BBC BLOGS - Blether with Brian
« Previous | Main | Next »

Joining forces

Brian Taylor | 16:43 UK time, Monday, 5 November 2007

They know what they’re against: independence for Scotland. But is there any sign yet that they know what they’re for?

I’m talking about Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats whose Scottish leaders met (again) today to offer an alternative to the National Conversation offered by SNP ministers.

I must confess I’m still slightly sceptical about this initiative by the Unionist parties. Not because there is any proscription on them seeking common cause. There isn’t.

But because I question what that common cause might prove to be other than sustaining the existing structure - which they could do without holding a meeting at Scotland Office HQ in Edinburgh.

To be fair, there was progress today. The participants agreed to set up a review process which would examine the devolution settlement, presumably with a view to strengthening devolved powers, although that is not explicit at this stage.

The details of that review process have yet to emerge but we are assured it will be both “cross-party and cross-border”.

But what might the further agenda comprise? Full tax powers for Scotland? Lib Dems say yes, Tories offer a pretty reluctant maybe, Labour Ministers say no.

Devolve other powers? Could be - and certainly, if there is to be a substantive rather than ad hoc revision of the Scotland Act, then it would take place at Westminster, where Labour has a comfortable majority.

But does Labour really want to draw attention to its lack of power at Holyrood, to the Scottish credentials of its prime minister and chancellor, to the alleged anomalies which persist in devolution such as the West Lothian question?

Does Labour really want a debate on the nature of devolved power when the PM is out to stress the British dimension?

Perhaps I am missing something - and I remain decidedly open to persuasion in the light of events. Perhaps it is indeed sufficient that the three parties know they’re against independence - and will commit joinly to preventing such a development.

And today’s meeting was a move ahead in that it involved MPs (Browne, Mundell and Carmichael) whereas the earlier talks had been confined to MSPs (Alexander, Goldie and Stephen).

But, drawing upon historic comparisons, right now this looks to me more like Taking Stock (Copyright, J. Major) than the Constitutional Convention.


  • 1.
  • At 05:07 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • iain morrison wrote:

"And todays meeting was a move ahead as it involved MPs" yep the puppets met thier masters.

  • 2.
  • At 05:57 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • John Leven wrote:


Much ado about nothing comes to mind.

The only thing the unholy trinity will decide is we "dina like it so it shouldna happen"

The only question left about independence is when not if.

  • 3.
  • At 06:30 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • Scott wrote:

This certainly is a broad church to support the union, the union of those desperate to hold Scotland back at a time of optimism and progress against the moribund stench of legally enforced Britishness.

The problem for the triple alliance is that, in the current political environment they will be on the defensive, having to defend why X reserved power shouldn’t be devolved as opposed to the past where it was an uphill struggle against the cosy establishment making the case for X reserved power to be devolved.

Would any of these parties be pursuing this line if the SNP hadn’t won in May? Would David Cairns be talking of London Labours epiphany vis a vis independence if Labour had held Cunningham North?

This new found enthusiasm for Scotland rings so hollow from the Unionist parties- and the average voter can smell it (as well as the slowly rotting corpse of the Union).

  • 4.
  • At 07:26 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • Conway wrote:

They wouldnt be having this get together if there Westminster leaders hadnt agreed and that is where there problem lies.Unless these unionist parties cut the apron strings they will always be seen as parties that are controlled by London.
Im fed up with their negative attitude and empty talk and so are many Scots.

  • 5.
  • At 07:43 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • PMK wrote:

Outcome will be a fudge - will mean exactly what each individual party leader wants it to mean at the particular time they open their mouths. Then again, what can one really expect from such intellectual titans as Browne, Mundell and Charmichael?

