In Scotland the Better Together campaign has deservedly come in for some stick. The pro-Union cause has so far failed to agree on devo-more, the alternative to independence many politically aware Scots seem to want. (Incidentally if it ever comes to an NI referendum, their website is not the model to follow: remarkably for a Save the Union umbrella organisation it’s trite and one dimensional.
They key critique is made by my friend Alan Trench whose Devolution Matters blog is the technical manual on the subject. In Scotland on Sunday with co-author Guy Lodge, Alan made the essential case for stronger Scottish devolution with greater revenue raising powers and announced his Devo More blueprint under the auspices of the IPPR, to be launched on Friday.
Leaving the framing of a greater devolution option until after a referendum carries real risks for those who want Scotland to remain a part of the United Kingdom… By setting out an alternative to independence ahead of the referendum, the pro-union parties will not only be able to reassure this important electoral constituency. More significantly, once armed with a clear alternative the unionist camp would finally be in a position to articulate a positive vision for Scotland’s place in the union.
Meanwhile Alex Salmond had been busy ducking and diving over whether a newly independent Scotland would have to negotiate EU membership from scratch and promising a written constitution full of social and economic rights to tempt referendum punters reminiscent of the stalled NI Bill of Rights. The questions about such rights as ever are: how are such rights enforced and who pays?
Astute as ever, Iain McWhirter sees convoluted clashes between the different referendum campaigns on the UK and Europe and Scotland and the UK.
How is this ( terms for a UK in-or-out of Europe referendum) debate going to impact on the independence referendum? Well, this is the big unanswerable. But it could be a game-changer, if only because it undermines a key plank of the Unionist case, which is that Scotland would be thrown out of Europe if it votes Yes, and would have to go through complex negotiations to get back in again. Clearly, Scotland is just as likely to find itself out of Europe if it sticks with the UK. Scotland is not as obsessed with the European Union as England. Attitudes are very different here, not least because the Tory party is largely irrelevant in Scotland and the main parties, the SNP and Labour, are pro-European.
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