Don’t start what you can’t finish

Thrawn.  It’s a word that describes the Scots well.  Indeed, we can be world beaters at being perverse and contrary.

It was many people’s instinctive response to the Prime Minister’s intervention in the independence debate yesterday.  David Cameron is promising threatening that the UK Parliament will take charge of the referendum, determine the wording of a basic yes/no question and if the Scottish Government runs it within eighteen months, it will be binding.  Delay and it will only be advisory, in the sense that the UK Parliament might not heed its result.

Labour also entered the fray with a move to give expat Scots living elsewhere in the UK a say in the referendum.  If it did not have the backing of an actual amendment to the Scotland bill,  I would have sworn this story was a contender for the annual Tartan bollocks award.  But no, there it was, Scotland on Sunday’s splash, with Tom Peterkin’s by-line and supportive remarks from named and un-named Labour sources.  The amendment would mean that anyone born in Scotland could participate in the referendum.

The SNP has been rubbing its hands with glee since.  The prospect of ghosts of Thatcher past, like Lord Forsyth, leading the No campaign in Scotland under an enforced referendum with wording decided by the UK and not the Scottish Government and an explicit threat attached to it will have many instinctively reaching to vote yes to independence without any rational consideration of the arguments for and against.  Our thrawn side will come into its own.

Depending on your poll, support for independence sits somewhere between 30 – 40% which means the SNP needs an additional 20% to reach the finish line.   It’s probably secured a few per cent more based on David Cameron’s interview alone.  Give the SNP a few months to work the grievance into a lather and you can add in another substantial percentage.  And you can factor in a few more per cent, once we’ve worked out that a whole host of landed gentry who have spent all their lives in the privileged echelons of society down south, returning only to the ancestral home to claim their shooting and fishing rights, will be able to skew our wishes, if Labour’s identity amendment is accepted.

Desperation seems to be guiding the anti-independence campaign at the moment and ruses like these are only ever going to be counter-intuitive and counter-productive.  Fixing the rules of the referendum to achieve their ends in order to prevent the SNP fixing the rules of the referendum to achieve their ends ain’t going to work.  The Scots are not stupid, despite what many politicians and commentators continue to think.  They can see through everyone’s agendas and when the debate is focused on these semantics then it will come down to who people in Scotland trust more.  Clue:  it isn’t the Conservatives.

Moreover, inviting expats to vote in the referendum shifts the narrative decisively into the realm of identity politics.  Are only people who were born in Scotland going to be allowed to participate in the referendum?  What happens to all the people who have chosen to live and work in Scotland and who have as much a stake – if not more – than Scots born natives who have never lived here?  The idea that only those with Scots blood in their make up should participate in the future of Scotland is extremely narrow nationalism: it’s not a politics that the SNP under Alex Salmond has ever peddled.

Ironic, then, that it is being promoted by the Labour party, which clearly thinks this is a cunning plan to swamp the yes vote with nos from all around the UK.  Has it evidence to support this supposition, for I am not entirely sure that most expats would vote no when it came to it.  In population terms, London is effectively Scotland’s third largest city and a fair number of those exiles spend a considerable amount of time thirling themselves to their Scottishness.  I can think of many exiles and ex-pats who would in fact vote yes, which is not what Labour intends.

The focus down on to a straight yes/no question suits many – except for a majority of Scottish people, of course, who have indicated time and again in polls that they would like their Parliament to have more powers.   Only the SNP – for tactical reasons – has suggested a devo-max option might be put on the ballot paper.  Predictably, it has drawn the fire of the Unionists and devolutionists, who bizarrely have found themselves arguing for a vote on either the status quo or the full shebang.   They might think this is the way to stymie the SNP’s ambitions but it’s a risky strategy.  It’s the thrawn thing again.

The SNP with its big tent approach will take all votes, no matter where they come from or how they were arrived at.  That is the point of having a sweeping ambition.  This kind of nonsense from the Conservatives and Labour helps the SNP’s cause no end, not least because it reduces the pressure on and impetus for the party to articulate the positive case for independence – and get that absolutely right.  Instead, it can harness enough votes from those aggrieved with the fixers and meddlers – which is not necessarily a good thing.

