As any of you who occasionally read the Guardian's editorials will know, that paper loathes the idea of Scottish nationhood with as much of a passion as the right-wing London press. But because they have to keep up the facade of opposing independence from a 'progressive' and 'reasonable' standpoint, they do however use logic that is even more tortuous and sanctimonious than you'd find at the Times or the Telegraph. It looks suspiciously to me that for their latest weighty "contribution to the debate", they had a truly epic brainstorming session in which they tried to identify just one Good Guy in this whole sorry process, a Man With No Agenda, a Fearless And Objective Seeker After Truth And Probity in the conduct of the referendum. In short, an untainted unionist champion they could get behind without embarrassment, and without any danger of a titter from the assembled crowd.
And the man they came up with, ladies and gentlemen, is...Willie Rennie.
Moving swiftly on, they also seem to be taking their cue from the Lib Dems by having a synthetic bee in their bonnet about the supposedly insurmountable problem of 'working out who has won' if there is a dual Yes vote in a two-question referendum. Sigh. Let's try this for size - in 1997, there was a referendum with two separate questions. Just like the proposal being floated at the moment, the result of the second question would have been irrelevant had the first question gone one particular way - it wouldn't have mattered that 99.73% of the population wanted "the Scottish Parliament to have tax-varying powers" if 52.34% of the population had just voted that there shouldn't be a Scottish Parliament in the first place. It may seem amazing to senior Lib Dems and to the writers of Guardian editorials, but the electorate really didn't seem to struggle with that concept. That's probably because people make conditional/contingent decisions all the time in their daily lives - for instance, we'll go to Glencoe for our day out tomorrow, but we obviously won't be going anywhere if it's pouring with rain. What is so difficult about this? The public will know that in voting on Devo Max, they're voting on what should happen if Scotland stays in the United Kingdom. If they've just voted that Scotland should leave the United Kingdom, then plainly the question falls.
It's also worth making the point that, while the Lib Dems did raise some objections to the two-question referendum in 1997, they specifically did not do so on the basis of the confusion that might be caused by a "contradictory result". This is a bogus objection - they know it, we know it. However, as the "calling of bluffs" seems to be in vogue at the moment, we could always take them at their word - because, after all, this is a remarkably simple 'problem' to solve...
Option 1 : Put in bold capital letters on the ballot paper that "QUESTION 2 WILL BE VOID IF A MAJORITY VOTE YES TO QUESTION 1".
Option 2 : Separate the ballot into two distinct rounds, à la French run-off votes. If there is a No to independence in the first round, a Devo Max referendum automatically follows a week or a fortnight later. If there is a Yes to independence, the second round isn't required and therefore isn't held. No confusion, no "contradictory mandates". (The beauty of this of course is that the legislation for a Devo Max referendum would already be set in stone before the first round, meaning that London wouldn't be able to use a No to independence as an excuse to kick the constitutional issue into the long grass.)
So then what would be the next Lib Dem excuse? It seems we're already hearing the outlines of it - that Devo Max would have an effect on the whole UK, and therefore the whole UK must have a say. Oh-kaaaay - I trust you're going to have a convincing explanation for why that WASN'T the case for devolution in 1997? It seems that whenever the Lib Dems aren't busy shooting themselves in the foot, past history is doing it for them.
As I suggested in a previous post, if the SNP keep pressing the case for a Devo Max question, this is close to being a win/win position for them - either they'll get it, or the narrative will have been firmly established in the public mind that "Devo Max has been blocked by London". In the latter circumstance, the logic in favour of Devo Max supporters plumping for independence as the next-best option becomes irresistible.
PS. A small additional hint for the Guardian - Joan McAlpine categorically did NOT say that all "objections and doubts" about the SNP's plans were "anti-Scottish". Her characterisation applied only to those who abuse their positions of power at Westminster to thwart the sovereign authority of the Scottish people. If there are objections and doubts from opposition parties, let them be raised, debated and voted upon in the appropriate place - the Scottish Parliament.
PPS. A light has gone out in the political world - Tom Harris is seemingly no longer the Shadow Minister for Conducting a Review Into the Uses of Modern Technology. I fear for this review now, I really do - unless of course Richard Baker steps into the breach. As for Tom himself, I might almost feel sorry for him if this was an isolated incident - as he points out, the Downfall meme is so well-established that it shouldn't necessarily be assumed that the person in the video's sights is being called a Nazi. (What I took from the video was more Tom's extraordinary continued level of bitterness at the idea of lottery winners doing what they like with their own money.) However, Tom's pushed his luck many times in the past, not least with his bare-faced lie that a "Nationalist banner" had called for the end of "English rule". So in a sense the law of averages has finally caught up with him, and over the piece it's hard to pretend that he hasn't got what he deserved.
And I must admit there is something deliciously ironic about a Downfall spoof proving to be Tom's...downfall. Doubtless the next (and most apt ever) spoof in the long series is being prepared even as we speak - and I just hope that whoever has taken on the responsibility does Admin justice.