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Not impossible - but difficult

Brian Taylor | 16:58 UK time, Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Another day and things move on apace.

Alex Salmond has now set out more info about his plans for independence: he will publish a White Paper on St Andrew's day this year, with a referendum Bill to follow in 2010.

More intriguingly, he has suggested the eventual referendum ballot paper to go before the voters, Holyrood permitting, might include a "Calman option".

This is smart thinking by the FM. His opponents in the Scottish Parliament are opposed to holding a referendum next year.

Whatever they may say, I suspect that, privately, they understand that this is a tricky place to be, politically.

Not impossible, you understand. But difficult.

It is one thing to advance a case against independence. It is another, entirely, to be depicted as standing out against the people choosing.

Folk tend to like being empowered.

Weeping buckets

Mr Salmond knows all that - and so Mr Salmond is out to be Mr Reasonable when it comes to his referendum.

You don't like asking about independence? Well, then, put in the option of your Calman Commission proposals.

As I have written before, he won't exactly weep buckets if his Referendum Bill is blocked.

He would use it as a tactical issue at the next Holyrood election.

There's another, more immediate tactical problem for Mr Salmond's opponents.

They say that they aren't entirely against the concept of a referendum. It's largely about timing.

Not now. Economy in crisis. Too disruptive. Wait. Defer.

In which case, why pursue the Calman agenda so enthusiastically and urgently? That involves, does it not, substantial change including fiscal transfer.

Difficult position

It is sufficiently substantial, at least, for the business organisation, the CBI, to warn against it.

Why the hurry, then, from those who are so utterly resiled against an independence referendum? Now, I understand. Independence is rather different from Calmanised devolution. I get the concept.

I simply say again that it seems to me to make it rather more difficult, intellectually, for Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Tories to be so against Mr Salmond preparing a plebiscite when they are eagerly pursuing a constitutional agenda of their own.

Especially when he is now prepared to absorb their option.

In response to Mr Salmond's remarks today, the comments are coruscating.

It is, apparently, a "cynical attempt by the SNP to play politics". (Author: the Tories.)

Or it is "another red herring". (Labour). Or it is a "pointless waste of taxpayers money" to have a referendum. (LibDems)

The chutzpah

All of which may or may not be true. I know not the species of fish involved but I feel sure that the leader of a political party is, wittingly or otherwise, engaged in politics.

However, it still does not answer the underlying point. For a democratic, elected politician, it is a tricky thing to have to advance a case against a popular choice, against a referendum.

Our opposition leaders at Holyrood plainly feel they have the stomach for the fight, the chutzpah. I shall watch with growing fascination.


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