Consequently, caution is required.  The Depute First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has been in every broadcast studio possible in the last 24 hours, sticking religiously to the agreed line. “The Scottish Government has a mandate to deliver the referendum and we will stick to our election promise of holding it in the second half of the Parliament.”

Really?  If the UK Government does follow through on its threat, the Scottish Government will say no thanks, we’ll stick to our timetable?  Once it’s on the statute books, why not?  Particularly if there is an indication of a potential yes vote: suddenly, accusations of feartie from varied quarters start to ring true.

The SNP Government needs to relax its stance on the timing, to allow itself room for manoeuvre.  It can still have fun at the Conservatives’ expense and hammer home the point that Scotland has never taken kindly to being told what to do by Tories.  But that approach does not rule out being open to the possibility of running with the UK Government referendum if the wording is satisfactory and the timescales allow it.

Insisting on holding the vote at a timing of its choosing risks defeat, because just as the Scots’ electorate can be thrawn with other political parties, it can soon turn its attention to the SNP, if it suspects that grandstanding has been engaged in and the Scottish people’s sovereignty is being denied by the one party it thought it could trust on this issue.

Who knew I’d be linking our main political parties to a Smiths’ song, never mind including one in a blogpost, but this choon seems very apposite right now.

I started something I couldn’t finish:  it should serve as a warning for all the parties currently jockeying for position in the independence debate.

52 thoughts on “Don’t start what you can’t finish

  1. I’m confused about the logistics of letting people who were born in Scotland but don’t live here vote. We don’t have any sort of expat register, do we? So would you have to send in a copy of your birth certificate to create a whole new electoral roll? How long would that take? How would we verify them? Seems nonsensical to me.

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  3. Great spread of opinions, positions and ideas.

    I wonder what the equivalent blog in unionland would be like?

    and naw, I’m going to sully ma paws at Labour Hame or Tory Hoose. As for the LibDems, oh dear.

    • WordPress not letting me reply to your earlier post.

      If you’re right about the impending implosion in financial services, North Sea Oil ain’t going to fill the hole anyway.

      Maybe they’ve got their eyes on our renewables too! 🙂

  4. We had a mini discussion at work – albeit only two of us have any real interest in politics!

    But we think that Cameron is using the legal approach to try to scupper the SNP’s chances of victory by defining a clear number of positive votes,based on the total number of eligible voters. That is, a clear majority of over 50% of the total electorate. That is his only real hope since he would have the legal backup. He cannot hope to use any tactic based on popularity, and it is unlikely the SNP will make any major cockups in Government.

    However, this is a unique Referendum which has no real precendent in the UK, considering the current position of the SNP. To that you have to add in the Salmond factor. In addition, Cameron has no real influence with voters outside the M25, let alone Scotland.

  5. Ye write really well Burd. Enjoyed it very much.

  6. Garry

    Sorry to disagree, but Oil revenues are presently providing over 20% of the UK’s Corporation Tax and without it the collateral for the UK’s huge debt disappears.
    That is why the Westminster Government put a huge extra tax burden on oil and that is why Cameron was forced to tell the whole world that Scottish Oil had at least a 40 year life left despite the rogues till now telling is interminably that it was about to run out.
    Do not underestimate the real trouble UK is in without the oil revenues (or in fact if international money lenders think it is going to be without oil revenues).

    Here comes the lies……………

    • yep and there will be plenty more of them as they get more and more desperate.

    • Dave,

      Even the SNP puts the surplus to Scotland at only a few £billion per year. In the present climate, losing even that would hurt England of course but it is not significant for an economy of its size.

      The point about collateral is more interesting. Oil in itself cannot be offered as collateral because the government doesn’t own it. All it can put up is the future taxes it will impose on its extraction. All in all, this is not a particularly big number when set against the taxes England would still be able to raise from VAT and duty on fuel sales and the other taxes it would raise from elsewhere.

      England needs to restructure its economy for much bigger reasons than the potential loss of oil revenues. I think the money markets are much more interested in the current deficit rather than which sector future tax revenues might come from.

