Question Time

By Doug the Dug

By the pricking of my thumbs, a wicked second question this way comes.

With Michael Moore now calling for the SNP to agree to a single question referendum as soon as possible the second option appears to be a hot topic in the unionist camp. Cameron wants a deal with no second option, Moore wants a deal with no second option and the Labour chaired Scottish Affairs Committee don’t want a second option either.

So why are the unionists so scared about the SNP unilaterally putting a second devo-max option on the referendum ballot paper?

For a start it would damage the SNP’s independence campaign by giving those who don’t want the status quo a less dramatic option for change and divert them away from independence. It would also lead to political ridicule of the SNP during the independence referendum campaign. There would be endless questions on:

* How are you going to implement this without a majority in Westminster to push it through if it wins?
* Does this mean you don’t want independence?
* Why have you put an option on the ballot paper that you are not going to campaign for?
* Is it the SNP’s ambition to have a Unilateral Declaration of Devolution (laughter)?
* Are you too scared for independence?
* Is this an admission you know you’re going to lose the independence vote and so on and so on.

It would be a disaster for the independence campaign.

However if the SNP’s real intention is not independence but devo-max as many in the unionist camp seem to believe then if devo-max were to win wouldn’t the SNP get their consolation prize by achieving a Scottish Parliament with much more substantial powers?

It would never happen that way. For devo-max to work as a fallback option for the SNP it has to pass two hurdles. It has to win the referendum and it has to pass as a bill through the Westminster Parliament and that parliament is controlled by the unionist parties.

Even if the orphan option of devo-max won the referendum then the unionist side would say that it couldn’t implement the SNP’s proposed devo-max without a UK consultation to see how it affected everybody in the UK economically and in terms of good governance and that would take at least another parliament to achieve. Then it would have to go to a UK wide referendum as it affected the whole UK. In other words whatever powers were offered to Scots on the 2014 referendum devo-max option they would come out at the far end of the Westminster process as some form of Calman clone if they ever did appear. Toothless and useless and far, far into the future. The alternative option for the unionist parties would be simply to ignore a devo-max result in the referendum as not being a policy of any party in Westminster. The Westminster Parliament is the bottleneck for delivering more power to a devolved Scottish Parliament and the unionist parties control that bottleneck.

If the SNP unilaterally put a devo-max option on the ballot paper they would be shooting themselves in the foot with both barrels. Perhaps the unionist inspired media fuss about getting the SNP to agree to a single option referendum is some form of reverse psychology by the unionist camp. By demanding that the SNP produce only a single option on the ballot paper they hope the SNP will also produce a second devo-max option just to be awkward and destroy the independence campaign along with the SNP. The answer is a lot simpler than that.

The unionist camp of Labour, Tory and the Lib-Dems control the placement of a second option on the ballot paper since they are the only ones who can get a devo-max bill through Westminster. They are also the only ones who have the capability to define the powers of devo-max as they know what devo-max powers their MP’s will countenance in a Westminster devo-max bill. If a devo-max option goes onto the referendum bill then it has to go on under the ownership of all of the unionist parties (or at minimum the Labour party) as the only parties who can guarantee implementation through Westminster.

That means that if the unionist camp don’t want a second option on the ballot paper none will appear. The SNP are certainly not going to put one on unilaterally. The SNP have ownership of the independence option and they’ve stated time and again that is the only option they are going to campaign for. Which brings us to the important question highlighted in the first paragraph. Why are the unionists so eager for the SNP to eliminate a second option on the ballot paper this early in the campaign when the unionists are in control of the second option appearing on the ballot paper? If the unionists do nothing no second option will appear.

What the unionists really fear is the SNP keeping the door open for a second option right up until the referendum bill goes through the Scottish Parliament. Both camps, nationalist and unionist, will be targeting the swing voters, the ones who would like more powers but are not yet struck on independence. If the unionists can get the SNP to agree to only one option now then it blunts any SNP campaign based on the fact that the unionists were given every chance to put a devo-max option on the ballot paper and failed to do so. An analogy is of a train leaving a station.

The Referendum Bill Express is about to leave the station and Train Guard Alex Salmond is holding the door open while shouting to Cameron, Miliband and Clegg, “Hop aboard if you’ve got tickets for request-stop Devo-Max.”

Cameron, Clegg and Miliband shout back, “We don’t want to go there, just close the door and leave early.”

If the residents of Devo-Max start to ask questions as to why Cameron, Clegg and Miliband never showed up at the Devo-Max station then Cameron, Clegg and Miliband are going to point to Train Guard Salmond and raise the fact that he shut the door and left early. They might be at fault but Train Guard Salmond shares the blame too.

It’s sly, sleekit and sneaky but that’s what they’re going to do. Salmond has to keep that door open until the Referendum Bill Express leaves at the appointed time to avoid sharing the blame for Cameron, Clegg and Miliband failing to get off at Devo-Max station.

There are two scenarios for the second option.
In scenario one the SNP agree to a single option ballot paper years before the referendum is held. The SNP then become partners in shutting down devo-max and become part of the corporate guilt for the failure to place a devo-max option on the ballot paper. The unionist line will be that even the SNP agreed it was a sensible thing to do and devo-max becomes a non-topic in the referendum campaign. The SNP now can’t point at the unionists as the ones who failed those who wanted devo-max and point to the lack of devo-max as a prime example of the unionist camp’s double standards on devolving powers to Scotland.

In scenario two the SNP keep the door open for a second option right up until the referendum bill passes. The Unionists then take sole blame for no devo-max on the ballot paper and the SNP can point to failure of unionists to propose devo-max as an example of how they will never deliver any more powers to Scotland. The lack of devo-max then becomes a live topic in the referendum campaign. This is what the unionists fear and not the non-starter scenario of the SNP unilaterally putting a devo-max option on the ballot paper.

It’s quite obvious to the SNP, the unionists and anyone who thinks about it that a second option is never going to appear on the ballot paper but this has not been highlighted anywhere in the media. The narrative is all about the unionist camp trying their best to ensure a good clean simple ballot paper and the SNP trying to wangle a second option. The unionist parties know that a second option will never appear but it’s not a good strategy for them to make public that the proposed agreement is to ensure that the SNP shares the blame for no devo-max option and nothing to do with a simple referendum. Hence this media line from the unionist parties that it’s about ensuring a simple, easily understood referendum. It’s not a conspiracy from the unionist political parties anymore than a co-ordinated strategy between the SNP and the Greens would be considered a conspiracy but the mainstream media is wholly unionist and they are not going to deviate from the party line both because they don’t want to and because they’re too lazy to think beyond the press releases. If it’s a conspiracy in the media it’s a conspiracy of lazy unionist partiality.

The second option is important only because both sides know it will never appear on the ballot paper. The SNP know it’s not going to appear and Labour, Tory and the Lib-dems know it’s not going to appear. All this media fuss about the second option is not about stopping it appearing on the ballot paper because that’s already a given but about who shares the blame for it not being there and whether or not it becomes an issue in the independence campaign. The unionists are willing to give Alex Salmond almost everything he wants as long as he accepts the corporate guilt of denying Scots a devo-max option on the ballot paper and with that the unionists can spike the SNP’s strategy of targeting the disappointed devo-max supporters in the referendum campaign.

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68 replies

  1. I agree with everything you’ve said.
    It’s all about disclosing the truth to the Scottish people. That is, Westminster will never give real fiscal powers to Thje Scottish Parliament. Hell of a sight more effective when the Unionists have to more or less admit it, rather than the SNP stating it as fact-at this stage.

  2. An excellent analysis. It is particularly gratifying to see someone else pointing out the gross dereliction of the media in this matter. To say that the analyses offered by political journalists has been shallow would be to bestow an entirely unwarranted compliment.

    It is entirely correct to say that the strategy is to ensure that responsibility for the absence of a more powers option on the referendum ballot lies squarely on the shoulders of the Tory/Labour/LibDem anti-independence coalition. But I would suggest a further strand to this strategy.

    Being confident of the unionists’ knee-jerk reaction, Salmond and his team knew that even hinting at the possibility of a second question would induce immediate and absolute rejection of the idea. Thus, ground which the unionists might well have occupied was denied to them.

    The SNP’s strategists foresaw the near-certainty of significant public demand for a “devo-max” alternative and realised that, should the unionists be allowed to take ownership of this then they would be well on the way to defeating the independence option. Instead, they have been cleverly danced into a corner where they are left with only two choices. Neither of them very palatable or politically viable.

