Friday, 9 October 2009

Ross Finnie to decide the future of Scotland

Okay, so that headline is not entirely true. But it does sort of encapsulate the position of the Scottish Liberal Democrats at the moment.

It seems that Tavish Scott's merry men (and two women - so much for gender balance!) have decided upon a "policy review" on the issue of an independence referendum. The issue will be explored by Ross Finnie before a behind-closed-doors debate at their conference at the end of October.

Now this, to me at least, makes a bit of sense. The party were none too happy during the Calman Commission (particularly with the Interim Report when it looked like it was going nowhere) and the recommendations did nothing to improve their mood. And when an MSP (JFM), a PPC (Kevin Lang) and an MEP (George Lyon) have all declared their support for a referendum (not to mention top Lib Dem activists/bloggers) it is only right that the party conduct an internal review.

Jeff is sceptical about the review, wondering if Tavish might just be holding it in order to appear to be listening to his "young thrusting" PPCs but has already made up his mind on the issue - and it's a no from him.

I have to say, I'm not so sure. This might be a genuine attempt to change party policy. Having spent the last month reading "constitutional" documents relating to A National Conversation, the Calman Commission and The Steel Commission (pdf), my view is that the review is a genuine attempt to shift the Liberal Democrats position on the issue. We know where they stand on the constitution - and what powers they would like to see devolved (the Steel Commission showed that clearly). We know too, that the recommendations contained in it were much more like some of the discussions of extended devolution in the Scottish Government's Choosing Scotland's Future than the final report of the Calman Commission - with which the Lib Dems (particularly Lord Wallace, who served on the Commission) were not overly impressed. And we know too that, of the Unionist parties, the Lib Dems are the most likely to back down from the "not a chance in hell of a referendum" position - they apparently do like democracy after all.

For me, I suspect there may have been a quiet meeting between Alex Salmond and Tavish Scott. Or maybe John Swinney and Jeremy Purvis as Finance folk. Or maybe it wasn't even on that level. Maybe just a quiet whisper somewhere, a "name your price" deal which would see the Lib Dems agree to a referendum - probably a multi-option one - in exchange for something in the budget. Because this affects more than the Lib Dems. This is core SNP stuff. They promised a referendum. If - if - the Lib Dems decide to back it at their Conference (late October), then the SNP can deliver, as planned, their White Paper on a referendum on St Andrew's Day, safe in the knowledge that they will have the support to pass it.

So that referendum, that opportunity to decide the future direction of our nation really does lie in the hands of Ross Finnie. But for now, we wait.

My title wasn't as daft as you thought.


Lallands Peat Worrier 9 October 2009 at 11:06  

Its a curiosity, this. Firstly, as I think the liberal democratic bloggers have said - criticism of the Liberal Democrats for pondering their positions can be a rather daft.

You know the sort of thing. We want parliamentarians with some independent spirit, preferably at least two braincells to rub together and some sort of conscientious limitation on how far they are willing to do down their own notions to serve their party's policies. Yet, if so much as a word goes awry - when the monologue is broken - cue hue, cry and much mumbling about dithering, swithering and lack of right reason.

If they review and do bugger all differently, they'll be wide open to this sort of allegation. In that sense, changing their minds may be less destructive for the Lib Dems when facing the monologically manic media, those punishers of dissent. It would also be - lets face it - much more fun!

DougtheDug 10 October 2009 at 21:02  

Unless Tavish has had a Road to Damascus conversion then the result will be the Lib-Dems re-affirming their objection to a referendum.

If the result is a green light for a referendum I can't see Tavish staying in post and it would mean a change of leader within a few months of a general election and very probably a split in the party.

I've read both the Calman recommendations and the Steel Report and the Lib-Dems may have got shafted with their "federal" dreams in the Calman Commission which produced a dog's breakfast of recommendations but what they want is not federalism as we would understand it with four nations under a single federal UK parliament but basically a direct copy of Labour's, "Nations and Regions", devolution plan with regional parliaments across England.

Scotland, Wales and NI would be reduced to the status of English regions.

The Lib-Dems are committed to the integrity of the UK both in their constitution and in their hearts and I can't see that changing now.

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