I am grateful to Angus McLellan for his comment/correction on my last blog. Alex Salmond did indeed, belatedly, say just before the election that the Referendum would not be held until the second half of the term of the Scottish Parliament. He did so in the final leaders debate, four days before polling, and he said it then, as Angus's own cited press report confirms "for the first time".
I am therefore wrong in my previous assertion that it was never said at all, although not wrong in my assertion that it is not what was in the SNP Manifesto; or as wrong as SNP blogger, Laurence McHale who claims that this is not what the SNP ever said prior to the vote, then or now http://thebunnet.com/?p=878 or indeed SNP twitterer @AlisdairStephen who challenges me to " Provide proof Salmond ever said it was in manifesto. He said we campaigned on second half referendum, which is true."
Only it's not true one way or another. Even if I ever made the first assertion, which I didn't. Anyway, Angus McLellan is good enough to concede that it is an assertion which I might have made legitimately about others in the SNP.
The central claim which I make is that the Referendum taking place "in the second half of the Parliament" is not only not what is in the SNP Manifesto, it it is not, until the very last minute, what anybody in the SNP even actually said during the campaign. I do not have the time to trail every possible internet source but here's Eck himself on Newsnight on 20th April, thanks to SNP partisan Moridura.
(For those of you without the time to watch the whole thing (or even the 2 Minutes from 1.57) Eck is repeatedly asked when the Referendum takes place and repeatedly answers "(With)in the Five Year term".)
Now, as Angus McLellan corrects me, at the very last minute, four days before polling, this was changed by Eck himself at least, to a commitment to hold a Referendum (only) in the second half of the Parliament. With respect to Mr Stephen, that hardly consists of a campaign.
Here I want to say two complimentary things about the SNP.
Firstly, that it is actually quite a democratic party, certainly more democratic than the Labour Party (although that may be damning with faint praise). I blogged on LabourHame some time ago about an Independence referendum being, in the words of the First Minister, a once in a generation event. I was pulled up immediately, by various SNP internet commentators, that while this might be Eck's personal view it was no more than that. The members made SNP Policy and Eck did not overrule them. If I accept that however, which I do, then surely I, and more importantly the public, must accept SNP policy to be what's in their manifesto rather than an unauthorised concession made (even) by the candidate for First Minister in the course of a last minute TV Debate.
Secondly, and here I side with Mr McHale, I concede it is entirely a matter for the Government as to when we have an Independence Referendum. That's what their Manifesto said and that's the basis on which they were elected. So if they want to have a Referendum a week before the 2016 Elections, they have broken no Manifesto promises to anybody. I don't like the SNP but even I concede they are not Liberal Democrats.
I'm not going to played for a mug here however. Why did Eck's position on the timing of a Referendum change between the Gordon Brewer interview on 20th April and the TV debate on 1st May?
Because on 20th April the best outcome for the SNP was perceived to be returned as a minority administration with no majority for a Referendum in the Parliament; by 1st May however an absolute majority, or at least a majority with the assistance of the Greens, was being perceived as a possibility. So between 20th April and 1st May, an Independence Referendum moved from being an aspiration to being an actual possibility.
And the First Minister was then faced with an "Oh F**k" moment.
I'm a great believer in honesty in politics. The SNP can't win a referendum on Independence but they are quite good at being the Government of Scotland and they'd quite like to continue in that capacity. The former however mitigates against the latter.
They depend for their electoral success on a coalition between, on the one hand, those who like their technocratic competence within a devolved settlement but who would fear for their personal prosperity under Independence and, on the other hand, those who would be happy to peril everything in the cause of "Freedum!"
Holding that coalition together in the context of a Referendum that would inevitably consign these two wings into opposite camps is an impossible task in a way that would be difficult to mend. There is however a solution and that is not to actually have a Referendum at all; better still, not to have a Referendum while claiming to the "Freedum" lovers to have been frustrated by others (ideally English others; absolutely ideally posh English Lawyer others) in pursuit of that never intended goal.
We all know that's what going on here but politics is politics. You can't ignore your base. Our base insists on proceeding on the assumption that either Johann or the other excellent candidate are remotely fit to be First Minister because to recognise otherwise would lead to Party Reform in a way too upsetting to vested interest. Equally, (an important section at least of) the SNP's base must be deceived into trusting that the leadership remain remotely interested in risking their Ministerial Offices, and their quiet but effective stewardship of Scotland, in the cause of that self same "Freedum".
I am appreciative of the interest my most recent blog has provoked but I'd like to refer to an earlier missive.
I accept entirely that the timing of a Referendum is a matter for those who won the election but, given the likely legal challenge to the competence of any Referendum, why have the Government not introduced the paving legislation in this session of Parliament, enabling that challenge to be disposed of well before 2016?
Think on that Freedum lovers.