Saturday, January 14, 2012

Devo Maxers for Indy?

After I posted my planned submission to the UK government's consultation on an independence referendum, a commenter pointed out that Westminster can hardly be trusted to accurately summarise the results of consultations, in the light of the Spartacus Report. I don't necessarily think that's an argument against taking part, but it's certainly an argument in favour of making sure that submissions are as watertight and as immune to misrepresentation as humanly possible. Having since sent my submission off, the one thing that does bug me slightly is my response to Question 8, asking about the question or questions to be posed in the referendum. I think in retrospect that before making the point that it should be exclusively a matter for the Scottish Parliament to decide upon, I should have first spelt out in crystal-clear fashion that it was my own personal view that there should be an additional devo max question. After the jiggery-pokery identified by Spartacus, it's not too hard to imagine the people who simply say it should be up to the Scottish Parliament being defined as part of "the 74% (or whatever) of respondents who expressed no interest in a second question", which would then grotesquely be used as a justification for Westminster legislating to ban the Scottish Parliament from adding a second question! So just a cautionary thought for anyone planning to make their own submission (which I would still urge you to do).

This particular subject is vitally important, because if by any chance we do end up with a single-question referendum as a result of Westminster interference, there's a massive opportunity for the SNP if they can win the 'battle of perceptions'. Potential devo max supporters who come to realise that it was Cameron and Osborne who denied them the chance to have a say on their preferred option may well be more likely than they otherwise would have been to plump for full independence in a two-way forced choice. Who knows, we might even see a "Devo Maxers for Indy" campaign!

* * *

I haven't yet followed the practice of other bloggers by putting a "things people have said about me" section in the sidebar, but if I ever do I'm going to give pride of place to the following 'testimonial' from the ever-delightful CyberYoonYoonist 'Moniker of Monza', and put it under the heading "Yet Another Reason Why I Support Independence" :

"You're a typical Brit, a product of the Empire. You can call yourself Scottish if you wish but you aren't."

* * *

Staying on the subject of the nutters over at PB, they of course overwhelmingly have a fawning attitude towards the US as a "beacon of freedom" (translation : hard-right conservatism). So it suddenly dawned on me that if Richard Nabavi ever has another bash at his rather desperate line of argument that the SNP want "children" to take part in the independence referendum, it'll be easy enough to direct him to the many examples of US states that allow "children" (ie. 17-year-olds) to vote in presidential primary elections. If it's a good enough way to choose the holder of the most powerful office on this planet, I'd say it's good enough for the decision on independence.

* * *

The other night on Question Time, Douglas Alexander trotted out the line that independence would "make the English foreigners", which presumably is going to be one of the 'appeals to the heart' during the referendum campaign. But for the answer to that charge we need look no further than the title of one of the great UK offices of state, the 'Foreign and Commonwealth Office'. By the UK government's own definition, therefore, Commonwealth countries (of which an independent Scotland will be one) are not "foreign" to each other, as they indicate by having High Commissions in each other's capitals, as opposed to embassies.

In any case, Ireland is not even a Commonwealth country. When Douglas visits Dublin and looks around at people, does he really only see "Johnny Foreigner" staring back at him? What a narrow (if I may say so) view of the world...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Cut the Lib Dems, and they bleed unionist red, not the federalist rainbow

On Radio 4 the other night, Professor James Mitchell summed up his view of how events are likely to unfold rather succinctly - if devo max is on the ballot paper in pretty much any form it will win, but if not it's anyone's guess at this stage as to whether independence or the status quo will prevail in a forced choice. We might quibble about his near-certainty that devo max would defeat independence in a three-way choice, but there's no denying there's more than a grain of truth in his assessment, and all the parties will surely have made a similar calculation. Which makes the battle over whether there should be a devo max question essentially one founded on games theory. The SNP seemingly believe that it's rational to seize the overwhelming likelihood of substantial new powers for Holyrood, even if it means lessening their chances of securing the ultimate prize in the near future - because it would also dramatically reduce their risk of coming away with nothing. The Tories and Labour have reached the opposite view - the thought of genuine Scottish self-government is plainly so horrific to them that they believe it's rational to risk everything in order to have a chance of maintaining their precious line in the sand.

