Calman, the referendum and coalition - a theory.

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freedomwallace.jpgToday's Scotsman reveals Calman's reluctance to discuss the Liberals' preferred option, federalism. I know this sounds like it's going to be dull, but bear with me, it could have much wider consequences.

The rumours have long been circulating that the arguments of Liberalism have fallen on deaf ears within the Commission, with its Labour/Tory majority pushing for the most minor of tweakings, perhaps even including some undevolution

For one thing, there wasn't much else that could explain the importance Tavish put on Salmond's letter to Calman on borrowing powers. It was crucial enough from a Liberal perspective to get them to vote for an unchanged Budget, a spending programme they'd described just a week earlier as "woefully inadequate". 

As Magnus Gardham described it, getting Salmond to restate his position to a body he disapproved of was no more challenging than getting the Honey Monster to eat a bowl of own brand sugar puffs. Why would they have put this at the absolute top of their shopping list? Clearly if they were desperate to be identified with the issue of borrowing powers, and presumably they thought Calman wasn't already planning to recommend this option.

Apologies for it not having gotten interesting yet. Here's the theory, backed up by nothing more than whisperings in the media and second-hand internal Liberal gossip. Hints also appear elsewhere in the world of blogging - notably both SNP Tactical Voting and Mystic Mag.

The Liberals now believe Calman will turn them over completely, thus making them look irrelevant even in comparison with the rest of the Yoonionisht Conshpirashy. The last thing they want with Westminster elections looming is to continue looking like the most inadequate wing of the anti-independence front.

They also want back into government - after all, it's their only guiding principle.

So they are about to offer Salmond a deal, the theory goes. Liberal support for the referendum bill, provided there are three options, independence, status quo, and whatever version of "more powers" the Liberals want, thus sidelining Calman and its Labour/Tory co-sponsors altogether. They'd also be front and centre, which would be a change. Tom Peterkin had an earlier version of the theory last year, incidentally, but I don't think a referendum without a status quo option would fly.

The polls suggest the middle way would be more popular - it often is in STV "preferenda" - and a vote for this option, their option, would allow the Liberals to take sole credit for Scotland's constitutional future, simultaneously scuppering both the SNP fundies (see above) and their two Westminster-led enemies. 

The appointment of gradualist Mike Russell as "the Minister for Tavish Scott" even suggests that Salmond's seen how this end-game plays out.

A failure by the public to back independence would then take it off the agenda for a generation, whatever John Mason thinks. That inoculation against further discussion of the issue, for at least one Parliamentary session, would allow an SNP/Liberal coalition after May 2011, assuming the numbers work out, a pretty big if given the recent Liberal numbers. 

Obviously they'd hope to get a boost from this radical shift, and the referendum would be just a touch over five months from the election, so it'd still be the major story thereof, just as Salmond always planned. Except he'd have lost it, and indeed only the Liberals would be able to claim victory.

Their current denials might seem to get in the way, but their recent history shows that no principle can be left unbent for long, and one eye-watering about face quickly follows another. Tavish even floated this very idea in the chaos of his anointment, before going back on it.

It would also be consistent with their Westminster call for a in-or-out referendum on Europe, the wheeze which cost Clegg his honeymoon. After all, the parallel argument there was that change should be voted down to quell the anti-Europe British nationalist sirens. 

Even the cries of betrayal from Labour and the Tories will work for them: it sets up vague yellow water between those two and them, and allows the Liberals to take the fireproof Salmondite line that "the people must choose", even if the options are the result of a carveup rather than some kind of constitutional convention that the public might be allowed to get involved in.

No promises, but don't you think it sounds plausible?


Not only does it sound plausible James, it sounds such a good plan that I don't think the SNP should go for it.

If the Nationalists stick to a 2-question referendum or nothing then they are in a win-win.

(1) Get voted down in the Chamber and they will probably receive the public's sympathies and win more seats in 2011.


(2) Convince the Lib Dems to have a yes/no referendum on independence and it's game on for the vote of their lives (well, for a generation at least)

A 3-way referendum will almost definitely result in a 'win' for the Lib Dems and scupper the SNP's chances of having a winnable independence referendum anytime soon.

So yes, a great plan you suggest there for the Lib Dems but a potential nightmare for the SNP.

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