Showing posts with label Nicola Sturgeon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nicola Sturgeon. Show all posts

Friday, 3 January 2014

Alex Salmond makes dramatic u-turn

In a stunning about turn, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has publicly stated that he has “changed his mind” about Scottish independence and will in fact now be voting “no” in the referendum he has worked so hard to facilitate.

It is believed that the volte-face is a product of some intense soul-searching at the top of the Scottish National Party and a number of senior SNP MSPs have backed Mr Salmond’s change of heart.

Speaking to Angus McTavish on Radio Cille MhaolChaluim this morning, the First Minister explained his reasons:

“I’ve realised, after giving the issue a great deal of thought, that Scotland would not survive without the Union’s benevolence. We are so dependent on the subsidies and the goodwill that Westminster has always given us, asking for nothing in return.   I’ve been re-reading our White Paper for independence and realised what a load of unrealistic populist polemic it is – what Scotland needs is not the freedom to determine its own destiny but enslavery to a political system that regards the retention of murderous nuclear weapons and demonisation of already oppressed minority groups as of greater significance than the creation of an egalitarian, tolerant and liberal society.”

When challenged by McTavish as to why the climbdown was so complete, Salmond responded with a surprisingly blunt defence. “Look, we all make mistakes. I spent years believing that Scotland could be a better place if she was independent. I wanted to create the kind of Scotland Scots would actually like to live in, which I naively thought meant increased democracy and control over our own affairs, with our own resources in our own hands. But I realised I was too idealistic. Scots don’t really want or need that – they just need BBC TV and the knowledge they don’t need passports to take dirty weekends in Blackpool. And the chance to be governed by Tories they didn’t vote for.”

Other SNP MSPs have similarly declared their rejection of belief in Scottish independence, among them Nicola Sturgeon and Roseanna Cunningham. Ms Sturgeon made clear that there has been a creeping realisation within her party that independence would “be bad for Scotland”. Writing on the party’s website, she refers to “dangerous delusions” that the SNP had previously considered to be unquestionable truths. “Scotland just can’t compete on the world stage. We’re too small. Just think if the likes of Luxembourg, Iceland, Austria or Denmark were to be independent. It doesn’t bear thinking about. We also need to remain part of the UK if Scots are to be successful in sport – take a look at other wee countries like Belgium and Holland and see how bad they are at, say, football.”

Sturgeon continued: “An economically strong Scotland needs to be part of the EU, which is something we’ve always said as a party. But we don’t need to be independent to achieve that. The EU won’t welcome a new member that is a net contributor. The best way to remain within the EU is to stay in the Union – we know English people love the EU as much as we do and are guaranteed to vote for continued membership in Cameron’s planned in-out referendum.”

Cunningham pointed to the many things that were good about the Union, when she spoke to McTavish on his Current Affairs for Kids slot. “We have to be honest, it’s a political system that’s tried, it’s tested and it works. With First Past the Post, an unelected second chamber, reserved places for Bishops and an electoral system that is biased towards two major parties, it’s incredibly representative of Scotland.” She also spoke of how proud she was to be British: “I’m Scottish but I’m also British. This means that I love red phone boxes, the Queen, the Dunkirk spirit, HP Sauce, Winston Churchill, the established Church with its well-deserved privileges, a welfare system that discriminates and marginalises, waving Union Jacks, Morris dancing and being prone to bouts of uncontrolled sentimentalism whenever a member of the Royal family does something as natural as giving birth. All Scots should find identity in these things – these are what make us who we are...not some pitiful belief in autonomy, increased freedom and self-governance.”

An un-named SNP councillor contributed to the debate on the Radio’s phone-in. He added that Salmond was only saying what many within the SNP felt, and that the idea that Scotland has the economic potential to be independent was just a nasty lie spread by cybernats. “Just think of the cost of passports”, he said. “And printing our own postage stamps. It’s right that the leadership has made a firm statement now because we don’t want to continue to mislead people.” He was asked what persuaded him to change his mind, after over 35 years of fighting for independence. “Well, if Alex Salmond thinks it’s the right option, I believe him!”