But the Lib Dems? Unlike the Tories and Labour, Devo Max is indistinguishable from what they claim to believe in. So how on earth are we to explain their seemingly irrational decision to turn down the golden chance to use the referendum to fight for the very constitutional settlement they supposedly want, instead infinitely preferring to join a united front with the Tories and Labour to save a status quo they're supposedly opposed to? Remember - just a few days ago, Nick Clegg informed us that he is "not a unionist", and that supporters of both the status quo and independence are "extremists". And yet how quick he is to want to reduce the choice to one only between those two "extremes", and equally quick to decide which one of those extremes he passionately wants to win. Curious.

Perhaps the response from the Lib Dems might be that if independence is defeated in a straight yes/no vote, they can then go on to argue the case for substantial new powers. Don't make me laugh. A No vote would be hungrily seized upon by the London establishment as an excuse to close down all movement on the constitution for a generation, just as happened after 1979. We know it, and the Lib Dems know it as well. No, there's only one explanation for the way in which they are moving heaven and earth to sabotage their own constitutional policy - namely that the Lib Dems (or more specifically the party leadership) are, in spite of Clegg and Moore's protestations, every bit as much an instinctive, "gut" unionist party as the Tories and Labour are. Cut them, and they bleed unionist red, not the federalist rainbow.

* * *

Is Ruth Davidson channelling Martin Kettle, or is it the other way round? She made this extraordinary claim in the Scottish Parliament yesterday -

"Every opinion poll ever published shows the people of Scotland agree with me - Scotland is better off in Britain."

Every opinion poll ever published? The only question that needs to be asked here is whether she knows she's lying or just hasn't bothered to do even the most basic homework (ie. whether she's making the schoolgirl error of taking the London media mythology as read). Forget the poll from just last September showing a plurality in favour of independence - how about the legendary multi-option poll in the run-up to the 1992 election, that showed support for independence at 50%, with devolution and the (then) status quo trailing way behind in the twenties? And there have been umpteen polls showing a pro-independence plurality since then.

But if by any chance she knows all this, then clearly we're in for the 'Big Lie' school of political campaigning over the next couple of years.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Citizens for Love, and other thoughts of ardour

A few miscellaneous thoughts on the momentous events of the last few days...

I see that Johann Lamont has taken a leaf out of the 'Scotland for Marriage' strategy book by campaigning to 'save' something that her opponents are actually in favour of, ie. devolution. Of course in a very pedantic sense the logic of 'Save Devolution' can be justified, because independence would mean that the Scottish Parliament was no longer a devolved body. But 99.999% of the public would interpret Lamont's slogan as meaning that there must be some threat of the Tories abolishing the Scottish Parliament and reimposing direct rule from London, which by extension would lead people to wonder why on earth Lamont, Curran and Miliband are busy cosying up to Cameron at the moment. So I'm not sure it's such a winner, but if by any chance it gains any traction, the pro-independence side shouldn't be too proud to learn from it, and rebrand themselves as "Citizens for Love" or something of the kind.

* * *

I watched part of The Daily Politics yesterday for the first time in an eternity, and it really brought home to me how the London broadcasters are going to have to urgently rethink how they handle discussion about Scottish independence in the run-up to the referendum. OK, it sounded like they'd had Bruce Crawford on before I switched on, but nevertheless it's hard to justify the cosy four-way chat almost exclusively from a unionist perspective that unfolded between Andrew Neil, Damien Green, Douglas Alexander and Nick Robinson. At one point an email was read out from a viewer, who pointed out that the British people would be up in arms if the European Parliament told them that proposals for a UK referendum on EU membership were illegal, and that the terms of any referendum would instead have to be determined by the European Parliament. Andrew Neil instantly cut in to haughtily insist "that isn't the point, actually", because no-one in London was trying to stop a referendum. Cue nods of approval from his highly objective panel of guests - but no, Andrew. It's you that wasn't listening. The viewer was not talking about a referendum being blocked altogether, but about the terms of the vote being externally-imposed. In that sense it could hardly have been a more pertinent analogy, because there's absolutely no way the British people (far less the London tabloid press) would put up with such interference in an exercise in national self-determination. Neil would almost certainly have been set straight had there been a pro-independence voice on the panel - but there wasn't.

* * *

There was an article in the Guardian yesterday from Martin Kettle, which seeks to gloat about the 'setback' Alex Salmond has recently suffered (I must have missed that bit). As you'd expect, it's riddled with logical holes and factual inaccuracies, starting with the invention of a party called the 'Scottish Nationalist Party' (although we can probably blame the sub-editor for that one).

