Parties 1: People 0

I believe in independence for Scotland.  That core belief has never wavered, though my understanding of what it should mean for a country and her people has changed and I would like to think, evolved.

So, as our Ministers First and Prime prepare to sign an agreement on a referendum on independence, am I thrilled?  Sort of.  Am I preparing, for the first time in a decade, to become an activist?  Yes.  Am I celebrating?  Hmm.

In fact, I am dismayed that the people have lost and the parties have won.  The agreement being signed to enable Scotland to determine and run a referendum on independence, with a single yes-no question, might satisfy the partisan, but it’s likely to leave a sour taste in the mouths of many voters.  I might be one such partisan, but I also like to think of myself as a democrat (I acknowledge that I have an unhealthy conceit of myself) who believes that power belongs to the people and that in politics, all voices should have a say, particularly those whose views are marginalised, silenced and rarely sought.

The option of more powers just short of full sovereign, constitutional independence should have been a contender.  Alex Salmond knew this, proving once again that he is the finest politician of his age, with an uncanny instinct for what plays and what might not in voters’ minds.  He wanted some form of devo-max on the ballot paper, because it was a win-win option.  Admittedly, for the SNP but more importantly, for the Scottish people.

But for once, he got the tactics wrong.  Or rather, he over-estimated the willingess and ability of other players to help deliver a devo-max option and under-estimated the fundamentalist core at the heart of his party, running from top to bottom.

When the definitive history of Scotland’s constitutional journey in the last thirty years is written, Alex Salmond will of course be a central figure, not least because of how he shepherded his party to this moment.  His leadership brought the SNP in from the cold, in the face of considerable opposition in the party, to participating in the devolution referendum in 1997.  And under his leadership, the party’s position and approach to seeking independence changed, with the introduction of the need to hold a referendum rather than simply seeking an electoral mandate to negotiate.  Both of these shifts, history will show, were the right ones for the SNP enabling the Scottish people to travel at a pace they feel comfortable with on the journey to full self-determination.

Which is what – I think, though I appreciate it is not shared by others – lay behind the attempt over the last year to create the opportunity for a devo-plus or devo-max option on the ballot paper.  But he could not do that alone, and certainly not within his party.  So he turned to civic Scotland and urged them to make the case.  Sadly, it proved unworthy of the task for a host of reasons, not least because it could not agree on what that option should look like or consist of.

And for once, Alex Salmond lost the argument within his party.  The gradualists might have reigned supreme over the SNP’s approach to independence, and the pace at which the ultimate prize was sought, in recent times, but the fundamentalists made a stirring comeback to seize the day, with some even rediscovering such tendencies in the last few months.  Much of the party membership – from Cabinet ministers to the most recently arrived supporters – wanted a clear run at making the case for independence.  Yes or no, without distractions.

This suited the Better Together campaign, though I’m still trying to understand why.  The trite response is that we do not need a referendum for the Scottish Parliament to get more powers or indeed, that we need to answer the independence question before we begin to look at repatriating more powers.  But it doesn’t stack up:  the Unionists think – again – that with a single question referendum they have shot the nationalist fox, but we all know what happened the last time they reached that conclusion.

A yes-no referendum creates a whole host of problems for the No camp: already there are fault-lines with some declaring that they are devolutionists, not Unionists.  They may think they can successfully coalesce around the word no for two years but that presumes that no one asks them to explain the why, what and how at any point.

It is also supremely arrogant of those parties to think that they and they alone should determine what more powers the Scottish people should have to run our own country.  Who cares about the semantics of whether there is a constitutional need for the people to have a say on more devolution, why would you want to prevent a democratically expressed commitment to devolution, if you are so confident that is what they would choose?  If you believe this marriage is still a healthy one, where two hearts still beat as one, why not a re-affirming of vows?

I get why most of the Yes camp wanted a single question referendum:  conspiracy theorists who divined that Alex Salmond wanted a devo-plus option on the ballot paper so he could contrive a win-win appeared to forget that most of the SNP don’t want a halfway house and want a tilt at persuading the Scottish people to go all the way.  That argument never really stacked up for me but I utterly fail to understand why the No camp think not having devo-plus as a referendum option somehow gives them tactical advantage over the SNP and other yes parties.  When 40% of the population already support that position.

