It's the proposed Referendum Bill that has the opposition parties' knickers in a knot. This is despite the fact that the Scottish Government set out their plans for this when they entered office and detailed their proposed referendum in the White Paper "Choosing Scotland's Future" (pdf - page 44). So we've known for a couple of years - at the very least - what the SNP planned to do when they got an opportunity: hold a referendum on independence. But that hasn't stopped the hysterics. No no.
Leader of Labour in the Scottish Parliament, Iain Gray:
"Over a year ago, Labour offered the SNP a referendum on a straight question, and they ran away. Alex Salmond will only ever consider a referendum that is rigged."
"Of course people want a say in how the country is run, but right now I think they are saying that their top priority is economic recovery and protecting jobs."
Right. On point one, I think Iain Gray's memory is failing him slightly. When Wendy said "Bring it on", Gordon slapped her down, saying "Not on my watch, Missy." On point two - the idea that the referendum is rigged - total tosh. Opinion polls with the SNP's preferred question see independence do no better that on other polls. And on point three, is Iain Gray really trying to speak on behalf of other people? And how will he ever know, if he never asks them? And, presumably, if people are, in fact, more concerned with their jobs, they'd let you know that in a referendum - by voting no? Just a thought.
Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie:
"At home and abroad, Alex Salmond's government has been found wanting. Fewer than a quarter of the key government indicators are on track."
"Alex Salmond is leaving a trail of broken pledges and promises in his wake. On the domestic stage as on the international stage he is letting Scotland down."
Okay. I wonder what she defines as "key government indicators"? If it is key policy pledges, I'd say its probably 50/50 - for every abolition of tuition fees there's a ditching LIT. But that is minority government. And she has pledged that the Tories will support the SNP on an "issue-by-issue basis - except on a referendum."
Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott couldn't be found to give an opinion, so instead chief whip Mike Rumbles said:
"The SNP's Referendum Bill is dead in the water. This is a futile waste of taxpayer money and parliamentary time. We already know that there is strong cross-party, majority opposition to the Referendum Bill."
Which is typically undemocratic from everyone's favourite Illiberal Undemocratic party. Why bother testing public views in a referendum when we can just make the decision for ourselves? Excellent use of democratic values right there. (Quotes from Scotsman and Herald).
What is my point? Well, former Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Forsyth sums up my view rather well, when he suggests that a referendum should be held as soon as possible to end the uncertainty surrounding Scotland's future. Of course he thinks it would "call Alex Salmond's bluff" to do so. And I'd probably be inclined to agree - if opinion polls are anything to go by at the moment, independence is looking less and less likely as the constitutional preference of the many in Scotland. At the moment.
Which makes the opposition parties' opposition to a referendum all the more bizarre. Here's an opportunity for them to make huge political capital out of something, the ability to have actual, physical proof that Alex Salmond and the SNP do not speak for the majority of Scots when they call for independence, yet they prefer not to allow the people a voice.
If you've read this blog before, you'll know two things about me - that I broadly support independence for Scotland and that I am a PhD candidate examining Nationalist parties in government. The second point gives me more licence to say this: I have absolutely no idea what the opposition parties in Scotland are doing on this issue. I get that it is a risk to allow people a vote on something that you are not keen on. But when polls suggest that less than a third of the electorate support that which you do not, surely it is time to take a deep breath and ask them? Then, when you get the answer you want, it kills the question for at least a generation.
Ah, but there is the problem that these are self-thinking people. I mean, what if they changed their minds? Are you really willing to bet the Union on the ability of people to make a rational decision in a referendum? Tricky... very tricky.