Thursday, 19 February 2009

A flip-flopping guide to saving the union

Hearing a little more on a - rather crazy - theory that is going around at the moment. Goes a little bit like this:

Lib Dems a little - irritated - by the lack of listening to their point of view in the Calman Commission by their larger siblings in the unionist family. This is apparently an ongoing thing (and something I alluded to in December).

Lib Dems don't see the Calman Commission going anywhere - or at least, anywhere they want it to. Lib Dems are looking around for other options.

Lib Dems see an opportunity. After voting against the SNP's budget one week, they voted for it the following week - asking only that Salmond make a submission to the Calman Commission. Salmond was only too happy to agree.

Lib Dems soften the ground somewhat on negotiation with the SNP. Arguably in May 2007, when Nicol Stephen was the Lib Dem leader it was Tavish Scott's opposition to any deal on a referendum that scuppered any coalition deal. Now that Tavish is leader, things seem slightly different (or do they?).

According to this rumour, the Lib Dems are thinking about ditching Calman, coming on board with the SNP to get a referendum on independence through (subject to an "extended powers" option on the ticket) and capitalising on what they hope will be a victory for their preferred option (extended powers) in the referendum. Lib Dems look like "thinking" party - while the other two unionist parties are roadblocks to progress and the SNP licks its wounds over a defeat for its raison d'etre. At least that is the rumoured plan.

Except there are more holes in this theory than a packet of Polos. For one thing, even with Lib Dem support, there is still no majority for a referendum in the Scottish Parliament (47 + 16 = 63) assuming that the Scottish Parliament is allowed to hold such a referendum. And there's a lack of trust thing going on - how much would the SNP be willing to trust a party to help them deliver on not just a key manifesto pledge but their whole reason for existing? And there's the fact that the Lib Dems currently seem to be making up policies as they go along - and changing their mind on everything (see - tax and spend, tax cut, abandon policy; no negotiation on referendum, Tavish as leader "we'll see", a week later "no we won't"). Not exactly conducive to seeing this idea as anything more than another Lib Dem wheeze designed to get them some publicity for five minutes in order to shore up their plummeting poll numbers.

Balancing that is the wager (and Salmond likes those) that the Lib Dems are the means (referendum) to the end he wants (independence) and despite the inherent shakiness such a deal looks like having, he might very much be tempted to "let the people decide" the constitutional future of Scotland.

I'm not convinced that a deal is likely... however, I am pretty sure that if the Lib Dems walk away from Calman - and apparently that IS pretty likely - then they need to do something drastic to save a little face. It may well be that they see an opportunity to put independence to bed for awhile and "save the union" as their particular calling.

The Lib Dems, arch-federalists, saviours of the union? An intriguing prospect!


Anonymous,  19 February 2009 at 10:20  

47 - SNP
16 - Lib
02 - Grn
01 - Margo
66 - Majority

Of course, the Greens may not vote for an Independence/DevoMax referendum, but as supporting independence is in their manifesto, and part of their party platform, they can't vote against it...

Malc 19 February 2009 at 10:58  

Thanks Anon,

I am, of course, aware of those numbers. But with the relationship between the Greens as low as it is now...

Also, the SNP just ditched LIT - part of their manifesto...

Plus supporting a referendum and supporting independence are two different things.

BUT - I think you are perhaps right. Though the SNP would have to deal with the Greens much better on this issue than they did on the budget.

Richard Thomson 19 February 2009 at 12:11  

To have 'more powers' on the ballot paper, you still need to define what those might be. And unlike independence, it's not something which can be obtained unilaterally.

Still, the Lib Dems seem to be showing some understanding that the greatest leverage the 'more powers' brigade have available to win such from Westminster is a strong SNP:

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