Salmond backs Cameron into self-created cul de sac

(Updated below 12th January) No doubt some Westminster wonks – aka juvenile ‘policy advisers’ who’ve never had a proper job -  were thinking gleefully that the choreography the Prime Minister and the Scottish Secretary danced yesterday and today was going to bedazzle and undermine the Scottish First Minister.

The move was to stress the legal pre-eminence of Westminster in in running ‘legally binding’ referenda, then generously ‘offer’  to ‘let’ Holyrood have the power to run its own referendum on Scottish independence – and attach strings – conditions only under which they would be prepared to grant this concession.

The key condition was that such a referendum would have to be held within 18 months – by the summer of 2013. Otherwise the legal permission granted to enable it would become a pumpkin.

Did no one think that this stunt was simply playing the role in which the SNP have cast the UK government, confirming the stereotype of the imperialist control-freak?

Scotland’s First Minister was quick to capitalise on the ‘strings’ attached to the ‘offer’, saying that there was no way Scotland would tolerate Westminster’s attempt to pull its ‘strings’.

Then, within hours and after a Cabinet meeting in Edinburgh called to finalise a public consultation paper to be issued by the end of this month, Alex Salmond announced that Scotland would be holding its independence referendum in the autumn of 2014. So now we know. And that’s it.

It was telling that the national news media carried the Salmond statement upfront and quickly sidelined Moore’s announcement to the House of Commons this afternoon, on the primary legal authority of Westminster.

Salmond’s was the game that counted – and where does his untroubled setting of his chosen date for the referendum leave the Prime Minister?

The answer is that David Cameron is now in some difficulty – self-inflicted difficulty.

It is not irrelevant that Alex Salmond is an experienced tipster on the geegees. He’s putting his and his party’s shirt on winning the independence referendum. He knows and understands brinkmanship and plays it with the ease of familiarity and confidence . He simply swatted away the Westminster bid and slapped down the winning docket.

Constitutionally, as we understand it, the Scottish Government – an unimagined majority administration in the devolved Scottish Parliament, is quite entitled, without any referendum, to ask to start talks with the UK government to pave the way for and move to independence.

Mr Salmond, however, believes that a decision of this scale is one which needs to be directly made and fully owned by the electorate whose efforts would be crucial in fuelling an independent Scotland.

Scotland is already in a place where the world expects it to opt for independence. The reality of this is that disappointing those expectations would damage external confidence in the country as well as puncturing the marked self belief that characterises it today.

But it will be the electorate who decide and that will now be done in the autumn of 2014.

If the answer is a ‘No’ to independence, it will not matter much to Mr Salmond and the SNP whether that decision is legally binding or not. They will have lost and Scotland will be in the hands of some sort of coalition headed by Johann Lamont, Willlie Rennie and Ruth Davidson.

If the answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes’, the fact that it might arguably not be legally binding is irrelevant. The SNP, elected with its emphatic majority, can start negotiation on independence as things now stand. But with a clear ‘Yes’ vote in a referendum of the people behind them, it would a terminally foolish action for the health of future relationships if the Westminster government were then to refuse to cooperate on the grounds that the referendum was ‘only advisory’. And the Scottish Government would also come to the negotiating table with the ratification of the Scottish Parliament behind it.

It is also interesting to consider the implications of a move said to be part of the Westminster Government’s scenario in the ‘strategy’ opened up yesterday and today by the Prime Minister and the Scottish Secretary.

They say they are considering running the referendum themselves within their preferred timescale, should the Scottish Government refuse their ‘offer’ of temporary legal powers to run it under the conditions dictated.

Leading experts in constitutional law, like Professor Robert Hazell of London University’s Constitutional Unit, are uncertain as to whether Westminster has the legal right to dictate timescales.

Setting that aside though, supposing The UK government did run such a referendum itself…

It would do so without any competent invitation to do so.

By doing so, it would take the initiative in inviting Scots to leave the union.

Such a referendum would be very likely to face a significant boycott with the humiliation and destruction of credibility that this would produce.

But consider the situation that would arise supposing, rather than being boycotted, the alien referendum were such a galvanic that droves of undecided voters opted, in anger, for independence, with a majority ‘Yes’ vote?

This would mean that the union was responsible itself for precipitating the loss of its second largest economy.

Conversely, look at the situation following the UK government hypothetically running the referendum itself in the summer of 2013 – and achieving its intent in seeing a ‘No’ majority.

