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Showing your hand

Posted on August 17, 2012 by

In the last 24 hours we’ve now asked at least half-a-dozen different people, of various party loyalties and none, if they can explain exactly what crime Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie apparently considers Martin Sime of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations to be guilty of. Curiously, every time we’ve asked the question the conversation has immediately gone dead and stayed that way.

So far as we’ve been able to establish, an SNP adviser called Alex Bell sent Mr Sime an unsolicited email bringing to his attention a poll that showed a large majority of trade union members to be in favour of a second question in the independence referendum, which would provide the option of more powers for the Scottish Parliament while remaining in the Union.

The core question, then, seems to be whether this is an inappropriate position for SCVO to be taking, and therefore whether Mr Sime would be acting inappropriately in receiving such an email (leaving aside for a moment the issue of how he’d be supposed to have avoided receiving it).

To answer that question, first we need to consult the SCVO’s mission statement, which states the organisation’s purpose as “To support people to take voluntary action to help themselves and others, and to bring about social change”.

That’s perhaps a little vague, so instead let’s examine the submission the Council sent to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the subject of the independence referendum and specifically the number of questions therein, which it published in May of this year.


3: What are your views on the inclusion of a second question in the referendum and the voting system that could be used?

Although we have no preference for any particular constitutional settlement, we believe that an independence referendum cannot be seen in isolation but is one part of a wider discussion about Scotland’s future.

Given the repeated demonstration in polls of strong public support for further powers, this discussion should include the potential for further devolution. In developing options for debate and consideration on the future of Scotland and where powers lie, the political and referendum process should ideally reflect what the people of Scotland of want to see happen – a popular rather than just political mandate. We therefore believe that all options should be on the table, including forms of further devolution as well as independence.

The third sector has a stake here given that our primary responsibility is to the people and communities that we seek to serve. Given the significant cuts to welfare being proposed at Westminster, some of our member organisations have suggested that elements of welfare should be devolved at the earliest opportunity, although this is not an agreed sector-wide position.

In other areas, such as employability and the crown estate, SCVO’s elected policy committee has agreed that responsibility should be passed to the Scottish Parliament. In light of these discussions we do have some concerns that a binary choice could leave us in the same position as before – bringing no benefit to the communities that we seek to represent.

While we cannot predict the outcome, our aim is that the Future of Scotland process will facilitate a national discussion about what type of Scotland we want to live in and where powers are most appropriately located to deliver this vision.”


It seems abundantly clear to us that the SCVO has a publicly-expressed view that the Scottish people should be given a full range of choices as to the governance of their country in the referendum. No political party or news outlet represents that view, despite all opinion polls showing it to be a very widely-held one, so it would appear to fall to “third-sector” organisations to do so. The SCVO’s submission expressly and repeatedly states that it does not back any particular position in the referendum, and further that it believes an adequate period of national discussion is required in order to ascertain what arrangement might best align with the Scottish people’s interests.

Despite much effort, we struggle to find anything in this position to object to. The SCVO has an absolute right to consider a two-question referendum the best approach to the constitutional question, and while it’s not a view this blog agrees with – we unequivocally support a single-question Yes/No vote – we respect the reasoning behind the opinion, and appreciate the desirability of having someone speak for the considerable percentage of Scots who currently have no party or media voicing their wishes in the debate.

Therefore, even if Martin Sime had begged the SNP to help his cause, and even if Alex Salmond had personally paid for the Unite poll to be conducted out of his own pocket and hand-delivered it to Mr Sime’s office on a silver platter, we’re at a loss to see how that would have been a situation requiring Mr Sime’s resignation. In highlighting the poll’s findings – had he in fact done so – he would simply have been acting in wholly legitimate furtherance of the SCVO’s publicly-stated goals.

(Indeed, one might fairly suggest that NOT actively seeking out and drawing attention to such data would have been a dereliction of his duty to the SCVO’s members. And we’re also left wondering why Willie Rennie hasn’t also demanded the resignation of Unite secretary Pat Rafferty, if a public body expressing a preference for a second question on behalf of its members is such unacceptable behaviour.)

The only possible conclusion that can be drawn from the evidence is that neither the SCVO or Martin Sime have done anything even remotely improper. Their position on a second referendum question is a matter of open public record, as was the outcome of the Unite opinion poll. For someone – anyone at all – to have pointed the latter fact out to Mr Sime is a natural, obvious and entirely reasonable thing to have done even if the person doing so had ulterior motives, as was likely the case with Mr Bell.

