You’d think, given that there are still two whole years to go, that someone somewhere would call a truce and gies the summer aff.
So we could all go away and think thoughts. Or just read books on a beach.
But no, there is still plenty of noise and heat being generated over the referendum, and the long, drawn-out positioning on the process continues apace.
I’d like to say negotiating, but that ain’t happening: the preferred mode of debate is still to shout at each other from the pages of newspapers and across the twitter, blog and web-spheres.
In this grown-ups’ game of Top Trumps, many cards have been traded – the Scotland bill, the date of the referendum, who gets to be in charge of it, and who gets to vote on it. But both sides are holding on tightly to their shinies on the question or questions to be asked. No one appears ready to trade on this, just yet.
For any reader who has spent the last few months in a cave, the defining procedural issue concerns whether the referendum should be a straight yes/no for independence or whether there should also be an option on the ballot paper for a devo-plus (some more powers, especially economic and fiscal ones devolved to Holyrood) or devo-max option (everything but the big nation state stuff like defence and foreign affairs being transferred from Westminster). So, a multi-option puzzle.
And – just to add to our confusion – depending on how the question is put, we are talking about a one question or a two question referendum. If we are offered to choose between two statements on independence – I want an independent Scotland or I don’t want an independent Scotland – that’s a two question ballot. If it’s Scotland should be independent – yes or no, that’s a one question vote. Yep, you can see why it matters.
But given that the consultation was on a yes/no basis, we’ll talk about a one or two question ballot – with the second question potentially being on devo-plus or max.
Only it’s still more complicated than that, because there are folk like me who want the No, or rather the status quo, option to be on a souped-up devolution offer. So that what people are getting to choose is going the whole way or nearly there. This, I like to think is supremely democratic: no poll in the last few years has shown that the overwhelming desire of Scots is to stay as we are. Indeed, most polls show that majority opinion favours “nearly there”. It should be a given that this option is somehow put before the people.
It has been suggested that the First Minister and others in the SNP firmament would like the fallback position of devo-max on the ballot paper. The only evidence to back up this assertion is a blog posted by referendum tactical supremo Stephen Noon way back in October 2011 (and a lot of things have shifted since then) and some casually thrown away remarks by the First Minister while out on Brave duty in the US. I suspect he was flying a kite to see what the reaction was.
And reaction he got, with a flurry of folk on the pro-independence side coming out for a straight yes-no. Not that many had ever really been in the closet on this, but there is an awful lot of chatter on it, including well-placed and un-named sources in high up Cabinet and Ministerial positions whispering outside the tent in order to achieve their objective.
But there are others who share the First Minister’s supposed caution, or rather, would also like a potential fallback position. And at this point, Alex Salmond is trying to do what he does best: tactically outmanoeuvre the opposition.
Since last May (have we really been talking about this for fourteen months?), the somewhat unholy alliance of Unionist parties, with Labour at its helm, have insisted that it will be a straight yes-no – a one question ballot – and Salmond and co are not getting to eat a cake, baked and decorated by them. More devolution isn’t for this vote but for another one, as part of an election campaign. Vote no and we’ll give you what you want later. Jam tomorrow.
The problem is that none of the parties has decided what flavour of jam is on the menu. Scottish Labour, which is determined to show that it is leading the process and the No campaign, promised a policy forum to develop its stance on more powers, but apparently, it’s not been set up yet. So jam then, and we’ll all just have to trust them that it will be lovely when it’s made. But we all know what happens if you don’t get the balance of ingredients right and don’t give jam enough time to set…
There is some movement in the pro-Union camp on this, though. An interesting piece by Tom Peterkin in the Scotsman yesterday suggests that the Devo-plus lot, led by Jeremy Purvis, is trying to persuade the anti-independenistas to offer devo-plus as a defined alternative to full independence. Their intention would be that this would effectively be the no option in the referendum. And still, for it to be a one question rather than two question gig.
This is a prospect which gladdens my heart and quite possibly, allows the First Minister a quiet purr as well. He may well want devo-plus or max on the ballot paper, but to keep independence supporters happy, really doesn’t want to have to bake this cake himself.
But what do you all think? How many questions do you want to be asked in the referendum on independence?
I had thought I’d done a wee poll on this before, but clearly I only dreamed I had…. So as we are in the silly season, and some of us haven’t yet made it to the beach, let’s see if we can shed a little light on this most vexing of issues.
Update: I forgot the don’t know option. And for the cynics, the no referendum at all one. Poll now updated. Sigh.