The SNP unveiled their legislative programme for the new Parliament last week and, to be honest, it seems rather bland.
I know I'm coming late to this, but I wanted to throw my tuppenceworth in on the referendum on independence question. Firstly, I suppose we should be grateful that they are actually having a referendum - the alternative, where they just declare us independent 1776 style is not in any way attractive. Seriously, though, while nobody has ever, ever said to me on any doorstep that they're desperate to be asked for their views on independence, I expect that if they were told that they weren't going to be allowed to express their opinion, they would be quite disgruntled.
There is an argument that this was a key pledge in the SNP Government's manifesto and it therefore has a mandate for its referendum. There is an equally compelling counter argument that the SNP barely scraped a third of the votes cast and that many, many more votes went to parties who do not think that Scotland should be an independent country. That argument would have more legitimacy if Labour and the Conservatives had never used their parliamentary majorities built on a minority of votes to force through measures which attracted widespread opposition. Poll Tax, Iraq War, ID Cards anyone?
Of course, the SNP is slightly lacking in that crucial Parliamentary majority in Holyrood. As it stands, it looks as though Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives are going to unite to vote down the Referendum Bill. It may well be that the SNP have factored this in and will simply go through the motions and let it be defeated. This will make it go away, but only for a short time, because you can bet your life that they'll put it in their 2011 manifesto and hope that we're all so fed up of Tory Government in London by then that we'll be clamouring for Alex Salmond to set us free.
I'm quite relaxed, and always have been, at the prospect of a referendum on Scotland's future Governanance. We've had the Parliament for 10 years now and most of us agree that it could do with having more powers. I think that a single take independence or leave it poll would be quite insulting to the Scottish people. The danger is that a no vote on that simple question could allow UK centralists to argue that there is dissatisfaction with devolution and possibly threaten its future. I think a much better thing would be to go for a multi option referendum which included a box to tick for greater powers for the Parliament. I'd happily go out and campaign for that option.
There's a political danger for any party which votes down the SNP's plans for a referendum. The SNP would no doubt then go into the Westminster election crying foul about how the big nasty unionist parties had denied the people their say on Scotland's future. This is the biggest gift the opposition could give them. Allowing them to take the offensive, rather than having to defend their pathetic record in Government, would be a major strategic mistake, particularly when the SNP don't do well in Westminster elections anyway. Why not push for a multi option referendum, get that through the Parliament, and then we can have a period of reasoned debate in the country, followed by a referendum next Autumn? I suspect that the country will reject independence by quite a large majority. It would be a very stupid SNP that then decides we got it wrong and puts it in their 2011 manifesto - would they really fly in the face of the will of the people? They would make themselves a political joke if they did.
It does strike me as odd, though, that of all their 2007 election pledges, this is the one that the SNP are actually going to bother trying to keep. They've failed on Policing and teacher numbers, they've ditched their plans for a Local Income Tax which would have made life so much easier for the poorer people who are so disadvantaged by the unfair Council Tax, but they insist on pushing ahead with the referendum. It does rather beg the question of what they really care about - making life better and fairer for the people of Scotland, or suiting the interests of the SNP.