Brian's point on the exercise drawing attention to Labour's weaknesses is interesting. I think we can assume that although it is supposed to be a "cross-border exercise" all those taking part will be Scottish MPs or MSPs and the coverage sought and gained will be exclusively in Scotland. Similarly, dont expect a pitch direct from Gordon Brown. He is incredibly skillful at avoiding the cameras at awkward/embarassing moments - apparently he spent half the Saudi state ball hiding behind an elaborate candelabra trying not to be pictured at ease with King Abdullah!

  • 6.
  • At 08:41 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • Malcolm wrote:

Yet again we see Unionist politicians treat the Scots as fools.

The attendance of three wise Westminster monkeys in the shape of messers Browne, Mundell and Carmichael makes it abundantly clear who is in charge of this whole process - London.

This charade makes you realise that Alexander, Goldie and Stephen represent the too wee, too poor and too stupid aspects of Scottish Unionist politics.

  • 7.
  • At 08:49 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • Hugo wrote:


Will you please stop asking awkward questions.

I have a great deal of sympathy for the leaders of the Scottish branch of the London unionist parties (Yes, I am biased).

As Tom Brown and Henry McLeish said in their surprisingly even handed book 'Scotland: The road divides' a Scottish leader of a unionist party has to be constantly looking over the shoulder at their London masters.

Life must be very difficult for them. On one hand they are, I think, pro-Scotland but their bosses are London-centric and expect them to know their place.

  • 8.
  • At 10:42 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • Dougthedug wrote:

"... if there is to be a substantive rather than ad hoc revision of the Scotland Act, then it would take place at Westminster,..."

Which is the biggest problem of them all for the Lib-Lab-Con alliance in Scotland. Any revision to the Scotland act in order to increase the powers of Holyrood will have to be agreed and passed in Westminster as you point out, and the Scottish Lib-Dem and Conservative Party Leaders and the Labour Parliamentary Group leader will just be there in an advisory capacity.

The whole enterprise is going to run slap bang into English resentment about the West Lothian Question and the perceived subsidies to Scotland. It's also going to involve party politics between the Tories, Labour and the Lib-Dems in Westminster and also any British constitutional reforms going through parliament.

However, the SNP will offer independence. This is an option the SNP can offer without outside interference and a choice Scots can make on their own

It's a difference in philosophy between subservience, "Please can we have more powers", and strength, "We've made the decision to govern ourselves".

They are like a bunch of headless chickens.

Their heads are in London and they don't know what to do without them.

Extraordinary, so believable and oh so funny to watch.

Long may this pantomime continue.

  • 10.
  • At 02:54 AM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Kyle wrote:

hugo #1

. bias or otherwise. a politicians loyalties lie with their constituents, not with their puppet masters.

  • 11.
  • At 06:05 AM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Mike wrote:

Congratulations Brian for your concise points on what this lot will be allowed to do or say.

Obviously this is some form of token move to appear able to have even the slightest ability or permission to demand or negotiate a result that would quell the aspirations of the SNP and the Scottish People. Alex Salmond has them dancing to his tune, which is a pleasant change for the Scottish People. Will the Westminster Pollies try to trade of control of the Scottish Judiciary to further their aims to enlarge their big brother style of persecution on the Scottish People. I think we can easily predict the rejection of this by the Scottish People and their natural leader who puts the rights of Scots above all else.

Alex Salmond has laid the route towards having these London Controlled Numpties lift up the gun that will shoot them in the foot. What was that old saying about hook line and sinker.

  • 12.
  • At 08:06 AM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

“...People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices...”

George Adam Smith

  • 13.
  • At 09:16 AM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Bob wrote:

Independence would be great for all parties. The SNP would fizzle out, Labour would regain governance, the Tories would finally be able to distance themselves from thatcher and the Lib Dems would be able to get back in bed with Labour!

Of course they might not ideologically agree with Independence, but as Blair has proved; politics is more about pragmatism then solid beliefs.

Bring it on!

  • 14.
  • At 09:26 AM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • JohnMcDonald wrote:

And, if the were serious about seeking an alternative to independence other than the status quo, would they really have met at the Scottish Office?

