies, an average of fifteen thousand per constituency, that is a significant number of people voting?
BILL RAMMELL: Look, if you look at any representative national opinion poll, it will tell you that opinion is very divided on the subject of the European Union. Overall, there's a majority in favour of our position, within Europe, but there's a substantial minority against our position in Europe. I respect that view. I happen to think it's wrong, but clearly those people have been mobilized by this referendum.
JON SOPEL: Just to get an idea of what we're talking about. Let's bring up the figures for Harlow and then we can discuss it in more general terms because I think we can see there the numbers of people who voted. I think thirteen thousand of your constituents took part in what you call a "trumped up poll". You have a majority of just 97. I mean it seems that this is putting yourself in a precarious position to say, oh well these people are wrong, they're wrong to want a referendum?
BILL RAMMELL: No, I respect their view. I happen to believe that this is not the constitution. It is frankly, a minor technical amending treaty and you do not have referenda for that kind of proposition. Look, when I was a foreign office minister, I was one of the people within government, who argued that on the basis of the constitution, we ought to have a referendum, because I felt it was such a substantive change. This is not that substantive change. I also have to say, in terms of the mechanics of this referendum, there's some real questions to be answered the organizers. Why ten Labour and Liberal marginal constituencies, why not one referendum in Ken Clark's constituency, who's arguing against a referendum, John Gummer and others?
JON SOPEL: I'll bring Derek Scott in on that in a moment. You say you respect the views of your constituents, you're ignoring their views.
BILL RAMMELL: Look, look, do we have a referendum on every change that takes place, no we don't, because that's not the way historically, rightly in my view .. (interjection)
JON SOPEL: It was your party that promised one.
BILL RAMMELL: Yes. Not on, not on the reformed treaty. If you look at the reformed treaty and compare it to the original constitution, there is a world of difference.
JON SOPEL: Okay, Derek Scott, let me put this point to you. This was a very one-sided campaign, it was being advocated by those people who want there to be a referendum, and want the answer no. So how much can you draw from it.
DEREK SCOTT: Well, I think the interesting thing is about 80% of the public, judging from opinion polls, want a referendum and we had some feed-back from pollsters that suggested this referendum actually does, that we've run, reflects broadly speaking a cross section of the people. The idea that only those on one side are voting for this, I don't think is borne out and I'd just like to take a point that Bill has raised about the nature of the constitution.
I mean I used to work for Tony Blair and he made it very clear that when he decided there will be a referendum, it had got nothing to do with the constitutional nature or other of the treaty, and in fact the implications of this treaty and the red lines are broadly speaking the same as in the previous treaty. And as to why we didn't run any referendums in Conservative seats, I mean the reality is, that it's the Labour and Liberal Democrat front bench that have broken their words. And to that extent, they are the ones that we are trying to hold to the promises that they made in the last ? (overlaps)
BILL RAMMELL: What about Ken Clark, what about John Gummer, what about Ian Taylor, what about David Curry, prominent Conservatives who oppose a referendum.
DEREK SCOTT: We could have run in those seats but the trouble with that?..
BILL RAMMELL: But you didn't.
DEREK SCOTT: No we didn't because one of the reasons, if I just finish that. One reason we didn't of course is that in those seats, both the Liberal Democrats and Labour are also against a referendum, so it would have been a bizarre kind of contest.
JON SOPEL: Here you have Gordon Brown, at the moment, talking about trust in politics, trying to re-engage people in the political process, setting up citizens juries so that the public can participate and here you have a very clear statement of the public's desire to participate in this decision and let's not get bogged down in whether it's the constitution or the treaty or the differences in red lines and all the rest of that. If the public want it, why not give it to them.
BILL RAMMELL: Because only one side of the argument has been heard. There are many ..
JON SOPEL: But why not give them a referendum then, in which people can hear both sides of the argument and engage.
