Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Referendum: "Bring it on"?

The SNP are due to announce their legislative programme for the coming session this week. This is apparently the cue for the respective party leaders in Scotland to come up with hysterical soundbites in the hope that the newspapers pick up the quotes... and that people start to recognise who they are.

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.


subrosa 1 September 2009 at 10:55  

Tricky indeed but I agree with you Malc about the opposition parties. They're being very short-sighted. Let's hope the debate will show some more enlightened politicians but from their present quotes, I somehow doubt it.

Malc has your new layout affected your feed. On my blogroll you're not coming up at lot of the time, if you know what I mean. This happens with some blogs now and again. Perhaps it's my end I don't know.

Malc 1 September 2009 at 11:15  

I think they have a choice to make - do they really want to kill off independence? If so, run with a referendum in the middle of a recession - its an almost guaranteed win for the Unionist parties.

Layout shouldn't affect it, no. Blogroll is bad for that though - mine does the same. I'm not sure why - maybe its just a slow widget.

CrazyDaisy 1 September 2009 at 16:49  


What is the Logic behind Unionists behaviour? A very good question.

The Polls they pay good money for tell them one thing, but is it
possible in reality that perhaps they don't even trust their own polls?

My own opinion is that they're shit scared of a YES vote; with the economy on the turn surely this would be less of an issue, but maybe Politicians are uncertain if it will dive again - a false horizon like climbing a Munro!

Intersting, I feel this is going to be 12 months of sheer fun!


LC 1 September 2009 at 17:16  

The real question is whether calling Alex Salmond's bluff is in the interests of the three other parties. As a Tory and a Unionist, I don't think it is in mine.

Essentially, short of a bit of mild embarrassment, Salmond will not lose much by losing a referendum. It will, however, allow him a platform for the independence message and, more importantly, create a precedent for future referendums.

Indeed, it may actually help the SNP: deprived of the ability to advocate independence, they become just another centre-left party; which may well be of broader appeal than a centre-left party with nationalism tacked on. Assuming the opinion polls are correct, independence is one of the SNP's least popular policies: if they are denied a referendum in 2010, they'll likely come to the next SP election on a 'this is an outrage' manifesto, with independence at its centre. That, I believe, will turn people off.

The best thing I think that the three other parties can do is to make a joint statement that they will vote against any referendum bill indefinitely. If the SNP get a majority at Holyrood, then it's a matter for them; until that time, it shall be completely off the cards. I certainly don't think anyone should be inclined to vote for such a thing simply because the SNP happened to get one more seat than Labour last time around.

Rob Marrs 2 September 2009 at 10:50  

Hi Malc,

I saw you commented on this link:


Over at Yousuf's blog. We are currently trying to get some speakers for the pro-independence side and we'll update as and when we know who they are!

You'd be most welcome to come along, just pop us a note to development@esuscotland.org.uk and we'll put you on the guestlist (no restrictions, of course, it is just useful to know how many people are coming so we can set out chairs and cater properly).

Best, as ever,

ESU Scotland
0131 229 1528

Cruachan 3 September 2009 at 00:21  

It's been said before by many others, but the Unionist parties know that the supporters of independence only need to win once, while they have to win every time.

Whether its out of self interest or genuine belief in the glories of the British state (!), the unionist parties just cannot take the chance in agreeing to a Referendum Bill which could bring the end of the UK.

One interesting question is whether, when it comes to the day of the vote in Holyrood, whether party discipline holds. There may well be more than a few individual Lab/Lib/Con MSPs - on this most fundamental issue - who may be prepared to break ranks in voting for the Bill, or at least abstaining.

But with Calman being kicked into touch by Cameron for at least 5 years and the Unionist parties in Holyrood apparently intent on denying the Scottish people their first ever chance of a say on the Union/Independence, this seems to play straight into the hands of the SNP. Voters in the 2011 Scottish General Election would surely have something to say about this fundamentally anti-democratic stance of Lab/Lib/Con.

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