Let's be clear, this meeting and the whole devolution experiment has been about trying to stop a political rival gaining the voters' support and absolutely nothing to do with the welfare of the people of Scotland.

An independent Scotland, like all democracies, will need competent opposition parties. The Tories et al should be putting their efforts into what their policies might look like after independence.

  • 15.
  • At 09:29 AM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Graeme wrote:

Let me get this straight: Labour, Conservative and the Literals working together to prevent the Scottish government asking the voter if they prefer Independence; more devolution or the status quo.

Alternatively those three parties cooking up a constituional settlement between themselves and imposing it on the Scottish people cause they know best.

Alex and the SNP won't make an political capital out of that will they!

  • 16.
  • At 10:27 AM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Hudson wrote:

Your 3rd last paragraph reads rather like a statement of your own desires on the outcome of the independence issue, with a bit of advice to the pro union parties thrown in. I think BBC Scotland needs an impartial political editor.

  • 17.
  • At 10:40 AM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Kim McNab wrote:

UK Labour working with the Conservative and Unionist Party.

Are we suprised? No!

A question I would put to UK Labour voters is -

"Would you prefer to live in a Tory run UK, or an independent Scotland run by moderate left of centre government?"

Straight forward question, bet I don't get a straight forward answer from a UK Labour voter.


  • 18.
  • At 10:51 AM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Brian wrote:

As the unionists used the Scotland Office for this meeting, does that mean it is a UK government initiative? Or was this simply a misuse of taxpayers' money for party-political purposes?

  • 19.
  • At 11:01 AM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Peter Thomson wrote:

There is a dichotomy here Brian in that the Liberals have long sought for a federated UK, Lloyd George nearly delivered that in 1914 if it had not been for the pesky Kaiser.

The Tories are currently flying the federated flag in Scotland and the exclusion of Scottish MP's from 'English' votes in Westminster.

David Cairns has admitted Labour are wrong and Scotland could be a viable country, if independent.

The Unionist Parties in Scotland can not even agree if they are going to wreck the SNP budget plan or not - with both the Libdems and Tories sending out horse trading signals.

Labour is increasingly isolated when it comes to propping up the status quo of the Union. The other two are seeing their projected vote share plummet in Scotland and sense that out right support of Scottish Labour will be the end of them.

I doubt there was much agreement at this meeting except that they are being forced to dance to Wee Eck's tune.

  • 20.
  • At 11:24 AM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Martin Hughes wrote:

Spot on Brian. You would think that labour and co. would have learned from their very negative election campaign that such tactics don't work. If the unionist parties continue to follow in this vein it will be their ultimate undoing. I think that it is clear scottish people favour, at least, more powers to the Scottish parliament. It is time Labour woke up to this fact before they get another bruising at the ballot box.

  • 21.
  • At 12:23 PM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Bill Beattie wrote:

Well I suppose the "Scottish" unionist parties have to do something to get some media interest.

Alex Salmond and the SNP have really impressed in their ability to govern in a positive way for Scotland.

In my opinion, the demand and pressure for Scotland to become Independent will ultimately come from the English especially those of the South East of England, who fervently believe that they subsidise us.

I wonder where they got that idea from??

  • 22.
  • At 01:25 PM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Chasa wrote:

I would like to have been a fly on the wall at this meeting, want a bet that they discussed how they would deal with the Scottish Budget. If the gang of three had any sense in their heads they would vote the budget through, as they don't have any they just might agree to vote it down, and then the fun begins.

If the budget was voted down, would Salmond resign and in doing so precipitate another election. The gang of three would pay a heavy price for that tactic. I wonder if Wee Eck has that in mind? Oh I would love to have been a fly on the wall!

  • 23.
  • At 02:28 PM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Malcolm wrote:

I would be interested to know, Brian, which fair-minded person can say that the result of devolution has only been "alleged anomolies". Anyone living in England, whatever their origin, is acutely aware now that they are far more than "alleged". Fair play for Scotland means fair play for England too. Your bias is starting to show.