In this case, the SNP would certainly live to fight another day (and soon) where, should they lose in a referendum of their own, they would have bet all and lost all.

The level of political and constitutional thinking in and around the coalition government at Westminster is quite shockingly inept and is another attraction in independence. In this context it is worth noting that the astute (?) Ed Milliband has given Labour Party support to the UK Government’s moves.

The Salmond schedule

In the light of the First Minister’s announcement that the independence referendum is planned for Autumn 2014, the BBC’s Political Editor, Brian Taylor, has noted in his blog the details of Mr Salmond’s schedule from now to then.

He describes:

  • ‘a consultation document on how to run the referendum by the end of this month;
  • ‘a consultation period;
  • ‘preparation of the necessary Bill and accompanying material;
  • ‘introduction of the Bill in January 2013;
  • ‘passage of that Bill by the autumn of 2013;
  • ‘then the “cooling off period” between legislation for elections and the ballot itself, prescribed following the chaos which attended an earlier, ill-prepared Holyrood election;
  • ‘then moves to avoid the European elections in June and the Commonwealth Games;
  • ‘adding up to a referendum on independence in the autumn of 2014. ‘

12th January update

If proof were needed of what a good job David Cameron is doing for the independence movement, we have just had information that the SNP got 150 new party members on the  night of Monday 9th January. This was directly after the Prime Minister’s intervention, ‘allowing’ the Scottish Government to run the referendum and ‘lending’ them the ‘power’ to do so ‘on condition ‘ that it was done by summer 2013.

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38 Responses to Salmond backs Cameron into self-created cul de sac

  1. You ought to correct the date of your “update”.

    Surely Salmond’s prevaricating has come to an end. He’s been explaining the issues with Westminster for, at least, 4 years so he has no need of explaining it “properly” over a matter of years (to at least 2015? or did he calculate it would take a lot longer to win a yes vote). He may be confident of a positive result in a 3 question referendum but, a fickle electorate won’t vote for full independence even with every 16 year old voting. Adding devo-max is a means of ducking the issue and will merely dilute either or both of the other two questions.

    Salmond thinks he can walk on water – politicians get like that when their is no political opposition – and his attitude will make it very difficult for the Brittish government to trust him in a negotiated settlement which is what has to happen in the end.

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    • For HansBlix (and what an evocative name) – the lack of an effective opposition is always dangerous and actually impacts most upon the most able because it is challenge that make all of us sharper. Those with the most room to grow most need the impetus to do so.

      And you identify the true heart of the procedure. Legally binding or ‘advisory’, the referendum does no more than contribute to the validity of the request to commence framing talks on independence.

      Those are the negotiations where the real work is done in the complex practical divisions and agreements that must be reached. And this is a slow process. A recent press article mentioned that the independence of the Czech Republic required something like 12,000 pieces of legislation.

      To be fair, the conduct of the Westminster government is not exactly engendering trust.

      The really worrying thing is that negotiations like those described above are probably undertaken largely by officials, with their ministerial principals amending and signing off.

      Scotland would have to hope that its own Sir Humphreys were either as devious or as capable of spotting deviousness as the traditional species at Westminster.

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      • Newsroom: ‘HansBlix’ is indeed an evocative name, but doesn’t re-using the name of this real person – who’s neither clown, dodgy politician or overblown media personality – risk diminishing the worth of both the user and this website? Or am I alone in finding this stretching the ‘nom de plume’ habit a bit too far?

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  2. The SNP were put in power by the Scottish people to deliver the referendum on independece a simple yes or no will answer that question.Either way it falls we will get on with it whether good or bad thats life folks.Sadly we have to listen to another two years of junk before we can get on with it.
    Proposed changes to the voting age are a joke are you seriously asking young people to vote on this serious issue then telling them but you are not mature enough to get a drink in a pub. Likewise, is our local council elections with poor turnout not important to the SNP?
    They should be reviewing age of consent for everything not just one issue. You can get married and have kids at 16 and its those that will be the future of this country, despite their inability to exercise a vote.
    If you are going to change it has to be for everthing.
    Alec Salmond as a betting man seems to prefer each way bets
    rather than his first preference.Camerons response is irrelevant to Scotland but the SNP are the party who are coming across as running scared on there own referendum.

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    • For Neil Macintyre: Absolutely agree on the damaging prospect of adding sixteen and seventeen year olds to the vote. At that age you have idealism but no real practical understanding of issues as complex as this – and you have no investment in a place, nothing really to lose.

      The independence referendum, if it is to be won, must be well won.

