Monday, August 13, 2007

Lord Forsyth and the independence referendum

Today's newspapers have followed up an interesting story in yesterday's Sunday Times which reported that Lord Forsyth, the former Scottish Secretary, had urged Annabel Goldie, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, to back the SNP's desired referendum on independence. His argument is that it would almost certainly be defeated at the hands of the electorate and therefore scupper the cause of separatism for a generation.

You can read the Herald's account of the story, or Alan Cochrane's amusing (and, I think, correct) reaction in the Telegraph.


Blogger David Lindsay said...

Arise, Sir Alex Salmond. And why not? Partly, this would be in the way notionally Nationalist politicians in various Dominions and Colonies used to be knighted while still ranting against Britain for domestic consumption.

But mostly, it would be in the way that someone like Sir Robert Menzies of Australia was knighted, for the rather simpler reason of being almost embarrassingly pro-British. Of course, if Sir Alex examines his passport, then he will see that British is exactly what he is, simply as a matter of fact.

This afternoon's White Paper is laughable, and absolute proof that Salmond, with his three salaries and expenses packages from the British taxpayer (one for a job which he now refuses to do), has no intention whatever of bringing about independence.

The votes of people with nowhere else to go were just his stepping stone to the high life, promotion coming so much more quickly in the SNP than in, say, the Labour Party.

The White Paper's proposed referendum question on independence is in fact merely a question on whether or not people want the the Scottish Executive to begin negotiations with the British Government towards independence.

But they can already answer that simply by voting SNP, or not. And they have already given that answer.

Meanwhile, even if this proposed referendum delivered a Yes vote, then that would put the ball entirely in London's court. It could just say no outright, on the grounds that there was only a mandate for negotiations, not for any specific conclusion. Indeed, it could just say no outright because it felt like saying no outright.

Or it could (and certainly would) insist on the permanent retention of at least fifty per cent of oil revenue, if not on a permanent per capita split. Or it could (and certainly would) insist on the perpetual ongoing right to station in Scotland any forces or weaponry of its choosing.

Or it could (and certainly would) insist on the continuation within the United Kingdom of any parliamentary constituency, or municipal area, or Lieutenancy Area, with a Yes vote below fifty per cent (at the very least) of the total registered electorate.

Unless all three of these conditions, no doubt among others, were met in full, then it would simply refuse to sign. If it didn't just refuse to sign anyway.

Meanwhile, there is no majority in either House for further devolution, a situation which would not change even if the SNP won every Scottish seat at Westminster. So Salmond is whistling in the wind there.

But, of course, that is exactly what he wants. He can then sell himself as Scotland's Champion, keeping himself in British-funded clover for many years to come. And, to be fair, keeping him in a position to do various things domestically. It's an old, old game. And Salmond is very, very good at it.

In any case, devolved power is devolved power: the Parliament of the United Kingdom reserves the right to legislate, overridingly, in any area it likes. So it wouldn't matter even if there were further devolution. Which there isn't going to be, to Salmond's great, and carefully calculated, relief.

It is interesting that Salmond's first call for further devolution has been in the area of broadcasting. This is a vitally important insight into the class base of Scottish Nationalism, i.e., among the upper-middle-class types who have long used their wildly disproportionate clout to ensure that popular television programmes are "except for viewers in Scotland" (I once even saw such a listing for Rab C Nesbitt!), who must instead switch over, or switch off, or watch either some piece of patronising tartan'n'shortbread nonsense, or else something "Scottish" which, however worthwhile, almost nobody really wants to watch, certainly not in preference to what is being shown in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Salmond wants a whole broadcasting network like that. And, in this digital age, why not, at least on a subscription basis? It's certainly not as if the target audience couldn't afford to subscribe.

But that realisation says it a very great deal about the Nationalists, with even more said by the realisation that, ideally and if the technology still allowed for it, they would want this new network to replace the BBC in Scotland.

Finally, I note the return of the "devolution is not an event, but a process" line to the debate, attributed to Donald Dewar in Scotland, and apparently attributed to Ron Davies in Wales. Dewar certainly never said, and I very much doubt that Davies did, either. It is a simple error of fact: devolution is not in fact a process, but an event.

However, that event has yet to happen, since it includes the enactment (routinely, in fact) of overriding legislation by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, as presupposed by the Scotland and Wales Acts, Acts fully supported by the SNP and Plaid Cymru on the floor of the House of Commons.

8:32 AM


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