A few years ago, I stumbled across what was almost certainly the most moronic advice column in the history of the known universe. It was American, naturally. A woman had written in to ask what to do about her husband, who was stubbornly refusing to have a vasectomy. The response from the resident agony aunt was along the following lines : "He's thinking about leaving you, sweetie. He wants to have more children with another woman. There's no other possible explanation for him refusing to do what you want."
And I thought, WHAT? It only takes a matter of micro-seconds to come up with two equally plausible reasons for him refusing to do it -
1) A vasectomy is bloody painful, and has significant potential side-effects.
2) You don't have to be planning to leave your wife to recognise that circumstances can change in unpredictable ways, and that nobody can know for certain what their situation will be a few years down the line. It's not irrational to think that taking a potentially irreversible step is something you could conceivably live to regret.
Now, this may be a slightly tortured analogy, but it seems to me that the UK government promised us in September they would have a vasectomy (by making the Scottish Parliament permanent) and have since had cold feet about the idea. So which of the above two reasons apply? It can't be the pain and the side-effects, because accepting the SNP amendment last night wouldn't have caused any such complications. That only leaves reason 2 - the nagging feeling that, even though it doesn't seem likely now, they might eventually regret taking an irreversible step.
So when they say "we will never abolish the Scottish Parliament, but we can't possibly relinquish our legal power to abolish it", what they really mean is "we're just a bit worried that we might change our mind about not wanting to abolish it".
Which kind of misses the point of what the word "permanent" means. Trying to square a permanent Scottish Parliament with the concept of absolute Westminster sovereignty, as David Mundell did last night, is as ludicrous as having a half-vasectomy done as a compromise.
A permanent Scottish Parliament, and indeed a statutory basis for the Sewel Convention, IS the end of absolute Westminster sovereignty. If you weren't prepared to deliver that, why did you ever "vow" it?
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I've seen a lot of despair today about the apparent inability of 56 SNP MPs to have any impact at all on the outcome of parliamentary votes, but in fact the situation isn't quite as grim as many people believe. Look at it this way - the most important power held by the European Parliament is to dismiss the entire Commission, and if you believe the official record, that power has never been used. But of course in reality, it was used to devastating effect in 1999, when the Santer Commission resigned to avoid the humiliation of being sacked. The point being that if an administration backtracks to avoid a defeat it knows is coming, that's effectively the same thing as a defeat. Precisely such a scenario has occurred over the last 24 hours, with the government giving ground after the DUP signed an SNP amendment to the EU referendum bill (to ensure that the referendum date doesn't coincide with devolved elections).