In a rather odd development today, the Prime Minister decided to wade into the Scottish Constitutional Debate. I have absolutely no idea why.
In an article I wrote for Scotland on Sunday today I pointed out how Scotland was hardly in a ferment over this matter.
The SNP can’t quite get their own line agreed. On the one hand they have to assert that victory is inevitable but that rather begs the question as to why they don’t get on with it. The best they can come up in response to that is that during the election campaign the First Minister said that the Referendum would be in the second half of this Parliamentary term. He did, to be fair, albeit for the first time four days before polling
Their only, very thin, argument is that while there is a majority for Independence, some people would vote against it because they’ve been asked too soon!
This is indeed the nonsense that it appears to be.
I am, nonetheless, concerned about the Prime Minister’s Intervention.
The one thing that can be fairly said about Scottish Nationalism is that it has been an overwhelmingly peaceful movement. Certainly, from time to time historically, there has been a lunatic fringe but they have been as much repudiated by modern nationalists as they have been by the rest of the population. Central to that consensus has been recognition on both the Nationalist and Unionist side that if Scotland expressed a clear desire to leave the United Kingdom, that would be allowed to happen.
If a referendum was to be denied by apparent jiggery-pokery, regrettably, that peaceful aspect to the discourse could not be guaranteed.
So, we need to be careful here.
No-one doubts the moral mandate of the SNP to hold a referendum during this Parliament at a time of their choosing. If that proves to be during the second half of the Parliament then that’s a matter for them.
There is however a legal problem about the vires of such a poll. I have previously speculated that this might actually form part of Salmond’s calculations to avoid a vote he will inevitably lose. That needs to be sorted, either in the current Scotland Bill or by an Order under s.30 of the 1998 Scotland Act.
The tactics here need to be more carefully considered than they appear to have been by the PM this morning. Lawyers, even nationalist lawyers, might recognise that there is a legal issue about the legitimacy of a referendum. That is not however the view of the general public, who see no reason that the Scottish Government shouldn’t call such a ballot. That view is shared even by a lot of people who would intend to vote emphatically No.
The danger therefore of the Westminster Government giving the Scottish Parliament express permission to hold a Referendum but then time-limiting that power is that this will be seen not as a power being given but rather one being taken away.
And the danger of that in turn is not so much that it will give Salmond precisely what he wants, an excuse not to have a Referendum. That would, at worst, have adverse electoral consequences for the Devolutionist Parties. No, the real danger is that it might legitimise, in their own heads at least, those who might seek to proceed by other than democratic means.
So let’s encourage Westminster to give the Scottish Parliament the right to hold a Referendum whenever they want.
That nonetheless leaves one other question which needs to be addressed. I’m not persuaded that the “uncertainty” over Scottish Independence is having any affect, short term, at all on the Scottish Economy. That is because nobody who looks at the issue in any detail believes it to be even a remote possibility.
The “uncertainty” is however distorting our politics and, longer term, that will have an adverse impact.
There is therefore an argument for not allowing the SNP to find reasons never to ask the question That however needs a democratic mandate.
We are led to believe that the next UK General Election in May 2015. Why then shouldn’t all of the UK wide Parties enter that election with a commitment that, if it hasn’t already happened, there will be an Independence Referendum to follow in June of that year? And say now that this will be their position.
Doesn’t stop the Nationalists going sooner and can’t happen unless Scotland has voted for it (unless the SNP sweep the Country on a commitment to the Union!)
I can’t see how even the Nationalists could find an objection to that. Then again, I’m not holding my breath.