If you’re interested in Scottish constitutional politics, you can save yourself a lot of time and angst by reading Wings Over Scotland. The mainstream media has agonised all year over procedural aspects of the independence referendum, but we came right out and called it when some people were still sleeping off their Hogmanay hangovers:
“We’re going to nail our colours to the mast and make a plain assertion – the referendum WILL happen, and it WILL be conducted on the Scottish Government’s terms. We suspect that in the interests of appearing reasonable, Alex Salmond will concede either the inclusion of 16/17-year-olds on the franchise or the involvement of the Electoral Commission – but not both – and the UK Government will ultimately grant the Section 30 order necessary to remove any possibility of legal challenge.
(Also, after a great show of pretend reluctance and protest, the Scottish Government will accept the UK Government’s insistence that the referendum must comprise just a single question, because that’s what the SNP actually wants – it just wants the Unionist side to be the one that rules out the popular devo-max option, rather than itself, and helpfully the Unionists are playing right into nationalist hands there.)
Nine months later, guess what?
Right-wing commentators are of course lining up to herald David Mundell’s slightly premature announcement last night of a referendum agreement as a “victory” for the UK Government, apparently unaware of the existence of the internet. So let’s look at what the months of negotiations have delivered in terms of each side’s goals.
SNP wanted: Autumn 2014
Unionists wanted: September 2013
Outcome: Autumn 2014
NUMBER OF QUESTIONS
SNP wanted: a single question
Unionists wanted: a single question
Outcome: a single question (duh)
That seems to be a pretty clear four-out-of-four 100% success rate for the Scottish Government in achieving its aims. The only thing the SNP could be said to have compromised on even marginally was the involvement of the Electoral Commission in the wording of the question, but as we also pointed out months ago, that’s an easy and painless concession to make, as it means nothing – the Commission has no powers to rule on the question, only to comment on it, as we noted at the time:
“The Electoral Commission has a number of responsibilities in relation to referendums. These include:
- commenting on the wording of the referendum question (the government is responsible for proposing the wording)
The Commission has no legal position in the legislation concerning referendums proposed by the devolved Scottish and Welsh administrations.”
We’re going to go ahead and make another prediction: the Electoral Commission will say that the Scottish Government’s proposed question is fair, simple and clear. It may or may not quibble over the “Do you agree…” prefix, but will accept that the question as it stands is not objectionable, and the SNP will go with its original choice unaltered.
We and many others have tried and tried and tried and tried to explain Alex Salmond’s strategy to simple, dim-witted Unionists since the SNP’s election victory, eventually resorting to nursery fables to try to get it into their tiny uncomprehending brains. At times we’ve worried whether we should be giving the game away so openly, but fortunately it seems they’re all incapable of recognising the blindingly obvious truth even when it’s staring them in the face and hitting them with a cricket bat.
Judging by the contortions the No camp is currently twisting itself into to convince itself that it’s just won a resounding triumph, it looks as though we can safely continue. So remember, folks: if you want to know what’s going on in Scottish politics, you can either read the newspapers in six months’ time, or Wings Over Scotland now.