      As I said in my original post, this intervention simply makes no sense if taken at face value. Would we really be surprised if Cameron was secretly looking to dismantle the Union?



  7. “The SNP Government needs to relax its stance on the timing, to allow itself room for manoeuvre. It can still have fun at the Conservatives’ expense and hammer home the point that Scotland has never taken kindly to being told what to do by Tories. But that approach does not rule out being open to the possibility of running with the UK Government referendum if the wording is satisfactory and the timescales allow it.”

    If the SNP Government intended to run with the UK Government’s referendum, why would it relax its stance? Surely much better to appear to “fight” it tooth and nail until being “forced” into accepting it anyway?

    • exactly Hamish. But at the moment it is absolutely fixed on the pre-determined course and in its messaging not even allowing that sliver of possibility.

  8. Burdeyeview

    Is it not a good strategy not to reveal all your tactics to the enemy before they have revealed theirs?

    Try fighting a war by telegraphic your manoeuvres and tactical stratagems before the battle commences.

    The SNP, I hope, will have a bag of tactics worked out ready to apply as needed. That is how I would play it. It is also standard business strategy when launching a new product into a market.

    • two negatives make a positive. The forst line should read

      not a good strategy to reveal all etc.

      No edit button and skim reading what I have typed, with my two left feet, before posting is not recommended.


      • No worries – point very clear and possibly well made. Again, though I think what has been said by the SNP has been the initial response without much time to weigh it all up, hence the crystal clear message about timing and mandate which if nothing else is consistent.

        Can’t be easy having only paws to type with…

  9. Danny , the one thing missing from your analysis is the value of N|orth Sea Oil on his London centric economy bearing in mind the City, one way or the other and sooner rather than later is going to go belly up.

    That being so, he has no collateral to “pledge” when “UK” bonds are being offered.

    City down or severely wounded and the North Sea Oil revenues turned off at the border would be a harbinger of economic chaos probably followed by Zimbabwean inflation.

    So, I think that Cameron does not have the intellect to see through all and his current economic strategy backs up what I say.

    Cameron is a patrician and, as a career politician, he has no real understanding of his electorate beyond whatever poll results are placed before him. He probably sound out his strategic thinking over his dinner table with his class peers.

    • The surplus of Scottish revenues (incl North Sea Oil) over Scottish expenditure is marginal in terms of the entire UK economy. In short, England doesn’t need North Sea Oil all other things being equal.

      Not sure I agree with your analysis of the City. I am certain Cameron won’t so it won’t be part of his calculations.

      That said, the English economy needs to diversify pretty urgently but that is just common sense rather than a precursor to an impending implosion of financial services.

      • If I were in the UK, I would have a wee bet with you, a pint o

        r two.

        The Oil revenues is worth about 20% of the UK tax revenues, leaving aside VAT which would be the same whether the oil can from Timbucktoo or Aberdeen,

        I think the City and Banking sectors was just over 50%.

        These are figures from my cranial recesses.

        Europe is going to hobble the City and Sarko, or whoever is the French Pres will do the same because the Sorbonniers have that as a strategic objective. If the FDrench banking system goes T1tz up they will blame it on the City.

        HSBC has also threatened to move their HQ back to HK. They have ALREADY moved their centre of operations there some short while ago.

        If Cameron is outsmarted by Merkozy, they already read him as a pavlovian pushover, Barclays will up sticks and move to Dubai.

        If those two go, notwithstanding an implosion in World Western currencies, which in my opinion is acoming, then no oil and implosion UK PLC.

      • I was just thinking Scotland is the 17th largest oil producer in the World and Libya was the 15th. Now this make the contribution a little bit more meaningful?

      • yep it does indeed

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  11. I agree that Salmond/SNP is not good at strategy – one just has to look back to 2010 to see how it fared when it allowed itself to fight on the wrong, and totally avoidable, terrain.

    We have arrived at today’s situation mostly by accident (at least we have not arrived here by executing a strategy to achieve Independence) but now we are here, Salmond will come into his own tactically. His political judgement is far superior to that of any other UK politician and he also has the best skills to exploit his reading of the politics.

