Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tavish doesn't do straight talking

Of course, the one thing we know about politicians of all parties is that they're unlikely to give you a straight answer to a straight question. But it does seem ironic that, of the four main Scottish party leaders, the one with the greatest tendency towards opacity represents the party which has always presented itself as being in the vanguard of a 'new kind of politics'.

Over at the Two Doctors blog, James is wondering aloud whether the Lib Dems are preparing the ground to do a deal with the SNP over a multi-option referendum about Scotland's constitutional future. If they were, it would seem like an eminently sensible tactical switch, given that all the indications from the opinions polls are that the Lib Dems' preferred option of greater devolved powers would win out over both independence and the status quo. Such an outcome would also, in my personal view, suit the SNP down to the ground, because the referendum result would not be a straight 'defeat for independence' but rather a victory for Scottish constitutional progress.

In the early days of Tavish Scott's leadership, there also seemed to be reason to suspect this was the direction he was travelling, as he gave his cryptic comment about "not being instinctively against" allowing the people of Scotland to decide their constitutional future. But this is where the problem with James' theory kicks in - because Scott then explicitly ruled out the possibility of supporting a multi-option referendum, while all the time refusing to clarify what his "not instinctively against" comment meant. So how do you give the Scottish people a say on independence, while having your own preferred option on the ballot paper, while not having a multi-option referendum? There is of course no reasonable answer to this, rather like there was no answer to the question "what are the Lib Dems getting in return for your support of the budget?", and Tavish's response was the same on both occasions - an attempt at a disarming smile followed by infuriating obfuscation.

My own best guess is that Tavish is hankering after a single-option referendum on his own preferred policy. He will explain that he is still not 'instinctively against' letting the people decide on independence, but it's not possible for practical reasons, or it's not the right question, or it's not the right time, blah, blah, blah. After all, this would be completely consistent with the Lib Dems' approach to a European referendum, when after being faced with calls for a vote on the constitutional treaty they instead proposed one on continued membership of the EU - on the grounds that this is the "real question people want a say on". The only problem being that opinion polls seem to show that the British people want to stay in the EU but without the constitutional treaty - so it seems rather more likely that the question people would like to answer was being substituted for the one the Lib Dems would much prefer them to answer.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if Tavish is preparing the ground to follow a similar strategy - ignore his words, just read his obfuscation.

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