    The anti-independence campaign can be the champions of the status quo – which is, in truth, what they are at the moment. The attempts to disguise this fact with “jam tomorrow” politicians’ promises is totally ineffectual. Better Together stands for no change. Which is, by a long way, the least popular option.

    The only alternative open to the NO campaign is to firm up those “jam tomorrow” promises. To give them some substance with a firm commitment to specific measures to devolve more powers to the Scottish Parliament. This is pretty much a non-starter for a number of reasons.

    In the first place, the Tory/Labour/LibDem coalition will never be able to agree on such a commitment. There is no common ground worthy of the name either within or across the partners in the coalition. Any attempt to create a consensus will inevitably tear the coalition asunder and massively weaken the anti-independence effort.

    Merely attempting to find an agreed position on further devolution would leave the Better Together campaign open to accusations that it was “muddying the waters” in precisely the way that it had previously said was unacceptable. Hard-line British nationalists would accuse Darling and co of “caving in” and of seeking to dilute the unionist position. They would effectively be turning the NO option into the very “devo-whatever” proposal that they had so recently rejected so totally and unequivocally.

    And supposing the Better Together cabal could contrive to sweeten the NO pill with a detailed and binding commitment to more powers, that proposal would present independence campaigners with a clear target at which to aim. It would be a simple matter to point out the deficiencies of any such proposal in comparison with independence.

    Put a wee bit more effort into your supposing and imagine that the unionists somehow manage to make the referendum a choice between independence and their “devo-whatever” offering. Suppose further that this option turns out to be the choice of the people of Scotland. Go right out on that hypothetical limb and envisage the measure actually getting through the UK Parliament. Does this not deliver precisely the “second prize” that the Britnats were supposedly determined to deny to the SNP?

    And what is the value of this “second prize”? Why! The fact that it will create an even more unsatisfactory devolutionary imbalance in the UK. It will not work. It will not last. And the only way to go will be independence.

    It may not yet have dawned on unionists or their friends in the media, but the seeds of their ultimate failure have already been sown.

    • Peter: ‘Salmond and his team knew that even hinting at the possibility of a second question would induce immediate and absolute rejection of the idea. Thus, ground which the unionists might well have occupied was denied to them.’ I think this is accurate, which makes it all the more entertaining.

    • Hi Peter,
      Thanks for the appreciative comment. The SNP may have sucked the unionist camp into vehemently rejecting a devo-max option but I don’t think that devo-max was ever on the cards anyway. One of the principles of devolution is that nothing affects the centre and the Scottish Parliament was created by converting the Scottish Office into a regional legislature and continuing to fund it as a Whitehall department. All the major Scottish institutions such as the legal system and education system were already separate and devolution for Scotland had a minimal impact on Westminster and Whitehall. There has been a great fuss about the tax powers in the Calman inspired Scotland Act 2012 but all they do is funnel part of the Scottish Grant through HMRC before giving it back to the Scottish Parliament and charge for the privilege. If devo-max is the maximum amount of powers that Westminster is willing to give Scotland where avoiding change to the centre is the limiting factor then there is quite a good case to make that we are already at devo-max and no more is going to be given ever.

      Jam-Tomorrow is interesting. Another factor in the unionists’ demands for a single question agreement may be based on the SNP’s open invitation for a second option stalling their Jam-Tomorrow campaign. Until the devo-max option is buried then they can’t discuss their Jam-Tomorrow proposals in public without the fear that they will be asked to put them on the referendum bill as a second option

  3. I have said all along that there will be no second question, that the huffing and puffing over this was irrelevant, Of course the Westminster parties are being dishonest in making a fuss about this. But if the members of the SNP Scottish Government know perfectly well there isn’t going to be a second question on devo-max, then it is also dishonest of them to pretend otherwise. They should announce now that there will be a single question on independence-yes-or-no, that the reason for this is that the Westminster parties would never allow any devo-max option to pass through Westminster, and that supporters of maximum powers for the Sottish Parliament should consider voting for independence because that is the maximum powers for the Scottish Parliament which is actually achievable.

    • Hi Dave,
      The SNP have never pretended that there will be a second option on the referendum, all they’ve said is that they are willing to put one on if someone or some party shows up with a worked out devo-max proposal.

      The point of the article was that the SNP must keep that second option offer open until the end whether or not it is obvious that it will never show up. It is only that way that they can avoid sharing the blame for the second option’s non-appearance.

  4. My own guess is that the Devo-Max option is being used as a no-lose bargaining tool. If it’s on the ballot – fair enough. If it isn’t, the SNP can blame Westminster. And along the way, they can negotiate – votes for 16y olds instead of Devo-Max option etc.

    • You touch upon an important truth that both unionists and the majority of journalists appear blind to. The most valuable commodity in politics is options. And Salmond’s team has ensured that they retain as many options as possible while denying similar flexibility to the anti-independence campaign. The tactics have been quite inspired. As a political anorak, I am in awe.

  5. Very good article which makes it clear that strategic thinking here is critical especially in the face of a massively hostile Unionist controlled media which will become increasingly hostile&biased the closer we get
    to our vote on Independence. Many of us want nothing less than Indy,but this is too purist & not sufficient strategic, we shouldn’t ignore the power of DevoMax as a weapon in this battle& a battle is most surely what this is, one where the Unionist side has capabilities way beyond the resources of the nationalists – not unfair to compare as akin to muskets against claymores i.e. will be a slaughter unless we even up to odds. Devo Max is a ticking timebomb which scares the Unionists to their very core – it has the potential to destroy not only their false alliance,but also to cause each of the members (perhaps not Tories) to schism into camps which truely support more powers & those who will protect London Rule to the bitter end.

    So there is a growing consensus that DevoMax is potentially a very potent weapon, which leads to question how best do we wield this weapon.
    As stated in the article putting this weapon away for the duration of the battle not only removes all its strategic potential,but worse can be used against us. So how best to use this DevoMax timebomb – leaving it dangling around right up the Indy Ref is certainly an option & certainly much more value than throwing out of the battle, but I think not the most effective use. Let’s use this timebomb with precision timing –
    a 2013 1Q referendum just on DevoMax which feedback from consultation,myriads of polls & large swathes of Unionist parties members show there is majority support for at least these new powers to be repatriated from London Rule. 2014 or even 2015 can
    then be 1 Q ref to focus just on the remaining powers needed to make our nation whole again.

    Many nationalists will not countenance this use of the DevoMax timebomb&when I have suggested this before it has been dismissed in pretty strong terms:) However now there is a growing realization DevoMax is a tactical piece in this battle,so now we advance from should we use this piece to how do we use this piece&makes sense
    to explore all ways of using it from 2 year dangling the option, 2 1Q Ref & yes even one Ref 2Qs- we should debate these and other options.

    For 2013 1Q referendum what are the advantages :
    1. Shows Scottish Government listening to the Scottish people &
    helping them achieve what they want at this point in time.
    2. Will force DevoMax to be defined rather than some ghostly
    & rancid jam tomorrow. DevoPlus is at least one well thought out
    minimum that could be used as the foundations.
    3. Unionists strategy of Jam tomorrow will be blown to
    smithereens as they will have to bring forward their plans
    esp. the federal LibDems, rather relying on a distant promise
    which they will readily withdraw at any point in time.
    4. Most critically the Scots (and there are many) who believe
    (or more likely hope) in these jam tomorrow promises
    will see the true gory nature of the Unionist jam which is
    nothing but a jar of bile & lies. We can’t afford to go into
    2014 with many Scots believing that if they vote No they will
    get some very substantial new powers – this lie needs to
    be destroyed.
    5. Win or loss a 2013 Q Devox Max ref the result is a win win
    for Scots – either Westminster grants these new powers,
    in which case the the gap to Indy is significantly narrowed&
    the debate can focus on the few,but critical remaining powers,
    or as is more likely Westminster will refuse to deliver
    on what the Scots are demanding thereby putting their
    British nationalism as sovereign to the Scottish people
    making it crystal clear to all that these Jam tomorrow
    new powers were just the latest in a stream of callous lies.

    2013 1Q DevoMax, 2015 1Q Indy , a more than reasonable strategy that we should debate & in parallel explore other strategies. This is not an even playing field, the rules are skewed & if we play by honourably by Queensberry gentleman rules we will lose as the odds are stacked so massively against us.

