Sunday, 21 September 2014

Think about it

This will be my last blog about the Referendum. I'll continue to blog from time to time, but probably not so regularly, about politics. The Referendum is however over. So I thought I wouldn't finish with a big theme but rather a number of bleeding obvious points that seem nonetheless to have passed many partisans by.


In the aftermath of an ordinary election there is a tendency of the losing Party not to psychologically accept the result. "Our opponents will pay a heavy price for the manner of their victory" or "We will continue to oppose these evil plans with every inch of our bodies"or "The people will never stand for this".

Slowly but steadiily however it sinks in that the losing Party was not beaten by the votes of their opposing Party. They were beaten by he votes of the voters. And the only real way forward is to get the voters to vote differently next time. And next time is four or five years away even with a normal election.

Good luck to those rushing off to join the SSP or the Greens as an expression of their frustration at the result but nobody (well nobody except a few nutters calling for a re-vote) is contemplating another referendum any time soon. Nothing is going to change that.



Actually, I can't say ever. Ever is a long time. I mean that it is highly unlikely there will ever be another one in my lifetime and I'm 56.

This referendum required a number of freak occurences. The first was a desire for the Nationalists to have a referendum. The second was their securing an absolute majority at Holyrood. The third was a willingness of Westminster to concede (temporarily) to Holyrood  the power to hold such a poll.

It is clear common sense has prevailed within the SNP on the first point with any number of senior figures conceding that "Another go" can't feature with any credibility (or, let's be honest, without immense electoral damage) in their 2016 Manifesto. I wouldn't bet on their conclusion on that being any different for 2020.

But there is another factor. The 2011 result had a number of causes. These included:

* The lack of realisation in advance of the election that the SNP were serious about independence, allowing voters not so inclined to vote for them nonetheless

 * The temporary collapse of normal four Party politics at Holyrood owing to the extreme unpopularity of the Lib Dems over the coalition and its policies. That is unlikely to be repeated and if it is not then there will always be a natural constituency for a centre Party enjoying some mainland Holyrood representation.

* The apparent futility of  voting Tory in a  Holyrood election, even if you were a Tory. That I think was also changed by 18th September. I'll say more on that below

* The exceptionally inept conduct of the 2011 campaign by the Labour Party.

Now some of these might happen again but all of them at once?

None of that is to say that the SNP won't continue to be the largest Party at any future Holyrood Election. Indeed I readily concede that they are current favourites for that prize in 2016. It is however to say that their chance of securing another absolute majority is remote. And, take it from me, after the fright we've had, there is no chance of any of the unionist parties co-operating to achieve the goal of a referendum without the Nats having that majority.

And then, finally, even if they did succeed in overcoming all these hurdles, don't forget that by signing the Edinburgh agreement the Nationalists conceded that the legal vires to hold such a poll still lies at Westminster. Suffice to say that any bargaining on the terms of any permissible future vote would be very different from 2012.

So it's over. It's really, really over. Or at least the Referendum route is. For the SNP to achieve their ultimate goal I suspect they'll have to come up with a different way forward. I simply have no idea what that might be. It could indeed be not just that the referendum is over, the idea of any practicable route to Independence might just be as well. And if that's the case what exactly would be the long term function of the SNP?

But I am danger of moving away from my own "bleeding obvious" constraint

So here is the third bleeding obvious point


By one of these odd "Scotland is a small place" coincidences I know Sir William (Bill) Mckay, for he was on the Council of the Law Society of Scotland while I was the President. He is a genuinely thoughtful and considered man. In any contribution he made to the Law Society's deliberations he had clearly thought through his argument against any possible counter argument in advance of making his point. He was never one to throw a kite in the air simply hoping the wind might catch it.

And so as you would expect his Commision it is an impressive piece of work. Brevity prevents me from summarising its conclusions but if you have not read them then I urge you to do so.

The problem with the West Lothian Question has always been as much the unwillingness of "The English" to contemplate that the British Parliament and the English Parliament might be different institutions and as long as that is the case any solution will be imperfect. We have moved however  beyond the point where the answer to the West Lothian question is to pretend we can't hear it. Anyway, if, at a particular election, there is no majority in England for "Labour" policies on health or education then why should "Labour" policies be imposed upon England? The moment the Tories made a point about this Labour was always going to have to give ground for it is inconceivable that we could fight an Election in England on the basis that the result in a particular policy area would depend on what happened in Scotland and Wales without that any longer being a reciprocal arrangement.

The McKay proposals are far from crude "English votes for English issues". They, for example, still contemplate there only being one Government. If they are acceptable on a cross Party basis we should bite off the hand offering them. In the end we'll realise that ourselves. Best just get on with it.


The Referendum was a disaster for the official  Scottish Labour Party leadership. The unofficial Labour Party leadership, not just Gordon Brown but Jim Murphy, JK Rowling (!) and George Galloway (!!!) did well but by the end the official leadership had effectively disappeared. To lose Glasgow once, as we did in 2011, might be unfortunate but to do so twice looks like carelessness. The good news is that (I think) we finally realise that. No recovery at the Westminster test of May 2015 (which, for what it's worth, I think there will be) can disguise the fact that business as usual at Holyrood will presage another electoral disaster at the next uniquely Scottish Poll. Vested interest will ensure that some of what should be done won't be done but Holyrood remains an essentially Presidential contest and I think the Party knows we need to fix that. Watch this space.


Now, if you concede that, for the reasons outlined above, even if they are favourites to emerge as the largest Party in May 2016, the SNP are unlikely to have an absolute majority, even with the possible addition of a few Greens, then what will that mean?

It is something that neither side are now inclined to talk about but the 2007-2011 SNP minority administration depended on the Tories to remain in power. I don't mind now confessing that I thought in 2007 Jack should have spoken to Annabel. That both our Parties would one day pay a price for legitimising the Nationalists in power.

Who knows if strategically I was right or wrong but what I can say I think is that if the Tories hold the balance of power in 2016 this question will return and will demand a different answer.

If I was speculating, rather than only dealing with the bleeding obvious, I would confess my impression is that few politicians had a better referendum, both in personal performance and electoral result, than Ruth Davidson. And that in consequence not only will there be more Tory MPs than pandas in Scotland after the May 2015 General Election, there will be more Tory MPs than Nationalist MPs or Liberal MPs.

But I'm not speculating. I'm only dealing in the bleeding obvious. And this is bleeding obvious. If the Tories hold the balance of power between Labour and the SNP at Holyrood in May 2016 all three Parties will be faced with a big decision but the King or Queen maker will be Ruth. Who knows, if she secures no greater prize she might at least end up as Leader of the Official Opposition.

And that's my last word for the moment. Next weekend is the Ryder Cup and the following week Andi is running in the Glasgow half marathon so I may or may not see you on October 12th.


  1. Ian, thanks very much for your insightful blogging on the referendum. I've enjoyed it all, perhaps more than the result, which was insufficiently decisive for my liking. But I agree that it's over, in every sense - I just wish the separatists would hurry up arriving at the same, inevitable conclusion.

  2. better together,together

    nice sound bite