Willie Rennie’s cynical smearing of Mr Sime, therefore, can only be assessed as a piece of inappropriate political opportunism representing a crude attempt to silence dissent through intimidation, and as such should be held in the basest contempt.

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9 to “Showing your hand”

  1. Kenny Campbell says:

    Clearly he committed the crime of reading about an option outside of the status quo….

  2. Juteman says:

    The strategy simply seems to be one of creating an ‘accused’ headline, that the MSM will dutifully print.
    There doesn’t need to be a story behind it, the headline is all that’s needed.
    Pure Orwell.

  3. MajorBloodnok says:

    Great, the politics of emptiness and fear, based on profoundly undemocratic motives and tactics.  Anyone with any shred of intelligence and sense of justice will be appalled by this.  No wonder the LibDems are losing supporters like snaw aff a dyke.  A depressing vision for the future from the Unionists.

  4. Andrew says:

    What is it with political parties these days?
    The “Conservatives” want to destroy everything.
    The “Liberal Democrats” are profoundly illiberal and undemocratic.
    The “Labour” party is run by millionaires for bankers.
    Should we not call in the trade descriptions people?

  5. Neil Jn says:

    Thank you, once again, for bringing clarity and informed reason. Our mainstream press, apart from a few notable individual exceptions, are like a messy third political movement, distorting the truth and misleading gullible readers.
    It will be interesting to see the further development of alternative news sources in a new, informed Scotland.   

  6. Cuphook says:

    The Lib Dem’s latest commission on Home Rule has still to report. Given the state of the party and their need to distance themselves from the Tories it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if, as the YES vote climbs, they came out in support of a second question. It’s what the people want and it would be a ‘principled’ stance.
    The question I always like asking Lib Dems is, if they’re a federal party who’s the leader of the English Lib Dems?

  7. DougtheDug says:


    The Lib Dem’s latest commission on Home Rule may still have to report but the Lib-Dems are in a bind. I’ve searched their website several times for any policy on a federal UK and there isn’t one there.

    A federal parliament has its powers protected by a constitution and strangely enough I can’t find anything on a written constitution for the UK on their website either. You can’t have internal federal parliaments without a federal constitution.

    Of course the policies may be there. Just very, very difficult to find.

    The Lib-Dems’ have been backing off from federalism since they were formed in 1988. The Lib-Dems Scottish Home Rule Commission, as the title suggests, illustrates the big problem at the heart of the Lib-Dems’ so called federalism. What they are looking at is a transfer of powers to Scotland in isolation from the rest of the UK. If Scotland stays within the UK then any transfer of powers has to be done with the agreement of the rest of the UK. It doesn’t matter what the Lib-Dems think Scotland should have, how will the rest of Britain view it?

    The Lib-Dems have become just the same as Labour and the Tories. Any moves to transfer power to Scotland have become a reaction to the SNP and are not driven by any UK wide ideological commitment to a federal structure within the UK itself.

    Who’s the leader of the English Lib-Dems is a very good question. Another good one is what is the Lib-Dem official policy on an English Parliament? It’s good because as a committed federal party they haven’t got one. Not that that is a surprise to anyone.

    P.S. Also ask them where the English Lib Dems’ website is.

  8. Jim Campbell says:

    In reading this I find myself turning into a one-man-election-committee for
    Charles Kennedy  (not the Lib Dem party or it’s politics, just cheeky Charley)    
    Although he went A.W.O. L.  from the moment that it was announced that he had been nominated as one of the high-profile leaders of the anti-independence group, I would agree that any competent politician would have done the same rather than get into bed with all
    these Tory, Labour and LibDem peers and political nobodies.

    C’mon Charles !  You would be an asset in an independent Scotland.
                             You would be the natural leader of a Scottish LibDem party. 
                             You can help make positive things happen if you are an MSP
                             in an Independent Scotland.  

  9. DougtheDug says:

    Charles Kennedy is a committed Unionist. I don’t know why but he believes that Scotland’s future lies as part of the UK not as an independent country.

    Charles’ ambition lay not in becoming the first Prime Minister of an independent Scotland but in becoming the leader of the minority Lib-Dems in the UK parliament and he even threw that away because of his love for the bottle.

    His non-appearance has nothing to do with his distaste for the no campaign Labour and Tories but because he’s still hasn’t managed to conquer his alcoholism.

    Over the years having seen two men, one a neighbour and one an ex-workmate, both literally drink themselves to death I hope Charles manages to avoid their fate but to pretend that his non-appearance is down to political judgment not health is just kidding yourself.

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