      By that we mean not just a good majority but supported by an informed electorate who have made a knowing choice, setting risks against opportunities and future against present.

      Even attempting to swing the vote by adding in kids would devalue and discredit the referendum. And we can all remember just how we didn’t feel remotely like kids when we were 16 or 17 – and, how 6 months later we’d feel so amazingly mature and embarrassed by the callowness of the person we were that long six months ago. The clothes we’d worn, the things we’d said, what we’d done – cringemaking – and so soon. Nostalgia.

      There is a huge place for the generative energies of people as young as this in a Scotland without or within the union – but this cannot, in all interests, include voting on so serious an issue.

      But why not run a parallel indicative vote for 15-17 year olds? It would establish the views and the commitment of those who will inherit whatever Scotland their elders choose.

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    • What confuses me is that the reviewing of age of consent to 16/17 yr olds was nothing to do with the SNP……this in fact was a little libdem policy!

      Or does no-one do any research anymore!!!!!

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  3. The above postings bring to mind a phrase often used by Cpl Jones of Dad’s Army fame-two phrases in truth- one about “not panicking” and the other about cold steel.

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  4. ‘Independence’ is a misnomer. What the referendum will really be asking is: ‘Do you want to be in a Union with a stable nation with a democratically elected government?’ Or ‘Do you want to be a puppet of self selected, non elected beaureaucrats in Brussels?’

    Of course, I may be totally wrong. It was just a thought.

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    • This is a huge point point. In reality, the vote will be to be part of the UK or part of the EU (not to be confused with “Europe”) – not a vote for independence.

      Is this our chance to really make a difference? If we were not in the EU (like Norway and the Channel Islands for example) might we not fare rather well? Fishing for one could only benefit. Our economic arrangements could be balanced to be more attractive to inward investment than our competitors without any hindrance from Brussels (this is probably England’s greatest fear and must therefore remain unspoken publically at Westminster). No need to tender Calmac’s services to everyone in the EU nor the building of ships, school or delivery of services allowing Scottish firms to be undercut by lesser quality but cheaper alternatives. And the red-tape and associated overhead cost surrounding such EU wide procurement falls away.

      Now, I am of a generation wherby I have always thought of myself as European. But do not be confused that thinking about the advantages of not being in the EU is the same as anti-European. Similarly, not being part of the UK is not being anti English (or anti-Welsh/NI).

      If this is a “once in a generation” event, let’s not jump out of the frying pan and into the fire as a result of the astute political manoeuvering by one of the smartest polititians of our age. Let us stop and look at the wider opportunities. Please.

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      • I have every confidence Hugh that we will not be doing anything on Independence or status quo,without a full and open debate.

        As we are at present in the eu but have little or no say in important matters pertaining to Scotland,anything that betters that position IMHO is to be welcomed.

        Two yrs is long enough surely for answers to all those questions we all seek.
        As for Alex Salmond…the man is no fool and I for one expect his homework is well and truly complete!!

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  5. Of course, perhaps Cameron only brought up the subject of a referendum at the start of this week simply to divert attention from the announcement of the highly controversial £33b rail plan which has upset many of his own voters in England.

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  6. Beautifully played by Alex, and now we have a decent length of time to make sure all the information needed is in the public domain. I don’t see that as ‘two years worth of junk’, I see it as invaluable time spent making sure we make the most of this opportunity so that the Scottish people can make an informed choice. As for 16 and 17 year olds, there has been a lot of talk about them being too young to vote sensibly – well, we allow drug addicts, alcoholics, racists, bigots and homophobes to vote…………and those young people who are too immature to be interested just won’t vote. It’s high time more young people were encoraged to take an interest in the running of the country – and as has been said elsewhere, if you’re old enough to be taxed, you should be represented!

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  7. Today’s 16 and 17 year olds will be able to vote by the time the referendum takes place – maybe the age debate is aimed at them, rather than a serious attempt to gain a voting right for youngsters who will still only be 16 or 17 in 2014? If so, another shrewd political move.

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  8. When does anyone think that Salmond would have announced the date of his referendum if he hadn’t been bounced into it by Cameron? This year, next year……?

