Alex Salmond’s White Paper on the future governance of Scotland has brought forth another round of English Lib Dems (and supporters of other parties such as Pravdale) bemoaning the fact that the Scottish Liberal Democrats are ‘undemocratically’ not backing the SNP’s support for a referendum. As I’ve said in the comments on Lib Dem Voice, this is a ridiculous argument as the Scots both voted against independence in the last Scottish Parliament election by two-thirds and reject independence by the same proportion in opinion polls.
But what annoys me most of all is that these people have ignored what the Scottish Liberal Democrats are actually calling for. What they are arguing for is not the status quo, or even for their own Steel Commission to be introduced verbatim. Instead, they are joining the growing call for a new Constitutional Convention, independent of Government and Parliament, to sort the issue out.
They aren’t alone either. The campaign for a Scottish Constitutional Convention is backed by a growing number of Scots. Iain MacWhirter made similar noises on CommentIsFree yesterday, as did Unlock Democracy.
The Scottish Lib Dems could do what Perfidious Albion is advising them to do, go meekly along with a referendum on independence that the majority of Scots don’t want, wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers money in the process and embedding the idea that Scottish politics is entrenched into unionism versus seperatism with the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems squashed together in an impromptu alliance on one end of the spectrum. Or, they could stick by their instincts and hold out for a process that has a strong chance of getting what the majority of Scots do appear to support: greater powers for the Scottish Parliament. In the process, they can put clear distance between both the the SNP and the nay-sayers within the Tories and Labour and present themselves as the champion of centrist Scottish politics.
When I see these two options before me it looks like a no-brainer, so what am I missing?
I think you are missing a few things
First that the Convention proposal is very similar to the awful Constitutional Convention that led to the failed European Constitution. Something that ticked a lot of boxes for political actors but was very divorced from what Joe Public felt the European Union should concentrate on doing better.
Second is it our proposal to have a constitutional convention without a referendum on the conclusions? That would surely be perverse?
Third if it is not, that we would have a referendum afterwards, our proposal is then superior to that put forward by the SNP, but it is also more expensive, so the argument about costly consultation exercises falls.
Fourth, the argument that the Scottish Parliament elections mitigate against any need for a referendum as independence parties did not get a majority is very weak. People didn’t just vote for or against the SNP on the independence issue, but also on their relative competance versus the opposition.
We have a very competant team in general in Scotland. The one issue they ballsed up in the last election was their position on the referendum question which handed the SNP the mantle as the only effective opposition to Labour, our vote which had been rising, flatlined after that.
We should have called their bluff, pressed either for an early referendum or one coincident with other elections to reduce cost, won the referendum and put the SNP’s core issue off the map for a generation. Instead we are making them look like the principled democrats sticking up for Scotland against our own more nuanced technocratic concerns in alliance with one party that treats Scotland as a fiefdom for supplying MPs to win unpopular votes on English matters and another that treated Scotland as a test ground for unpopular policies. We might have a point on the detail, but the politics of this are awful.
Andy, Andy, Andy, you do make me laugh. To business:
Point the first: utter BS. The Scottish Constitutional Convention didn’t end up in the same mess as the European Constitutional Convention, so why should a second Scottish Constitutional Convention automatically do the same? Furthermore, Unlock Democracy haven’t called for a retread of such a system, and the Scottish Constitutional Commission website proposes to “examine how the proposals of the Power Inquiry for more participative governance could be implemented in Scotland” – which if you’d read it supports more participatory forms of deciding constitutional change.
The Scottish Lib Dem position is admittedly rather vague, but it is fanciful to suggest they intend to hold out against more participatory forms of decision making in favour of a stitch up by the great and the good.
Point the Second: no-one, as far as I am aware, is proposing major constitutional change without recourse to a referendum. If the proposed change was incredibly minor – say a change from AMS to STV to elect the Scottish Parliament – a referendum probably would be inappropriate. The Lib Dems haven’t rejected a referendum, only a referendum on independence.
Point the Third: holding a referendum on something you don’t support and can predict the outcome of is a waste of money. Holding a referendum on something you do support and have a reasonable expectation of success in is money well spent. I’m amazed – awestruck in fact – that you don’t understand the difference..
Point the Fourth: it isn’t just the election result that points to a rejection of independence though, it is every opinion poll held at the time and since. In fact, one of the SNP’s achievements over the past 12 months has been to transform a rallying in support for independence into a rout.
As for your final points, I say again: what is principled and democratic about holding a referendum on a subject that the majority of Scots oppose? You are right in so far as the fact that nationalists will no doubt regard it as appallingly undemocratic, but what about the two thirds who aren’t nationalists?
You also don’t appear to have read the White Paper. It is explicitly not a call for a referendum on independence, but a menu of options. The Lib Dem statement on Tuesday was to work within the confines of the so-called ‘national conversation’ to make the case for one of those options. How is that anti-democratic?
It is lazy and cynical in the extreme to roll off this rubric of ‘let them have their referendum and stop the SNP in their tracks for a generation’ which so many English Lib Dems seem to be doing at the moment. Not only that, but it is to regard the Scots as chumps who can be fobbed off. I seem to be the only English Lib Dem left who happens to believe that the party ought to stand up for what it believes in rather than playing party political games with constitutional reform.
Personal insults aside, I think you rather reinforce my point about ballsing up the politics of this. If I read your interpretation of our position correctly, it’s broadly that we
‘support a referendum, just not this referendum’
It is currently (and during the election) coming across in public though as
‘we oppose a referendum’ and then a lot of technocratic detail about the process of how we get to what we prefer instead. That’s where my worry about the comparison with the EU convention is based.
It is though a salvagable position.
As to the general point about whether Scotland needs advice from England. Possibly not, however we always value the small contribution made by Scottish MPs and actvists to our little party and English matters, so I’m sure it is not great imposition.
Oh I see, we should support independence because it is easy to explain.
Seriously, you may be right in as much as the fact that the party line could be better explained. But given that, for example, the Sunday Herald is running a campaign for a constitutional convention along similar lines, we aren’t exactly out in the cold on this.
At the end of the day I don’t have a clear understanding how it is going down in Scotland, but I’m pretty certain from your response above that you’ve been paying even less attention. I’m sure advice is welcome. Critical ‘friendly fire’ from a position of relative ignorance, isn’t.
So, taking your logic, as 84% of the electorate didn’t vote for the Lib Dems are their belief in federalism, presumably you will now shut up shop over constitutional change and revert back to ‘domestic’ issues like doggie poo on our streets? Bravo for the illiberal democrats, long may you decline.
I don’t know where that came from Tartan Zero. I’m not arguing that the SNP should shut up about independence (the only people I’m telling to shut up is those English Lib Dems who don’t bother developing an informed opinion before denouncing their colleagues north of the border), merely pointing out the inconvenient fact that they will lose any vote on the subject – either in Parliament or amongst the public. The position they should take is the position they are taking – try and attempt to come up with a broad consensus.
I don’t begrudge the SNP’s position – although I would have preferred it if rather than this talk about “national conversations” they had talked about a process independent of both Parliament and Government (although I accept that this process might well lead to that). That, as it happens, is also the Scottish Lib Dem position.
For once, I’m being nice about the SNP and that causes its apologists to denounce me as illiberal. Plus Ã§a change. Anyway, I thought it was Scottish nationalists that were obsessed with doggie poo?