"And he [Salmond] backs away on popular UK issue after popular issue – the crown, the pound, the British army, the BBC and the NHS among them. Anything, in short, rather than a simple yes/no on separation."

Tell me, Martin, in exactly what sense have the SNP "backed away" on the NHS? When have they ever suggested that it would be abolished in an independent Scotland? Would it be too cynical of me to suggest that you tacked that on because you were struggling to think of a fifth example of a "UK institution" the SNP are in favour of retaining, and thought no-one would notice that you had ceased to make sense? The reason that the SNP have never had any difficulty in supporting the NHS (indeed they support its founding principles to a far greater extent than the three London parties do at the moment) is that it's not an institution that is tied in any way to the United Kingdom's existence as a nation state. The "national" in the title is really shorthand for "public" or "state-administered", not for "British". If it does refer to a nation, that nation can only really be Scotland, because since devolution the four health systems in the UK have diverged so comprehensively as to make any suggestion that we are talking about a UK-wide institution utterly risible. And while there may have been more conformity before devolution, even then the Scottish NHS was administered by the Scottish Office, not the Department of Health.

As for the crown, that's also a red herring, because a) the SNP have been broadly in favour of retaining the monarchy for as long as I can remember, and b) the crown was a Scottish institution long before it was a UK one in any case. Queen Anne was the monarch of Scotland every bit as much the day before the Act of Union took effect in 1707 as she was the day after.

"All polls show that Scotland is not pro-independence."

Really, Martin? All polls? Did I dream the TNS poll in September that showed a narrow plurality in favour of independence? The London media do seem to be terribly fond of this "polls show Scotland is not ready for independence" meme - it's as if they've decided in advance that's going to be the narrative, and their brains filter out all inconvenient contrary information.

* * *

Has anyone else noticed that when London politicians talk about their commitment to the United Kingdom, they use language of devotion, ardour and passion that most Scottish nationalists would never dream of using about Scotland? Cameron referring to "the country I love" always reminds me of Edward VIII declaring in his abdication broadcast that Wallis Simpson is "the woman I love" - although that might just be because both men pronounce the word "love" in the same way.

It's probably a sign of just how synthetic the sentiment is, and in any case someone has to compensate for the fact that no real people in London, Birmingham or Manchester would ever dream of talking about "loving the United Kingdom". Some of them might "love" Britain, but most of them would probably regard England and Britain as interchangeable terms in any case.

* * *

What with this flurry of activity relating to Scotland, my New Year's Resolution to keep away from PB lasted all of nine days (pretty good by my standards). Richard Nabavi, runner-up in the Poster of the Year poll (how?) has been prattling on in this broken record fashion : "What are they moaning about now? Isn't London giving the SNP exactly what they want? What is the problem?" When I pointed out to him a list of ways in which London are in fact proposing to block the SNP's plans, for instance by denying the right of young adults to vote, he sneeringly replied that the SNP surely would have realised that "no-one" would ever take seriously the "demand" that "children" should have a vote. Hmmm. I wonder how 'amused' he will be by the suggestion in today's Scotsman that there may indeed be room for a compromise on this topic - but only because Labour are pondering the possibility of backing the SNP's proposal for giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote!

* * *

Apologies for the problem with the font in the comments section. I think it's a fault with Blogger, because I experimented with switching to a pop-up form and that resolved the issue. I might make that a permanent change if it hasn't cleared itself up after a few days.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The first skirmish in the independence battle : winning the consultation numbers game

It goes without saying that Michael Moore's consultation exercise is a farce - to the extent that the outcome is not already pre-determined, it will not be greatly informed by the submissions. However, given the PR difficulty of holding a consultation and then completely ignoring the findings, it may make some small difference at the margins. So in my view it's vitally important that as many individuals as possible take part in the consultation (click HERE to do so), and in particular that they emphasise repeatedly in their answers to the questions that the UK government should have no role other than to sit back and respect the Scottish Parliament's right to decide on the nature and timing of an independence referendum.

Here is the first draft of my own submission. I'd be interested in hearing any suggestions for improvements before I send it off!

1. What are your views on using the order making power provided in the Scotland Act 1998
to allow the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a legal referendum in an Act of the
Scottish Parliament?