Salmond has now been invited to co-chair the Better Together campaign alongside former chancellor and owl lookalike Alistair Darling. “This is indeed a privilege”, explained Salmond, “and I will do my utmost to ensure a ‘no’ vote as the only way to give Scots the future they deserve – a future based on backward-looking and nostalgic notions of British cultural identity that only really exist in the minds of right-wing Tories and Nigel Farage.”

Not all within the SNP are happy, however. Some members have already broken away to form a new “Real SNP”, and have elected MSP John Mason as their leader. Mason has already confirmed that God has called him to set Scotland’s people free - or at the very least establish a Theocratic Republic of Shettleston.

There has been reaction to these developments from other parties. Labour’s Margaret Curran and Ian Davidson have announced they will now be campaigning for a “yes” vote as “it would be good to wipe the smirk off Alex Salmond’s face”. Curran explained that her political raison d’etre is to oppose the SNP at all times and therefore that supporting independence is merely a means to a more important end. Davidson confirmed that he has never been opposed to independence in principle, “just the idiots in the SNP”. They now hope to work closely with Yes Scotland.

They have been followed into the Yes camp by former Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott, who declared that “we are not going to be told what to do by the SNP. This is the time to seize the opportunity for independence, which has to be the best option for forging a new, Liberal Scotland.” Johann Lamont added that her party’s policy has essentially been determined in recent years by antipathy towards the SNP and that, given the nationalists’ new stance on the independence issue, “Scottish Labour’s continued support of Better Together will inevitably be reviewed in the immediate future.”

Please note that this piece is intended as satire and none of the events described above, or the quotations cited, have any basis in reality. However, any reference to real persons is entirely intentional as also are the inferences in respect to the tribal nature of the political debate. 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Independence battle begins in earnest

I believe an agreement of "historic significance" was signed in Edinburgh yesterday.

This is welcome, if largely expected, news.

I didn't foresee the Westminster government actively blocking the SNP's reasonable claims to hold the referendum on the date of their choosing, or the SNP providing too much resistance to Cameron's insistence of a single question.  I was moderately surprised that 16 and 17-year olds will be allowed the vote, something of which I am personally supportive.

There has predictably been a great deal of excitement surrounding this.  I'm afraid I don't share it.  To be honest, I was more concerned about developments surrounding Halls meat factory and the resultant loss of both jobs and a once-thriving Scottish business.  It was why I used facebook to suggest that the referendum question should be "Under which constitutional arrangement do you prefer to be unemployed?"

Some things really are too important to be overshadowed by the so-called Edinburgh Agreement.

That said, I'm not understating the importance of the agreement.  The referendum has now become very real.  It is certainly going to happen in 2014.  Gloves can now come off and the battle begin in earnest.  No doubt campaigning will continue in the same vein that it has for the previous few months, characterised by negativity, simplicity, personality and entrenched tribalism, but at least we can concentrate on the arguments about the outcome, rather than the process.

I must admit to feeling that yesterday amounted to something of a personal psychological battle between Alex Salmond and David Cameron, with Michael Moore regrettably left on the sidelines with his efforts largely unrecognised.  Salmond has certainly "won" in regards the timing and the referendum will now take place in the aftermath of a (hopefully) successful Commonwealth Games, the Batttle of Bannockburn commemorations and the Ryder Cup - all of which the SNP calculate will increase the sense of national identity and allow Scots to feel could about themselves.  On the other hand, Cameron will be happy he's ensured the referendum will consist of a single question.  Neither obviously wished to appear too smug before the TV cameras, but clearly the First Minister has waited for this day for some time.  There was a sense of pride evident in his announcement that "the very substantial gain Scotland now has is an agreed process to this referendum".

As for Mr Cameron, he used the opportunity to reassert his own commitment to the union and to extend an appeal to those who are pro-change but who would not necessarily support independence as a default option.  He promised nothing but insisted that "further devolution was possible".  The Conservatives even showed signs of beginning to understand the nature of Scottish politics, quickly killing the idea of a televised debate between Salmond and Cameron when it dawned on them that it would play directly into the First Minister's hands.

