To mark Bonfire Night last month, the people of Lewes in East Sussex decided to (and I quote) "blow the s*** out of" a giant effigy of Alex Salmond, who was depicted in a humiliating state of undress. Despite a categorical assurance from the local police earlier in the day that the effigy would not be burned, the event went ahead exactly as planned. Mr Salmond's immediate predecessor as First Minister, Labour's Jack McConnell, seemed to speak on behalf of unionist opinion when he dismissed the concerns of those in Scotland who found the incident deeply offensive, and suggested that the nation needed to recover its sense of humour.
I'm therefore slightly baffled by the reactions we've heard over the last few hours to the decision of three SNP councillors to burn a piece of paper bearing the words "The Smith Commission". According to Scottish Labour's former deputy leader Anas Sarwar, it was "disgusting and disrespectful behaviour", while Labour's shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said that "this type of behaviour harms our nation" and demanded to know what Nicola Sturgeon planned to do about it. Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie branded the three councillors as "extremists", and the BBC reported that their actions had been described as "offensive".
Hmmm. We do seem to have stumbled across a particularly complex and nuanced area of unionist morality. To sum up, it appears to work like this...
Burning a giant effigy of a living person, who is depicted in a humiliating state of undress = A jolly jape! Lighten up, fella!
Burning a piece of paper = DISGUSTING. DISRESPECTFUL. EXTREMIST. OFFENSIVE.
Every day is an education in post-referendum North Britain.
* * *
Crazed unionist politicians may be well on their way to elevating Lord Smith's report to the status of a religious artefact that is worthy of more reverence than the Turin Shroud, but the man himself has continued to exude bonhomie as he sells his rather unimpressive product to the nation. He's conceded that the plan to write into UK law that the Scottish Parliament is "permanent" fails to provide any constitutional guarantee. We already knew that, but he may live to regret laying down the following challenge -
"But if you knew a way of making it permanent tell me, because that is the will of the Scottish people."
Simple answer, Lord Smith : replace the UK's unwritten constitution with a written one which restricts Westminster's sovereignty to reserved matters only.
However, assuming that isn't going to happen, I'd like to see wording in the legislation which is as close as possible to the 1980s laws which finally relinquished Westminster's right to legislate for Australia and Canada (yes, believe it or not that didn't happen until the 80s).
These, therefore, are the benchmarks we should be looking out for...
Canada Act 1982 :
"Termination of power to legislate for Canada
No Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the Constitution Act, 1982 comes into force shall extend to Canada as part of its law."
Australia Act 1986 :
"Termination of power of Parliament of United Kingdom to legislate for Australia.
No Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this Act shall extend, or be deemed to extend, to the Commonwealth, to a State or to a Territory as part of the law of the Commonwealth, of the State or of the Territory."
Obviously in our case there would have to be conditional wording to make clear that we're not talking about reserved powers, or about instances where Westminster is legislating with Scotland's consent after a Sewel Motion. But the use of the word "termination" and a close variant of the phrase "no Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall extend" would be very helpful.
I raised the Australian example with Lallands Peat Worrier last year, and he pointed out that in theory, the principle of parliamentary sovereignty means that Westminster could abolish Australian independence and start legislating for Australia again at will, in spite of the above wording. But the reality is that only the UK courts would even pay lip service to the constitutionality of that action - the Australian courts would cheerfully ignore it, and regard the 1986 Act as irreversible. Having our own version of the Australia Act or the Canada Act would therefore be a very strong declaration that there is no going back.
* * *
I do worry sometimes that our unionist opponents seem to be struggling with their grip on reality. I spotted this comment on a Reddit thread yesterday, which refers to my good self -
"He's really lost it since it turned out his endless 'all the polls point to a decisive Yes victory' type posts proved to be so decisively wrong."
Can anyone recall even one occasion when I made a comment on this blog roughly approximating to "all the polls point to a decisive Yes victory", let alone an endless stream of such comments?
Nope, me neither.
* * *
Many thanks to Sandy Brownlee, who has been regularly updating a graph depicting the trend in the Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls. I keep forgetting to post it, but at long last, here it is!
Caution needs to be exercised, though - with almost every twist and turn in that graph, I can think of a methodological factor which offers a more plausible explanation than any real change in public opinion. For example, the dramatic narrowing in the SNP's lead in early October was caused by the sample being temporarily dominated by a Panelbase poll with very dubious methodology (it was weighted by 2010 vote recall, which is known to be unreliable). Then an Ipsos-Mori poll (with no weighting by recalled vote at all) came along and swung things to the opposite extreme.