  • 24.
  • At 04:12 PM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:


I know that there are many initiatives in Scotland that the ordinary English voter does not recieve from the westminster government. The question is why? Scotland recieved its share of funding and spent it (not all of it I might add)otherwise we,d have to give it back (which we did with the left-overs). On the other hand Scotland did not get a millenium Dome, Nor will scotland recive much in economic developement from the London Olympics (how much is that going to cost? 9billion?) There are other spending anomolies including 1/2 of scottish rates spent to rebuild Canary wharf. couple all this London centric spending with the fact that the London region of the Uk gets more government spending per head than all other regions (including Scotland) and its easy to see why people in Liverpool Newcastle etc etc are not getting the same deal the Scots get. Building new shiny things for the people of London is seen as far more important, If westminster had shared the wealth evenly, the scots probably wouldnt have had a reason to complain (although knowing some of my countrymen as I do there would always be some). Truth is the further you are from London the less consideration you get. Not many places further from London than Scotland, so pre devolution it wasnt working. Take for instance the Flooding in the summer lots of government help for the home counties. Where was the help for the northen regions after the earlier floods this year? English farmers to get compensation for the F&M outbreak but Wales Northen Ireland and Scotland (who all put money into defra) are told to go whistle. This is the single most important threat to the strength of the union, and is anyone at westminster willing to tackle this? Answers on a postcard please.

The vast majority of Scotland's people support the union. Their elected representatives are a majority in the Scottish parliament and agree on the issue. How hard is that to understand?

There is a group of serial SNP bloggers who fill these pages on a regular basis. Their same IDs are on every debate page. It is just part of the new SNP smear machine. And it all starts the same way: 'Brian, Brian, Brian...'

What would an independent Scotland be like? As ugly and petty as the views expressed again and again by SNP activists on this blog. They are the real voice of Scottish nationalism, not the charming Alex Salmond.

The union continues because the majority of Scots do not support the SNP's agenda of separatism and xenophobia. Europe has had enough of such nationalist tribalism. It is the SNP that is living in the past, not the Scottish unionist majority.

  • 26.
  • At 06:30 PM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Bob Blair wrote:

What a pathetic bunch of MSP's, they are so determined to block the possibility of a referendum on independence that they will join forces. Correct me if I am wrong but they hate each other and as you put it they have nothing in common. They are all totally convinced that an independence vote would be a resounding no, why are they so worried if that is the case then lets have a vote.

What they need to learn is that they are not UK politicians, they are Scottish politicians working in the Scottish Parliament to represent the people of Scotland who put them there. Can you see a common theme there.

At least the SNP has ambition for Scotland and it is actively trying make it a better place, all these other parties seem to do is disagree whinge and moan. Maybe the SNP will not be able to deliver on all of its promises, the people of Scotland understand this and they do not blame the SNP for this. I believe the blame lies with both Westminster and the opposition parties for trying to scupper the Scottish Government at every turn.

  • 27.
  • At 07:02 PM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Man o' Moray wrote:

Birds of a feather flock together!

It seems as if they are all running around trying to save themselves.

They are treating the Scottish people like idiots by claiming this devolution reveiw would still be happening had they not lost in May.

The core Labour vote will not look kindly upon Wendy's alliance with the Tories.

I wonder how different the political landscape would be if Gordon Brown had called an election.

  • 28.
  • At 07:04 PM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Geordie Peebles wrote:

And they say they want the confirmation of their UK parties' support for the process.

Does this mean the Labour party and LibDems have now abandoned the Claim of Right and no longer believe the Scottish people are sovereign?

That the UK parties have the power over Scotland before the collective will of the Scottish people?


A Claim of Right for Scotland

We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount.

