The debate over Bella Caledonia's idea to turn next year's AV referendum into an unofficial vote on independence flared up again yesterday at Better Nation, with Jeff Breslin confirming that he will not be supporting the campaign, and will instead be voting Yes to AV. He put forward two arguments that hadn't previously occurred to me - firstly, that if the SNP endorsed the campaign they'd be playing with fire by turning it into "the" independence referendum, and secondly that it would harm the party in the Holyrood elections if they were seen to be sabotaging the vote. I think the latter concern is probably unfounded - doubtless such a course of action for the SNP would attract scathing criticism from opponents, but I'm not sure the electorate really care enough about AV for it to occur to them to punish a party for 'sabotaging' it. However, having reflected on the other point I think it has considerable validity. If the 'write-in independence' campaign was sufficiently high-profile and officially sanctioned by the SNP, it would be very easy for the unionist parties to say for years afterwards "you had your referendum, and it failed". And why am I so sure it would fail, if 'failure' is defined as not achieving majority backing? Simply because it's so much tougher to persuade people to vote for something that isn't on the ballot paper (especially when what actually is on the ballot paper bears absolutely no relation to the topic you want them to express a view on).
So, as Simon Cowell might say, here's the dilemma. As I've noted before, without the SNP's endorsement, the Bella campaign is doomed to make little or no impact. But with the SNP's endorsement, the campaign could easily end up harming the prospects for a genuine independence referendum in the years to come. Bearing all that in mind, I'm becoming ever more confident that I'll be doing the right thing by answering the question that's actually in front of me when I vote in the AV referendum.
A little while ago, I had another look at the original post at Bella announcing the campaign, and I spotted a rather pointed editorial comment that I hadn't noticed earlier -
"It’s disappointing that some of these bloggers aren’t supporting this but hundreds are. Some of these people can’t decide whether to sit on the fence, to paraphrase Cameron."
Now, call me paranoid, but I think that might just have been aimed at the likes of me. That being the case, I couldn't help but raise a smile at this riposte from Jeff -
"By all means try to bring some dynamism to whatever it is you’re doing but don't have a go at people who don't join in with your specific endeavours. I hope you can see that it’s mildly offensive to suggest that any of us here don’t believe in a 'Better Nation' just because we plan on voting Yes (or No) in an AV referendum rather than scrawl 'INDEPENDENCE' over the ballot slip, as you would have us do instead."
Quite. It was the suddenness and relative randomness of the Bella announcement that struck me, and to criticise anyone who didn't instantly and dutifully fall into line behind it for not being able to "decide whether to sit on the fence" seems a touch bemusing, not to say ironic. From my own perspective, devoting a great deal of time to concocting the most improbable way to spoil your ballot paper in an electoral reform referendum seems like the very definition of struggling to make up your mind how to be undecided on an issue. I can see how such an approach might just be rational for those who genuinely don't give a monkey's about the difference between FPTP and AV (and admittedly there seem to be a lot of people who fall into that category), but for the rest of us it's a somewhat different matter.
For my part, I'll be voting full-bloodedly for independence on 5th May, and I'll be doing it in the way that actually promises to be effective - by voting SNP in the Scottish Parliament elections.