    Saor Alba

    • Hi Traquir,
      A devo-max referendum would hit the same problems as a devo-max option on the independence referendum ballot. It would have to be unilaterally proposed by the SNP because the unionists don’t believe in it so the SNP would have ownership of the question. The SNP would have to spend time and money defining what devo-max means and spend time and money and activist time campaigning for a form of Government they don’t believe in.

      The unionists wouldn’t bother wasting resources on the campaign apart from TV time mocking the SNP for not believing in independence because the unionists control Westminster which is the bottleneck for any devolution bill.

      So say the devo-max referendum is won. The unionists say that they are minded to implement it but they don’t have time to discuss it with the upcoming independence referendum. The SNP have spent a lot of money already and the activists are tired after the devo-max campaign and nobody votes for independence because they think that devo-max is going to ride in over the hill to save them. However, after the independence referendum is lost the unionists go down the same Westminster route as I’ve pointed out in the article above. If devo-max goes into Westminster what will come out will not be recognisable as devo-max, if it comes out at all, and it certainly won’t be in human form.

      A devo-max referendum is actually worse than putting it as an option on the ballot paper because the SNP will waste time and money campaigning for a form of government which they don’t believe in and which will never be implemented anyway.

  6. Seems to me that Salmond has played a blinder with the ‘devo max’ card. It is apparent that the unionists will never agree to a second question, and when eventually the referendum bill is published, with only one question included, it will be apparent that only the intransigence of the Brits that has denied the democratic right of those whose preference it would have been – making them far more likely to vote for full independence than the status quo.

    Alo, wil devo-max is still in the air, the centre of gravity of the argument has shifted. Q. What is the difference between devo max and independence?
    A. with devo max You get to keep trident, you continue to donate your oil revenues to London, you still get to watch your soldiers going to foreign lands to die in someone else’s wars, . . . etc etc.

    How many sane people would vote for that???

  7. Agree Sion. I think the SNP are playing a very clever game here. All of the above is correct, re keeping the devo-max option on the table. But at the same time, they’ve also started a debate within the party on NATO policy. The unthinking unionist media have run with both. They’ve played into Salmond’s hands with “he wants devo-max therefore we’ll deny him it while also making it very clear we’re not going to allow it”.

    But also, I suspect, they’ve played into the Yes camp’s hands with NATO. In seizing on that as “a split in the SNP” they’ve dedicated acres of newsprint to discussing a potential small change in party policy that will only be relevant post independence, which they claim to be certain will never happen. In doing so, they make that future feel more real, while highlighting a major, and popular, policy that can only happen with full independence – ie removal of Trident. It’s hard to see how the independence camp can lose from the NATO debate.

  8. Great analysis, apart from this line:

    \”Why have you put an option on the ballot paper that you are not going to campaign for?\”

    Everyone who holds a referendum does that. Otherwise you don\’t have much of a referendum…

    The strangest thing about the Unionist line is that it insists Salmond is demanding a second question so he can avoid having a referendum at all. In which case, why are they helping him? Give him an unconditional S30 order and call his bluff. He won\’t add a second question because he can\’t – for all the reasons noted above – and the Unionists get what they profess to want: a one-question referendum.

    If they play hardball over the S30, on the other hand, they\’re giving him the chance to get what they say he wants – an excuse to call the whole thing off. By quibbling over the S30, they\’re portraying themselves as hapless idiots. Which I\’m sure many of us agree they are, but it\’s odd that they\’re so desperate to convince everyone else.

  9. Encouraging the electorate to take a step forward from a Devo Max perspective to Independence is a hell of a lot easier than luring them back to the status quo.

  10. If we do get a Section 30 mandated referendum would it not be the case that the Scottish Parliament would then be the agents who would have to place the devo-max question onto the ballot paper? Is that not the whole point about a Section 30 Order – it passes the authority from Westminster to Hollyrood? So, without a sponsor at Hollyrood, it will never happen?

    Is that correct?

    Given that the unionists at Hollyrood cannot sponsor a devo-max option – they would be going against their party’s policies, it seems to me it is at that stage that it all falls apart.

    • The Scottish Government has not conceded the necessity for a Section 30 order. And quite rightly so. Because the British Government would then be in a position to insist on attaching all manner of strings. As it is, Salmond is effectively saying that a Section 30 order would be a nice bauble, but no more than that. The referendum will go ahead with or without it on terms ultimately decided by the Scottish Parliament.

      Cameron is desperate for any kind of deal because he knows he can’t stop the referendum. And if it went ahead without a Section 30 it would be a massive blow to his authority.

      No matter which way you look at this, Salmond holds all the cards.

      • I disagree. If the referendum is held under a Section 30 order, then regardless of what the present leader of the SNP says, it sets a precedent in practice and reinforces the UK government’s legal arguments against any future referendum without Westminster’s consent.

        This is well understood not just by Cameron but by the whole Westminster establishment. They frankly do not think that the SNP will win this referendum and they are making sure that it will have no recourse to excuses, such as the UK Government blocked it, or they denied 16 and 17 year olds the vote etc.

        It’s not about conditions, it’s about two things: giving the SNP enough rope to hang itself and keeping the legal right to deny or grant any future referendum firmly with Westminster. I would add I want independence but I don’t go along with the idea that the UK government/establishment are somehow clueless. It doesn’t help the cause of independence to underestimate them.

      • You are correct about the true purpose of the Section 30. Which is why, despite much comment to the contrary, Salmond has never formally conceded that a Section 30 order is required. His position is that the mandate of the sovereign people of Scotland trumps anything in the Scotland Act. As a general rule, constitutional law is always subordinate to the democratically expressed will of the people.

        But it would not have been appropriate for Salmond to simply reject the offer of a Section 30 order. That would have been portrayed as picking an unnecessary fight with Westminster. As ever, Salmond has played it cleverly, not rejecting the Section 30 but categorically ruling out any conditions. Given that the value of a Section 30 to Westminster lies in the power it gives them to impose conditions, Salmond has pretty effectively nullified that particular aspect of Westminster’s power.

        So what happens in the absence of a Section 30? The referendum proceeds as planned. No authority other than the Scottish Parliament has the power to stop it. The UK Government (Michael Moore) has already stated that it will not mount a legal challenge to the result . Someone else might. But they would be wise to first reflect on why the UK Government has backed off from going to the courts. The fact is that no court is going to overturn a decisive plebiscite on what amounts to little more than a technicality.

      • Thanks for that. I would have thought that a referendum on independence fell under international, rather than national law. It seems to me, on the basis of what you have said, that Cameron can’t really stop it? Indeed, it seems he doesn’t want to stop it, if I am reading the runes correctly…..

      • Make no mistake, if the unionists could stop the referendum they would. Ian Smart even fantasises about it.

  11. This seems like much ado about nothing.

    The SNP make no mention of Devo-Anything in the manifesto they were elected on. It has no mandate, which rather blanks out the significance of this post.

    The only Devo-Whatever options have been those suggested by opinion polls which Salmond seems to be politicking with.

    To claim that the Unionists are playing silly buggers is nothing short of ridiculous – they’re playing hardball and Salmond looks soft. They don’t want Devo-Whatever because they’re sure the referendum will be a no and Salmond will die in the inevitable SNP civil war thereafter.

    Salmond’s ‘very attractive option’ hint in his American speech is all he needed to do to start the ball rolling for Devo-Max.

    From where I’m standing it looks like Salmond is swithering, the Unionists are politicking from a superior position, and the electorate are being screwed as lumpen proletariat pawns in a game of political vanity and counter political vanity. Very Westminster like.

    I’m not a business and I’m fed up of the uncertainty surrounding this.

    I want to vote Yes and sod Devo-Max. Salmond’s dithering makes him look weak. The Unionists are looking like bullies (no change there then).

    Salmond should do better than this. I’m surprised that he’s let himself be backed into a corner.

    No offence to the poster, but it comes across as a ‘fantasy referendum’ scenario rather than a ‘needs a Section 30 referendum’ scanario.

    Time will tell.

    • Prophet_Peden:
      I’m not sure if you understand the main thrust of the article.The SNP can’t unilaterally put a devo-max option on the ballot paper because it would destroy the independence campaign and they’ve known this from the start.
      The political manouevering from the unionist camp is all about trying to include the SNP in the blame for the lack of the unionist controlled option of devo-max.

  12. A serious post which requires a serious reply. Politically, viewed from a Nationalist perspective, this makes perfect sense. “If you want more powers, there is only one option and that’s not our fault.”