First of all, the premise of this question is incorrect, because it assumes that the UK government's legal advice represents the final word on the matter, whereas of course it is just one opinion among many, no more or less valid/interesting than any of the others, and certainly no more objective in its source. The Scottish Government have clearly received advice that they already have the power to legislate for an advisory referendum, and the election pledge to hold a referendum that attained such an overwhelming mandate last May was founded on that advice, not on any intention to seek 'clarification' or 'assistance' from the UK government or its law officers. Nevertheless, if the UK government is sincere in both its own view that there is a legal problem and its claim that it has no wish to interfere in the referendum process, then clearly the most sensible way forward would be to use the order making power (or some other means) to unambiguously grant the Scottish Parliament powers over a referendum without any conditions whatsoever, whether regarding the date of a poll, the question(s) to be asked, the regulatory body to be put in charge, or the minimum age for electors. Only this unconditional approach would complement rather than interfere with the Scottish Government's plans, and would be respectful of its mandate to implement those plans.

2. What are your views on the UK Parliament legislating to deliver a referendum on

It should not. It would be wholly wrong in the current circumstances for Westminster to seek to directly deliver an independence referendum. In the pre-devolution period it would of course have been appropriate for it to legislate for such a referendum (because no other institution could), and many of us argued that it should. It refused to do so. Now that there is a Scottish Parliament in place perfectly able to deal with these matters for itself, and especially given that the current parliament clearly intends to do so within three years, it would be absurd and offensive for Westminster to suddenly decide in quasi-colonial fashion that it can do the job better.

3. What are your views on whether the Scotland Bill should be used either to:
i) give the Scottish Parliament the power to legislate for a referendum; or
ii) directly deliver a referendum?

As explained above, it would be wrong for Westminster to seek to directly deliver an independence referendum, so it makes no difference whether the proposal is that this should be done by means of the Scotland Bill.

On sub-question i) my views are as explained earlier : the premise is incorrect, but there is nevertheless no harm in the UK government seeking to unambiguously transfer legislative powers over the holding of a referendum to the Scottish Parliament (by means of the Scotland Bill or other means), as long as it does so without setting any conditions.

4. What are your views on the oversight arrangements for a referendum on Scottish

My personal view is that the body in charge should be a distinctively Scottish one, mandated to act by the Scottish Parliament. There are clear dangers that a predominantly non-Scottish body such as the Electoral Commission will unwittingly bring subtle pro-union biases to the table, and would not be able to administer the poll in an even-handed manner. However, from the point of view of this consultation, the only thing the UK Government should be concerning itself with is that the Scottish Parliament is the appropriate institution to legislate on oversight arrangements. Once it accepts that principle (as it surely must do if it means what it says about not interfering) then it would of course be open to the individual parties represented in the UK Government to argue on the floor of the Scottish Parliament for whichever oversight arrangements they think are most suitable, and to seek to prevail in a democratic parliamentary vote.

5. Do you think the Electoral Commission should have a role in overseeing a referendum on
Scottish independence?

My personal view is no, for the reasons explained above. However, this should exclusively be a matter for the Scottish Parliament to decide upon, and the UK Government should not be concerning itself with it one way or the other. It seems likely that if allowed to proceed without interference from Westminster, the Scottish Parliament would indeed consider the potential role of the Electoral Commission with the seriousness it deserves, and then decide the matter by democratic parliamentary vote.

6. What are your views on which people should be entitled to vote in a Scottish
independence referendum?

My personal view is that the local government/Holyrood franchise should be used, but extended to give young adults of 16 and 17 years of age the right to vote. However, I am deeply concerned that by posing this question in its consultation, the UK government is suggesting that it has a role to play in this matter. The Scottish Parliament is plainly the institution that should decide upon the franchise of any referendum it holds, and the UK government should not interfere in that process. It is of course open to the individual parties represented within the UK Government to make the case on the floor of the Scottish Parliament for a franchise that excludes young adults, and to then seek to prevail in a democratic parliamentary vote.

7. What are your views on the timing of a referendum?

My view is that the Scottish Government are wise to seek to hold the referendum in 2014, because this will allow the Scottish people a suitable period of time to properly consider the momentous decision before them. However, once again, I am troubled that by asking this question in its consultation, the UK government is implying that it has a role to play in determining the date. It should have no such role. If it is as respectful of the Scottish Government's mandate as it claims, it should simply accept that the date is exclusively a matter for the Scottish Parliament to decide upon.

8. What are your views on the question or questions to be asked in a referendum?

It should be open to the Scottish Parliament to ask whichever questions it wishes. This is the Scottish people's referendum, not anyone else's. For the UK government to seek to find a way (as it appears minded to do) of legally blocking a second question on 'devolution max' when there is ample opinion poll evidence that this is an option that attracts widespread public support, would not merely be disrespectful of the Scottish Parliament's mandate to act, but even more importantly would also be a deeply cynical assault on the democratic aspirations of the Scottish people.

