I really should know better by now, but given the special occasion, I thought I might as well pop round to PB yesterday to put up some kind of defence of the nationalist position against the inevitable onslaught. It turned into yet another four-hour epic. It's hard to choose the 'highlight', but perhaps I'd marginally give the nod to this exchange with Liberal Democrat poster MrsB, who innocently claims that she supports votes at 16, but that it's simply impossible to implement (yes, really!).
MrsB : James I have said this before and I will say it again now. The legal age for voting in the UK (which Scotland is still part of) is 18.
I support voting at 16. Currently it is not legally possible.
It might be possible to get votes at 16 through at Westminster before the referendum but I really really doubt it.
Therefore the issue of whether 16 or 17 year olds should get a vote in the referendum is a non-starter.
Without that change to the legislation actually running such a referendum which had any credibility would be impossible. There would be no electoral roll for the 16 year olds, though some 17 year olds would be on it because their 18th birthday would fall during the year. How would you ensure that all 16 year olds got the vote fairly? And don't say "use the school rolls" because I am pretty sure that would not be allowed under Data Protection legislation. It wouldn't be comprehensive anyway.
Like I say, I am in favour of the principle of voting at 16. However, when it comes to the referendum I don't see how it is possible to make it happen.
Me : MrsB, a simple question : do you support or oppose Michael Moore's proposal to ban 16 and 17 year olds from voting in the referendum? If you support it, please don't insult our intelligence by pretending that your support for votes at 16 is meaningful.
I'm reminded of Mo Mowlam's wry reply to her Tory counterpart : "I welcome his support for the Good Friday Agreement. I now look forward to that support extending to the actual contents of the Agreement."
MrsB : Under current UK law 16 and 17 year olds cannot vote in ANY elections. Why should they be entitled to vote in just the one referendum in one part of the UK? That is not correct.
Were there to be a piece of legislation lowering the voting age to 16 it would apply to all elections and referenda and would be fair. But we are not going to get that.
So yes, I do support Michael Moore's position. But it would be better if he made more of the point about the legal voting age and so that it would be more difficult for Nats to depict him as someone trying to find an excuse for stopping people voting for independence.
Me : "Why should they be entitled to vote in just the one referendum in one part of the UK?"
MrsB, as has been pointed out to you several times, the SNP are in favour of giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote for ALL elections - just as the Lib Dems are supposed to be. The difference is that they are trying to implement their own policy, whereas the Lib Dems are moving heaven and earth to block theirs - just as they are doing on enhanced powers for the Scottish Parliament.
Bizarre. Just bizarre.
"But it would be better if he made more of the point about the legal voting age and so that it would be more difficult for Nats to depict him as someone trying to find an excuse for stopping people voting for independence."
It would never be difficult for us to make that 'depiction', because that's exactly what he's doing, and even the dogs on the street know it.
MrsB : FFS James, stop distorting things.
This is very simple.
If there was a way to get the voting age changed to 16 for all elections before the referendum is held then 16 year olds could vote in it.
There isn't. So they won't be able to.
Answer this for me: if the voting age is not lowered from 18 before the referendum, do you think 16 year olds would be able to vote in the referendum?
And stop being silly about who is trying to manipulate what. The unionists are indeed pushing it - but they are amateurs beside Salmond. Both sides are at it, so stop pretending the SNP are whiter than white.
Me : Oh, come off it, Mrs B. This is the argument of mock-liberals down the centuries - of course we want Africans to govern themselves (or whatever), but it's too soon, they're not ready, there are immense practical difficulties...come to think of it, you're sounding just like Sir Humphrey.
Time to make up your mind whether you really believe in all those radical Lib Dem policies, or if it's just words.
"if the voting age is not lowered from 18 before the referendum, do you think 16 year olds would be able to vote in the referendum?"
If the Scottish Parliament legislates to lower the voting age for the referendum, then your question is a nonsense. Get out of the "Westminster is God" mindset.
MrsB : Dear James
Being this difficult even with people who basically agree with you but just take account of inconvenient reality, suggests that you are not going to be able to win many people over to the same side of the argument as you.
Can I suggest you make sure you are not involved in the independence campaign?
Love Mrs B
Me : MrsB, if you "basically agree" with me, stop supporting Michael Moore's plan to ban young adults from voting. If you do support that plan (and you've already confirmed that you do) then you do not "basically agree" with me - you in fact disagree with me.
Can I respectfully suggest that you do not take part in Lib Dem campaigning at the next GE? After all, not all voters (of any age) are looking for a passive-aggressive mother figure who tells them that by disagreeing with her they are simply being "difficult". We don't want your party's poll ratings going down any further, now, do we?
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Nobody does comedy quite like Malcolm Rifkind. Not content with claiming that the proposed referendum question (which even Ruth Davidson accepted was fair and clear) is somehow biased, he then suggested that his own preferred wording of "do you want to leave the United Kingdom after 300 years?" was not remotely "emotive". Tell you what, Malcolm, why not chuck in "cast adrift without food, warmth or shelter" to make it even less emotive?
* * *
If you're looking for a soothing time-out from the nationalist v unionist War of the Worlds, I can highly recommend a listen to Darcy DaSilva's performance at Celtic Connections on Saturday. I particularly liked her rendition of Blackbird, the middle song of the three.