Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister today pinned his and his party’s hopes of Scottish independence on a slightly earlier date than imagined – 18th September 2014 – hoping for a six week feelgood bubble following the 3rd August closing ceremony – contracted to a non-Scottish company – of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
With the Ryder Cup to take place from 26th-28th September, the First Minister has discounted the niche appeal of this event in favour of the far wider impact of the Games. He has chosen to avoid the risk of the diminution of the impact of the Games in the publicity for the golf contest – and with Scotland competing in the Games under its own flag.
The closet political community of Holyrood was abuzz all morning at the coming announcement of the date of the referendum on Scottish independence – while the country, with more to think about, went about its business as normal.
In the Scottish parliamentary chamber, the opposition greeted the setting of the date with less than acuity.
Johann Lamont, leader of the Scottish Labour group, the only substantial opposition, chose simply to picture Alex Salmond as running away from a certain defeat in choosing not to hold a referendum now.
This was phenomenally stupid on two counts:
- There was never any possibility that Mr Salmond would go for an earlier referendum date than the settled choice of Autumn of 2014 that he had made known some time ago.
- Saying that the First Minister was afraid of defeat because he chose not to go to the polls now was a hostage to fortune in unthinkingly inferring that a later date might be successful.
The level of political debate in Scotland really is through the floor.
The Scottish Independence Referendum Bill
This was introduced to the Parliament and published today, confirming that voters will be asked the question ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’.
The legislation provides that the referendum will be:
- preceded by a 16-week formal campaign period, during which limits will apply to the amount of money any registered participant may spend on campaigning, aimed at ensuring a level playing field for both sides of the debate;
- overseen by the independent Electoral Commission, responsible for regulating the campaign rules, informing the public about the referendum and reporting to the Scottish Parliament on the conduct and administration of the referendum;
- conducted under the direction of a Chief Counting Officer responsible for appointing local Counting Officers to run the poll in local areas.
Local political responses
Stuart McMillan, SNP MSP for West Scotland was simply delighted and was photographed – left – with a copy of the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill.
He said: ‘I wholeheartedly welcome the news that the Scottish Independence Referendum will take place on Thursday 18th September 2014.
‘The announcement of the date for the Scottish Independence Referendum is an historic occasion for the people of Scotland. An independent Scotland will allow the country to become a normal independent nation and ensures that Scotland takes responsibility for its own decisions.
‘Scotland now has the opportunity to create a fairer, more prosperous society for the future of our children and the ability to use the full economic and fiscal powers to create growth and increase employment opportunities for our country.
‘I look forward to campaigning in the independence debate and engaging with members of the public.’
Jamie McGrigor, Highlands & Islands Conservative MSP, has urged the SNP to provide detailed answers on what taxation, pensions and defence would be like in an independent Scotland. Jamie spoke out after the First Minister confirmed the date of the independence referendum as the 18th of September, 2014.
Jamie McGrigor said: ‘Now that we have the date of the referendum confirmed, it is incumbent on the SNP to set out for voters exactly what they are proposing if Scotland were to become independent.
‘Many of the constituents I speak to have specific concerns about what independence would mean for tax levels here, pensions and the defence of a separate Scotland.
‘In terms of defence the SNP’s policy seems confused at the very least as they say they want to push the trident submarines south of the border, yet at the same time they want to remain part of NATO which is a pro-nuclear alliance. Trident supports more than 6,500 jobs at Faslane and this will rise to more than 8,000 jobs when the submarine fleet relocates to HMNB Clyde. What would the SNP do to prevent the potential economic devastation of the Faslane, Helensburgh and Clyde area?
‘The SNP say that Scotland will save £163 million a year if it gets rid of Trident but different SNP spokesmen have spent that money many times over on, for example, shovel-ready projects, job creation, health, education and welfare. And they themselves admit the cost alone of setting up and running a new Scottish tax system would be almost double any anticipated saving from removing Trident.
‘I am joined with the majority in supporting the Better Together campaign to continue to make the positive case for Scotland remaining as a valued partner in our United Kingdom and we will be challenging the SNP to provide detail on their plans for a Scotland which they want to separate from the Union.’
Michael Russell, SNP MSP for Argyll and Bute, said: ‘Today will mark the real start of the campaign. The Referendum Bill sets out exactly how the process will work, the spending limits and the date, 18th September 2014. We can now concentrate fully on the substance of the debate, on how Scotland can become a fairer, more prosperous and more socially just society. I welcome that, it is no secret that I will be campaigning for a yes vote and I am looking forward immensely to bringing our compelling argument to every part of the constituency.’