Interpret it as you will, but the difference has to be remarked upon.
The UK Prime Minster, David Cameron, flatly refused to contemplate anything but a single question referendum for Scotland – independence or not?
However, Boris Johnson – who is unlikely to be flying a kite on this – is reported today as saying that the Prime Minister is readying himself to promise a UK referendum offering two questions on EU membership: independence or a revised and freer relationship with it.
It would look as if this inconsistency in the nature of referenda questions is not born of procedural propriety but of tactics.
The PM is assuming that, in the case of Scotland, the starkness of the choice will protect the union; where in the case of EU membership – which he lacks the radical intellect to review, he is afraid that the nation would happily seize on a stark choice and decamp.
The problem is that where the Scottish referendum is offering the only question the Scottish Government can singlehandedly put – independence or not? – the mooted UK referendum appears to be considering offering an alternative it is no position to deliver.
The Scottish Government could have offered no alternative question other than willingness to negotiate for a different relationship within the Union – which the UK government could simply have refused to consider.
Similarly the UK Government can only offer an exit from the EU – or a preparedness to negotiate for a revised relationship as a member, which too would be in the fee of the EU.
In each case, neither initiating government has the authority to offer a specific and certain alternative option in relation to changes to the respective unions.
A referendum of the kind being floated would almost certainly see a vote for exit from the EU.
If, instead, the UK Government decided to try to negotiate a new relationship with the EU in advance of a referendum – in which it would then become the second option on the ballot – it will have to answer on why it felt no need to offer the same choice to Scotland on membership of the UK.
But it has to be remembered that, out of office, Mr Cameron promised such a referendum and, in office, reneged on that promise – just as he promised a medal for the Arctic Convoy veterans and, in power, reneged on that too.