Personally, I find it regrettable that yesterday's proceedings were dominated by the First Minister of Scotland and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.  Those who deserve more credit for ensuring this outcome are Nicola Sturgeon and Michael Moore.  In fact, The Times - in praise of Cameron's statesmanship, fails to mention either the Deputy First Minister or the Secretary of State for Scotland.  Moore's had a difficult hand to play and while he's not played the perfect game deserves credit for what he has achieved.  That we will have an undeniably fair and legal referendum is testament to his energy and to the successful negotiations between himself and Sturgeon.  That he was able to confirm that the electorate will be extended to 16 and 17-year-olds was a remarkable success given Conservative opposition and Labour indifference.

Whether the referendum will be "decisive" depends on interpretation.  In my view, the result of the referendum will be the beginning - either of the rebirth of Scotland as an independent nation or of the re-opening of debate surrounding Scottish devolution.  What Scotland will look like post-devolution will largely be determined by the inevitably lengthy negotiations that must take place in the aftermath of the voters' verdict.  If the result is "Yes", then at least there is an agreed course by which to resolve issues and establish independence. If "no", then while there will be talk of further devolution, there is no certainty or guarantee about either the nature of inter-party conversation on the matter, the collective commitment to constitutional change or what precisely that "change" might be.

No doubt that while the result might be decisive, the outcome will not.  It could be extremely messy and in all likelihood will lead to lengthy and potentially acrimonious dialogue that could take several years to arrive at a way forward.

What is now obvious is that those hoping for a second question have lost.  Alex Salmond is surely not one of them; his persistence in keeping it on the agenda stemmed from political motivations - specifically to remind the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats of the opportunities a second question might afford them.  There has been much discussion of the merits of an additional question; I for one preferred the idea of a two-question referendum using the 1997 model, in which the second question only became relevant if the outcome of the first was a rejection of independence.  That however has not happened and we must now accept this.  The debate is academic, even if Professor Michael Keating of Aberdeen University used today's Times to argue that the case against was flawed: "We are told you cannot have a referendum on 'devolution max' because that would require Westminster to agree.  But any settlement will require negotiation and agreement [even independence].  And isn't the Conservative Party not talking of a unilateral referendum to redefine our place in another union?"

The referendum is going to present voters with a straight choice: Independence - Yes or No?  Those supporting change must decide whether they believe their hopes can me fulfilled post-referendum in a Scotland that remains part of a dysfunctional union.  For federalist Lib Dems, this involves asking whether our progressive and proudly held aspirations are likely to be met via negotiations with those who do not share such aims.  We cannot achieve anything alone, the implementation of our fine and noble proposals being dependent on convincing other parties of their value.  Can we trust the Conservatives, whose UK leader yesterday gave no commitment other than suggesting that "those who want to see...further devolution...must vote to stay in the [UK]" and whose Scottish leader seems resistant to the idea?  As for Labour, can they be relied upon to support our objectives, even a watered down version of our proposals?  And what about the SNP, should they lose the referendum?  Would they be disposed to constructive discussion on full fiscal federalism and extending devolution?

Oddly enough, that last question is the one more likely to be answered positively.  What is certain is, if independence is rejected as Cameron says it should be, there is no vehicle through which to guarantee further constitutional change.  To vote "no" therefore, in the hope of further change, is a significant gamble.

In one respect at least, the outcome is irrelevant.  That is in respect to the extension of the franchise to all aged 16 and over.  This is to be welcomed.  There were some, even within the Liberal Democrats, who were cynical about the SNP's motivations and who struggled with the notion of doing this specifically for the referendum.  There were concerns about setting precedents by which electorates could be self-determined by those holding referenda.  Fortunately, common sense has prevailed and the referendum will indeed set a precedent, one which will hopefully lead to extending the electorate for other local and national elections.

The Times asks whether "a 16-year old is ready to exercise democratic responsibility, whether we want schools to be involved in the electoral process and whether we want to take another step in blurring the lines between children, teenagers and adults".  The answer, it concludes, is "surely not".  I disagree.  Such lines are  largely artificial and ignore the inescapable reality that different individuals develop at different rates.  And what could be so wrong with schools actively becoming involved in promoting democracy, rather than having a day off whenever there is an election?

