Saturday, 28 February 2009

The Referendum Elephant in the Room

Lib Dem Highland MSP John Farquhar Munro has been the first MSP to question Tavish Scott's approach on a referendum on Independence for Scotland. Munro sees the whole question as a way to get rid of the elephant in the room:

"For many years we've been hearing about the possibility of independence
for Scotland through a referendum, through the result of a referendum.

"I think the sooner it happens, the better, so we establish a position,
clear the air as it were, and we find out whether we are going to go ahead with
an independent Scotland or whether the status quo will remain."

This radio interview yesterday came only a day after the leader Tavish Scott said “"We will not support a referendum which could let independence in through the back door."

Personally I agree with Munro rather than Tavish on this, it may well have something to do with the way I play chess (currently my Gameknot stats show 45% win with white 58% win with black). The SNP have made the opening moves they would appear to the have the white pieces. Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems would appear to have the black pieces and are playing a way too defensive game. Tavish said he would not support a referendum that would allow Independence in through the back door. That was in relation to a multi-option referendum that included fiscal autonomy.

Maybe Tavish should check what Scottish Conference has passed as policy, a few years back we did pass a policy on pursuing fiscal autonomy for Scotland. I remember it well as I spoke against the motion raised by Mike Rumbles and in favour of the amendment from the policy committee which changed all but the first two words. It passed and as I looked more into it I saw that actually I was wrong during that debate. I was to be fair only arguing against Scotland going alone (a la Poll Tax) and heading for full UK Federalism so I wasn't actually that far off to be honest.

It can be done and doesn't necessarily lead to backdoor independence by the back door. Germany holds firm and I don't see the worlds 5th largest economy California seeking independence from the USA. Where I do agree with Tavish is that there are far more important things on our plate right now regarding the economy than the independence question. But we should not be ruling out a referendum on independence, regular and long term readers of this blog will know that has been my position as stated first here in 2006.

In chess black can win with the right gambits. In cricket you can put an arrogant batsman unto his back foot. You'd actually think that there is something to fear from asking the people to Scotland to answer the question. I feel that in the full light of day many who lean towards the SNP will fall away when the true costs and details of just what independence would mean are exposed. That is the economist in me speaking, I'm neither a unionist nor nationalist but a pragmatist.


  1. It would be interesting if you gave a rough outline of the cost of independence. I've yet to see any figures about this from unionists.

    And don't mention Iceland because we're nothing like them geologically or otherwise!

  2. Oh I have numerous figures. However, like a good chess player I'll not reveal my the full power of my gambit until I'm ready to go after the king.

  3. Stephen, you know as well as I do that the majority of Lib Dem activists are deeply uncomfortable with the leadership's determination to position the party as 'Unionist'; it's an abject betrayal of the Home Rule tradition. Personally, I don't like referendums at all, but Munro's breaking ranks is clearly an indication of the underlying tension. Perth could be interesting...

  4. I see less of a chasm between Tavish and JFM than might at first be imagined.

    They both oppose a multi-option referendum which could let independence (or, indeed, any constitutional arrangement) in by the “back door” – with less than an absolute majority.

    Tavish is also opposed to the convoluted wording which asks only for permission to commence negotiations, but which some like to think would be sufficient mandate for independence itself.

    But it’s the only legal wording because constitutional issues are reserved. Catch 22.

    So where’s the potential for common ground? Neither man is intuitively opposed to an independence referendum, but both have issues with some – or in Tavish’s case, all – of the types of referendums which might start life in Holyrood.

    Which leaves a Westminster referendum: single-option and probably UK-wide. There’s a possible starting point for forging consensus, perhaps even on a cross-party basis.