And I can’t help returning to the fact that the parties have ignored the people – or at least, 40% of them – in contriving to create a referendum which will not offer them the choice they most want.  But ever the sceptical idealist, I think there is still time for “more powers for the Scottish Parliament” to appear on the ballot paper, if not writ large, at least in spirit.  My hope – still – is that “more powers” will effectively be the no option and that the idea of the status quo will quickly be buried.  In two years’ time, Scotland will either be fully independent or near enough and while I will work to achieve the former, I won’t be unhappy if Scots choose the latter.

The parties might all be claiming victory over today’s historic agreement.   The No camp reckon they backed the SNP and Alex Salmond into a corner and indeed, the SNP can claim that for once, it has imposed its will on its leader by winning the argument for a single question referendum.   I’m not convinced though that Alex Salmond will at all feel like a loser today.  No one is more masterful at teasing the opposition into following his lead and he will already be working out how to pull the no camp across the divide of the status quo and into the territory of talking up more devolution.   Come referendum day, the choice for the Scottish people will be either a yes for independence or a no which implies a considerable loosening of the constitutional apron strings.

If anyone is capable of achieving such an outcome, it is Alex Salmond. And if he succeeds in creating a referendum that is a debate about there or thereabouts, then power will indeed have vested in the Scottish people to make the choice they wanted to all along.



20 thoughts on “Parties 1: People 0

  1. Pingback: It’s started: we are a nation on the move « A Burdz Eye View

  2. I also took the view around a year ago, that devo max option should appear and would represent an inclusive approach to asking the people their preference. I changed my mind when it was clear the devo max groupings could not agree and also, when the SNP were beginning to articulate the structure of a future scottish state and its relationship with rest of UK. For me , the way the yes campaign will win this refernedum is to promote a vision of scotland that works well with its neighbours and partners across the world (hence nato issue), keep the best bits(not everyone will agree here) of the uk state (central bank, bbc, queen etc and enshrine sovereignty in the people of scotland via the parliament enabling it to make decisions , even if in the short term there are partnerships or joint committees over aspects such as defence or international relations.

  3. I was not celebrating particularly today. Its events were just an administrative detail and will only be regarded historic in retrospect if the Referendum fails as it will then represent the high water mark for the Independence campaign.

    I am pretty sure that Salmond never ‘wanted’ a second question. I do think he was prepared to go along with it, though because, as you say, that would have been win-win. However, he also knew it was never in his gift to deliver such a settlement which made it very easy to place the responsibility for defining the option on the No campaign.

    I think this because Angus Robertson made no bones about it at the roadshow meeting I attended. The dangling of devo-max was derived from advice from comrades in Quebec who advised that the opposition should be kept as confused as possible for as long as possible.

    It has worked a treat. Note that this option has only been taken off the table by the No campaign coalescing around the status quo. They knew they had to remove the confusion as quickly as possible and this was the only way they could this side of the Referendum Bill being approved. Lowest common denominator, no time to think about never mind agree an alternative position.

    Salmond has forced the No campaign to coalesce around a position that they cannot sustain. Already the cracks are appearing in both Labour and LibDem ranks and the campaign proper has not even started. Indeed the only party that can be truly content with the position is the Tories. I wonder how long the public are going to stomach Labour and LibDem politicians campaigning for what is a naturally Tory proposition?

    I wonder also if we would have seen some of the business people who signed up to Independence over the weekend do so if they hadn’t first seen a potential and less radical solution be passed up by the No campaigners.

    And, let ‘s not worry too much about the people. All the polls tell us that a vast majority think that all decisions regarding Scotland should be made by the Scottish Parliament. Our challenge is to ensure that they understand that that is precisely what Independence means.

    • I had thought the devo/max option was a good idea. I’ve changed my mind on it now however. We have a while of the Tory/LibDem coalition to go and their agenda, to hurt the less well off while keeping the rich as cushioned from the pain as possible are things which will be clear and visible as Scots cast their gaze south. That the Tories are effectively in power there and doing what Tories always did (only this lot, if possible, are worse than Thatcher in my view) is actually not a bad thing. Scots also know that regardless of how people vote here in a General Election it is England which decides who will win power in London.

      My big worry is that it could still be some time, if ever, before a meaningful or balanced debate on Scotland’s future. That really needs to start and soon. Young people were complaining earlier tonight about the absence of real information about Scotland’s abilities to manage its own affairs. Most people mentioned only oil and tourism. Scotland is about much more than that. Our ability to create energy from a variety of sources wasn’t even mentioned.

      On the BBC now a few “journalists”, including Brian Taylor, were discussing what will happen now. One said things would now “get bloody”, then laughed and said, “but so it should!” I found that an appalling approach. Clearly they are in favour of the propaganda route rather than taking their own responsibility to broadcast in a balanced way, on the options facing us, seriously.