This is an incredible achievement and one which, I hope, will lead to all over-16s being given the vote in future.  Certainly this referendum has given those of us who believe in extending the franchise more cause for belief than the Liberal Democrats, acting alone, have been able to.  And if part of the legacy of 2014 is a permanent reduction in the voting age, even the two years of bickering and relentless negativity that will ensue between now and that fateful day will be but a small price to pay.

The real battle for the SNP is only just beginning.  Alex Salmond, his party and Yes Scotland have a challenge convincing Scots to embrace independence, given that support for it has almost never registered at over a third.  Salmond recognises this, saying yesterday that "I believe in the ability of persuasion on this argument."

So, in two years' time we will finally know the verdict of the Scottish electorate.  In the meantime, I'll live in hope that intelligent voices will dominate a political discussion that will inspire and empower Scots to arrive at informed decisions.  I am a positive person deep down...

Friday, 7 September 2012

A Tale of two reshuffles: Part 2 – Much ado about nothing

It might have escaped the notice of some of my English friends, but after the screening of Cameron’s 18-rated horror on Tuesday fellow film director Alex Salmond decided to make some adjustments to his cast too.

“Nightmare on Downing Street” followed by “Independence Day” might sound like an entertaining evening’s viewing but in reality both reshuffles tell us very significant things about the Prime Minister and First Minister respectively.  The first instalment of drama made it quite clear that David Cameron is insecure, fearful of his own party’s right wing but lacking the courage to take it on.  It also provided evidence that he has all but given up on the positive rhetoric of coalition and that he’s parted company with his senses of reason and proportion, promoting the most undeserving to the top positions and abandoning the centre-ground of UK politics in advance of the 2015 General Election.

So what, if anything, did the Scottish reshuffle (or should that be scuffle?) tell us about Alex Salmond? 

There can be no doubt that the key announcement is that Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will be moved from health to infrastructure and capital spending, with specific responsibility for directing the SNP government’s referendum strategy.  On some levels, this makes perfect sense: who can be trusted to spearhead this than the Deputy First Minister herself?  However, this also raises questions about Sturgeon’s political future as well as the wisdom of a straight swap which sees Alex Neil take on the health portfolio.

Sturgeon has been a pretty decent deputy for Salmond for the previous five years.  In my view, she’s also been an effective health minister for that time – taking well to her responsibilities and forging positive relationships with professionals and interest groups.  Unlike many health ministers, both in Holyrood and Westminster, she seems to know what she’s talking about and has been successful in projecting herself as someone who cares.  Moving her away from a sensitive role she has managed with care and no small degree of skill is therefore potentially risky.  Alex Neil is certainly capable, but I’m not necessarily convinced he is a “natural” health minister in the way that Nicola was.  It’s understandable that opposition parties have complained that this reshuffle has been too centred on the referendum rather than the needs of Scotland, especially when the health ministry sacrifices such an able incumbent.  It’s certainly an experiment that may or may not work for the SNP: will Neil be able to command the same respect as his predecessor, or have the same positive working relationships with key personnel? 

I’d have preferred for Sturgeon to have stayed where she was, simply on the basis that what she’s doing is working reasonably well.  This is in no small part down to her personal qualities: what impressed me most about her was the attention to detail she showed towards the kind of issues that people working in the health service actually care about.  I’m also of the view, as is Orkney MSP Liam McArthur, that having handled the equal marriage matter so well to date it is regrettable that Sturgeon is now to be denied the opportunity to “pilot the bill through Parliament”.  While I’m not suggesting the SNP is anything but committed to marriage equality, as a passionate advocate of equality I would have been far more confident of the right outcome if the matter was still being managed directly by the Deputy First Minister.