We further declare and pledge that our actions and deliberations shall be directed to the following ends:

To agree a scheme for an Assembly or Parliament for Scotland';

To mobilise Scottish opinion and ensure the approval of the Scottish people for that scheme; and

To assert the right of the Scottish people to secure the implementation of that scheme.

  • 29.
  • At 10:06 PM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • PMK wrote:

JR, others far more eloquent than you have previously had to apologise for calling the SNP xenophobic. I personal find statements such as "British jobs for British workers" far more xenophobic than a desire for self-rule. Speak of tribalism when the leader of the only credible unionist party in Scotland does not borrow phrases from fascistic, racist organisations - and then to compound matters claims to have invented them first!

  • 30.
  • At 10:30 PM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Leuchars wrote:

I think this Unionist trio are taking a big risk. Come the election people will ignore their individual Party policies and view them as a "stop the SNP coalition".

Voters will have a clear choice between a Scottish Party cheerleading for Scots and a Unionist cabal doing Westminster's bidding. Bit of a no brainer.

  • 31.
  • At 12:47 AM on 07 Nov 2007,
  • Hamilton wrote:


I think you'll find the Unionist parties are the colective will of a large chunk of the Scottish people, 67% of them in the last election.....

remember the present Scottish Government is a minority one, they have no right to dictate the conversastion but every right to join it, as do the unionists!

what's wrong with them discussing a matter of common interest to them all?

  • 32.
  • At 10:20 AM on 07 Nov 2007,
  • iain morrison wrote:

#10 You talk of politicians loyalties lying with thier constituents, not thier puppet masters.

I agree however, the evidence leads the other way, as they have consulted thier masters, for orders on how to avoid a referendum which would be decided by their constituents.

Maybe, you were pointing out that they are not real thinking politicians, just puppets on London's strings. In which case I concur.

  • 33.
  • At 01:15 PM on 07 Nov 2007,
  • David Allan wrote:

I agree with #25. What many of the posters here forget is their views are not shared by the majority of the people who voted in Scotland. Three quarters voted for parties that are unionist in some form or another and, as these parties have cover the whole of the UK, it's hardly surprising that their policies must represent the people of the UK as well as Scotland. The SNP won by a very narrow margin and they find themselves forming the executive. Each of the other parties, they didn't form a coalition with, are the opposition and it is their responsibility to reflect the views of the people they represent and to prevent the SNP's legislation getting through parliamnent. That's the way it's meant to work and that's the role of the opposition. The SNP did their level best to do this while they were in the same position before the election.

The SNP executive should expect to be scrutinised and criticised from every quarter, including the opposition, media and special interest groups. This should start from day 1 of the formation of the new executive. In this sense there may "appear" to be a bias but as they have the privileged position of holding the reigns of power they should expect that their every move and motive will be questioned - especially when they stray into areas that have not been devolved. The SNP have had it easy for now but, like any government, disillusionment and distrust soon set in - including from those who have been trumpeting their "achievements" so far. Let's see what their opinions are in two years from now.

  • 34.
  • At 10:21 AM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • Dave "Boy" wrote:

Exactly #33. The 3 opposition parties are merely representing the people who voted for them - a concept that the SNP fan club on here have difficulty understanding. They would do well to remember that only 1 in 6 of the electorate voted SNP in the elections. This may well be telling us that for 1 in 6 people, independance is the single most important thing. For the other 5, perhaps their priorities lie in more "bread and butter" issues.

  • 35.
  • At 01:45 PM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • PMK wrote:

1/6th (technically right) and "3/4s voted unionist" (plain wrong - at best just under 2/3s). The actual percentage of those who voted SNP in the constituency vote was 33%, as opposed to the 35% Labour won in the 2005 Westminster election. I would not want a system as undemocratic as that at Westminster, but those rightly pointing out the SNP are "only a minority" should note that they scored only 2% worse than Labour in 2005. Yet Labour are allowed to dictate to the whole United Kingdom on such a mandate!