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  9. It is nice to see a broad agreement for our young people to be able to vote at sixteen and also with the responsibility this brings surely the age of consent for drinking and obtaining your driving licence will naturally follow the path to sixteen. Or do we just follow captain Mannerings rebuke to Pike .
    Don’t be stupid you silly boy.
    To many people not just our teenagers politics and the greed and lies that go with it are treated with
    complete disgust .Locally Argyll and Bute council are sadly a great example of the garbage we have
    Representing us.I am sure I am not alone in asking for honesty to be at the forefront of our local elections in May and from all the candidates to give straight answers to the voters questions.
    I personally along with my colleaque George Berry are looking forward to the debate .
    Will post our election name on Forargyll when we decide what to use,one of our so called friends put forward the idea of Dumb and Dumber.A wee bit cruel but funny.

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  10. The idea that a referendum proposed by the Scottish government might be illegal is a nonsense. Any referendum has to be advisory, otherwise the majority English would be giving up their fundamental principle of the “Sovereignty of Parliament” – as opposed to the Scottish “Sovereignty of the People” as contained in the 1320 Arbroath Declaration. And no referendum could be legally binding unless it contained the details and schedules of the Bill which the Westminster Parliament will still have to pass -and the idea that no amendments could be made to that Bill during its process is not one any Westminster member could agree t.o

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  11. Oh – and the brilliance of the Labour Party claiming that a Holyrood government could not propose a referendum on this critical question,when their Satraps in Strathclyde did exactly that on Water privatisation ( and the Tory government had to accept the result ) is a blatant attempt to rewrite history and political history at that.

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  12. Before any referendum on independence is put to the Scottish people, perhaps a referendum needs to be put to the English electorate on what question(s) should be asked in the Scottish Independence referendum itself?

    After all if the Scots want true independence then they really do need to cut mother’s apron strings and become independent in every sense of the word and not hide behind the comforting cushion of Devo Max. There should only be one question Yes or No? That way there is no room for doubt or ambiguity.

    I suspect if the English electorate are given the chance, they will be very happy to be permanently and financially rid of their constantly whingeing neighbours. Whatever was Elizabeth 1 thinking of!

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  13. ‘ room for doubt or ambiguity’? so maybe the status of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands within the British ‘confederation’ is ambiguous, but they seem to have prospered mightily from their ‘deal’ over the years, and the people of Scotland have every right to free and unfettered debate to decide just what the questions should be – and no-one has the right to deny them that. I can still remember the way in which a similar question several decades ago was cynically twisted by Westminster in such a way as to make independence as unpalatable as possible, and I’d like to think we’ve moved on from that.

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  14. Surely if the Scottish people vote yes in the referendum the power to run the country the way they want surely follows why do you need Devo Max or any other question or am I missing something.Lets just behave like the strong country we are and let a simple yes or no question decide.
    Then we can get on with the really important problems of
    jobs,poverty and building decent affordable homes.
    Power to the people.

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  15. Unsurprisingly, given that, the referendum date is two and a half years away, all we are seeing so far is political posturing and, to a certain extent, I feel the supporters of both sides are buying into it. There is possibly a little too much ‘First Minister outsmarts Cameron’ or ‘Cameron steals a march on Salmond’ going on with the reason largely being that there is little of substance to actually talk about. The plain truth is that neither have done anything of the sort as we are simply at the outset of what is going to be a very drawn out ‘campaign’ which will ebb, flow and occasionally disappear from view for periods of time. These are just marginal early scene setting moments which ‘don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.’

    I am not sure if newsroom is correct that Salmond is entitled to start talks without a referendum however that isn’t really an important issue anyway as we know the referendum is going to happen (or maybe I should say that a referendum will be required if Scotland every gets independence) so we may as well deal with the reality of the situation rather than what may or may not be constitutional. Newsroom’s statement about Salmond believing that a decision of this scale should be owned by the electorate is probably correct however, for me, it is phrased in such a way that portrays this opinion as evidence of Salmond’s all round decency and promotes him above others (apologies if that wasn’t the intention Newsroom, that is just how I read it) – for me any politician worth even half the salt in my kid’s Peppa Pig toy salt shaker, realises this and there are very few in any position of authority who would actually try and shoe horn independence without going to a referendum (I am talking about in the UK, not necessarily worldwide where there are obviously examples of more extreme politics in action).

    I do agree that the legal position of a YES vote would be irrelevant mainly because I believe all that will be thrashed out before the referendum is held but also because any Westminster Government would fully realise the long term implications, both domestically and internationally, of trying to bully Scotland into submission after they had voiced their opinion.