BILL RAMMELL: But hold on, there are many, many, many people in my constituency, who I have met, who oppose a referendum and who did not take part in this exercise because they regarded it as a fraudulent, trumped up exercise, that was being driven by the Conservative party.
JON SOPEL: But then have a national one which they can take part in.
BILL RAMMELL: But, but on that basis ..
JON SOPEL: I don't understand what the argument is against - if people want it, why not give it to them?
BILL RAMMELL: Well, well, sorry - on that basis we'd be having a referenda every second week. Look, if it's a substantive constitutional change, then my view is you should have a referendum. That's why, when we were originally had the constitution put before us, I argued within government, it was such a substantive change there ought to be a referendum. This reform treaty, is not a substantial constitutional change.
JON SOPEL: Derek Scott, would you like to see a referendum on the death penalty?
DEREK SCOTT: No, of course I wouldn't, because I ?
JON SOPEL: Well isn't it the same thing, the public want a referendum.
DEREK SCOTT: It isn't the public want it - this treaty and cumulatively all the treaties that have been signed have important constitutional implications for the United Kingdom, in the way they're governed and the problem about that is that you can change parliaments and so you can change legislation if you had something like the death penalty or anything else, but this thing can not basically be reversed without going through the process of leaving the European Union.
JON SOPEL: So you talk about being an advisor to Tony Blair, should there have been a referendum on the Nice Treaty.
DEREK SCOTT: Well, I'm not sure to be honest. I think there is was a case for it but in the ? (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Well, you're picking and choosing - is it a matter of principle or it isn't.
DEREK SCOTT: Yes, but the difference is this time around, a referendum was promised and in fact everybody else apart from the British government recognizes the implications of the treaty are broadly the same, but the important thing is that even - there was a referendum promised on this and actually, the fact that there wasn't a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty or the single European Act, if anything, strengthens the case for a referendum now, because whatever people's views about the implications of this treaty, nobody can doubt that cumulatively, it's had enormous impact on the several treaties that have passed and the way we run.
BILL RAMMELL: Look, look we're not alone on this issue. When we were looking at the original constitution, nine European countries promised a referendum because it was a substantive constitutional change. Today, the only country that's promising a referendum is Ireland, because its constitutionally bound to do so. All those countries have recognized this is a very different beast we're talking about here.
JON SOPEL: Derek Scott, let me ask you..
DEREK SCOTT: ? what countries have recognized is that they can't get through the front door and so they're trying to get through the back door, what they couldn't get through the front door.
JON SOPEL: Right. Do you think that your referendum of these ten constituencies is going to change anything?
DEREK SCOTT: I hope it will change people's mind in the House of Commons - at the beginning of quite a long process, it's got to go through the House of Lords, we may well be running ? (overlaps)
JON SOPEL: Do you think it will?
DEREK SCOTT: Erm, I think it well - well do - we all know the Liberal Party is split and there's certainly, a certain number of rebels in the Labour Party, so I, I just hope that this will help people stick to the views that everybody was promised before the last election.
JON SOPEL: Bill Rammell, doesn't this make your 97 majority, look even more precarious when you're ignoring the views of thirteen thousand people of Harlow who have participated in this with no nationwide campaign, no party political broadcast, nothing.
BILL RAMMELL: Look, I'll tell you this and I could be wrong. I make judgments all the time about what is of real concern to people. I've had barely a handful of letters from constituents urging me to commit to a referendum. People in my constituency are much more concerned with jobs, with security, with public services.
JON SOPEL: And yet thirteen thousand participate.
BILL RAMMELL: Sure, be, because we have a country where there is a divided view on our position within the European Union and what this flawed exercise did was to mobilize that section of the electorate. I respect their view. I happen not to believe that every time you have a treaty, you should have a referendum. It it's substantial and constitutionally significant you should, that is not the case in this ?
JON SOPEL: Okay. Maybe we'll invite you back next Sunday to see how your post bag has changed over the course of the past week. Both of you thank you very much for being with us.
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The Politics Show Sunday 02 March 2008 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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