    The stars have clearly aligned for the SNP and they have wasted no time in setting about making the most of it.

    But Cameron’s move makes no sense from a Unionist perspective. I wonder whether the Tories are starting to see that the stars are also aligning for them and can now look like they are trying to protect the union when, actually, they are trying to accelarate its demise.

    In the short to medum term (at least) getting shot of Scotland would be a huge bonus for the (English) Tories. The only downside would be the possible loss of Trident and, although totemic for many in the Independence movement, its possible retention in Scotland would be an enormous bargaining chip in dissolution negotiations to the extent that it is feasible to see its retention being justified for what else it could ‘buy’. (Ultimately, being Independent with Trident is still better than not being Independent with Trident and although the Scottish public is clearly hostile to Trident, I don’t really see an awful lot being done about it over and above the odd march or demo at Faslane).

    The other tactical factor to consider for the Tories is Europe. This is possibly the one thing that could cost them re-election in 2015. Cameron has put a lid on it for the time being but it will come back – unless there is another constitutional issue which pre-occupies the back benches. An Independence Referendum would provide these little Englanders with a great platform to vent their spleen. Instead of railing at the Franco-German bogeyman, they will turn their fire on the blood-sucking, ungrateful, whingeing Jocks.

    While there has been much discussion about how the debate will be conducted in Scotland, not much has been said about the Daily Mail style campaign that will be conducted south of the border – a campaign that will push many instinctive unionists in Scotland to the Independence corner. Do we really believe that Cameron doesn’t understand all this?

    Having interfered to provoke us, all Cameron has to do is find another willing frontman for the No campaign – step forward David Steel / Ming Campbell / Charlie Kennedy / Danny Alexander / Michael Moore / Jim Wallace – and retreat into the no man’s land of ‘It is a decision for the Scottish people’ while allowing his rabid backbenchers Carte-Blanche to destroy the Union.

    Finally, here is the killer question. Does Cameron value the Union between Scotland and England more than his continued Premiership? I seriously doubt it, in fact I suspect he had barely thought about it prior to his election as PM, so why would he do anything to risk the latter for the former and why would he not sacrafice the former to extend the latter?

    Maybe I’m wrong but I refuse to believe that Cameron thinks his intervention is helpful to the Unionist cause. Whatever, there is more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye.

    • Garry, I’d like to think all that you say is right but I wonder if you credit the Tories down south with too much nous. Maybe Cameron has made this electoral calculation – it’s good for Scotland and the SNP if he has. But I hae ma doots. The fact is none of them actually understand what seismic shift was wrought in May and what it all means.

      • Aye, in some ways that’s my point.

        They simply don’t care about Scotland other than they know they could be in power for life if they got shot of us.

        They may not understand Scottish politics or psychology but there is no single organisation in the world more clued up about how to retain power. Remember what they did to Maggie – if she was expendable you can bet your bottom Euro that Scotland is too.

      • Your political antennae are spot on. Hee hee, imagine the Tories wanting shot of us. WHo’d a thunk it! We just have to create as much mayhem for them as possible in the time we remain in their Kingdom!!

  12. The SNP needs to effectively kill the Unionist propaganda assertion that “uncertainity” generated from the decision to hold the referendum in the second half of the parliamentary term is damaging the Scottish economy.

    Need to say there is no statistical or empirical evidence in Scotland and elsewhere in the world that independence referendums damage the economy. Scotland’s economy is outperforming most of the UK economic regions. It is in fact George Osborne’s economic policy that is damaging or limiting Scotland’s economic potential.

    • We are on the same page and was tweeting on this very theme earlier. A blogpost to follow once get chance to have a wee look at the data

  13. I would be wary of assuming that 40% indication of support for independence in current polls leaves us short of a majority.That is a higher figure than current polls register for the status quo and the balance is probably made up of three distinct groups – those genuinely undecided, those genuinely unconcerned and those unlikely to vote.

