It’s hard to be inspired to comment on recent political events when it feels like we are living in Groundhog Day. Everyone is obsessed. Everyone inhabiting the political village talks about nothing else. And it’s boring.
Except that it’s not the SNP nor its supporters who have the constitution on a continual loop, bizarrely. Opponents think this is significant, got them on the run they think, but they are so very wrong. The whole time the other parties and political commentators are working themselves up into a lather about independence, it’s job done as far as party strategists are concerned.
Oh, there is no doubt they’d like a little less negativity but the fact that everyone is flying Icarus-like, too close to the independence sun, is a very good thing. We all know, after all, what happened to him.
And the more it happens, the more likely it is that the SNP will win.
First, the referendum will be held on a date chosen carefully by the SNP for maximum benefit, or else it will be foisted upon the Scottish electorate at a date chosen by lawyers or Westminster. In either case, the SNP will win.
So the legal brains might be right: the Scottish Parliament might not have the legislative competence currently to pass a bill creating a referendum. Are indie opponents really going to tell the Scots that, by dragging the issue into the courts for years? And even if they do, do they think such parlour games are going to help their cause? Given the SNP’s intention only to proceed with a referendum in the second half of this Parliament, such activity might indeed push a referendum beyond 2016. That will only help the Scottish Government’s case for re-election, on the grounds of unfinished business.
Nor would such a scenario lead to the internal splits and strife predicted – indicating by the way, that after all this time the other parties still don’t get the SNP and its supporter base. Oh there will be grumblings – there already are – but by and large, the faithful have their eyes on the prize. They won’t blame Salmond for failing to deliver, their innate sense of grievance against all things institutionally British will ensure they know exactly where to pin the blame. They will wait, nursing their wrath to keep it warm, but they will not languish in idleness in the meantime. The Roadmap to Independence gives them plenty of work to do on the doorsteps.
Moreover, dire warnings that Westminster might foist a vote on the Scottish electorate – to get it over with, to avoid distractions – really should come as an idea stamped with the phrase “beware unintended consequences”. An increasingly distant UK Parliament – which most Scots do not consider has a democratic mandate in Scotland – seeking to impose its will over that of the Government which a majority of them did vote for, will only bring out our thrawn-ness. Interference from faraway lands, both literally and emotionally, is all good, as far as the SNP is concerned.
Further, the terms of the debate will ensure the SNP wins. They – and other independence supporters – will be asking people to vote for something positive. Judging by the arguments being laid by Unionists to date, they are finding it very hard to shift off negative territory and provide positive reasons to vote to stay as we are. They know they have to do this, to come up with a resonant yes to the Union campaign but are so fixated on the axis of the SNP and independence, that they cannot articulate their own ideas and views on what yes to the Union looks like. Telling people constantly why they shouldn’t do something is not the right psychology. The SNP, meanwhile, will appeal to folk’s confidence and competence, their sense of self, their aspiration, their hopes and for a future. It’s worked so far….
Indeed, the very lack of a coherent narrative from the naysayers will also doom them. The SNP is united around a single goal: the Unionists cannot even agree what their goal is. They seem to be agreed that it is not independence, nor is it devo-max, for shame. So the supposed line in the sand is what? The status quo? Devolution with a few bits added on (from the current Scotland bill)? Devolution with a little bit extra and maybe a cherry on top (Calman plus)? But some arch Unionists won’t accept that, and all of it ignores the political reality that in poll after poll, for some years now, the Scots have been saying they want the Scottish Parliament to have more powers.
Which brings us to the question to be put. Two questions? Three? A fix, as Tom Harris and others would style it? A straight yes or no? A combination? Let me add a question of my own. Do you think the Scottish people go to bed at night and worry themselves into the wee sma’ hours on this?
The answer to that one is, of course not. And the more the political anoraks – and worse, their elected representatives – bang on about this, the greater the contempt with which they are held by voters. Here they are, heads down, buttoning up their coats, preparing to face the ill-est winds recent times have produced, and all the politicians can do in response is produce hot air on what a referendum might/should ask.
So when we finally get to the day of the referendum, what right will have the naysayers have to expect the people’s support? Especially when they will have spent the intervening period standing on the sidelines carping at the Scottish Government’s efforts to sort the economy, keep people in jobs and money in their pockets. So they might have failed but at least they will have tried. What is it you did again to help the war against austerity effort?
And what is this? By your machinations and unholy alliances, you have conspired to ensure we don’t get asked the question we want, which is on devo-max? The Unionists’ fixation on it being a straight yes-no vote to independence will fail, utterly. The SNP, or at least, a majority of its supporters,, would settle for devo-max. Near as damnit will do as a fine, final staging post on the long journey towards the goal. Especially as it is what the Scottish people seem up for: if the SNP can deliver that, in tune with people’s wishes and aspirations, well it does not take a genius to work out whom the electorate might respect as a result.
Yet, in order to get one over on the SNP – supposedly – the Unionists want to deny the people what it is they want. I’m not sure that is an electoral narrative that will deliver success. Telling folk what they cannot have, without offering anything by way of a platform for keeping the status quo (which by the time we get there will be Calman, probably without the plus) is unlikely to go down well. What makes the naysayers so convinced that given the choice between change and no change at all, when most voters actually want some change, that they will vote for none? It’s a high risk strategy that is unlikely to pay off.
So the SNP wins. Have the UK Parliament impose the vote? Fine. Kick the prospect of a referendum into the long grass of the legal system? Dandy. A just say no strategy, filled with negative reasons to stay where we are? Great. A two question referendum? Nothing would make the SNP activists work until they drop, more. A three question vote? Well, nearly there is close enough.
And now that we’ve sorted that out, can we all go and do something more interesting with our time?