9. What are your views on the draft section 30 Order?

As stated previously, my view is that it would only be appropriate for the UK government to use the order making mechanism if there were no conditions placed on the powers being 'granted' to the Scottish Parliament. Therefore, the following words that clearly impose such conditions should be deleted -

"(2) The date of the poll at the referendum must not be the date of the poll at any other referendum held under
provision made by the Parliament.
(3) The date of the poll at the referendum must be no later than ***"

"There must be only one ballot paper at the referendum, and the ballot paper must give the voter a choice
between only two responses."

"(5) The persons entitled to vote in the referendum must be the persons who would be entitled to vote in an
election for membership of the Parliament—
(a) if one were held on the date of the poll at the referendum, or
(b) if one were held on that date but alterations made in a register of electors after a particular date were

"(6) The referendum and arrangements in connection with it must be in accordance with Part 7 of the Political
Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (referendums) as if the referendum were within section 101(2) of
that Act, subject to any modifications specified in subordinate legislation."

UPDATE : Thanks to Tris for his helpful suggestions, which can be read below. Another point that it's since occurred to me would be well worth making relates to the UK government's stated objectives of a "fair, legal and decisive" referendum. The 'legal' point may be one thing, but the fact that the government are implicitly suggesting that fairness and decisiveness can only be ensured by means of Westminster 'supervision' calls into question their own stated faith in devolution. The challenge should be made to them to demonstrate their authentic commitment to devolution by pursuing their supposed objectives through the unconditional transfer of the relevant powers, and by simply trusting the Scottish Parliament to make the right decisions - as they are content to do on the administration of local government elections, criminal justice, health, education, and countless other matters of vital importance to people's lives. Do the UK government see the Scottish Parliament as a grown-up legislature capable of making grown-up decisions, or don't they?

I've therefore added these words to my submission -

"In conclusion, I'd like to touch on the UK government's stated objectives in launching this intervention, namely to secure a 'fair, legal and decisive' referendum. It is surely self-evident that these objectives are qualitatively different from each other. The pretext for this consultation is the UK government's legal advice that the Scottish Parliament is currently unable to hold a legal referendum. But to the best of my knowledge the UK government are not in possession of equivalent advice stating that the Scottish Parliament is intrinsically incapable of administering a fair and decisive referendum.

The UK government has repeatedly professed its faith in devolution, implying that this constitutional arrangement is superior both to independence and direct rule from London. But the very essence of devolution is surely that the 'national' parliament is content that worthy objectives such as 'fairness' are not imperilled by simply trusting the 'sub-national' legislature to make responsible decisions without supervision or guidance from 'above'. Given that the UK government correctly accepts that legislating for a referendum is appropriately the province of the Scottish Parliament and not Westminster, the aforementioned principle must logically apply in this instance. I would therefore urge the UK government to act in comformity with its stated commitment to the principle of devolution, by not seeking to stand in the way of the Scottish Parliament's efforts to achieve 'fairness' and 'decisiveness' by its own chosen means."

Monday, January 9, 2012

David Cameron wants it, the readers of the Daily Mail demand it - it's time for Scotland to GROW UP

I've been slightly curious as to why the media seem to assume we should treat the UK government's legal advice on an independence referendum as intrinsically superior to the Scottish government's advice (perhaps they've mistaken Dominic Grieve for a Supreme Court judge), but the plot thickens - if the Independent is to be believed, it appears that the two sets of advice are in fact virtually identical...

"The Prime Minister will publish legal advice that concludes the SNP administration in Edinburgh can hold a binding referendum only with the British Government's permission. He will say he is prepared to give his backing to a vote only as long as it is held by the summer of 2013.

Mr Salmond wants to hold the referendum in the autumn of 2014 to capitalise on the patriotic buzz caused by the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup, both of which will be held in Scotland that summer.

A spokesman for Mr Salmond insisted he was not prepared to enter into deals. Mr Cameron says he will back a vote only if it is held next year. He is set to publish legal advice stating that Scotland can carry out a binding referendum only with the backing of the UK Government."

Is that it? All these dark mutterings about new legal advice, and all it amounts to is that the Scottish Parliament can only hold a consultative referendum, rather than a binding one? Er, I think we've known that since at least 1998, but thanks all the same.

