In a BBC Scotland interview yesterday, Glenn Campbell asked Ruth Davidson whether she was saying "no, never" to an independence referendum. Scotland really does appear to be the only country in the 'democratic world' (sic) in which it even occurs to the state broadcaster to invite the defeated Leader of the Opposition to 'make an announcement' about what the elected leader of the government will be 'allowed' to do, or in which the said Leader of the Opposition presumes to make such an announcement. Whether she does so with the blessing of her London overlords is less clear - if so, they are guilty of undermining devolution by blurring the distinction between the role of Tory opposition leader at devolved level and Tory Secretary of State for Scotland at UK level. If not, our Ruth is a fantasist. It could be a bit of both, of course.
What we have learned, though, and it's largely of academic interest only, is that Ruth has changed the 'rules' yet again, because the position she set out in response to Campbell's question flatly contradicted every previous pronouncement she's made on the subject, which themselves flatly contradicted each other. For example, in the run-up to the 2011 election, she declared that the SNP wouldn't get a referendum "for free" and would have to "earn it", and went on to clearly state that the way they could earn it was by a combination of pro-independence parties winning an outright majority in the Scottish Parliament - exactly what happened in the end, albeit that probably came as something of a shock to her. (She was absolutely explicit that the majority could be a joint SNP-Green majority, and didn't have to be the SNP alone, although it just so happened the SNP won a solo majority.) In the period immediately after the EU referendum of 2016, when it wasn't yet clear whether Nicola Sturgeon intended to use her mandate for a second indyref, Ruth said it would be constitutionally wrong for the UK government to attempt to block a referendum if the elected SNP-Green majority in the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of one. But after the Scottish Parliament duly passed such a vote, she did a 180 degree turn and insisted that Westminster should block a referendum under all circumstances. Now she's rowed back on that extremist stance somewhat, but she hasn't reverted to her original position, because her new line is that there has to be another single-party SNP majority before the mandate can be respected - the opposite of her statement in 2011 that the required threshold was a combined SNP-Green outright majority.
In the run-up to the 2016 election, a number of us issued warnings about the misguided belief that it was possible to "vote tactically on the list". We pointed out that if the SNP lost their overall majority because their own supporters switched to another pro-independence party on the list, the Tories and the media would seize on that, and claim there isn't really a mandate for an independence referendum. But I don't think anyone who went down that road should be beating themselves up too much, because the reality is that election results don't matter a damn to Ruth. If the SNP had won an overall majority, there would have been some other excuse. The threshold would magically have become an outright SNP majority on the popular vote. If there had been such a majority, then we'd have been told that Holyrood elections aren't actually important, and that if the SNP win a majority of the popular vote at Westminster, then maybe we can talk.
Democracy is a rules-based system. Countries in which the powers-that-be change the 'rules' retrospectively after losing an election are generally held to be sham democracies. We can only ponder why a mainstream media that claims to pride itself on "fearlessly holding power to account" never seems remotely interested in pinning Ruth down on her endless and frantic shifting of the goalposts on an independence referendum, and the implications of that farcical process for the state of UK "democracy".
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The two little surprises in this morning's Tory leadership ballot were the scale of Boris Johnson's lead, and the fact that Rory Stewart scraped into Round 2. The most popular slice of wisdom about these contests is that the early frontrunner hardly ever wins (with the only recent exception being Michael Howard), but on this occasion I suspect we're all waiting for a twist in the tale that isn't going to arrive. I don't see how Boris can be stopped, unless there's a new Gove-style revelation about his past (which admittedly is always a real possibility given the nature of the man). But I do hope and pray that Tory MPs will at least preserve our sanity on Tuesday by sending Rory Stewart back to the Middleland tae think again.
Conservative Party leadership election (first ballot):
Boris Johnson 114
Jeremy Hunt 43
Michael Gove 37
Dominic Raab 27
Sajid Javid 23
Matt Hancock 20
Rory Stewart 19
Andrea Leadsom 11
Mark Harper 10
Esther McVey 9
Andrea Leadsom, Mark Harper and Esther McVey eliminated after failing to reach the 17-vote minimum threshold.
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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 14 of the fundraiser, and so far £6731 has been raised. That's 79% of the way towards the target figure of £8500. A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I'm also extremely grateful to all the people who have left a kind comment with their donation. You can visit the fundraising page HERE.