Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Reasonable Rennie remembers who actually matters in the referendum

What an awful 48 hours we've had in Scotland.

We should really be talking about the heartbreaking and appalling report on child poverty this morning. We should be bringing forth our ideas and listening to people who know what they're talking about on how to give kids a better start in life. These aren't just numbers. For 1 in 5 kids not to have enough food, or warmth, or clothes, or books, or toys, whose lives are so difficult they don't have that freedom, that joy of just being a child, is just awful.  Every single politician should write down these facts about child poverty on a fluorescent piece of paper and pin it on their office wall. And every day as they head home they should think about what they've done, what idea they've had to deal with it.

We're not concentrating on that, though. Certain of the political elite are kicking lumps out of each other on an issue on which there is actually more agreement than they would like to let on - the legalities of the forthcoming referendum.

David Cameron's inept, ill-advised and imperious interview on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday just struck all the wrong notes. He should have been locked in that tartan lined cupboard I wrote about a few months back.  Sometimes I wonder if he wants to the Union to survive or not.

It could all have been so different. You see, everybody knows that the Scottish Parliament doesn't really have the powers it needs to hold an unchallengably legal referendum. The SNP's chief strategist Stephen Noon knows it. Amid all the bluster in his post yesterday, you can see that he does. He talks about mischievous people with deep pockets challenging the legality of a referendum. If he can see that it's on dodgy legal ground, then you can bet your life Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon are well aware of the fact. Nationalist blogger and legal genius Lallands Peat Warrior knows it too and you'd be well advised just to take his word for it when it comes to the law.

Now, the UK Government could just have left the SNP to deal with all the legal challenges from the people with the deep pockets. That would just have been a total waste of time and money when actually the destiny of Scotland is something that should be decided by the people in the ballot box, not by judges in a courtroom.

Either that, or they could have waited for the SNP to ask for the power to hold the referendum to be devolved. It's funny that they haven't, cos they've demanded every other power under the sun. But they understandably haven't wanted to admit the reality of the situation and the thought of asking Westminster for any favours would not have sat easily with the First Minister.

So, an offer by the Westminster Government to give the power to hold this referendum actually gets the SNP Government out of a big hole. And they know it. You might think they'd be more appreciative.

Of course, rather than have a grown up dialogue about this, Cameron decided to go throwing his weight around, Nicola Sturgeon made hyperbolic accusations of dictatorship Labour peers try to give the vote to Scots who live in England for no other reason than they think it strengthens their cause and Tom Harris went into his most annoying mode on Twitter. Seriously, by the end of yesterday, I would happily have locked Harris, Sturgeon, Cameron and George Foulkes ina room and made them watch Celebrity Big Brother on giant screens until they could learn to play nice.

How much better would it have been if the powers had been offered and that offer discussed in an atmosphere of mutual civility and respect? Is it really too much to hope for that politicians behave like grown ups?

Actually, no. Because Nick Clegg, Mike Moore and Willie Rennie get it. They have been pretty reasonable. Rather than get in on the bunfight yesterday, Willie was reminding us all who mattered - the people, and how important it was that Scotland's future should be decided in the ballot box, not the Judge's chambers.

“It is in everyone’s interests, including the SNP, that the referendum is legally sound. Scotland’s future should be determined by the voters, not the courts. “I accept the SNP have a mandate to hold a referendum on independence but they have failed to recognise the clear legal issues that arise from the Scottish Parliament holding a constitutional referendum. “To avoid the strong possibility of a legal challenge some cooperation with Westminster is essential so that a referendum has the legal force and effect necessary to be seen as legitimate. “We do not want a situation to arise when this issue of vital importance to the future direction of Scotland is finally decided in the courts rather than at the ballot box.”

On Good Morning Scotland this morning he continued with his fair and reasonable line:

In just over half an hour, Mike Moore will make his statement on referendum issues to the Commons. I don't expect that he will be anything other than reasonable. It simply isn't in his DNA.

Where Cameron waded in with all the subtlety of an elephant who'd been on the cooking sherry, Mike, Willie and Nick Clegg, it appears, have been trying to clear up the mess. The Guardian reports that the Liberal Democrats were less than happy with Cameron's efforts and made sure that the 18 month time limit was kicked into touch. This is another good example of how effective we are within that Coalition.

I'd be surprised if there wasn't some sort of time limit - this power is presumably being given for this referendum only. A temporary devolution of a power by definition has to have some sort of expiry date. For me that date would most sensibly be at the end of either the Westminster or the Holyrood Parliament in 2015 or 2016.

The idea that the Electoral Commission, which is good enough to oversee every other poll on these shores should be side-stepped for the referendum, is utterly ridiculous. We don't need another Commission set up by Salmond to run it. That does not seem right or fair in any way and it looks dodgy even if it isn't.

Anyway, I shall come back to this one much later after the statement. I wish they wouldn't put these things on at School Run time.


Allan said...

You missed the bit where Rennie called "Devo-Max" "A second rate option"...

So that'll be Fiscal Autonomy off the table then. Why?

Caron said...

That's not what he said. He said that it would be a second class question and that the two question arrangement had been shown not to be able to provide a conclusive result.

He didn't want home rule, his preferred option, being consigned to a second class question.

Angus McLellan said...

How bizarre is it of the Liberal Democrats to back a referendum offering two choices, neither of which represents supposed Lib Dem policy. Again.

This smells like something rotten from the No to AV referendum playbook (or the 1979 devolution referendum): Jam tomorrow if you'll just vote no today.

Allan said...

... but Devo Max would only be the "second class option" if people let it.

Richard Gadsden said...

I'm beginning to wonder if Ann Taylor has a point.

There's a bit of an anomaly in the electorate for this referendum. If you lived in Scotland and you moved to Calais in the last twenty years, then you can vote in the referendum. But if you moved to Dover, you can't - ex-pats vote in the last constituency they were in, and if that's in Scotland, then they vote in the referendum. But ex-pat Scots in England, Wales or Northern Ireland won't get to vote.

Of course, many of them will end up as exactly that if the SNP win their referendum - ex-pats with a Scottish passport, living in England.


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