We are still somewhere between 2 and 4 years away from a referendum on Scottish independence. Scotland has never had a border poll before. Nobody knows how the referendum campaign will proceed, although given the radically different constellation of forces on the ‘Yes’ side, it will almost certainly be very different to the devolution campaign in 1997. Beyond that, a veritable horde of unknown unknowns lurk in the shadows. Only a fool or an owner of a crystal ball would attempt to call the result.
I’ve gone from being sure I would vote against independence to being unsure – is it really time to break up a 408-year marriage over a few unhappy years of Toryism? Can the damage the current Westminister government is doing be fixed once they’re out of power? How long can the Scottish Parliament hold them off? How soon will the UK be able to elect a better government? Above all: is it really right to end the union because of a temporary political fault? Has English politics really become so alien that we’ll never again be able to agree on a common government?
I suspect that it’s going to be one of those times I’m not going to be absolutely certain of my vote until I’m actually faced with the ballot paper and a pencil and the plain fact that I now have to put a cross somewhere, as I’ve never not-voted or committed spoiled-ballotry in my life.
But when the Conservative Party sends a press release to their favoured outlet for party churnalism, and the Torygraph publishes it under Alan Cochrane’s name, which includes the provocative declaration that:
A special Cabinet meeting in Downing Street this morning will be presented with legal advice from the Coalition’s most senior law officers — the Attorney General, the Solicitor General and Scotland’s Advocate General. It will declare that Mr Salmond’s plan to hold a referendum under the auspices of the Scottish Parliament would be unlawful.
It will confirm that under the terms of the 1998 Scotland Act — which set up Holyrood and decided its powers — any issue affecting the constitutional position of the UK can be determined only by Westminster. As a result of the Act, the law officers agreed, any attempt to hold either a binding, or even a consultative, referendum would be outlawed by the courts.
If Mr Salmond decided to defy Westminster, he would also be barred by law from using the electoral register, making it impossible for him to issue polling cards or post referendum literature.
Well. Are we to conclude that David Cameron really is that politically foolish north of the Border? That he honestly does not understand that – whether or not we intend to vote for independence, and whether or not we voted for the SNP – this is a Tory gauntlet in the face?
The SNP won a majority in the Scottish Parliament. That gives them a mandate to hold the referendum on Scottish independence at the date of their choosing. Cameron’s fancy that he gets to choose the date and dictate the content of the referendum is outrageous – his party has only 15 MSPs in Parliament, and only one MP in Scotland. He has no mandate to dictate terms north of the Border, and for him to so publicly claim that he does, is an outrageous foolishness if he really wants to preserve the United Kingdom with Scotland … and all of the Scottish Labour voters able to send Labour MPs to Parliament.
Cameron’s little brother Nick Clegg publicly declared supporters of independence “extremists” the other day. This is both absurd and derogatory, but I suppose not really important: it’s Cameron that’s clearly campaigning … for something.
Update: the question about whether the Scottish Parliament has lawful powers under the Scotland Act to vote for an Act declaring a referendum on independence, was ably and clearly discussed by Lallands Peat Worrier in November 2011.