Clearly being handed responsibility for the referendum campaign speaks volumes about how Alex Salmond views his deputy.  There can be no doubting that she is his preferred successor.  However, the move also increases the pressure on Sturgeon to deliver the right result for the SNP.  Should the “Yes” campaign (and therefore, by implication, also the SNP) fail in its quest to secure Scottish independence it is certainly possible that Sturgeon’s responsibility for the result will come under close scrutiny.  That is not to suggest for a minute that I believe either Salmond or Sturgeon’s political careers will be necessarily ruined should the electorate reject independence, but there are certainly risks.  That said, should the voters back independence it would be in all likelihood, and possibly rightly, be attributed in no small part to Sturgeon’s oversight – and will carry obvious long-term political implications. 

Looking at other personnel changes, I was pleased to see that Humza Yousaf now finds a place in government.  I have been enormously impressed with his style and political maturity to date, as have many other Liberal Democrats.  He has such enormous potential that it was for me something of a surprise that he was only given the opportunity to prove himself at external affairs and international development.  While it is never good to see someone like Bruce Crawford leaving government (resigning after the loss of both parents), I cautiously welcome the appointment of Joe Fitzpatrick as Minister for Parliamentary business and not merely because he’s openly gay (although that does say a great deal about the nature of the SNP government).  He’s highly confident and by Holyrood standards quite experienced, so it was right of Salmond to take a chance on him and see if he can fulfil his obvious potential in a ministerial role. 

Elsewhere Stewart Stevenson leaves to be replaced by Paul Wheelhouse as minister for environment and climate change.  This seems a sound move. I’ve never been convinced by Stevenson, although I wasn’t one of those who felt he should have resigned as transport minister.  I’ve never thought that he’s particularly got to grips with his brief, or that he even enjoys it.  Given the SNP government’s proclaimed green agenda and focus on renewables, Stevenson has lacked the insight to outline a cogent and coherent strategy to facilitate the government’s ambitions to tackle climate change.  Paul Wheelhouse is someone I know little about in honesty but I commend the First Minister giving him the opportunity to prove himself and hopefully work a little differently to his predecessor.

Keith Brown was moved to transport and veterans, with Margaret Burgess taking over at housing.  And that, in a nutshell, is that.  For all the hype surrounding the reshuffle, very few post changed hands.  The main personnel are still in place – Swinney, Russell, McAskill, Hyslop, Ewing, Mackay, Cunningham.  I might have considered moving Fiona Hyslop, who always seems to me like a weak link in an otherwise strong ministerial chain, but Salmond clearly realises the need not to overly unsettle his team.

The main difference between Cameron’s reshuffle and that of Salmond is that the Prime Minister’s has been more concerned with appeasing his party’s right-wing while the First Minister has recognised the importance of ensuring that the right people are in the right jobs.  He understands that no business undergoes significant overhauls of its leading personnel simply to please the media or the public and therefore neither should a party of government.  He’s opted for continuity where possible.  He’s also been able to create a more diverse cabinet, including the likes of Yousaf and Fitzpatrick, and a good number of women – in stark contrast to Cameron.

All in all, this reshuffle was much ado about nothing – or at least much ado about very little.  I’m not overly impressed with Nicola Sturgeon leaving health and have concerns with Alex Neil’s ability to perform to the level she did.  I’m not entirely convinced that it should be the Deputy First Minister overseeing the referendum campaign but it does make sense to a point.  Other than Sturgeon, I could have seen Derek Mackay or perhaps Mike Russell taking on that responsibility, but whether they would be able to balance this with other ministerial duties is another question. 

Finally, I’ll address the criticism from opposition parties that the reshuffle was about independence.  Well, of course it was – to a point (Bruce Crawford’s departure also necessitated changes).  The referendum is going to happen, and it would be ridiculous for the party of government proposing it not to assign responsibility to someone to oversee its progression and the party campaign championing the SNP’s preferred option.  That’s not an unreasonable thing to do.  Whether this new appointment merited removing a highly capable health minister from a department that will surely be the poorer for her absence is something I would question, but I wouldn’t be quick to condemn a “reshuffle” that saw the vast majority of cabinet faces staying put.  As for the accusation that the SNP government is obsessed with independence, I would suggest that Johann Lamont not only suffers from the same affliction but has no insight into her own condition. It seems to be all she wishes to talk about.  

