In less than four months, we’ll go to the polls to vote Yes or No to the question:
“Should Scotland be an independent country?”
And today, the campaign period for the referendum officially begins.
But as I pointed out a few weeks ago (and Simon Jenkins pointed out yesterday) the SNP are not offering independence: they want major decisions for Scotland’s governance to be made at Westminster/in London. (It’s all in the White Paper: haven’t you read it?)
Tonight at 10:35 the BBC will broadcast a very special edition of Question Time, from Edinburgh’s Cornmarket.
It’s special on two counts, one overshadowed by the other. Firstly, because the audience will all be 16 and 17 years old – the age range who will be able to vote for the first time on 18th September 2014. (Properly speaking it should have been an audience of kids with birthdays between September 1998 and September 1996, since anyone 17 today would have been able to vote in September 2014 anyway.) But, this means an audience of interested politically aware youngsters will be able to put questions to politicians directly concerned with the independence debate.
By Friday 23rd November, MPs will have to decide whether the UK should be in defiance of an ECHR ruling or David Cameron.
David Cameron says:
“no-one should be in any doubt: prisoners are not getting the vote under this Government.”
Lord Lester of Herne Hill, a QC who sits on the Commission on a Bill of Rights, said
offering a ban was merely political posturing, and it was inevitable prisoners would get the right to vote.
Asked if the Government would have to the vote to prisoners in some form, he told The Daily Telegraph: “Of course – either that or we are in the same position as in Greece under junta. Greece had to leave the Council of Europe.
Please note that it’s not even a question that “all prisoners must have the vote” – it’s perfectly legitimate to ban some prisoners from voting. Continue reading
David Dimbleby presents Question Time from Easterhouse in Glasgow. Panellists include:
And then there’s the new BBC Extra Guest. Last time was Toby Young, and very dull he was. Who should be the Extra Guest this time?
Willie Beck, aged 79, who plays the bagpipes to newlyweds at the Gretna House Hotel (the original marriage hotel built in 1710):
“We’ve been doing gay marriages in Gretna since it became legal. Gay marriages or marriages between a man and a woman – they’re all the same. It isn’t a big deal for us. It’s just another wedding. I’m open-minded about it. I just play the pipes the same whether it’s a man and a woman getting married or two men or two women. When they want a picture with the piper, the guys cuddle up to me as much as the lassies.”
The process of legislation in the Scottish Parliament isn’t speedy, even though there is no second chamber. This autumn the Scottish Government will produce a draft Bill legalising same-sex marriage. There will be a consultation on the draft Bill. In 2013, the legislation will be put before the Scottish Parliament, be read by Committees, and Westminster will be requested to make a change to the Equality Act to make sure any religious celebrant who doesn’t approve of same-sex marriage can refuse to conduct one. Because marriage is a complicated set of legislation, though the Act itself will likely have passed by 2014, the Scottish Government have said they are not likely to make the Act law until early 2015.
But there is really nothing much the Catholic Church in Scotland can do to stop gay marriage now. They shot their bolt when in 2011 they had 200,000 postcards pre-printed with anti gay marriage messages and sent them out to all the 200,000 Mass-going Catholics across Scotland’s 500 parishes… and then only got 28,000 of them back.
Lynda Denton owns Gretna Green’s Blacksmith’s Shop, which conducts more than 1000 weddings a year, and the Smith’s Hotel.
“If gay couples want to be married by a minister, we’ll be pleased to provide the service. Since 1754, when young couples first began running away from England to get married in Scotland, we have been all-embracing and we always will be all-embracing. People love the romanticism and the heritage of the place. It’s a lovely place to get married.”
Today Ahmed Abdullah Ahmed is being deported, if a campaign to let him stay does not succeed. I was tweeted this link by an independence supporter who argued (she didn’t have to argue with me it would be wrong to deport Ahmed, of course it would!) that Ahmed would not be deported from an independence Scotland. Well, I hope he wouldn’t be: he has been a refugee from Somalia for 20 years, he has lived in Britain for 7 years, he has a sister who has the right to remain in the UK – he should not have to go. (Action today!)
But I haven’t yet seen a definite policy committment from the supporters of an independent Scotland that would ensure refugees and asylum seekers who needed to stay in Scotland would be treated decently and helped to stay. For this to be more than “the sun will shine more often!” happy thoughts, independence needs a constitutional convention, and needs it long before autumn 2014.
Ed Miliband said:
“People can be Scottish and British, it’s OK. And if they feel primarily Scottish that’s fine too. But if they leave the UK they won’t be British any more: it stands to reason.”
There’s a general lesson there. Any time you find yourself ending a statement with “It stands to reason!” you are probably wrong. It often doesn’t.
Repeatedly in discussions on Twitter, which admittedly is not the place for subtlety, pro-independence Scots have told me that the thing that matters is winning the Yes vote – “Everything else” can get worked out post-indy.
This is indescribably foolish.
One, because presumably they are attempting to convince me to vote Yes, and I’ll vote for status-quo devolution if they’ve got nothing more in the pot to offer but “We want you to vote yes!” Telling me that this is the “wrong attitude” to take to the independence referendum? Well, fine, but it’s my attitude: you can’t convince me to vote yes by refusing to engage with me.
Two, because realistically: I understand that the proposed timescale for independence is two years after a “yes” vote wins. Assuming that the Yes vote does win, that means four or so years from today, Scotland would be an independent nation.
That is none too much time to begin the Constitutional Convention to discuss what form and structure the new nation should have.
I wrote about the work of the Constitutional Convention in the 1990s Continue reading