One question, two question, three question, four

Today, David Cameron and Alex Salmond meet to decide the terms of the independence referendum. Naturally, they wouldn’t be meeting to “decide” if all the actual decisions hadn’t been worked out already by Michael Moore and Nicola Sturgeon and others, with their civil servants. Alex Salmond and David Cameron

The BBC’s “news” report on the meeting that will take place is a fair sample of the “it is expected” style of thing:

It is expected to allow for a vote in autumn 2014 with a single Yes/No question on Scotland leaving the UK.
The deal will also see 16- and 17-year-olds included in the ballot.
The UK government is expected to grant limited powers for the Scottish Parliament to hold a legal referendum, under a mechanism called Section 30.
The Electoral Commission will play a key role advising on the wording of the question and other issues such as campaign finance.
A possible second question on greater powers has been dropped, while the Scottish government looks to have secured its preferred date.


None of this is at all unexpected and hasn’t been since January 2012, to anyone paying attention (not even, on reflection, the inclusion of 16/17 year olds in the franchise: revising the voting age downwards is something that’s been mooted for a while and experimented with locally, and the independence referendum is a good time for doing a trial run). The SNP has an inarguable democratic mandate for holding a referendum on independence: it would be a loser’s game for Westminister to insist that they will do the referendum rather than Holyrood: it would be downright foolish for the SNP to insist on forming another body similar-but-not the Electoral Commission for the purposes of holding the independence referendum: and there is neither a democratic mandate nor a serious plan for devomax-devoplus.

Really, all Sturgeon and Moore had to seriously argue about was whether 16/17 year olds could get to vote. Makes you wonder why it took so long? (Well, fairly obviously: it was Moore’s responsibility for the UK government to see if he could get Sturgeon to concede on any of these points: it was Sturgeon’s responsibility for Scotland not to concede any point for which the SNP had a clear democratic mandate and to push for more if she could get it.)

I have no particular emotional leaning towards voting yes for independence just for its own sake.

That said, I count myself genuinely undecided because the Conservatives have gone from bad to worse and Labour are sliding uneasily rightwards to catch up with them. The idea of voting Yes to break up the UK because I cannot bear the government of 2010-2015 seems short-sighted and petty: but what if a permanent right-wing rot has set in at Westminster? This is why both UK Labour and the Conservatives have been successfully campaigning for Yes in 2014 as far as I am concerned.

But then, there’s the SNP. Their assertion that they want independence because they want Scots to have more control does not square with their party’s supreme lack of concern for local democracy, from freezing the council tax to championing an oil billionaire over local Aberdonians. Alex Neil, appointed and still seated as Health Secretary, stands bullish against half of Scotland’s population having a very basic control over their own lives.

The SNP are relying (it seems to me, and to others) on an emotional appeal to independence for its own sake without offering any rational case as to what an independent Scotland will be like.

Scottish Parliament from foot of Royal MileJust for the basics: How many MSPs will there be in the Scottish Parliament post-independence? If exactly the same number, each of them will have more than twice as much work to do (and if the number is increased, the design of that expensive purpose-built Parliament is going to look sillier and sillier). If the number is increased, where will the constituency boundaries lie? If powers are to be devolved to local councils, which ones? If local councillors are to do more work/have more autonomy, where are the plans for devolving local power? So do the SNP actually mean they want more power for Scots, or more powers for the First Minister and Holyrood? What, exactly, will I be voting for?

The one policy that has constantly drawn me to voting for independence – closing down Faslane, temporarily or hopefully permanently disarming Scotland and rUK of nuclear weapons – remains shaky.

While not a supporter of devomax, I worry that the elimination of that question from the ballot will lead to both sides campaigning on a relentlessly purist national front, without consideration of what kind of country we want to live in. (Yes, I am for a Scottish Constitution. You may have noticed.)

Alex Andreou noted of David Cameron’s speech at the Tory conference last week:

But most frighteningly, it does not appear to occur to him that the position of prime minister involves more than passionately delivered, hollow words.

Last year, he framed his speech with “Britannia didn’t rule the waves with her armbands on”. This year he says “it is time to sink or swim”. An elegant, if unwitting, indication of how his thinking has moved on; from foolhardy champion swimmer to panicked doggy-paddler.

David Cameron will be campaigning for a No vote because if Yes wins – unlikely as that seems at this juncture – it would be a death blow to his hopes of survival as Prime Minister or as party leader after 2015. What that means on the face of it is nothing but good news for the Yes campaign: nothing makes independence look better than a Tory with nothing to say standing there and saying it.

But what it also means – if you remember the AV campaign – is that the parties with more money will be campaigning as viciously and untruthfully as they can against independence. Dan Hodges describes what that looked like from the inside for the AV campaign. The Tories have appointed a spam spiv to run their election campaign, and from the perspective of Westminister, achieving an overwhelming No vote is part of the Tory election campaign. Grant Shapps may be a political lightweight, but he’s run a very successful Internet marketing business.

So for all of us – the Yes, the No, and the Undecided – the Electoral Reform Society’s endeavour to bring the political discussion to a more serious level is something to be welcomed. (Meantime, YouGov is asking questions like this. WTF.)

Their report on the People’s Gathering on the 14th of July is published:

In this time of change we ask real Scots: who should have power in Scotland?
Most of us agree should be governed by the people, for the people but do our politicians always know about or act in the interests of voters?

(Consider, for example, land reform. The Land Reform Review Group is stacked somewhat in favour of those who own a great deal of land. What if instead the Scottish government had skewed the LRRG in favour of those who own none?)

What should Scottish democracy look like?

(Question Time this Thursday in Glasgow will give David Dimbleby another opportunity to insult and ignore the Deputy Prime Minister of Scotland when she tries to talk, because she’s a gurl.)

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