All in all, I didn’t see too much to get excited about.  In a sense, it was an example in how to undertake a reshuffle responsibly.  In spite of all the media hype, very little of substance has changed.  It might have lacked the drama of “Nightmare on Downing Street”, but Scotland is all the better for it.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Scottish independence referendum dominates headlines

Quite amazingly the issue of Scotland’s constitutional future has dominated the UK headlines over the last day. As Prime Minister David Cameron and other cabinet colleagues including George Osborne intervened on setting a timescale and the legal remit of a referendum on independence, the political debate erupted into a hostile and undignified confrontation with both sides making predictable comments accusing the other of jeopardising the Scottish economy.
For the most part it was tiresome stuff. However, there were some serious questions asked about the SNP and its plans for the holding the referendum and equally vitally the tactics of the coalition government were brought under scrutiny.

Essentially, the debate centred around the timing of the proposed referendum and whether it would in fact be legally binding, rather than simply a consultative survey of public opinion. David Cameron appears willing to offer a legally binding ballot if certain conditions are met, including a “sunset clause” and excluding under 18s from the vote – something Danny Alexander seems happy to accept in spite of historic Lib Dem support for extending the franchise to those aged 16 and upwards. Other coalition demands include no question on the “devolution max” option preferred by Willie Rennie, something that brings into question the relevance of the Home Rule Commission. It also appears that the coalition government may wish to call their own referendum if the SNP refused to accept what it was offering – as far as calling Alex Salmond’s bluff goes, this was a rather dismal attempt and underlines the coalition’s anxiety for a quick referendum. The Westminster government has no mandate for conducting such a referendum, which would surely be aimed only at clipping Alex Salmond’s wings.

A fellow Liberal Democrat blogger, Graeme Cowie, has already written clearly and concisely on the “referendum strings”. A law student, he has insights into current legal arrangements that neither I, nor I imagine many who are currently engaged in the hostile debate, have much appreciation of. He observes that all talk of any referendum being legally-binding is intellectually and politically speaking utter nonsense. He also correctly highlights that the SNP has the mandate to ask the question at a time of its choosing and that attempts by other parties to determine the holding of the referendum amount to “disgraceful politicking”. Most tellingly, he notes that what is actually central to discussions is not the referendum itself but the democratic legitimacy of Scotland’s institutions – and Holyrood in particular.

It is, therefore, inconsistent for a “federalist” party such as the Liberal Democrats to support the coalition government’s attempts to influence the outcome of the referendum. We should accept that the SNP, having a majority in the Scottish parliament, has the right to call the referendum when it likes – it has already intimated it hopes to do so in the second term of the parliament and likely to be in 2014. Alex Salmond is not obliged to time the implementation of SNP policy to suit either David Cameron or Michael Moore.

Jo Swinson commented last night on STV that “"We should have the voters deciding the outcome of a referendum, not the courts." She also added that it was vital to “give the Scottish Parliament powers it needs to hold a referendum” which she hopes will be “legal, fair and decisive”. Of course I agree. It is a great pity, however, that for several years the Liberal Democrats have refused to support even the idea of an independence referendum, even one in which we could have helped to shape the question. Labour’s Douglas Alexander, writing in today’s Daily Telegraph, said much the same thing while adding that Salmond “fears the verdict of the Scottish people”. The SNP hedging its bets around when is most likely to give it the result it wants is actually its legal right, and is no more symptomatic of fear than a UK government seeking to ensure a referendum is held as soon as possible for similar reasons.

Nicola Sturgeon accused David Cameron of “interfering” in Scottish matters. I wouldn’t use that language; as Prime Minister he has every right to make an intervention if he wishes. But surely the fact that he can doesn’t mean he should. I would question the wisdom of his intervention and his blatant attempt to influence the outcome: given his standing among Scots voters I would suggest there isn’t a surer way of strengthening the pro-independence cause than having this overbearing and unpopular man, who lacks any credibility in Scotland, appearing to dictate terms. It’s like revisiting the 1980s, with Cameron taking over Thatcher’s mantle as the best recruitment sergeant for the opposition parties (or, in this case, the SNP).