    I get that.

    But it ignores the legal realities. I spelled these out here http://ianssmart.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/succulent-mince.html and you’ll note throughout that I don’t rely on my legal opinion or indeed any legal opinion other than that expressed by the Scottish Government themselves.

    The SNP can’t ask their own preferred question without a s.30 (not me, them). And the price of a s.30 is a single question.(not me, them). So, if Eck proceeds without a s.30, he can’t ask his own preferred question, the question on which YES Scotland is predicated. (Not me, them).

    But the price of a s.30 is a single question. So if Eck introduces a Bill without a s.30 he knows he will be blocked in the Courts. Not blocked from asking a second question, barred from asking ANY question (Not me, them). My argument throughout is that is what he wants. And the only alternative to that conclusion is that he, and all those bright people around him, don’t know what they are doing. And I’ve never thought that.

    It is all spelled out in the Scottish Government’s own consultation paper. You just have to read it.

    You’re being betrayed by your own leadership here.

    They’ve taken you a long way and many of you will live with that, as many of our troops did with Blair. But don’t close your eyes, stick your fingers in your ears and start to hum “Flower of Scotland” in an attempt to deny that it is happening.

    • Hi Ian,
      Thanks for coming in and commenting on the article.
      The line that stands out in your comment is:

      “But the price of a s.30 is a single question.”

      And that Ian, is the basis of the whole article above. Why is the price of an S.30 the SNP’s agreement to a single question when the Labour, Conservative and Lib-Dem Parties in the No Campaign alliance control the placement or non-placement of a second question on the ballot paper.

    • Your whole referendum denial schtick is tired, deluded nonsense. And no amount of faux-legalese waffling will change that.

    • As ever, Ian, the glaring flaw in your argument is the bizarre belief that Salmond really does want a second question. He doesn’t. He’s always planned to ask a single question, and that’s exactly what he’ll do. He’s just making sure it’s the Unionists who are seen to have denied the Scottish people the option they want the most, not him.

  13. You might be right Doug

    My understanding is that the Unionists have recognised the mandate of the SNP to call the referendum on independence and on independence only.

    They certainly seem more than willing to trade the Section 30 order on that. The proclamations coming from Davidson, Moore et al merely reinforce that idea.

    They possibly fear Salmond playing the Devo-Max card and going for the populist notion that Westminster are denying the people of Scotland a vote on Devo-Max. It certainly could have currency with Scots voters later on when the Osborne scheduled £10 billion welfare cuts start impacting.

    No offence, but I think your theory is too fanciful. The Unionists seem clear that Devo-Max has no mandate and everyone here seems to agree.

    My worry is that Salmond will be seen to be playing the fall back option while keeping everyone else in the dark. If so, I don’t think he’ll win the moral high ground that you seem to be implying. At the moment it makes him look weak and indecisive – like he’s hedging his bets for his own career.

    When Cameron pulled the rug out from underneath a second question at the Tory conference in Troon, he effectively signalled it was independence or nothing for the SNP.

    It wouldn’t take much for the Unionists to convince a sizable portion of the electorate that Salmond doesn’t have the stomach for an independence or nothing question.

    It’s certainly how it looks to me. I want the chance to vote Yes and campaign for a Yes vote. How can you do that when you don’t know what the referendum is going to involve?

    I never thought I would hear myself saying this, but I think Alex has got it completely wrong this time.

  14. “It’s certainly how it looks to me. I want the chance to vote Yes and campaign for a Yes vote. How can you do that when you don’t know what the referendum is going to involve?”

    YesScotland will be campaigning for independence whether there are one, two or a hundred questions on the ballot paper. What’s the problem?

    • Impatience.
      Spammo

      As alluded to elsewhere Devo-Max is a sideshow which would almost practically ensure that independence loses. That’s the problem.

      I don’t want my Yes vote competing with a stay in the Union Devo-Max option. It’s a Maybe vote losers option.

      This politicking makes Alex look weak and shifty. It certainly doesn’t look like master stroking as alluded to by this well argued but ultimately fantastical piece.

      • “I don’t want my Yes vote competing with a stay in the Union Devo-Max option.”

        Then you’re in luck, because there’s absolutely no chance of that happening.

        “This politicking makes Alex look weak and shifty.”

        To you, perhaps. Most neutral commentators appear to acknowledge that he has deftly evaded a trap by manoeuvering the Unionists off the ground which they should most naturally inhabit, and which as you note would all but guarantee the defeat of independence.

  15. When many a referendista gets into the polling place any cleverly prefabricated question is going to look like Jam today? or Jam tomorrow? or even Pie in the sky? or Same old. same old? Shouldn’t be so cynical but politicians/lawyers, left unchecked, do screw things up.
    Perhaps a refo on what form the “Great Question” should take? We might spend even more angels on a pinhead time on that one. Owing to tendencious issues arising from semantic. syntactic, legalistic and other prophylactic matters the revolution will not take place as scheduled. However, do bear with…..

  16. This stushie is not of the SNP’s making. Their position has been enforced and repeated umpteen times that their preferred option is a YES for independence.

    Some anti-indy halfwit proposed that the referendum should not exclude those of a more progressive nature by allowing them to avoid the stark YES/NO with a third option of asking the UK parliament, much like Oliver Twist, for “a little more gruel, please, sir!” – the answer to that being solely within the powers of that UK body and like, as Dicken’s sort of put it -” Whaaat – p*ss-off, you sodding Jock!!”

    That the Scottish Government readily grasped the import of such a third option suggestion and agreed that in all democratic fairness, if it was to find a sponsor who could offer it and achieve the unachievable by getting it through the UK Parliament, they would be prepared to have it in the referendum. They could not offer it, but by all means if it can be delivered make the case for it – come aboard. Not a deafening rush of forthcoming benefits was the answer to be heard. Only jam, jam, jam tomorrow. Ooops!

    It was not the Scottish Government’s YES/NO question and obviously neither was it within their vision for a future independent status for Scotland, or certainly within their capacity to make Devo-Whatever happen.

    The third option’s inclusion lies fair and square with those who could make it happen and there’s still plenty of time before that referendum train leaves!

    So, whoever that anti-indy halfwit was, it’s time to stand up and get all that you deserve.

    Nominations on the back of an envelope please and do pass to Call-me Dave before his panic-shuffle for the top table ends.

  17. I can follow the logic, up to a point, that has Salmond as the arch Grandmaster single-handedly outsmarting the might of the British state in a game of political chess. Gripping stuff. No disrespect to Salmond but, attractive as the theory may be, I’m unconvinced. Here’s the news: human beings are fallible and the future is unpredictable. The Scottish Government presented the British Government with the option of negotiating Devo-Max onto the ballot paper but it wasn’t interested. If it had decided otherwise, it would be on it. I don’t agree that it was impossible to get it passed the British Parliament if the will existed.

    What I don’t understand is how it is more advantageous to bore the arse off the Scottish electorate for the next two years by pretending that Devo-Max continues to be an option – when we all know it is not – than it is to state loudly and clearly that it is not an option and why, and then get on with a debate that enthuses people about the possibilities of independence. West Wing fans could catch it on Youtube and we could all get on with imagining a better, more exciting future.

    • The future may be unpredictable but the same cannot be said of the . It was totally foreseeable that they would reject any “second question” out of hand. If Salmond really had wanted a “more powers” option then his best tactic would have been to say that he would not even consider such a thing.

      The matter of the question cannot “bore the arse off the Scottish electorate for the next two years” for simple reason that the proposed format of the ballot will be part of the Bill to be brought to the Scottish Parliament later this year.

    • Sorry! Clumsy editing on that last post.

      The future may be unpredictable but the same cannot be said of the unionist parties. It was totally foreseeable that they would reject any “second question” out of hand. If Salmond really had wanted a “more powers” option then his best tactic would have been to say that he would not even consider such a thing.

      The matter of the question cannot “bore the arse off the Scottish electorate for the next two years” for simple reason that the proposed format of the ballot will be part of the Bill to be brought to the Scottish Parliament later this year.

    • Hi Graham,
      When you say:

      “What I don’t understand is how it is more advantageous to bore the arse off the Scottish electorate for the next two years by pretending that Devo-Max continues to be an option – when we all know it is not – than it is to state loudly and clearly that it is not an option and why…”

      I take it you’re talking about the unionist side. The SNP’s contribution so far has to say they are going to campaign for independence and that they are willing to keep the door open if anyone ever fronts up with a devo-max proposal. The unionists the only ones who are keeping the second option in the news as a live issue and if they stopped talking about it then as an issue it would fade away into the background. Until, that is, the referendum bill gets passed with no devo-max option in it and it becomes a live issue again which is exactly what the unionists don’t want especially if the SNP have clean hands in the whole issue of no devo-max on the ballot paper.