    I would think that any polls showing steady support for independence above 40% would be very likely to mean a clear independence victory in a referendum.
    I suspect the unionists are aware of this and panic is the obvious and very evident reaction.
    I also think the deafening silence from Labour on this issue is indicative of deepening division in its remaining ranks.
    I would think that at least 50% of erstwhile Labour support would vote yes.
    I had always believed that the Tories would crack first on the independence issue. I realise now that they probably did some time ago only nobody noticed. What sits in the Scottish Parliament no longer represents that constituency. It repesents a unionist faction but not necessarily a Tory one.
    A true tory makes accommodation with the prevailing political direction and hops aboard.
    I wonder what Murdo Fraser thinks about as he goes to bed.

    There is an intersting poll running now in the Hamilton Advertiser (usual caveats apply)

    • Dave, separate post to come on Labour whom I noticed capitalised hugely thanks to the generosity of BBC Scotland and Newsdrive. Some things never change. And we’re not quite at 40% consistently – yet. But the trend is upwards and we’re getting there. I do hope someone is doing a poll soon on the back of all this weekend’s shenanigans…

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  15. Well as we are all aware the Holyrood system was cooked up to be an ensurance that the SNP never got a majority. That worked. As you say, all this tinkering with the mechanics for a unionist agenda will very probably only have the result of irritating people and further propelling them towards a ‘To Hell with Westminster. Permanently.’ reaction. In fact all parties should stop trying to control and manoeuvre the electorate to suit themselves. Everyone should remember that in an independent Scotland Alex Salmond will not get to decide what happens next – the Scottish people will. He did state that his primary allegiance was to them prior to swearing the revolting indefensible compulsory oath of allegiance to one bloodline of one family as the remnants of a Hanoverian monarchy that all elected politicians have to swear in these isles, whether they mean it or not, before they can do the job of representing the people who voted them in. All the single-minded discipline of focus on the goal of independence will be gone once it’s here and the true political personality of Scotland can breathe and move on. Clue: it’s not nationalist. Finally free from the archaic, stultifying, undemocratic gridlock of Westminster an independent Scotland could see a flourishing of political ideas, creativity and excitement that hasn’t been seen for a hundred years. With Cameron at the helm holding too much of the wrong kind of power that the system hands him it feels to many that we’ve waited far too long already for things to really change down there. Independence is looking like the only chance for goodness knows how long because Westminster is so slow and useless. Scotland could easily make its feelings clear in a Westminster rigged vote whether the SNP tell them to boycott or not. It could also do the same in a second vote whether they’re told it’s illegal by Westminster or not. They’ll make their own choice whatever smart tactics are employed on them. None of these politicians are Coinneach Odhar. All of them are clinging to the tail of a wild animal which has been unleashed and is out of their control – the will of the Scottish people. None of them should even think for one second about trying to stop it now – work with it not against it.

  16. The SNP Mainifesto did not – repeat – did not refer to ‘the second half of the parliament’. In one page of a 44 page document devoted to independence (page 28) it said “We will, therefore, bring forward our Referendum Bill in the next Parliament”. Salmond was running scared of separation in the run up to the election and obviously his cronies were told ‘don’t mention breaking up the UK, it might frighten the children’. He only came up with this ‘fearty’ strategy of waiting three or four years after his surprise victory. He is no strategist – just an astute tactitian.

    • I disagree with some of your less well-tempered epithets but you are right about Alex Salmond being a better tactician than strategist. I made this point in a comment and have also done so in previous blogposts (somewhere). There is no election manifesto commitment on timing you are right but a last minute pledge when realisation that winning was within sight and also because having not featured in the campaign, independence was getting talked about in last couple of weeks of campaign. Nicola Sturgeon has been entirely consistent in what she has been saying on it – our election promise was to hold the referendum in the last years of this parliament and we will stick to that. My query is whether it is wise to paint themselves into a corner on it given the recent developments.

    • Election promises are made during the campaign and are not the reserve of the manifesto. As Alex Salmond stated it clearly in a TV debate, I have that one down as a clear election promise.

      Witness the LibDem pledge to oppose tuition fees. What was the main part of the anger at their subsequent betrayal was not the difference from their manifesto (which, let’s face it, virtually no one reads) but the difference between their actions and their photo opped signatures on those pledge placards.