    I am not so sure about a ‘NO’ vote meaning a hand over of power to a coalition government. The SNP have fought long and hard to get to the current position they are in and whilst a ‘NO’ vote would be a major blow which would take time to recover from I don’t necessarily think it would spell the end of their reign in Holyrood. There are no shortage of SNP supporters who are not decided on full independence and so they may vote ‘NO’ in the referendum but continue to support the party. I fully expect the SNP to approach the referendum with properly crafted action plans in place to determine future actions in the event of both a ‘YES’ and ‘NO’ outcome.

    On the issue of 16/17 year olds voting I don’t think this paints the SNP in a particularly good light. I do acknowledge that the SNP have, to some extent, petitioned for this before so they can’t be accused of developing policy purely to suit the referendum however I suspect the motivation for it has always been a desire to tap into what it feels might be a independent sympathetic market. Issues around independence, and the impact it might have on the future of Scotland, can be/will be/could be hugely complicated and whilst I fully acknowledge that there are some 16/17 year olds who will be able to grasp the enormity of it, and some of the complexities, I don’t feel the majority will. (Having said that there are plenty of 18-100+ year olds who won’t either!) My concern is to avoid the referendum being progressed along flag waving fervour rather than progressed competently with a focus on the implications for Scotland in the long term. This must not descend into what I call the Americanisation of politics – New Labour has done that enough! There is already a degree of that creeping in with the timing of the referendum designed to tie in with a series of events which the SNP will understandably expect to create an uprising of patriotism.

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  16. Integrity

    Found your overall view of present situation pretty fair and balanced. But as regards the proposed voting of 16/17yr olds,you have to realise that there are many young people who will attain that age at the referendum and are desperate to be involved in something so momentous.

    As this age group is classed as adult in Scotland,it seems odd to deny them that right to vote.

    Scotland is attempting to show the world it’s progressive face and this is a part of that progression.

    Children these days are much more aware of the world around them and the very fact of what is happening now in Scotland will hopefully engage many young people in their future.
    Sure,there will be those that will not care tuppence! but as you pointed out,that’s the case with all ages!

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    • Hi Morag,

      As I have stated before I am undecided on independence and having no affiliation to any party I am not yet veering one way or the other which is maybe why my view currently appears fair and balanced (might all change though!). As someone living in Scotland with no particular plans to leave, and with Scottish children, I want what I feel is best for Scotland first and probably best for the UK second however I do feel there has to be a balance between the two as I think a situation where either is impacted excessively will not be beneficial to the other. (and it has survived at least 25 minutes without a thumbs down – surely a record for an ARSN member!)

      As for the 16/17 year old thing we will maybe have to agree to disagree although I do think the argument about allowing the vote to that age group is a valuable one – I just don’t think it should be taking place now when it opens up a pretty understandable accusation that it is being done for the wrong reasons.

      I am sure there are plenty of 16/17 year olds who want to be involved – I wanted to vote when I was 14 and it frustrated me that I couldn’t however as I got older I realised the reasons for not being allowed to were understandable. However we shouldn’t open up voting to a younger audience just because they want to or because we think it might increase future engagement or turnouts at the polls.

      As far as I am aware there are only a handful of countries in the world that extend voting age down to 16/17 (I can think of Cuba and Austria off the top of my head – maybe Brazil – and I dare say there a few others). That doesn’t necessarily mean the majority are correct however I think it is a little too swift to say that reducing the age is necessarily progressive as social reform should be implemented for the right reasons, and after due consideration, not shoe horned in and open to accusations of the motivation being to gain an advantage in an election.

      Anyway like I said – maybe agree to disagree. I am not entirely opposed to the idea. I just think this is not the correct time to push for it as it appears to be self serving and that undermines the credibility of the SNP’s commitment to it as a policy.

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      • The whole voting age reduction thing may just be part of a cunning plan to politicise the current 16 and 17 year olds – who will be 18 when the referendum actually takes place.

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  17. The votes for sixteen year olds issue has been coming to the boil for some time. We have a Scottish Youth Parliament teeming with young people who are well aware of politics and their knowledge surpasses that of the average adult. The timing may be unfortunate, but I know some of those young people would be most offended if its progress was halted specifically to excise them from taking part in the future of the nation they’re so keen to lead.

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  18. If our young people are to be be given the respect they deserve let them vote at 16 but why just for the referendum.
    Bring the age down for everthing if we can get married at sixteen the rest should naturally follow.
    If they are considered as adults they should have all the options open to them.As I have said in an earlier post who
    decides when you are mature enough to raise a family but not able to buy a drink in your local pub its nonsense.
    If its a genuine move to encourage young people to be involved by giving them the vote it should be supported if it just another political gimmick they should hang there heads in shame.

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