  18. Come on, it looks like Salmond was leaving himself options – no bad thing, who could blame him? He may even have calculated the probability of the Devo-Max/Plus/Indy-Lite offer being accepted as less than 50/50 but it could not have been a certainty. If it had been accepted, the SNP would not want to be seen denying democracy and it would be on the ballot. I think John Swinney was instrumental in first publicly airing the terms Devo-Max and Indy-Lite, they were coined in the Nationalist camp.

    If the Devo-Max issue is put to bed by the end of the year then great. That makes more sense.

  19. Prophet peden is a unionist pretending to be an Independence supporter. I saw it almosr from its first sentence. I’m surprised some of you have been taken in by it and are replying to it as if it were real. All it is trying to do is muddy the waters but hasn’t got the courage to do so openly.

  20. There is another option at play here which goes far beyond any political game and its lies in part of Lord Cooper’s 1953 judgement in McCormack vs The Lord Advocate.

    As I understand the basis of FFA / Devo-max it entails repatriating everything back to Holyrood except for defence, foreign policy and little else. This singularly changes the nature of the Treaty of Union beyond the competence of Westminster because it has been established in Scots Law that Westminster has no power to change, amend or alter the Treaty of Union – a point conceded by the Lord Advocate on Westminster’s behalf.

    FFA /devomax involves the creation of a confederated Union where as the 1998 Scotland Act stayed within the basis of the 1707 Union with Westminster assume it was ‘primes inter pares’ – it was assumed the tax varying power would never be used and it was only inserted to meet the Council of Europe’s requirement for regional government which was the basis for Scottish and Welsh devolution even though T Blair tried to get the bills dropped.

    The problem in reality for Westminster is it is not ‘primes inter pares’ as it never has had ‘unlimited sovereignty’ over Scotland as Lord Cooper makes clear, Scottish sovereignty is always limited by the considered will of the Scottish people. In fact one of the reason the UK Supreme Court found against AXA et al was that it has no rights or power to set aside a Bill, Statute or Act of the Scottish Parliament which reflects the considered will of the Scottish people. Westminster was relying on the Uk Supreme Court finding for AXA et al and therefore legitimising section 5 & 30 of the 1998 Scotland Act. Since that judgement section 5 & 30 are redundant there is no scope for challenge in the UK Supreme Court in the referendum by any person as the referendum reflects the considered will of the Scottish people. Any attempt would be deemed vexatious.

    For Westminster to jump on for the devomax / FFA stop means they have conceded Scottish independence because only a sovereign Scottish Parliament can renegotiate the new Union FFA / Devomax settlement. This has been known both sides of the border for over six months and why Westminster did not release their legal advice on the issue because basically it said you are stuffed.

    The SNP stated at Conference in October 2011 that if a devomax proposal came forward which was workable they would not block it being placed as a referendum option but they would only be working towards their aim of Scottish independence. The Scottish media started the devomax hare running because they could not believe that New Labour had not jumped on this to derail the SNP ‘Yes’ band wagon. I have not been at a single meeting where there is any support for a devomax option, it is similar to the canard run by the Herald on strategic nuclear weapons which they are conflating with membership of NATO but SNP policy as part of the Yes campaign is to kick them out of Scotland NATO membership or not.

    Sometime the touble with looking for political angles is we miss the bleeding obvious and that is in Scots Law and constitutional practice devomax means Scottish independence first – a win / win for the SNP. Just think of all the little Englanders only too happy to kick out the subsidy junkie Scots, so politically devomax is a non-starter for Westminster and all they are left with the ‘No’ option.

    Have a read of McCormack vs the Lord Advocate (1953) for yourselves and understand how powerless Westminster now are, Micheal Forsyth’s warning in the 1997 debate of devolution of the Scots walking away from the Union on a simple vote is now coming to haunt them big style.

    • Hi Madjockmacmad,
      It may be constitutionally impossible for Scotland to achieve FFA/devo-max within the current union but the unionists don’t want it whether or not they have the power to achieve it.

      What they want is the SNP to share the responsibility for the absence of a second devo-max option on the ballot paper to ensure that the SNP cannot target devo-max supporters as part of its independence campaign.

      The political manoeuvering is all about blame for the lack of a devo-max option on the ballot paper and not whether it can actually be offered.

      • Doug,
        “… What they want is the SNP to share the responsibility for the absence of a second devo-max option on the ballot paper to ensure that the SNP cannot target devo-max supporters as part of its independence campaign… ”

        I don’t follow that reasoning and I don’t agree with it.

      • Hi James,
        My reasoning is as follows.

        It is indisputable that the unionist parties are getting very unhappy and agitated because the SNP’s offer to put a second option on the referendum ballot paper is still open to them. They are willing to give Alex Salmond almost everything he wants as long as he agrees to withdraw that offer in favour of a single question.

        This is because:

        A) The unionist parties are afraid that Alex Salmond will put a devo-max option on the ballot paper either unilaterally or with some other Scottish civic organisation. This devo-max option will win and the SNP will be able to force a devo-max bill through Westminster against the combined opposition of Labour, the Tories and the Lib-Dems and Scotland will achieve devo-max against their wishes.

        B)
        Some other reason.

        If the unionists believe in option A) then they are very, very stupid but although I don’t like the unionist camp I’ve never considered them stupid.

        That leaves option B) where my belief is that the unionists want to include the SNP in the corporate guilt of denying Scots a devo-max option in order to spike the SNP’s campaign to win over devo-max supporters.

        If you’ve got another theory then I’d like to hear it both because I would find it interesting and because I love a good argument.

      • Hello Doug,
        In my earlier response to you it was only your following statement that I didn’t follow nor agree with, and mainly the last part of it. See my later post below where I more or less come to the same conclusions about your analyses of your option A.

        from your post:- “where my belief is that the unionists want to include the SNP in the corporate guilt of denying Scots a devo-max option in order to spike the SNP’s campaign to win over devo-max supporters…”

        I fail to see how the SNP’s campaign for votes from devo-max supporters would be affected in any way if it agrees to only one question. The SNP has already agreed to campaign for a single question although it has stated that it would consider including a second question if a ‘workable’ suggestion was forthcoming from another source, knowing full well that that is most unlikely.

      • Hi James,
        If there is no devo-max option on the referendum ballot paper and it is quite plain that the unionist parties failed to deliver one after being given several years notice of the independence referendum and an open invitation to include one then the SNP will use this to point out that even when given the chance the unionist parties failed to engage with devo-max at all.

        They will then target the devo-max supporters by using this as evidence that the no campaign’s jam tomorrow promises are worthless and that the only option available if the devo-max supporters want change is to vote for independence.

        The unionist strategy is to try and make devo-max or the lack of it on the ballot paper a non-issue by getting the SNP to share responsibility for its absence in the hope that the devo-max supporters believe their jam tomorrow promises and vote no for more devolution.

        If there is no electoral advantage to be gained from getting the SNP to agree to a single question referendum right now then I’ve no idea why the unionist parties are getting so agitated about it. In that case what’s your explanation for their fixation on getting an agreement in place with the SNP on a single question referendum as soon as they can?

      • Doug, Hello again.
        I think there is a very simple reason for the No-men to be pushing for a single Question. They think the Referendum with a single question will result in a NO vote and put Independence to bed for a long time. Devo-max or some variant can then be considered afterwards at THEIR leisure.
        If a second devo-max question was in the ballot and it won by a large majority the No-men would be forced to act, notwithstanding all the difficulties of putting it through Westminster, but more importantly for them the SNP would remain in the driving seat afterwards.
        The SNP is giving nothing away by ‘agreeing’ to only one question. It has already stated publicly that its preferred Referendum would be single question only and it will still be free to stir up devo-max supporters during the campaign when it suits it.

      • Hi James,
        That’s a valid and logical argument but if and only if the unionists are afraid of the SNP unilaterally putting a devo-max option on the ballot paper. You believe that the unionists are afraid of the SNP putting devo-max on the ballot paper but I believe quite the opposite.