This detail is also rather amusing -

"Ministers in Mr Cameron's Coalition hope that an earlier vote would enable campaigning for a referendum to take place in the afterglow of the Queen's diamond jubilee celebrations and the London 2012 Olympic Games."

Ah, you mean like holding the Royal Wedding a few days before the Scottish Parliament election last year successfully headed off an SNP landslide? Yes, these wizard schemes never fail. At least Prince William and Kate Middleton were reasonably popular in Scotland - after the BOA's antics over the last few years, and the way that the Olympics have robbed Scotland of vital investment, I'm not so sure the same can be said of "Team GB". But by all means let's see what the Olympic 'afterglow' looks like in practice.

* * *

There's no entertainment known to man quite like perusing the readers' comments on a Mail article relating to Scottish independence. Here are my favourites from yesterday -

"...some facts for our Scottish friends: You vote for Labour in droves, Labour ruined the country, now that the country is ruined you want to leave it because you are disatisfied, you continue to vote for Labour. You are sure to soar as an independent nation as you demonstrate great logical thinking skills. I will give you an analogy to highlight my point. What you are doing is the equivalent of letting an oil company drill on your land, then becoming disatisfied with the natural disaster on your land, then arguing in favour of allowing oil companies to drill on people's property at the same time as saying you need to move due to the natural disaster....then when arriving at your new property asserting that you will allow an oil company to drill because you think it is a good thing you are in favour of."

I've seen some cracking analogies in my time, but it has to be said - that one is an absolute belter. The only thing that could make it even better would be an explanatory diagram.

"As someone born in England but studying in Scotland, I support the prime minister's decision. Salmon wants to bide his time so that he can play petty politics to drum up support for Scottish independence. Salmon thinks he is above 300 years of history. Above the world's greatest union. He is not."

I'm confused - when did Alex Salmond ever claim to be 'above' the Swiss Confederation? Bloody arrogant of him if he did.

"This reminds me of the kid that ran away from home and never made it to the end of the road. Why cant we give them a taste of what it will be like without us and stop all funding as of now. They wont last long and they'll soon change their minds....Let them experience the real world without England to cover for them, they will soon come crawling back with their tail between their legs, begging us to take them back."

Oh, absolutely. After all, the people of Ireland famously refer to independence from London as 'the Historic Error', so why should it be any different for Scotland? Let's get this nonsense out of our system ONCE AND FOR ALL.

"You will have no MP's in our English parliment. No reprisentation at all. Nil. Nada. Zip. Still want you own show??"

Yeah, Scotland, you're really not thinking this one through, are you? If you were independent, you wouldn't have the Union Jack anymore. None of it. Not even a dash of red. Still want to go? No, I don't think you understand - YOU'D HAVE TO HAVE YOUR OWN FLAG. You see, you wouldn't be part of the UK anymore, so you wouldn't be allowed to have ours. Not quite so sure now, are you, sonny? Yeah, you see, all this talk of independence is all very well, but when you actually start thinking through the ramifications...what? You still want to go? Dear me, you don't seem to be understanding my words. Let's try this. If you were independent, you wouldn't have the Tory cabinet anymore. None of them. Not even Eric Pickles. Are you MAD?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Questions to which the answer is helpfully contained within the question

From Scotland on Sunday -

"Tory peer and former lord advocate Lord Fraser of Carmyllie said: “For many, there is a view that if you were born in Scotland but were working in Brighton, then why the hell shouldn’t you have a vote in a [Scottish independence] referendum?”"

Answer : Because you live in Brighton.

In a similar vein, it might be asked : If you were born in Hemel Hempstead but are living in Brighton, then why the hell shouldn't you have a vote on who should be the MP for Hemel Hempstead?

Answer : Because you live in...well, you get the idea.

In any case, the unionists in the House of Lords are leading themselves up a cul-de-sac with this wheeze. At some point, the penny will drop that if eligibility to vote in the independence referendum is determined by place of birth rather than residence, then hundreds of thousands of Scottish residents who would otherwise be disproportionately likely to vote No will be stripped of their right to vote.

What's rather more interesting is the suggestion in the Mail that Cameron may be pressing ahead with the idea of legislating to force Alex Salmond to hold the referendum earlier than planned. If true, it'll certainly make queries about 'broken election pledges' rather easier to deal with in future...

"Why didn't you stick to your promises?"

"Because you made them illegal, David."