I do agree with Sturgeon when she argues that the UK government setting deadlines and threatening to run its own referendum on its own terms undermines a fundamental democratic principle. The Liberal Democrats, if we are a federal party, must recognise this and ensure that the Scottish government is allowed to do what it has an electoral mandate to do.

I have little concern for the Conservatives. They have little to lose in Scotland in any case: only one MP compared to our eleven. As Nicholas Watt surmised in today’s Guardian, Osborne is in a win-win situation. If he can hold off the nationalist threat and ensure that the SNP’s referendum is lost he will be a hero to the Tory right wing, ever the romantics for the union. But if his identification with the “no” campaign pushes Scotland towards independence, he may achieve an even greater victory – that of ensuring that the Tories in England retain power for a generation.

On the other hand, I am far more concerned for the future of the Liberal Democrats. Ever keen to claim our credentials as being a “federalist” party, we have done very little to actively promote a federal vision for many years. Even Devolution Max for Scotland is not in itself a federalist proposal. Federalism would put Scotland on an equal standing with England, which remains utterly undevolved. I’ve searched our manifestos in vain for any reference to a seriously cohesive and practical federalist vision for the UK and must conclude, pretty much as Nick Clegg appeared to do, that we are not federalist in substance or practice but devolutionist. We’ve had opportunities with the Steel Commission (a vastly bolder and more radical statement of intention than Calman) and in eight years in government at Holyrood, but stopped talking and certainly didn’t deliver anything to bring about the further devolution Scotland so badly needed. And now, in response to the very real possibility of independence, we have established a third commission – the quaintly named Home Rule Commission (Gladstone would have loved that title) – but as yet no policy or detailed direction on this matter for the public to excite themselves about.

Professor of politics at Strathclyde University, John Curtice – always someone whose views are worth listening to – thinks that denying voters a second question, or a middle way between the status quo and independence, is a hugely risky strategy. From a Liberal Democrat perspective, the assumptions that we should oppose independence in a Yes/No ballot and that voters favouring further powers would necessarily vote “no” could prove to be seriously misplaced. I, like many other Lib Dems (and even many SNP members) would happily welcome “Devolution Max” and this is clearly something a genuinely federal party should support. However, if the only options on the ballot form are what Nick Clegg describes as two “extremes”, I imagine many will vote for independence – it is, after all, a more liberal alternative than the status quo. And, as Curtice supposes, questions will be asked about whether “unionist” parties would in fact have the will to deliver any further devolution at all; certainly the Tories have no such intention while the Lib Dems’ five MSPs have little influence and less credibility than they once had. It may all hinge on Scottish Labour...

If there is no second question on the ballot paper, I will certainly vote for independence. In fairness, I probably would anyway but at least if a second question was asked I would have to seriously consider the finer detail of what was being proposed. There are plenty of other Liberal Democrat members who think along similar lines. As for the Liberal Democrats, how can we and our federalist credentials be taken seriously if, in government, we do not urge for an option on the ballot form that more accurately reflects our principles? True, this might represent an equally risky strategy to championing a single question referendum, but at least as a party we would be being true to ourselves and be able to campaign for something we believe, rather than negatively campaigning against independence.

What became very obvious yesterday is that the Lib Dems need to be more positive in their approach, especially within the Westminster government. It was also glaringly obvious that tactically and personally Alex Salmond is more than a match for David Cameron. Willie Rennie and the Scottish Lib Dems, as well as Johann Lamont’s Scottish Labour, must raise their efforts to promote a new devolution while (as Jo Swinson insisted) challenging the substance of independence rather than the process. Anything else will be political suicide: whatever the eventual referendum outcome, we will for many years be remembered for the role we played within it. The referendum will do far more do define us as a party than anything Willie Rennie says or does.

Would I rather the Lib Dems be remembered as a party of negative, cynically opportune anti-independence obsessives or the party that, while perhaps unconvinced about the merits of independence, saw the pursuit of a fairer and freer Scotland as a greater aim than defence of the status quo and did everything it could to realise it? I’m sure you know the answer.