Friday, 4 September 2009

Salmond's referendum pledge is cost free politicking

Vernon Bogdanor’s survey of ‘The New British Constitution’ observes that most Scots voted for devolution, not because of any profound dissatisfaction with Westminster’s sovereignty, but for largely instrumental reasons.

Their calculation was that regional government might allow Scotland to flourish, economically and socially, with representation devoted exclusively to its affairs. It would be foolish not to acknowledge that, ten years later, Scots widely accept that the institutions at Holyrood have been successful in this regard.

However, impetus towards wider devolved powers, or indeed eventual independence, is still essentially dependent on instrumental arguments. Although a minority mandate has allowed nationalists to form an executive at Holyrood, their emotional and separatist messages have not gained significant purchase. Instead, Alex Salmond has proved skilful at attuning nationalism’s tactics to voters’ instrumentalist concerns and pursuing his wider aim of independence by increment and even by stealth.

Brian Taylor might describe the SNP leader’s smile, returning slowly after his Islamist linked party squirmed off the hook, despite its release of the Lockerbie bomber. But Nick Robinson believes that it is a smirk which Salmond wears, and that seems to me the more appropriate metaphor for its bearer’s political wiles.

The Scottish Executive has announced, in its programme for government, an intention to hold a referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future, next year. The unionist parties are, of course, correct when they deride this idea as an unnecessary distraction, which would divert resources from the important task of tackling recession. But it is entirely in tune with Salmond’s attempts to promote nationalism by sophistry and gimmickry.

When the SNP is denied its referendum, it will portray unionist parties scared to submit the constitutional question to the wisdom of the Scottish electorate. It will also present a three option referendum, couched in nationalist terminology about ‘greater independence’, as a concession to the Calman Commission’s findings.

Taylor has noted that Labour’s ‘bring it on’ rhetoric (which contributed towards the departure of its last leader in Scotland) has dissipated. But there is still an argument that the best means to wrong foot nationalists is to fight a referendum and win. This would entail making its safe passage through parliament dependent on a clear, concise and honest question being put before voters.

‘Do you favour Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom? Yes / No.’

Such a plebiscite would deliver a clear mandate for continued Scottish participation in the United Kingdom and deliver an early body blow to the nationalists’ ambitions. Otherwise the SNP will merely continue to chisel away at the UK’s constitutional integrity by stealth.

The difficulty is that a referendum REALLY WOULD comprise an expensive distraction, into which precious time and resources would have to pour. In order to provide enough votes to secure a poll, at least one unionist party would need to be complicit in the SNP’s irresponsibility. That is before we consider whether any of the three national parties would really relish coalescing behind a pro-Union ‘Yes’ campaign during a general election year. It hardly seems likely.

Therefore Alex Salmond could well afford a smirk, as he announced another cost free piece of politicking achieved at the expense of providing responsible administration in Scotland.

1 comment:

Alec said...

>> returning slowly after his Islamist linked party squirmed off the hook,

What's frustrating me is how little attention is being given to this.