Unionist blogspots are having conniption fits about the lack of a date for an independence referendum. Like surgeons worrying about an unexplained lump, they have refused to be part of any constructive solution until someone has diagnosed the issue in minute detail. As they have failed miserably to shake the Scottish people’s open willingness to consider a form of government different from the teeth-sucking grey nonentities who dominated until lately, spreading uncertainty seems to be the doubt du jour. It will be in three years. Why should the exact date matter when we’ve never had more than a month’s notice for a full UK election?
Now, some of the more far-sighted doubters, like the quiet but steadily thoughtful Malcolm Chisholm (the only Labour MSP left with long experience that includes Westminster) has urged his party to consider ‘Devo Max’ (aka ‘Independence Lite’), rather than keeping its head stuck firmly in the ‘no change’ sand of London’s Victoria Street. Some of his more astute colleagues see the wisdom of this. But Labour HQ—as well as the ConDems—seem thirled to the idea that a straight yes/no referendum has the best chance of derailing any change at all. Dangerous thinking.
Because the SNP is likely to paint them into a corner as unreasonable and inflexible and, by implication, anti-democratic and anti-Scottish. Again. And the SNP, buoyed by the result in May and a high-profile, harmonious conference in Inverness, have the chutzpah to outflank them with an offer the people of Scotland can’t refuse. Though you might think the SNP would want a straight head-to-head, their nous will lead them into the option that pleases the Scots best and divides their opponents who already won’t share platforms together.
A multi-option referendum, held under STV would scupper the unionists by dividing them further. Since polls indicate the Scottish people clearly want some kind of change and there are several opinions what that change should be, then we offer a selection. The ballot paper is not yes/no but is an STV vote that simply says: rank the following from 1 to 4, in your order of preference:
- the status quo: a devolved parliament as at present
- Calman proposals: extended devolution as proposed in the new Scotland Bill
- ‘Devo Max’: all fiscal and domestic powers devolved, possibly in federal form
- Independence: Scotland returns to being a sovereign state but may choose to retain some current links with London, such as sharing embassies.
The risk the SNP would run is that people would prefer compromise to full independence. But is that really a risk? The SNP believe firmly in the sovereignty of the people and so would, perforce, listen to the result. They seized on the part-way compromise offered in 1997/99 to skillfully manipulate it (the late Dr. Alan MacCartney’s words “using a shoogly stane tae cross a wide burn”). Do the unionists really think they’d miss seizing such tactical advantage to wrong-foot them all again?