      • yes you are right and the SNP should assert its election promise but leave wriggle room. If the polls spurt in favour of independence are they still going to refuse to hold a referendum before 2014? That would be daft.

  17. Great point on the adoption of identity politics by Labour. Such an odd move.

    • It’s utterly bizarre. Particularly as it hasn’t clarified if the opposite will apply ie all those resident in Scotland at the time of the vote but without Scottish birthright won’t be allowed to participate. It’s desperate stuff.

  18. If Cameron presses ahead with this I reckon there is a huge choice for the SNP and two potential scenarios:

    Accept Cameron will go ahead with plans, but continue narrative building around Tories ignoring democractic mandate of Scot Govt etc. Referendum comes round and Yes vote wins due to resentment of intereference by Cameron and lack of devo-max option on ballot paper.


    Refuse to deal with Cameron. Go on the offensive in media over Tory intereference. Start to move towards a position of boycott on Cameron’s referendum. Push ahead with plans for own referendum in second half of parliamentary term. End result here could be very low turnout in Cameron referendum leading to lack of credibility/mandate. SNP then calls own referendum and if YES vote in that popular will impossible to ignore for Cameron, irrespective of legal position. Although that scenario would lead us into a very complicated and fraught situation.

    • Whaaa? Two referendums on the same subject in quick succession? The public will hate that. No way that’s happening.

      • Agree with that but difficult to see where else SNP’s current line can go then? Sturgeon has been all over the place today saying that they will stick to existing committments. Potential way out I suppose is for SNP to name date, which may then relieve pressure and Cameron backs off?

      • Indeed, which is why the SNP needs to ca’ canny here, as my post suggests.

    • The SNP has to do the former – the latter won’t work. And that’s why a little caution is required over timing and its stance. Everyone knows the stated election position was to hold referendum at back end of Parliament, albeit this was only stated in last couple of weeks of election campaign. But to not engage in a perfectly fine referendum simply because Tories imposed it could backfire.

      • Yes, but does the SNP not also risk losing the political impetus/momentum by (tacitly) agreeing with Cameron’s terms?

  19. “Really? If the UK Government does follow through on its threat, the Scottish Government will say no thanks, we’ll stick to our timetable? Once it’s on the statute books, why not?”

    Um, for the same reason we pitched the referendum as being in the second half of the Parliament in the first place, rather than the day after the election?

    • Read the context – it’s the reaction of the Scottish people that counts. And failure to engage or allow an acceptable referendum could backfire, especially if people start to doubt SNP’s intentions on its raison d’etre.

      • Disagree. I don’t see how the two halves of your argument can co-exist, to be honest – either the thrawn people of Scotland will react angrily to Cameron’s interference, or they’re not that thrawn really and therefore they won’t. I think the former is hugely more likely. Whatever their individual views on isolated policies, the electorate rarely gets mad at politicians for sticking to the promises they were elected on.

        In my view the SNP would suffer much more if they buckled at Cameron’s pressure than if they told him to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine (Manchester). Remember, at this point there’s been no suggestion that he’s going to hold his own referendum, only that his “permission” for us to hold ours will expire. But that permission is not required, is not actually Cameron’s to give anyway, and in political terms can’t realistically be opposed.

        The SNP, I predict, will sit tight just like they did with Wee Wendy. And we know who came off worst that time.

      • There is a tightrope to be walked on this for sure. But suppose support for indie increases during all this. Boycotting a referendum is not an option – though you are right to say that the legislation will only permit one to be held. Some people are bound to query SNP’s motive and ambition if it refuses to use that power if the question etc is acceptable.

      • If support increases dramatically to a point where victory seems assured (let’s say consistent polls of at least 60-40) then sure, the SNP would be daft not to take the opportunity, perhaps on St Andrew’s Day 2013, which would be just within the 2nd half of the Parliament and also probably within Cameron’s 18-month deadline (by the time he actually got the legislation passed), thereby leaving nobody any room for objection. And, y’know, if the FUD camp is going to keep being THIS stupid, it just might.

      • Indeed, and that essentially is my point – allow for that possibility in the messaging. Though probably not deftly enough stated, hence causing everyone confusion! Apologies.

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