Scotland’s referendum: “this is turning into a contest of movement, not of position.”

To add to Brian’s sense that the Unionist side of the debate is beginning to awaken (where you might expect to find it) in London. Martin Kettle has some very pertainent points to make:

Keep in mind two things about the nationalists’ current run of success that are too easily ignored. One is that the steady upward trend in electoral support for the SNP – marked by the milestone Holyrood victories in 2007 and 2011 – has not been matched by an equivalent rise in the support for independence. Scottish voters have opted for Salmond as first minister, but they prefer him fighting Scotland’s corner in the United Kingdom not severing ties altogether.

The second point is a variation on the first. The SNP won an overall majority at Holyrood last year: 69 seats out of 129. Yet more Scots – 55% compared with 45% – voted against the SNP than voted for the party. It was a formidable win; there is no argument about that. But even facing three discredited opponents, the SNP did not win a popular majority. And the independence referendum will be all about winning such a popular majority.

And he notes something that’s also a problem for anti union politicians on the Irish side of the water too: “all polls show that Scotland is not pro-independence. The SNP’s popularity in Scottish elections does not translate into support for separation.” And he goes further:

The UK government did some foolish things when it challenged Salmond this week. But Salmond’s predictable sneering at David Cameron as Margaret Thatcher reborn should not distract from Cameron’s achievement. The large change this week is that the UK government, and the other political parties, have broken out from the corner into which Salmond had pinned them.

They have asserted their right to a say in the argument about process and, more importantly, over the substantive issue of independence versus devolution and the union. Before this week they were all on the back foot, in a corner. Now they are on the front foot, and this is turning into a contest of movement, not of position.

Game on….

  • all polls show that Scotland is not pro-independence. The SNP’s popularity in Scottish elections does not translate into support for separation.

    Palpably correct, and indisputable. But not the essential issue.

    The SNP talk independence, because that is the “softener”. The real deal is much greater devolution — to the extent of full fiscal control, full tax-raising powers. That is what the SNP expect to get out of this current push — and, properly worded, that is what the referendum could deliver. Read the ambiguous signals coming from Sturgeon, blowing hot and cold over a one-clause, two-clause referendum. Even if Cameron and Westminster see off the SNP controlling the referendum, what odds on a parallel “consultation” exercise, strengthening the SNP hand in advance of the next round of electioneering?

    Cameron and the London-based unionists seem to think the SNP can be killed by kindness, by a few sweeteners in the here and now. On the contrary, the SNP blue-sky thinking is bank what they’ve got, and keep looking for more. Salmond knows his Burns: I’ll bet he also knows Kipling on Danegeld.

    We are a long, long way from anything like a permanent settlement. So, an analogue blast from the past, courtesy of the Cork Examiner, 22 January 1885:

    I do not know how this great question will be eventually settled. I do not know whether England will be wise in time and concede to constitutional arguments and methods the restitution of that which was stolen from us towards the close of the last century (cheers). It is given to none of us to forecast the future, and just as it is impossible for us to say in what way or by what means the National question may be settled, in what way full justice may be done to Ireland, so it is impossible for us to say to what extent that justice should be done. We cannot ask for less than restitution of Grattan’s Parliament (renewed cheering). But no man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation (great cheers). No man has a right to say to his country: ‘Thus far shalt thou go, and no further’; and we have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Ireland’s nationhood, and we never shall (cheers).

  • Mike the First

    Funny enough Malcolm, have a look at inside cover of this Scottish Government document from 2007…

  • “Funny enough Malcolm”

    Not really that strange, they’ve been using Parnell’s famous line for a while now – Salmond used it during his “Nae limits” closing speech at the last SNP conference.

  • Think it was a Newsnight interview last night where a single word showed what this is about. Scotland can organise a ‘consultative’ referendum anytime it likes – and that is the word that Salmond used (and no indication that he has ever thought otherwise). What Cameron has pointed to is a ‘binding’ referendum – much more a yes/no. Both are right, which makes it all the more confusing for those not tuned in. No problem in Cameron having a yes/no and then Salmond still holding the consultative on exactly what Scots think no means, which he will no doubt understand and be planning for.

  • Calum Cashley

    We’ve been quoting Parnell as long as I can remember. It kinda sums up our opinion

  • Dewi

    yeah – the anti-independence mob are trying to be clever – and failing…..157 people joined the SNP in one day on Tuesday..i think Scottish people have worked out the Anti-Independence parties’ bullshit.

  • I am fully aware the SNP re-quote Parnell. Lest we miss the point, G.K. Chesterton, back in 1919, will now explicate:

    The great Parnell, a squire who had many of the qualities of a peasant (qualities the English so wildly misunderstood as to think them English, when they were very Irish), converted his people from a Fenianism fiercer than Sinn Fein to a Home Rule more moderate than that which sane statesmanship could now offer to Ireland. But the peasants trusted Parnell, not because they thought he was asking for it, but because he thought he could get it. Whatever we decide to give to Ireland, we must give it; it is now worse than useless to promise it. I will say here, once and for all, the hardest thing an Englishman has to say of his impressions of another great European people: that over all those hills and valleys our word is wind, and our bond is waste paper.

    Substitute national identity as you feel fit.

  • Mick Fealty


    They are going to have to get a great deal more than that to swing it though. I’m off to bed, for an early start tomorrow so I won’t continue just now. But constititions are hard to break.

    The fact that the British have left an exit eign on the door out does not mean it’s going to be easy to persuade people to use it.

  • Alias

    One big binary yes/no question won’t be answered independently of a thousand little non-linear questions, e.g. “What will happen to my investments/deposits/pension fund and all the other individual contracts that require me to be a UK citizen?”

  • Dewi

    Alias – what happened in 22?

  • Alias

    Well, just prior to it the British government ordered all banks based in Ireland (excluding banks in what was later to become Northern Ireland) to deliver their gold reserves to College Green for its ‘protection.’ Alas, having done so under that false pretence, the British government then confiscated all of the gold reserves and shipped them to London, thereby leaving all Irish banks (and the future Irish Free State) devoid of gold reserves. Just after it, the Irish Free State appoached the newly-formed Irish Banks Standing Committee (IBSC) for a loan and was informed that it regarded the government as just another customer and that if it wanted a loan that it should ask what it regarded as the legitimate government of Ireland (the British government) to underwrite it. If 22 is any guide, I’d be asking about my deposits/investments/pension funds… 😉

  • Alias @ 1:29 am has, as so often, given the down-and-dirty facts a severe Brazilian.

    He omits, for one example, the most popular action ever committed by the IRA. On 4th April 1920 tax offices across Ireland were raided and all records destroyed. That left the Castle authorities dependent on customs and excise for revenue.

  • HeinzGuderian

    Alex………”I think you better think it out again.”