The enormity of the Scottish Parliamentary Election result continues to sink in. The following is my individual take on where we are. I freely admit that I could be completely wrong on many or all points because who can guess what Alex Salmond or his party will be thinking on the back of the tsunami which has engulfed the Scottish political landscape?
However here goes.
I think that independence for Scotland from the United Kingdom is now highly likely. I also think that the most likely and best way for this to be achieved is in incremental steps. I simply don’t see it happening as a result of a single referendum and I would question that a referendum would be the best or even possible way to achieve it.
For such a referendum, three years from now as proposed, to succeed, the SNP would have to sustain the increase in their support which electorally has now been on an upward curve for eight years. Traditionally, governments which are elected on a landslide lose popularity. It is almost impossible to imagine that the heady support the SNP enjoyed in Thursday’s ballot will endure, even allowing for the almost total hopelessness of the opposition. The high watermark of a tsunami doesn’t last for long.
I am reminded of the referendum for the UK’s Common Market membership in 1975. That settled the country’s status the Common Market/EEC/EU, and although there would have been subsequent times when another referendum would have gone the other way, referendums are a once and for all settlement.
For example if, as I think is very unlikely, the Scots were to vote for independence in a referendum then this would be irreversible. By the same token, if the electorate were to vote against independence in a referendum then that would be a result which would have to be abided by for the foreseeable future.
The only reason there was ever a second referendum on devolution was that the outcome of the first one was clearly rigged. Even that process took 20 years.
I haven’t even mentioned the AV referendum.
So, leaving the referendum aside for now, why do I think independence is inevitable?
The answer is that the comparative political landscapes of Scotland and the rest of the UK are now so different as to be seemingly irreconcilable. When the Condem coalition was formed last year understandably the Tories handed the Libdems the post of Scottish secretary. This was briefly occupied by Danny Alexander and now by Michael Moore. The thinking was that the Libdems, unlike the Tories enjoyed a historic, reasonable and seemingly sustainable level of support in Scotland. It should be pointed out however that this was in terms of seats rather than votes. The Tories in terms of votes, even in that party’s darkest days were usually slightly ahead of the Libdems.
On Thursday in the first past the post constituency vote, the Libdems polled 157,714 votes. This was nearly 120,000 fewer than the Tories. On the Regional List vote the Libdems total was 103,472. In 2003 the Scottish Socialist Party polled 128,026 on the Regional List. Imagine on the basis of that, that Tommy Sheridan had claimed a mandate to serve as Scottish Secretary?
So getting back to the referendum. It may be that gambler as he is, that Eck thinks he can stake the thing that he has strived for all his political life on a winner takes all gala day. It may be, but I seriously doubt it. It may be that he can turn the financial and monetary crisis, which is yet in its infancy, to the SNP’s advantage. Again I doubt that.
So how would the SNP wriggle out of what is a pretty strong commitment to hold a referendum? Well they could give a free vote on the enabling legislation (there would surely be a dozen from the 69 SNP MSPs who would vote against), or Eck could have discussions with David Cameron which he could claim were a timetable for independence thus making the referendum unnecessary. I simply don’t know how the SNP will do it.
Or maybe this is all a double bluff? Maybe the SNP DO want a referendum and want it to fail, thus keeping the comfort blanket of the union but being de facto independent and at the same time chipping away at the union?
Only one thing’s for sure in all this.
We live in interesting times.