Will Alex Salmond reject a referendum if he can’t get his way on the number of questions? And would his party forgive him if he did?  IAN SMART reckons the evidence is mounting


The Secretary State for Scotland, Michael Moore, made an important speech on Thursday. Unfortunately, neither the Government nor the Liberal Democrats have made the full text available on the web, so I am obliged to Caron Lindsay, the admirable Lib-Dem Blogger for the quotation which follows.

Even the Scottish Government acknowledge that the Scottish Parliament’s existing power to pass an independence referendum Bill is questionable.

And the Scottish Government itself has said that it is willing to work with us to put that referendum effectively beyond legal challenge. Any Government that introduces a Bill that it knows to be – or that it thinks might be – outwith the Parliament’s competence, must expect a legal challenge to come. “On an issue as crucial as our nation’s future within the United Kingdom, the Scottish Government would have to anticipate that someone would emerge to challenge an independence referendum run on current powers. And a successful challenge would prevent their ballot from taking place. That’s no way to settle this issue. Scotland’s future must be decided at the ballot box, not in the court room. I am confident that on this point of principle also, Scotland’s two governments agree. An attempt to hold a referendum outwith the law would look like an attempt to ensure that there is no referendum at all.

There was also an interesting piece (of sorts) by Steve Richards, the veteran Independent political correspondent published earlier in the week. Actually, I thought he rather defeated his own argument about the possibility of Scottish independence when he suggested David Cameron wasn’t paying this sufficient attention. David Cameron may be many things but he is not an idiot. If he thought there was any prospect of Scottish Independence he would be giving the whole thing more attention. You can draw your own conclusions from that.

But in the course of the article he reveals an important conversation.

” Before arriving in Scotland, I had assumed that if it looked as if Salmond would lose then he would find a way of not holding it. That is what leaders tend to do with referendums. A senior figure in the “no-to-independence” camp told me he thought that was still likely. The great conjuror would wave his wand and announce that because of the legal ambiguities – or any other excuse – the referendum would be delayed.”

Now, and I will come back to this, I know that a lot of SNP Folk genuinely want an Independence Referendum, even those who are realistic enough to realise that (to their mind) they would still face an uphill task to win it.

Steve Richards himself follows the quotation above with the observation:

“But SNP activists I spoke to were adamant that his party would never forgive Salmond if he found a way of avoiding the poll. They have been waiting for this. They will not give him any space to contrive a postponement.”

The question I ask tonight however is, if that is indeed the case, what exactly are these activists doing to make their view known?

I said some time ago that the key question for Salmond was not whether he would like a second question. Even his most ardent partisans would surely recognise that now to be the case. The key question is whether, if he cant’t have two questions, he would still ask one.

Surely that is the question these activists ought to be asking because it is clear that is the choice Salmond is going to be faced with. And the question they should be asking at their Conference this October, for, before they meet again, Salmond will have answered it for them in a way over which they have no control..

Instead they are being played for mugs by being diverted into a debate over whether an Independent Scotland would be part of NATO. At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, whether an Independent Scotland would be in NATO would be a matter for an Independent Scotland, not a decision made by one political party in the Autumn of 2012.

Now, the last time I looked, it was the policy of the SNP to have a single question referendum. So I would have thought that at least some members of that Party might want that to happen. Even if it meant that they couldn’t ask another question that, even they, would, in an ideal world, for whatever reason, also like to ask.

I don’t underestimate the power of a successful leader. Between 1997 and Iraq it was impossible in my own Party to defeat any proposal or strategy that had the support of Tony Blair, just as it was for “wet” Tories from 79 to 87. But, in the end, did either of our respective Parties end up happy with the outcome of that sycophancy?

So, if it is indeed the case that:

“his party would never forgive Salmond if he found a way of avoiding the poll.”

Let’s see some evidence of it. For, be in no doubt, that’s precisely what he has planned.

Ian Smart is a lawyer and founder member of Scottish Labour Action. He is also a Past President of the Law Society of  Scotland. Follow Ian on Twitter at @IanSSmart. This post was originally published on Ian’s blog