Friday, 22 March 2013

Referendum date reaction

Well, the date has finally been announced and in a very short 18 months' time the referendum will be upon us.

Scottish voters will have their say on 18th September 2014.  This is, of course, excellent news and we can now look forward to a year and a half of intense debate about the constitutional future of Scotland.

For several years I believed that a referendum would be the best possible way of dealing with the issue and, at last, it is set to become a reality.  The Scottish public are to have the opportunity they deserve.  Well done all those who made it happen, from various parties and of none.

My initial reaction was relief that at least the question of the date has now been definitively answered.  I look forward to voting in that referendum, as I am sure do many others.

Admittedly, when the news initially broke it didn't represent to me the big story others have made it. At the time I was engrossed in attempting to make sense of the effect of Osborne's budget on the Scottish economy and determined that this was not, in fact, a Budget aimed at improving the economy but instead geared towards political considerations. Most of the positives actually stem from Nick Clegg's influence in government and, those aside, the Budget represented another missed opportunity as Osborne demonstrated his lack of imagination in addition to his more pressing political and financial constraints.

Against the backdrop of the Budget, this seemed like a pretty trivial piece of news. After all, it wasn't unexpected. But, following some reflection I came to appreciate that this is a far from trivial matter - 18th September 2014 will be a momentous day in Scottish political history, in UK constitutional history and for Scotland's people. Its ramifications will have enormous political, social, cultural and economic effects. People will remember this date for decades after Osborne's attempts at Chancellor impressions have long been forgotten.

So now we finally have a date, what chance of stepping up the quality of the debate?

I have been interested to read others responses - not least this one on Lib Dem Voice, which takes the view that Alex Salmond shouldn't have timed the referendum to coincide with Lib Dem Conference. I'll try to be polite in my response, but the best thing that can be said is that this is an unnecessary concern and the idea that Alex Salmond or anyone else in the SNP spends their time thinking about our conference is moderately amusing. I'm afraid even I, as a conference-loving liberal, recognise that the referendum is far more important to Scotland's future than a gathering of the party faithful in Liverpool.  I also don't see what all the fuss is about - surely there are such things as postal votes?

I was intrigued however by the choice of date, for another reason entirely.  I'm sure it's completely accidental but 18th September 2014 will be the 100th anniversary of the Irish Home Rule Bill receiving Royal Assent and the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Congress of Vienna, which achieved a new "balance of power" in Europe.  It seems that, given the history this date has with redesigning boundaries and redefining nations, it is a more than fitting date for such a historic occasion.

I would hope that Scots of all political persuasions and on both sides of the independence argument can welcome this announcement and look forward to settling the question.  I for one look forward to 18th September next year with anticipation - and a sense of cautious optimism.


Anonymous said...

It will also be just over 100yrs after the start of WW1 and 75 years after the start of WW2, both of which are likely to have powerful UK-wide events.

Scotland will vote (decisively) 'NO!', even though the question should have been 'BECOME and independent...' not 'BE an independent'.
Lousy English!

Andrew said...

You are of course correct about other world events that have an even greater impact on how wee see ourselves.

I just find it interesting that no-one seems to have noticed these other key anniversaries, especially the Irish Home Rule Bill with its obvious significance and connections.

My optimism is not based so much on the eventual verdict, whatever it may be, but that actually having made the decision Scottish politics and society will in so many ways be the better for it.

Of course if you were to ask how I imagine the vote going, I'd have to agree on the basis of current polling. But a lot can happen in 18 months. I'm just pleased that Scotland's voters will have their say, however they choose to cast their ballots.

Anonymous said...

It is also the centenary of royal assent for the Liberal government's 1914 Suspensory Act that prevented Irish home rule and led to the bloody consequences of the Easter rising and the Irish war of independence.

When the unionist lies and scaremongering have been exposed as what they are, Scotland will vote resoundingly YES!

Anonymous said...

Like you I welcome our finally having a date for the referendum.

The Budget used to be, of course, traditionally an important day in all of our lives. These days with most of it announced antequam factum, it loses its pulling power, for me anyway.

I also agree that it was less a financial statement and more the start of the Tories campaign to be elected in 2015, and without (with respect) what most Tories will see as the millstone of the Liberals demanding a little humanity in their policies.

One thing for certain, however, from all the financial data around the budget and reports showing Britain's economy hit by weak manufacturing; taxes having to rise substantially after the election, warnings that 'Austerity Britain' hasn't even begun yet, and Fitch warning that their AAA downgrade is likely, the thought of being in the top 10 rich countries in the world per capita, and not having nuclear weapons and seat on Security Councils to pay for sounds ever more appealing.

So, bring it on, as Wendy Alexander once said, and then unsaid because she misspoke! Let's get all the facts on the table and do the best we can for Scotland. May the best and strongest argument for our wee country's future win.

I'm excited.

Caron Lindsay said...

Andrew, it's not just about postal votes, it's about a major event on the political calendar clashing with their date. They should have checked it out beforehand. If it had been done to them, you would have heard the squeals of outrage from outer space. My post was pretty muted given that I'm having to give up a highlight of my year completely unnecessarily. Of course I'll have to stay here for the referendum campaign, but I will hold a personal grudge on that one.

I think if you are going to set a major date for the country, you need to make sure that you don't deliberately exclude a particular group of people - and a party conference which may involve up to 20% of Scotland's MPs should have put them off choosing that date.

Andrew said...

Sorry all, I normally like to respond to you more quickly. Just picked up your interesting comments now.

Anonymous - "Scotland will vote resoundingly YES"? You're more confident than I am on that front. I would go as far as to say I think the result will be closer than some think. The main thing for me is that voters will actually have a say after decades of politicians dominating the (sometimes less than intelligent) conversation. Yes, I also was aware of the Suspensory Act which, in hindsight, was a mistake but it's too simplistic to say this led directly to the bloody consequences you refer to even if it was a contributory factor. I'll agree it wasn't the Liberal Party's finest moment, but it has to be judged in the political context of the time and in appreciation of the pressures facing the government shortly after the war had commenced.

Anyway, enough of history - it's time to look to the future!

Tris - "So, bring it on, as Wendy Alexander once said, and then unsaid because she misspoke! Let's get all the facts on the table and do the best we can for Scotland. May the best and strongest argument for our wee country's future win." Absolutely. I can't admit to being quite as excited as you obviously are, however!

Caron - thanks as always for taking the time to comment. I find the idea that the FM, the PM, the Queen or any other senior public figure should take their time to concern themselves with the details of other parties' activities the be more than faintly ludicrous. Of course it's about more than just postal voting but - step back a minute and see it from a non-personal perspective. Any date is necessarily going to exclude a group of people who just happen to be doing something else on that particular date; in this case it's the fifty to a hundred Scottish Lib Dems who will be in Liverpool for conference. I simply wouldn't expect anyone to consider that at all and I don't imagine for a minute you seriously think it's deliberate in spite of what you say above. Hold your personal grudge if you like (I will go to conference rather than stay at home, with some regret), but I think we Lib Dems sometimes have to realise what we find important doesn't necessarily appear on anyone else's radar. It's not all about us.

If the SNP really did "deliberately exclude", or seek to exclude, the Liberal Democrats then I'd be jumping up and down because it would show that the SNP perceive us as a huge threat. I just don't think they noticed. To be honest I didn't: when the date was announced I actually didn't realise immediately that it clashed with our conference - something you also indicated in your post - and if we don't have the date in our diaries why on earth should Alex Salmond?

You might be right that some elements of the SNP might make a big deal if we had done something to coincide with one of their keynote events but if they want to embarrass themselves that's their business.