        If the SNP unilaterally put a devo-max option on the ballot paper the they are in effect admitting the independence referendum is lost. What they are also doing is legitimising the unionists’ jam-tomorrow strategy because the only thing a devo-max win can do is to put moral pressure on the unionists to fulfil their jam-tomorrow promises. If the reason for a devo-max option on the ballot paper is to put moral pressure on the unionists to keep their jam-tomorrow promises then it would make sense to remove the independence option completely in order to try and get the vote for devo-max above 50% to maximise its moral pressure. It would then not be an independence referendum but a “please give us devo-max although you’ve made no promises referendum”.

        The SNP has never been in the driving seat for devolution but it has always been the independence spur which has driven devolution in the unionist parties. Once the SNP effectively turns from independence to devolution then even that is lost

        An SNP devo-max option on the ballot paper might not be a a suicide note for the SNP but it would be a short and concise suicide note for their independence ambitions. What the unionists fear is not the SNP putting a devo-max option on the ballot paper but the fact that they won’t and that the blame for no devo-max option will lie squarely and correctly with the unionists.

  21. If the government let the English have a referendum on keeping the Union Alec Salmon would have his wish an England at last free of the Scottish

  22. The SNP has said it is willing to consider a ‘workable’ DevoMax question in the Referendum and I’m willing to bet that the SNP will continue to keep the DevoMax ‘option’ alive till the end of the campaign even though it (the SNP) has no intention of putting it on the ballot paper. It is too good a political ploy to drop. It will keep the NO-men on the back foot throughout as a number of them would in fact like to see more devolved powers. But although it would be an excellent fall back position for the SNP in the event of a NO vote there would be two problems with it. One, it could dilute the YES vote and maybe cause the Independence Referendum to be lost, and two, if it became the ‘winning’ option there would be huge problems in actually achieving it at Westminster afterwards even if sponsored by both Labour and Tory Parties what with opposition to DevoMax from UK MPs and in the aftermath of a Referendum, a General Election, and a Scottish Election all in a very short time period with no guarantees about who might win power in those elections.

  23. Perhaps the second question is a ruse? By getting the unionist to reject it now, clearly leaves the option of the SNP to articulate a position whereby the 2/3’s of the electorate will win their most ardent wish if they vote YES? All it needs is for the SNP to succinctly model the relationship between the newly independent countries in the debate running up to our referendum? Frame it in such a way that the Devo-max supporters see themselves as winning through the vehicle of independance.

  24. The independence hare is out of sight. Salmond, with all his “clever” footwork is unlikely to catch up. SNP conference should be either very interesting or a lifeless stage-managed yawn……zzzzzzzzz!

    • What nonsense! The SNP hasn’t started to campaign and yet it has around 30% of solid YES votes. On the other hand the Bitter Together (for how long?) mob have already shot their bolt during the Great Unionist Propaganda fests of the last few months. For them it is all downhill now.

      • That 30 is soft, and seems static. Suspect the true support for indie is nearer 20. The nats are going to have to go mega in the next two years. Think they take too much for granted re their own constituency. Political “illiteracy” is prob for all political parties, for the nats its truly problematic. Wish them luck but believe the extra pol.party which appears to be coalescing may be more productive, more direct and more
        free from extraneous baggage.

  25. I’ve no idea what Alex Salmond will do but what this article lacks is a discussion of the different alternatives.

    Say he refuses to accept the UK Government’s terms, then there will be no Section 30 order and the referendum bill will be challenged in the courts and he will be accused by the unionist press of having deliberately engineered such a situation to avoid defeat in the referendum. If he accepts the UK Government’s Section 30 order offer he has to agree to there being only one question.

    OK Doug which one is it going to be?

    • Alex:

      “Which one is it going to be?”

      No idea. As a humble letter-box stuffer for the SNP I don’t know what strategy is being planned by the top of the party.

      What I wanted to point out was the danger associated with accepting the one question demand from the unionists parties and the reason behind their demands for the SNP to be part of a single question agreement.

  26. I feel this discussion gone on and on and on….. and what has never been raised is the British establishment’s lessons from the handling of Irish Independence. Public opinion in Ireland swung behind independence after the brutal crack-down of the Easter Rising, but the linked lesson is that blocked moves towards greater autonomy gradually leading up to that point had already eroded the British states legitimacy with the Catholic majority.

    Of course devo max can’t be delivered, it’s creating a straw man to suggest that people who disagree with your analysis Doug think this. What the real issue is, is that the British State does not want to get into a position where its legitimacy will be similarly eroded by its refusal to legislate greater autonomy after a yes vote for devo max. I can’t understand why people want to complicate it with conspiracy theories when it’s so bleedingly obvious.

    • Alex:
      “What the real issue is, is that the British State does not want to get into a position where its legitimacy will be similarly eroded by its refusal to legislate greater autonomy after a yes vote for devo max.”

      If the unionist parties put devo-max on the ballot paper then they will have defined its powers in order to minimise any impact on unity of the UK and central government and they will implement it if it wins.

      If the SNP have a brainstorm and put a devo-max option on the ballot paper and it wins then Westminster won’t refuse to legislate if they think that will cause a political problem. They will set up an endless series of committees and conventions to examine what powers devo-max should have and how it will fit into the government of the rest of the UK and after a long, long time will produce something like Calman at the end of it. There will be no refusal to legislate but a death of a thousand cuts as they pare devo-max down to a minimum set of powers and kick it forward a least by a parliament and perhaps two. It will die a lonely death.

      The unionist parties are not afraid of a devo-max option being placed on the ballot paper by the SNP but of the SNP laying the blame on them for not having one.

      I’m not sure what straw man I’ve introduced though.

      • The straw man is your constant refrain that the unionists bottleneck at Westminster means devo max can never be gained, as if those who don’t see things the your way ever thought it could, that widely known as creating a straw man (i.e. empty man/argument) in order to knock it down.

        In your reply you’re shifting your ground. One of your main arguments has been that the unionists will never propose a devo max question, but now, for the sake of the argument, you say that if they proposed it then what’s the threat to their legitimacy. That’s not being consistent, or engaging with the argument, frankly. Even if they create a hundred calmans they wouldn’t be able, in the end, when nothing much materialised, to avoid the claim that they blocked the will of the Scots as expressed in a referendum. Your comments as usual overplays the invincibility of the British state, cf. the example of Ireland. Even if it’s clear that no civil society campaign is going to be campaigning for devo max, this wasn’t clear when the unionist parties took their stand against a third question. An even more obvious point is the simple fact that they want the SNP’s defeat in the referendum to be completely unambiguous.

        It seems clear that neither the SNP nor the unionists parties, nor anyone else, will be campaigning for devo max. But what of the fact that all the indications are that Alex Salmond looks set to accept a Section 30 order, based on a single question. Why would he do that if your theory was correct?

      • Alex:
        The bottleneck in achieving more devolved powers for Scotland is the Westminster Parliament controlled by the unionist parties. I haven’t set up that up to knock it down in order to disprove someone else’s argument, it’s a simple statement of fact.

        Go and look up what a straw man argument is.

        My main argument is that the unionist parties want to shut down the offer of the second option now in order to gain advantage in the referendum later.

        Demand for more devolution can be controlled and managed by Westminster whether or not the demand comes via a referendum but a yes in the independence referendum can’t.

        If the unionists put a devo-max option on the ballot paper they will implement it but they will never go down that route. I just threw that one in for fun.

        The British state is not invincible as it will disappear if the independence referendum is won.

        The only ones claiming that a deal is close are the usual suspects such as Severin Carrell and I’ve no idea what the SNP leadership is planning to do.

      • We will await your explanation when Alex Salmond agrees a deal.

  27. Doug the Dug,

    I am coming around to the view that the unionists are not a united front. Whilst we all know that a Conservative majority in England is in no way guaranteed by Scottish independence, it seems that the Conservatives are using a different sort of arithmetic from the rest of us. Why is Cameron so quiet on this issue? It appears to me that he is going though the motions rather than trying to lead. Perhaps he feels that we are just an annoying nuicance in the march towards Eton domination?

    Mr Salmond has, perhaps, an unlikely ally in his bid for a referendum on his terms. Much is made of Cameron fearing being remembered as the Prime Minister who ruled as the United Kingdom fractured. Can anyone recall – no cheating – who the British Prime Minister was when Eire got it’s independence?

    I cannot, for the life of me, see the present – admittedly muddled – unionist consensus surviving it’s first serious challenge. I’d expect them to fragment very, very quickly. Perhaps ‘Labour for Independence’ is a just the tip of the iceberg?’ There are too many fundamental differences between them for them to stick together until Autumn 2014.

