Tuesday, 7 June 2011
Stirring the clear yellow water of independence
I was rudely awakened this morning by the sound of the normally calm, urbane and sophisticated Gerry Hassan shouting at some poor unfortunate on GMS! Intrigued as to what had exercised our commentator I listened further. Turns out that this outburst had been occasioned by a disagreement over Scottish Secretary, Michael Moore’s claim that independence would require two referenda to be administered before being achieved.
Gerry was otherwise minded and his ‘opponent’ Alan Trench got both barrels. (Although we found out later that both actually agreed on the advisability or otherwise of this approach.)
But it did suggest to me that Michael Moore might have inadvertantly raised an important procedural point. At what stage does a referendum take place? And what agreements have to be in place before it actually achieves what it sets out to do?
Amidst all the fog of independence-lite, and devolution-max, a number of crucial questions remain to be clarified before clear question(s) could be put to the Scottish people. Ones that immediately come to my mind are - monarchy or republic? boundaries? single currency or sterling? armed forces and defence? There may well be more and each of these - I would hazard - might cause disagreements, not just between unionists and nationalists, but even within the ranks of nationalists. Debate on them could take some resolving, but might make considerable difference to the views of voters. How much would an ‘independent’ Scottish monarchy under a ‘UK’ crown, using ‘UK’ currency, and defended by ‘UK’ troops be ‘independent’ for example - whether the ‘K’ stood for ‘Kingdom’ or ‘Kingdoms’? Would we be more independent in the Euro - shall we ask our Irish, Greek or Portuguese colleagues? Land boundaries might be obvious (leaving aside the question of Berwick-on-Tweed) but what about marine boundaries?
Would any negotiations around these (and other) questions be resolvable by agreement? What happens if the parameters are not agreed? Could we simply leave them to some constitutional court. At one time we might have looked to the UK Supreme Court, I suspect its even-handedness might now be a little more in question! So where would we go now? Europe?
This murky water, I think, is where Michael Moore has placed his size 11s. If we are talking one referendum, then the answers to these (and no doubt other) questions need to be clear to we who are voting. If not, then any early referendum would be about aspirations and would need to be followed by negotiations. On the outcome of these would rest any further vote.
It might be, as Gerry alluded this morning, a device for the British state to draw out and confuse the discussion, but I suspect two factors suggest that this isn’t likely. One, is that within nationalist ranks it seems there are some who are already flying kites on some of these very questions - coming down too definitively on one side or the other may not be in the interests of a united pro-independence campaign. Secondly, are we so sure that Cameron will be too concerned about a separate Scotland? It might be in his political best interests.
Meanwhile, the important (and more concerning) statement that the UK government was not inclined to devolve any more powers under the Scotland Bill, has almost slipped by unnoticed. Is this a ConDem double bluff? Do they want to hand such a key stick to the nationalists?