I was nervous but anticipating good things from the Scottish Government on the subject of equal marriage. Surely to goodness they wouldn't wimp out, pandering to the loud voice of the Cardinal who'd promised an unprecedented backlash. And, to be fair, they didn't. They just didn't make a decision at all. They set up a sub committee of the Cabinet to look at the details over the next two weeks and they will announce their decision before the end of this month. Well, my birthday is on the last day of this month, and my wedding anniversary is on the Cardinal's Day of Rage, so I just hope I'm not going to be disappointed on either of my special days.
The delay is disappointing - and it's not as if they haven't had plenty of time to make up their minds. The consultation closed on 9th December, for goodness' sake. The issues are hardly what you would describe as rocket science. Do they actually believe that LGBT people should be treated equally in society or not?
There was always the danger that the SNP would split down the middle on this, for a number of reasons. It would be remiss of me to forget that Brian Souter, the man who ran the Keep the Clause campaign, gives shedloads of money to the party. Their former leader Gordon Wilson said on Newsnight last year that obsessing over equal marriage might harm the independence cause. Alex Salmond has said himself, although not with any great conviction, that he favours equality in marriage but would he be swayed by the argument that it could stop people voting for independence? Wilson's argument is a big pile of mince, though, because the pro-union camp has as many if not more supporters of equal marriage.
Being an optimistic soul - well, you kind of have to be to be a Liberal Democrat - I do see some crumbs of comfort from the Government's statement today:
- Nicola Sturgeon is still the driving force behind this. She's leading the Cabinet Committee, albeit encumbered by Mike Russell and Kenny MacAskill. By rights it should have been MacAskill or Rosanna Cunningham whose name went on the consultation but they didn't seem over keen on it so Nicola has championed it. Let's hope her support for equal marriage, which she's expressed publicly, prevails.
- They have sunk the Cardinal's ridiculous demand for a referendum without trace. Which is just as well, because if they'd acquiesced to that, what would the next thing have been? Once you set a precedent, what happens if there's a call for a referendum on the rights of non EU immigrants or terrorist suspects? Under 25s?
My worry though is the big IF. "If a Bill is brought forward". That isn't any sort of clear declaration of intent, certainly not like Nicola Sturgeon saying that the Government was minded to legislate.And then there's all the nonsense about a free vote. I think this is a pretty fundamental issue of liberty and I would be happy to see it whipped - but perhaps, given that there's already a majority in the Parliament for equal marriage, the whips don't need to get near it.
It's going to be an excruciating two weeks until they make their minds up finally, if they do. If they go off on yet more consultations and contemplations until after the referendum, their credibility will really be shot to pieces. Willie Rennie said as much this afternoon:
For the SNP to dillydally for the third time risks their credibility on equality. “Most people who support equality and fairness in marriage will find this bewildering. “I would urge the First Minister to stand firm against powerful opponents, heal any divides in his own cabinet and take a lead on equality in marriage
I guess what we have to do is exactly what we have been doing - making the arguments for equal marriage as positively as we have been doing these past almost 4 years. The way the Equal Marriage campaign has won friends and influenced people has been superb. Let's hope we only have to do one more heave.