Monday, 15 October 2012

Why I got it wrong

Alright, it does appear now more likely than not that there will be a referendum.

I am finally forced to make that concession by a single sentence in the Memorandum of Understanding signed today. It's in paragraph 4

"The date of the poll will be for the Scottish Parliament to determine and will be set out in the Referendum Bill to be introduced by the Scottish Government." [my empasis].

Now that is very significant for it means that if the Bill becomes an Act, as it surely will, then there can be no turning back. Having been instructed to proceed by an Act of the Scottish Parliament, Returning Officers will be obliged to proceed and no second thoughts expressed by the (mere) Government of Scotland would allow or permit them to ignore what the Parliament of Scotland had resolved upon. Of course, the Parliament could always pass another Act to cancel the event but that would surely be more politically suicidal than then proceeding even in the face of certain defeat.

Now, as you'll know, I predicted this wouldn't happen and in consequence will shortly be obliged to dispatch  an ex gratia bottle of Dalwhinnie to Roseanna Cunningham, who remained a consistent true believer. At least, if she can resist opening it for two years, she'll have something then  in which to drown her sorrows.

But, beyond that, I am obviously obliged to consider why I'm eating humble pie rather than enjoying a lost malt.

And there are two reasons. Firstly, that, as my own Party has done before to its cost, I underestimated David Cameron. For he realised that the only possible response to Salmond's stated desire, and undoubted electoral mandate, for an Independence Referendum was to reply "Bring it on". If only Gordon Brown had been as decisive in 2007 then Wendy Alexander would probably today be First Minister of Scotland. Then again, decisiveness was never Gordon's strong point.

But Cameron also realised that he was up against an opponent who wanted anything but his stated preference and his genius was therefore to give that opponent everything he publicly said he wanted. The date, the single question, even votes for 16 year olds (despite the best efforts of both sides to work out how). The only thing Cameron was determined upon was that there would definitely be a vote. Even the number of questions was secondary to that, although a useful achievement to knock off on the way. And despite his best efforts, faced with such an apparent willingness to "help", in the end even Eck couldn't come up with a convincing reason to put it off. And thus the key things in the Agreement are the sunset clause and the single sentence I quote above, which I'm certain doesn't appear on the initiative of the Scottish Government.

But I also overestimated another politician, Alex Salmond. He gave us a doing, in a sort of Manchester United against St Mirren reserves sense in May 2011. And electorally successful leaders usually have an iron grip on their Party. But the SNP have always been a rebellious lot and the one thing that united them is a desire for Independence, even while disagreeing about why or even what it might mean. Now, I don't doubt that Eck also believes in Independence but he's perhaps a bit more realistic about whether it can be realised in 2014. Support for political parties goes up and down but opinion polling, even in the abstract, shows consistent two to one opposition to the idea of Independence, even before the economic truth (as I would have it) or the fear factor (as he would concede) starts to have its effect.

I suspect that he wouldn't privately hugely disagree that, if we voted next month, the Yes vote would be about 28%. And that's an awful lot of ground to make up in (even) two years. And he sees the inevitable schism in the Nationalist movement that would follow a failure to make up that ground.

But even he couldn't work miracles. We were all much entertained when he was booed at the Ryder Cup but, let's be honest, large numbers of well to do golfers, able to travel the Atlantic to support a multi-national European team were never likely to be a natural constituency for the First Minister. Unfortunately for him, the SNP Conference this week was equally unlikely to be receptive to the message that their life-long project had had to be postponed for technical reasons, never mind that it had negligible chance of success.

So when Cameron announced last Wednesday that Salmond would be signing up today he was making an offer which couldn't be refused. As I belatedly realised myself. And as, after a half hearted attempt on the day to insist "nothing was finalised", so did Eck.

And we've all got what we want, more or less. Or at least that's what we're saying publicly. It's certainly what I've wanted since 2007.

Bring it on.


  1. It's not just a river in Egypt....

  2. Well, it's not really humble pie. You still think you were right that Salmond didn't want a referendum, you're just giving Cameron credit for forcing his hand. And calling Cameron a genius does nothing to suggest that you've come any closer to rejoining us on Planet Earth.

    Still, Operation Retweet Ian's Tweets Back At Him Every Day With Added LOLZ doesn't seem so appealing now...

  3. Anyone who makes a prediction can find out later that they were wrong, but that is not a reason to avoid making predictions. What matters is not so much the events, which no one can control, but the soundness or otherwise of the reasoning on which the prediction was based. It was a reasonable prediction that Salmond would avoid a referendum if he could, as it is a reasonable prediction that he will lose that referendum. You made a brave prediction that was confounded by events and have admitted your error, but there is no more need for eating humble pie than if all the evidence pointed to there being no storm, which then inexplicably occurred. Didn’t that happen to someone once?

    1. A prediction is one thing - constantly banging your drum about it like Ian has done over the past 9 months is quite another...

  4. And here we have it. The clever unionists who have opposed a referendum from year dot until 2011 have forced the oafish SNP who have always wanted one to... hold a referendum.