      • Totally agree with your last point.

        We have to keep the level of debate as high as possible because, as one novice once put it, our position is intellectually unassailable.

        The No campaign daren’t engage on those terms and will obfuscate, personalise and fearmonger at every opportunity.

        Anyone in the No campaign who saw Ruth Davidson try to make an intellectual argument on TV today will surely be advising her to just call Salmond a fat b****** next time.

        She actually presented the (unsubstantiated) fact that welfare spending in Scotland is higher than North Sea Oil revenues as an argument for retaining the Union. Never mind that this only demonstrates perfectly how bad the Union has been for Scotland, how can a Tory, in the midst of their crusade against welfare spending, credibly suggest that the Union should be retained so that it can continue to subsidise welfare spending?

        Even the writers of The Thick Of It could not make it up.

  4. I found it interesting to listen to young people interviewed tonight on BBC Reporting Scotland. Despite several of them telling Ms Bird they were sick of “propaganda” BBC Scotland went on to fill the rest of the programme with exactly that.

  5. Just a quick question Burdy. Any reason why your pop at Alex Neil has comments disabled right now? I’ve tried posts you wrote before it and since and they all have reply tabs but the post about Neil doesn’t. Just wondering as I’d kind of like to defend an attack made on me there by another poster. Sorry to post this here but I don’t see a link to contact you direct. Cheers.

    • I disabled comments because they had been running for a week and were starting to go round in circles. Also, some of the commenting was straying into the personally insulting – from both sides. The blogpost was not intended to start a debate about termination time limits but about the Health Secretary’s actions. If the former debate is sought, there are other platforms on which to have it.

      • Burdy, I did not get into personal insults at any time on that site. I refute that allegation. If you read my posts you will see that. YOu set out your position and I responded. YOU allowed another poster to attack ME personally and then you disabled comments. I’ve emailed you now. I expect a reply. Your response here is appalling. Don’t point at “other platforms” when YOU started the debate and then shut it it down when it suited you. I was accused of trying “to recruit” others. I was speaking about my own views. If you read my posts you saw that. This response is disappointing to say the least. I hope you do better when, and if, you bother to answer my email.

      • Jo, I wasn’t referring to you… sorry but my blog, my rules. I felt the thread had run its course and closed it.

      • Oh, and by the way Burdy, you have other threads and posts here that have run a lot longer than a week and you didn’t disable comments on those. I think that says a great deal too,

      • “The blogpost was not intended to start a debate about termination time limits….”
        Oh right, so it was just about you crucifying Alex Neil for speaking about a particular issue – time limits – without discussing the reasons behind his concerns? You just got to attack him, up to and including an allegation that he may lose the SNP the referendum for his views on abortion, but anyone else who tries to enlighten you about those concerns is not welcome below your wee post? Other than those who attack them and make false allegations about them “recruiting” for goodness knows whom, after which you “disable” responses? OK, got that Burdy. I think. You’re saying YOU had the right to attack Alex Neil but no one out here had the right to come back and point out the very real concerns surrounding terminations, time limits et al. You’re also now accusing people like me of being “personally insulting” which, if you read my posts, you will find I was not so now you are also lying about my input in order to justify denying me the right to defend myself. I find that really very intriguing. But thanks for committing the allegations against me to print. For anyone who reads your thread really can see for themselves that I attacked no one.

  6. The SNP not only got what they wanted, a legally binding independence referendum that they control, but also they can now claim to be the true defenders of Scottish Home Rule and the Scottish Parliament (in effect devolution) with the rejection of Devo-Max by the unionist parties, especially the Labour party.

    It is no wonder that Wee Eck has a big smile on his face today, he is captured all the ground between the status quo and full independence. If you believe in Home Rule and/or that devolution is a process then you have no place to go except the YES camp, you certainly wouldn’t want to be heard speaking of voting NO.

    Now add in concerns over austerity, huge cuts to public spending, Labour’s lurch to the right, and such things as Trident, then you are adding facets to the YES campaign that simply wasn’t there just a few weeks ago. The SNP have captured the centre-left of Scottish politics.

    Wee Eck now has two drums to beat, once constitutional the other political. Vote NO and see the various shades of Tories not only emasculate the Scottish parliament but also devastate Scottish society.

