I’ve been doing my sums and I reckon Alex Salmond has until Friday 24 August to publish his White Paper on an independence referendum.
In Holyrood today, the first minister said that he would stick to his promise to release the document within his first 100 days in power. Calculating from the date he was elected FM, I make that August 24.
Other pledges in that “100 days” schedule are unlikely to be sustained. That’s because the SNP lacks a majority.
But the independence White Paper will definitely be published. Rather close to the deadline, I suspect: at least, in August.
Opposition leaders wondered why. Indeed, Nicol Stephen voiced exasperation that civil servants’ time was being wasted in drafting the document, given that Holyrood arithmetic meant there was zero prospect of implementation.
I have some slight sympathy with his point - although I doubt that all that many person hours will require to be devoted to this task. I doubt that the document will require legislative precision.
For a White Paper, it will have a decidedly Green edge.
Alex Salmond has also been doing his sums. If the opposition parties can gang up to enforce Edinburgh trams, they can do the same to block moves towards independence.
And they will.
So the anticipated WP will be more of a starting point for a conversation with the people of Scotland than a programme for scheduled government action.
Why, then, not publish it as a party policy paper - rather than an executive document? No doubt that would be Nicol Stephen’s view.
I think, however, it is legitimate for the elected executive to outline formally the principal policy in their manifesto, which is to hold a referendum on the question of Scottish independence. It is then legitimate for Holyrood to debate the document - and endorse it or otherwise.
Of course, the business of parliament must not be utterly dominated by causes which are likely to be lost.
As an issue, however, independence is of a rather different calibre from individual policies.
Is it not right to test it?