21st October is a famous day in British history. On that day in 1805, the British hegemony over naval warfare which was to last for the next one hundred years and privide the foundation for the (second) British Empire was established in a famous encounter off Cape Trafalgar. Each 21st October till today, that achievement is celebrated by the Royal Navy..
This year however it is also a date of modern significance, for it is the last day of the SNP Conference, supposedly the penultimate conference before an Independence Referendum. It is nonetheless probably too much to hope that, even if Eck and Angus Robertson get their way, the SNP Conference will end with a resounding chorus of "Hearts of Oak".
Now, let's be honest, there would still surely be no better opportunity than 21st October to exhort the SNP faithful that the legal wrangling was over, that the campaign for Independence was underway, and that when they met again, two years hence, Scotland would have voted to have thrown off the English yoke forever. The standing ovation would certainly exceed even that which Eck enjoyed when he took it upon himself to impersonate Mel Gibson many years before.
Only, eh, that's not going to happen.
For today we saw the announcement of the Scottish Government Legislative Programme for 2012-13. And yet more obfuscation by the First Minister.
For what did he actually say? That the Scottish Government's response to the consultation on an Independence Referendum would now be announced "next month", a formulation that conveniently takes one, without a broken promise, successfully past Trafalgar Day and the unfortunate necessity of meeting up with a whole lot of people who genuinely want a Referendum. Even some deluded enough to think they might win.
Now let us be clear. This is a consultation for which there was no need in the first place. The SNP consulted the electorate on whether there should be an Independence Referendum on 6th May 2011. And they supposedly, by the rules of the game, got an overwhelming endorsement for that proposition. If they had announced that they proposed to steam full ahead none of the opposition parties could have objected to that with any credibility, even if they had been minded to do so.
Instead, the Nationalists announced they would launch a consultation, which itself wouldn't even start until the January of the following year and not close until May 11th. Nonetheless, by July 18th, the Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was able to announce that "The full analysis will be completed and published by the end of the Summer."
Now, I am as optimistic about the weather as any Scot but if the Summer hasn't ended well before October I'll be more than pleasantly surprised. Actually, by most accepted measures, I'd regard it as over already. Yet 31st October is now the new deadline, without any explanation, for the publication of the SNP's response.
What the f**k is going on here?
Eck needs to get past Trafalgar Day. For it remains his intention, in time, to assert that "the Scottish People" are demanding a second question, no matter if the evidence of that consists of little more than the opinion of a few public sector placemen put up to it by his own office. For that is the one guarantee that he will be legally prevented from having any Referendum at all. Which he would lose overwhelmingly, and in the process destroy his Party and end his career.
But he is conscious that there are many in the SNP who don't care about that. Who want what, potentially, might be a once in a lifetime shot at glory. A bit like Eddie the Eagle at the Winter Olympics.
So he has to find a way past the SNP Conference. And delaying the Consultation response is his solution.
If he gets away with that, the SNP rank and file will have exhibited not hearts of oak but heads of oak.