  7. There are a couple of obvious fallacies in this article, at least one of which stems from the author’s well-known tendency to buy into the cosy consensus of anti-independence journalists. The contention that Alex Salmond wanted a second question is such evident nonsense that it is frankly amazing how anyone could be taken in by it. Quite apart from Salmond’s oft-stated and totally unequivocal insistence that his preference was for a single question, there is the fact that having a “more powers” option on the ballot was always as close to being an impossibility as makes no difference.

    There is a glaring contradiction in acknowledging Salmond’s political acuity while simultaneously supposing that he failed to recognise the effective impossibility of including so-called second question in the referendum. What was important to Salmond was that the Scottish Government should not be seen as the ones excluding this option. And that the anti-independence campaign should be denied any possibility of embracing an option which would be their best chance of defeating independence. By the simple expedient of hinting at the possibility of a devo-whatever option IF SOMEBODY OTHER THAN THE SNP PROPOSED IT, Salmond provoked a predictable knee-jerk rejection from the British nationalist camp and forced them to acknowledge that they stand ONLY for the status quo.

    Which brings us to the second fallacy. The quaintly naive notion that a NO vote represents a vote for further devolution. Certainly, one of the possible outcomes of Salmond’s second question strategy might have been that the anti-independence campaign, or some part of it, would be pulled “across the divide of the status quo and into the territory of talking up more devolution”. This was hardly a risk for the YES campaign as any such movement on the part of British nationalists would weaken the anti-independence case. If a NO vote had been formally turned into a vote for devo-max that would have meant almost certain defeat for independence. But the gradualist camp would have recognised that such a move would only enhance the inevitability of independence.

    But the risk of such a redefining of a NO vote was always very small. There was virtually no chance that the British parties would be able to agree on a formal devo-whatever proposition. Salmond could be confident that a NO vote would remain a vote for the status quo – at best.

    The anti-independence parties belatedly realised that they had been duped. It eventually dawned on them that they had been backed into a corner where they were offering only what most people had already rejected. Which is why they started frantically trying to find ways to TALK about more devolution while not actually making a substantive offer. Thus we have the various “jam tomorrow commissions”.

    But people should be under no illusions. A NO vote will be portrayed as an affirmation of the union and a mandate to roll back devolution. Despite what is argued in this article, those who want more powers for the Scottish Parliament have only one option. They must vote YES.

  8. The problem of including a devo option in the referendum is that no political party in Scotland supported it and even civic groups did not call for it when they had their chance. Also, who would deliver it at Westminster? I think Salmond has been very astute in showing the electorate that devolution has reached its limits. Jim Gallacher admitted this on BBC’s Scottish politics show yesterday. Westminster has shown clearly that it has no desire for further change, as it would mean federalism and they know that would not last long.

  9. Alex got everything he wanted by the simple tactic of dangling the second question in front of the UK government. They fell for it hook, line and sinker. Anyone who thinks he actually wanted the second question on the ballot frankly needs their head examined.

  10. This column is frankly ridiculous. Anyone with half an ounce of common sense could see from the word go that a devo-max option was a complete non-starter in practice, and while I’m not an SNP voter even I regard it as an insult to Alex Salmond to imagine that he couldn’t.

    To pick just the single most starkly obvious reason, any devo-max settlement would HAVE to be approved by the entire UK, and that’s a can of worms the size of Africa. To pick the second-most obvious, Labour would never have agreed to hand major powers to an SNP-controlled Holyrood, further cementing the Nats’ reputation in Scotland (by letting them get the credit for delivering the thing most Scots voters want) and condemning Scottish Labour to another crushing defeat.

    I don’t have the time or inclination to list the next 20 or 30 reasons. I’d like to see a fully federal Scotland, but a Scotland-only referendum has as much chance of making that – or anything like it – happen as we have of qualifying for the World Cup.

  11. Excellent, so a No vote will keep the majority happy, woo hoo, decision made 🙂

    • I like your complacency. Keep it up! And you obviously don’t see the need to propose any positive arguments for a NO vote, any more than the No Better Together crowd do, so you will lose.

      • No complacency here, my comment was based on the argument put forward by the post, that even though we would only have a straight forward yes no vote, even a No vote would be a victory for the Yes side.An yes I was being flippant, I can assure you we’ll all need a little bit of humour over the next two years, I can see this campaign becoming very bitter.
        I fully understand this argument, honest I do, but that aside I’m delighted we will have a one question ballot, anything else would have caused confusion, I don’t believe that our electorate is that sophisticated that it can cope with anything else, ooh that was bigheaded!!
        As for your “you will lose” comment, well according to the post, I can’t lose whatever the outcome 🙂

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