No rush for publication

Alex Salmond
Image caption We may have to wait to hear how people responded to the consultation

Remember the Scottish Government consultation on the independence referendum? Are you perhaps one of the 26,000 people who responded and thus took part directly in the debate?

That level of interest was hailed as a "fantastic response" by Scottish Government Ministers.

They could not resist adding that the number of replies sent to St Andrews House far exceeded the quantity who took up a comparable challenge posed by the UK Government in the shape of the Scotland Office.

And what has happened to the consultation since? It has of course been scrutinised and digested by Ministers and civil servants in the Scottish Government.

But when might it emerge? When might it be published? Nothing fixed but, as things stand, publication might have to await the conclusion of an outline agreement between the Scottish and UK governments.

Which may sound just a little like "sentence first, verdict afterwards" (copyright, Lewis Carroll). Welcome to the rough world of politics.

All the focus right now is upon reaching an outline agreement between the two administrations which can duly be endorsed in mid-October by David Cameron and Alex Salmond.

There is an authentic urgency about all this negotiation - which is designed to grant a temporary power to Holyrood to hold a legally watertight referendum.

Any such deal would require to be processed through both houses of Parliament at Westminster prior to submission to the Privy Council, prior to transferring the power, prior to Holyrood consulting upon and legislating for the referendum itself.

Towards agreement

That all takes time. It means, in practice, that, if the deal is to work, it must be endorsed by around the end of October.

Both sides know that. Both sides are also plainly heading towards an agreement upon a single Yes/No question: not least because Westminster won't stand anything else and not least (twice) because there is at this point no detailed proposal for Devo Max - with substantive political and governmental backing - which might conceivably form a second question.

In these circumstances, it is apparently emerging as a consensus that full-scale publication of the Scottish government consultation document would involve both delay and distraction.

It has been suggested to me that this notion first surfaced from the UK Government side of the talks. But the Scottish Government negotiators appear inclined to agree - in the interests of an overall deal.

It is stressed by the Scottish Government side that the consultation exercise has played a real part in informing the thinking of ministers and civil servants. It has in no sense been neglected, they insist.

And it should be published in due course. Just not instantly.

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