    Those of us that are independent minded should perhaps try to see into the mind set of the unionists. I think we would find a lot of different and sometimes mutually exclusive reasons for their ideas. That could be to our advantage.

    For instance, the Labour Party appears to be in a stushie over the fact that nobody is listening to them at a political level. Is it worth, at least, asking them the question of why that is? Nobody wants to be on the sidelines when decisions are being taken, and yet that is where they appear to be – in a siding with a lot of other rusty waggons.

    Enough! Excellent piece by your good self.

    • They are certainly not a united front. How could they be, coming from different ends of the political spectrum. They are not united in a political cause but in a vendetta against a hated common enemy: the SNP, which is threatening their comfortable life style and promotion prospects at Westminster.
      There are two years to go and the SNP hasn’t even started to campaign. The NO-men have been making a lot of noise during the last year most of it crass negative politics and they are becoming boring. And they don’t really have much of a political case except more of the same. They know this and cracks are appearing in their ranks in the media and in the parties. These will become wider as time passes and polls start to show the YES vote steadily increasing and it would not surprise me if a major schism in their ranks happened during the campaign, sooner rather than later, when it really will become Bitter Together.
      Now I’m not suggesting the SNP planned all this, it is not that good, but it is certainly in a very lucky place politically at the moment. I hope it doesn’t overplay its hand, and I don’t want to see any more irrelevant faux pas policies like ‘gay marriage’ appearing.

  28. Hi Doug,

    A well-written and thoughtful post. You make a lot of excellent points here and provide some good arguments to support your ‘corporate guilt’ theory, but I’m still not convinced.

    I’m not so sure that the timetable is as favourable to the Scottish government as you imply. For example, at some point soon, in its ongoing negotiations with the British government, the Scottish government is going to have to shift from its current position that it will consider the inclusion of a second question if there is a significant demand for it, to adopting a position on a second question. At that stage (at the latest, after the publication of its consultation), the Scottish government is either going to have to abandon the idea altogether or attempt to pursue it further.

    At that stage, if not before, we can expect the British government to publicly reiterate its position that a section 30 is conditional on a single-question referendum. It’s at this point that the corporate guilt theory would become operative. The onus would then be on the Scottish government again. Of course, all this assumes that the Scottish government’s consultation will show that there is substantial support for devo-max. But, in any case, this could all be settled well before the referendum bill passes through parliament. One alternative is that the Scottish government declares that it will hold its own referendum and that a second question will be on the ballot paper. And while the former scenario makes sense, the latter makes no sense at all (as you acknowledge in the piece). Unless, that is, you take Ian Smart’s position that it isn’t so much scuppering the prospect of a second question that the Scottish government wants to blame on the unionists, rather, it wants to blame the unionists for scuppering the referendum itself. If you’re going to go for a corporate guilt theory, you may as well go the whole hog with Ian Smart. Although, in my opinion, neither the corporate guilt theory nor Ian Smart’s variant of it stack up.

    A more important objection to the theory isn’t just that it rests on the belief that the Scottish government will, at the optimal time (“right up until the referendum bill goes through the Scottish Parliament”), choose the decisive moment to lay the blame for the absence of a second question on the unionists. It further assumes that, subsequently, many of those voters who are then denied their preferred choice (devo-max?) will effectively take revenge on the unionists’ intransigence on a second question by voting Yes in the referendum. So the ‘corporate guilt’ theory leads to a kind of vengeance vote theory.

    The main problem here is that it places too great an explanatory burden on this issue of blame. Whatever it is going to take to win over the majority of those voters who appear to support devo-max, the argument that a vengeance vote – a thwarted devo-max rebound – will do it, has, I would argue, a superficial credibility only. I don’t think that the attribution of blame for the absence of a second question can shoulder the burden that you’re placing on it here. Self-evidently, supporters of devo-max will be more open to arguments for independence than those who plan to vote No, but that is a very different thing from saying that this openness is conditional on the Scottish government being seen to publicly avoid the “corporate guilt” for the absence of a second question and pin the blame squarely on the shoulders of the British.

    But there’s something else here which I find a wee bit worrying. One of the unintended consequences of your argument is that there’s an implicit defeatism in it that is summed up well in your closing point: “with that the unionists’ can spike the SNP’s strategy of targeting the devo-max supporters in the referendum campaign”. The implication here is that the devo-max support is largely lost to the Yes campaign unless it is predicated on the existence of a sizeable vengeance vote, i.e. the devo-max voters can only be effectively targeted by the Yes campaign if these voters have a heightened sense of disaffection with the unionists’ intransigence on the specific issue of a second question.

    If this is true, then isn’t this tantamount to an anticipation that the Yes campaign would have failed to have persuaded enough devo-max supporters of the arguments for independence? Or, put it another way, if we expect to persuade a significant enough number of devo-max supporters of the substantive arguments for independence, what does it matter who gets blamed for the absence of a second question? At best, the political capital to be made from this would be another weapon in the armoury of the Yes campaign – though I would argue that the no mandate argument is a more potent weapon – but it cannot be elevated to the condition for a Yes vote for, if it is, we’re in trouble.

    There might be a straightforward explanation for the Scottish government’s manouevring. For example, although this doesn’t seem credible, not least because both the Scottish and British governments know that devo-max is fantasy politics, it may be that the Scottish government is trying to use the prospect of a second question as a bargaining chip in its negotiations with the British over the conditions attached to a section 30. If there’s any substance in this, then the Scottish government has probably already privately discounted the trade-off of a second question and has its eyes on other section 30 concessionary prizes once the inevitable trade-off is finally made.

    Another possibility that needs to be considered is that, in spite of all the hyperbole about ‘devo-max’, we might be about to discover in a few weeks time that, although the Scottish government’s consultation shows some support for devo-max, this isn’t substantial enough to warrant a second question and this, in conjunction with the Scottish and British government’s preference for a single-question referendum, means that it will be the Scottish government that announces that there will be no second question. In other words, the ‘corporate guilt’ theory (and all variants of it) may not survive beyond the next five or six weeks.

    With the issue of devo-max left to the birds, that would put the Yes campaign where it needs to be: spending the next two years carefully explaining to the Scottish electorate the reasons why the British cannot and will not shift from their ‘jam tomorrow’ position, the inadequacies of this British position and articulating these to the arguments for independence. That way we can then concentrate on a campaign that will further marginalise Westminster and focus this debate on the future of Scotland, the sovereignty of the Scottish people and how they can only effectively exercise that sovereignty with independence.

    • Hi Donald,
      Thanks for your comments and I’ll try and answer all your points.

      When the consultation comes out and if it shows that there is a demand for devo-max then the SNP isn’t going to adopt a position on the second option beyond keeping their offer of a second option open. What they are going to do is to invite the unionist parties to define and support a devo-max option on the referendum bill as there is support for it in the consultation. The SNP won’t adopt a position on a second option but it will invite the unionist parties to adopt one and the onus will always be on the unionist opposition to define their position. They have already rejected it and will have to reject it again.

      As I’ve pointed out above, if the SNP unilaterally put a devo-max option on the referendum paper with or without the backing of the consultation or of a civic body it’s the equivalent of both barrels to the feet and they know it.

      Corporate guilt only works for the unionist parties and against the SNP so the idea that the SNP would destroy their own referendum in order to make the unionists the guilty party in a non-referendum blame game does work at a surreal level of logic but not in the real world. Corporate guilt is a strategy within the referendum to share blame for a lack of choice in a bid for the votes of the undecided and not the lack of a referendum.

      The answers to your next points hang on the one issue that you’ve not raised in your comment. Why are the unionist parties so desperate to bury any notion of a second option as soon as they can and to get the SNP to agree to it? That is the question that started the whole train of thought that led to the idea of corporate guilt in my article and it’s not a point you’ve raised or addressed here.

      Perhaps it is rather defeatist for the Yes campaign to rely on a “vengeance vote”, as you put it, of disaffected devo-max supporters but the unionist side is also targeting those devo-max supporters and they don’t think that these supporters will vote for the union without a firm belief that the jam-tomorrow promises from the union side are true. Both sides are trying to get that vote on-side. The SNP want them to know that devo-max is never going to happen while the unionist side wants them to believe that a no vote will lead to jam tomorrow. The unionists want the SNP to share in the corporate guilt of no devo-max option because they don’t believe that a simple no campaign will be enough to guarantee a win for the no side. However, I agree with you that this issue should only be one of many in attracting those who are undecided to the Yes cause.

