SNP wriggling over independence referendum can’t hide some fall-off in support

It’s no surprise that the SNP have rejected the Calman Commission’s recommendations for more taxation and other powers for the Scottish Parliament as an alternative to independence. Independence was ruled out of the remit. And to be fair, no other party has pledged to implement Calman either, in the depths of recession. However, last night the SNP’s Constitution Minister Mike Russell went further than the Herald’s story. He was perfectly prepared to incorporate “a Calman package” in a multi-option referendum, details to be announced on or about St Andrew’s Day, November 30. Stand by for a UK government White Paper in reply. Mike is the most engaging of politicians but I couldn’t follow his answer to my question: what is your threshold for public approval for independence in a multi- option referendum? Nor was he willing to disclose yet what the precise wording of the independence question would be. Because of legal restrictions in the Scotland Act, such a question could only be to mandate the SNP government to begin negotiations with Whitehall. Mike ahowever rejected as undemocratic the Constitution Unit’s judgement that a second referendum to approve the terms could be needed. Meanwhile the latest poll suggests Labour are heading for a comfortable win in the Glasgow north east by election on Thursday and a reduction in the SNP lead for Holyrood. In a pretty volatile situation, 43% register don’t know. Taken with the previous You Gov poll, the trend suggests that Alex Salmond’s hopes for 20 Westminster seats have taken a blow, that the likelihood of a 2010 referendum is receding and that Labour have a good chance of retaking power in Holyrood in 18 months time.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London