I am writing from Italy. From Passignano on the shore of Lake Trasimeno to be precise. It is brilliant here in early September. The absolutely searing heat of the high Summer is gone but in daylight it is still far warmer than in Scotland just about ever. In the evenings it is a bit cooler but all the better for that for it helps you sleep and discourages at least some of the mosquitoes.
THe only slight downer is a slightly elegaic atmosphere. A month ago the place would have been buzzing but now you don't need to worry about booking a retaurant or wait for the opportunity if you want to have a proper swim in the comunal pool. Summer is over already for the Italians. It aleays is on the 31st of Augusr but it is increasingly also over for the middle aged foreigners, such as ourselves, who flock here as well. To match the mood I am writing this to the strains of Bruckner's 7th Symphony. If you know that work you will appreciate its resonance.
So, anyway, what has any of this got to do with politics, for it is that about which I normally write?
Well, sometimes you just have to accept things are over. Like Summer. And like Independence referendums.
One of the big things that has changed in the more than thirty years I have been coming to Italy is that you can still keep in touch with events at home. No more trying to find a day old British broadsheet newspaper on a visit to a big city. The frst time big Donald was ill Maureen and I were away and indeed were back several weeks before a reference to "acting First Minister Jim Wallace" on Reporting Scotland alerted us to something having happened. Yesterday evening Andi and I listened to wee Emma winning on 5Live before going for dinner as easily as we could have done in our own front room.
So, by that improved communication, I know about every twist and turn over the coalition and the Programme for Government. Including the ludicrous commitment to there being another referendum in 2023. Nobody, nobody believes this to be the remotest possibilty. Even as the words passed Nicola's lips she knew that herself. In 2011 Salmond committed himself to a referendum. For good or ill, David Cameron agreed to such a happening, subject to agreement on the detail. Even then it took three and a half years for the actual event. Now, no matter what you think of Boris, he is not going to agree this time. He has a manifesto commitment to not having a referendum (I know, I know but he has no reason to break this one) and he also has a majority of 80 in the only Parliament which matters on this one.
So, there won't be a referendum by agreement. But there will also be no meaningful referendum without agreement. It is common territory that a binding referendum would require the consent of Westminster. Don't ask me, ask Alex Salmond. He didn't go to all that trouble to get his s.30 agreement (important word here "agreement") if he thought it unneccesary. But the Nats think they might have a way around that. They are not proposing a binding referendum, just an "advisory" one. Indeed, that appears the only basis that Dorothy Bain, The Lord Advocate, was prepared to take the gig. Since she has to sign off on the legal competencd of this exercise. Now, I have considerable doubr about that competence but put that aside. WE HAVE HAD A REFERENDUM where 1.6 million people voted for independence. It was just unfortunate, from a nationalist perspective, that far more voted against. Yet that is an incontestible fact.
So what is the point of an advisory referendum? We wouldnt play so the Nats only objective would be to get more votes than they got in 2014, But 2014 was an exceptional event, with blanket media coverage and an 85% turnout. To think you could still get 1.6 Million votes in an advisory vote, never mind the 2.1 Million of the winning side in 2014 is a "bold" assumption. And to go through the exercise knowing it might leave you having scored the most spectacular of own goals by getting fewer vtes than 2014 assumes a degree of stupidity on tthe part of Sturgeon and her inner circle which even I think would be undeserved.
So there is not going to be a second "advisory" or any other sort of referendum ever but, even if there was proposed to be one, given even Nicola does not, even nominally, propose legislation before the Autumn of 2022, given Parliamentary process, the inevitable legal challenges that would follow and the almost certainty of a UK General Electiion in that year, it could not conceivably happen within that timing. And yet that gets reported without that absurdity being pointed out in the press. I've written before as to why that latter omission might be the case.
All this will, nonetheless, be sufficient to get the FM through the imminent SNP Conference but that says nothing except as to the gullibilty of her audience and, less admirably,as to her willingness to surf on that gullibility.Yet she undertands a more honest approach woukd only lead to her being booed off the stage and invited to fuck off back to England. She knows her audience. They have put her where she is. So she has to play to it. Or more precisely play with it.
To return to my opening mtaphor, there is nothing weong with promising that Summer will come again, But it is dishonest at the least to suggest it is going to be in November or even February. For you risk simply bouncing off the ice on the swimming pool, breaking a few bones and then freezing to death. And, believe me, Sturgeon has no intention of doing that