      If the consultation shows no appetite for devo-max the the whole issue simply disappears but I always come back to the question that started it all off for me.Why are the unionist parties so desperate to bury any notion of a second option as soon as they can and to get the SNP to agree to it?

      Perhaps all I wrote is mince. If the reason for the desire of the unionist side to bury the second option is that they believe that the SNP are going to unilaterally put a devo-max option on the ballot paper then all bets are off. My theory is based on the unionist side working to a political strategy rather than flopping about with the political intelligence of a flatfish.

  29. Doug,

    “Perhaps all I wrote is mince”.

    I definitely don’t agree with that! As I said in my first reply, I thought that you made some excellent points and some good arguments to support the theory, as the comments on this thread testify. And here we are, still discussing it.

    What I meant by the Scottish government “adopting a position” on a second question was, as I stated, after the consultation is published it will either have to abandon the idea altogether (if there’s no substantial demand for devo-max) or pursue it further. This latter course would, obviously, mean that the consultation had demonstrated that there was substantial demand for devo-max. The only thing the Scottish government could then do is ask the British government to reconsider its position. The British government then responds by restating its position, i.e. a section 30 is conditional on a single-question referendum. Then the onus is back on the Scottish government. All it could do is highlight the intransigence of the British government, which would, in responding to the invitation to reconsider its position, simply be restating a position that has been in the public domain for some time now.

    The corporate guilt theory then rests on the Yes campaign being able to make enough political capital out of this unionist intransigence on the specific issue of the absence of a second question, to take them over the winning line in the referendum with the support of many disaffected devo-max supporters. That’s how I read your piece but it was your closing point that surprised me, i.e. the suggestion that the Scottish government’s strategy of attracting the support of devo-max supporters depends on it avoiding being implicated in the corporate guilt of the absence of a second question. I won’t repeat the points I made in my first reply other than to say that I don’t think this is credible. Apart from anything else, two years is a long time to keep this issue at the top of the political agenda but, more importantly, I think it is the independence debate itself that will shape the preferences of the vast majority of devo-max supporters, not devo-max supporters harbouring a grievance for two years over a perfectly understandable position of the British government.

    That leaves your question:

    “Why are the unionist parties so desperate to bury any notion of a second option as soon as they can and to get the SNP to agree to it?”.

    One possibility, in particular, is worth mentioning here, although we might be better informed about this if the new Memorandum of Understanding was in the public domain. First, I think the British still, even today, harbour hopes of putting pressure on the Scottish government to bring forward the date of the referendum (because they believe that this will enhance their prospects of winning). True, David Cameron has said that he is relaxed about the timetable but, remember, in the weeks prior to saying this he was arguing that “we” need to have the referendum as soon as possible. At this earlier stage, though, I think the British genuinely believed that they could speed up the timetable. In other words, by getting the Scottish government to agree on a single question as early as possible, the British believed that they could then put pressure on the Scottish government to bring forward the date of the referendum.

    The other reason I say this is that we need to recall the haste with which the British government conducted its own consultation and, equally importantly, the speed with which it then adopted its position on a single question. Within weeks of the completion of its consultation, one unionist politician after another made it known that there must be a single-question referendum. It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that what the British were trying to do here was to put pressure on the Scottish government to speed up its consultation, thereby seeking its early commitment to a single-question referendum and, again, thereafter putting pressure on the Scottish government to bring forward the date of the referendum. The Memorandum of Understanding might tell us whether the timing really is still an issue for the British but, in any case, I think this is what the British strategy was earlier this year. In the event, all they’ve got out of this is a residual doubt that the Scottish government has ‘stretched’ the timetable of its consultation, hardly a fatal blow to the Scottish government.

    The other point I’d make here is that I don’t think the British are that bothered about the possibility of being held responsible for the absence of a second question. If they were, and if this was going to do such damage to them, they would surely have been smarter about this themselves. So I’d agree with you when you say that, “My theory is based on the unionist side working to a political strategy rather than flopping about with the political intelligence of a flatfish”.

    And the British could surely talk their way round many of the difficulties they might encounter as a consequence of being blamed for the absence of a second question. For example, they could argue that no party was offering devo-max (even the Scottish government’s preferred option was for a single-question referendum), and while devo-max would require a mandate from the whole UK, and would take an awful long time to implement, more powers short of devo-max could be introduced more speedily and would, therefore, be a more sensible option? These are just some of the arguments that would come into play.

    But also, the British government has already publicly committed itself, on numerous occasions, to a single question referendum, as well as making a section 30 conditional on a single question. Equally, while remaining more open to the prospect of a second question, the Scottish government has already expressed its preferred option for a single question. In other words, hasn’t the corporate guilt theory already been overtaken by events? The Scottish government is seen to be open to a second question, the British government isn’t. We don’t need to wait for the publication of the Scottish government’s consultation to confirm that.

    • Hi Donald,
      Thanks for the reply. The ins and outs of how the Scottish Government will respond to the consultation results and how it will deal with the Section 30 offer are a matter of speculation but what I come back to is always my question.

      “Why are the unionist parties so desperate to bury any notion of a second option as soon as they can and to get the SNP to agree to it?”

      The condition attached to the granting of the Section 30 order is not that there shall be no votes for 16/17 year olds or that Westminster will set the date or that Westminster will set the question but that the SNP must agree to a single question referendum two years before the referendum when the unionist parties are in sole control of whether that option appears on the ballot paper.

      I can only reason that this condition is because the Westminster government believe that will give them some form of electoral advantage by involving the SNP in the decision not to put a second option on the ballot paper.

      There is going to be no second option on the ballot paper whatever happens so if it was all part of a plan to set the timing of the referendum then it would have made more sense to make timing a direct condition of the section 30. Once the Section 30 is granted under the single question condition Westminster will have no more levers to apply to the Scottish Government if it wants to alter the timing.

      If you can think of another reason why a single question is the only condition applied to the Section 30 I’m willing to listen.

  30. Doug,

    The point I was making was that Alex Salmond made the announcement that the referendum would be held in the “autumn of 2014” in January 2012. It was a full seven months after this that David Cameron made his public announcement that the timing wasn’t an issue, although the unionists are still, today, holding their ‘sooner rather than later’ line. My point is that it was in this intervening period – January to summer 2012 – that the British were hoping to put pressure on the Scottish government to speed up their timetable (the British government’s deadline for its own consultation was March 9th 2012). What the British could not exercise any control over, though, was the date that the Scottish government would publish the results of its consultation and the Scottish government wasn’t going to shift on this. So the British are left with their argument that the Scottish government has ‘stretched’ its consultation timetable.

    So, this important issue of control over the timetable was, from the British government’s perspective, up for negotiation until the summer of 2014, when they finally conceded it was no longer an issue. So why didn’t the British make a section 30 conditional on the timing of the referendum? First, because as I’ve said, they genuinely believed, until quite recently, that they could put pressure on the Scottish government to speed up its timetable. Second, they’re now prepared to take the risk that a later referendum will still lead to a No vote. And third, and most importantly, can you imagine the political consequences if the British had done this? It’s one thing to make a section 30 conditional on a single question when the Scottish government’s own preferred option is for this also. But to attempt to dictate (rather than negotiate) the timing of the referendum, would have been a much more dangerous road for the British to go down. If this thought ever did enter their mind, they must have thought better of it and they would surely have been right to do so.

    I don’t think, therefore, that this important issue of timing – up to the summer of 2012 at any rate – can be so easily discounted. So we’re left with the question, why are the British still, today, insisting that a section 30 is conditional on a single question? There may be two possible answers to this. First, they’re just reiterating their position that this is non-negotiable and attempting to pre-empt any potential manoeuvring by the Scottish government on the basis of a favourable result towards devo-max that might come out of the Scottish government’s consultation. Second, they may have, at least a lingering doubt that, if there is substantial support for devo-max, the Scottish government, as it has previously stated, may go ahead with its own advisory and consultative referendum, hence Michael Moore’s recent ‘warnings’. Let’s hope it’s number one!

    Finally, we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on your point that:

    “I can only reason that this [section 30] condition is because the Westminster government believe that will give them some form of electoral advantage by involving the SNP in the decision not to put a second option on the ballot”.

    For the reasons I’ve already given, this doesn’t seem credible to me.

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