  • 36.
  • At 03:27 PM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • Ed Gray wrote:

The SNP, unlike the London-led parties, have a programme of vision, aspiration and ambition for Scotland, which sees Scotland as a nation on the world stage, rather than tied to London’s apron strings.

Following 300 years of conditioning to London-centric governance, unionist perceptions are at the very least outdated, and the benefits – indeed the imperatives – of independence have largely gone unaired in the public arena for generations.

Through good governance and open dialogue, the SNP aim to raise the aspirations of the Scottish people for their nation and government, then to offer the people the opportunity to make an enlightened constitutional choice through the first democratic referendum on independence in our nation’s history.

All the London-led parties are aspiring to is to stifle the debate, and scupper the people’s right to that referendum, because they are politically opposed to the potential outcome.

As for the notion of ‘xenophobia’: that exists solely in the minds of those who have far less interest in truth and in decency than in trying to scupper the SNP’s aspirations for Scotland at any cost.

If some Scots seek to disempower themselves indefinitely, let that be their choice. But, as Alex Salmond has challenged: if the unionist parties can offer no alternative to the people’s right to a referendum on independence, do not let them deny the people that right!

  • 37.
  • At 01:23 AM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • Nick wrote:

Forgive me for my ignorance. I, like a vast majority of the rest of the country don't follow polotics as closly as some of you. there are clearly some issues that need to be addresed urgently involving distrbution of public money. i can see that a lot of people are angry about how for instance massive amounts of tax is going on the olympic stadium etc, maintainace of canery warf etc., providing little to no benifit for them. The problem is, this is not just a scotish problem. this issue needs adressing throught the uk. All i can see is that the oldest union in the world in on the edge of collapse, and quite frankly what hope dose that really offer. these efforts shouldnt be put into pulling it apart, they should be directed at making the thing work.

  • 38.
  • At 03:34 PM on 19 Nov 2007,
  • T wrote:

#25, #33 & #34 are all missing (perhaps deliberately) a very important point. The simple fact is that a vote for the SNP does not automatically mean a vote for independence and nor does a vote for any of the other parties automatically mean that the voter supports the Union.

My own situation possibly reflects this. As someone whom has always previously voted Lib-Dem, I found myself in a position of being fed up of 8 years of under achieving on the part of the previous administration and decided it was time for a change. The SNP represented the only credible alternative so I voted for them.

Broadly speaking, I'm pro-Union but first and foremost, I'm pro-Scotland and believe that the Scottish Government should be trying to do what is best for Scotland in the context of the devolution settlement. The fact, as #34 states, that the Unionist parties also represent the rest of the UK is irrelevant in this context. MSPs are elected to the Scottish Parliament to legislate on Scottish issues. Granted that decisions made at Westminster impinge on us all but that is why we still elect MPs to that particular establishment as well. Instead, we've had 8 years of the Scottish sections of the Unionist parties dancing to the tune of their Westminster superiors with the result that I found myself (and I suspect I'm not alone) totally fed up with what we had pre May. I'm certainly more than a little disillusioned with the performance of the Lib-Dems who seem to have become more intent on staying in power (and ultimately failing) than in actually representing the people who kept faith with them and voted them into that position in the first place.

Time will tell if the SNP are any better at keeping their promises to the electorate than their predecessors have been.

A final point, and others have raised it before: why does pro-Union automatically imply anti-Referendum. If, as the Unionist parties claim (and I and many others like me are inclined to believe) the Union is the best option for Scotland and that the majority of people in Scotland are in favour of maintaining it, why are they so scared of a referendum on the subject? If they are so certain that the result would be in their favour, they should be actively campaigning for it. If nothing else, it would put the question to bed for a decade or two. Could it be that, if push came to shove, they don't trust the Scottish electorate to make the "right" decision? If that is the case, all they are doing is showing their contempt for the people they claim to represent and, as such, deserve all they get.

This post is closed to new comments.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.