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.