We're not there yet, because for now the only game in town is using next year's general election to hold Westminster's feet to the fire over The Vow. But at some point before the 2016 Holyrood election, the SNP are going to be faced with a crucial junction in the road. The moderate (for want of a better word) wing of the party will be pressing for the constitution to be put on the backburner in the 2016 manifesto, in order to demonstrate to people that we've accepted the referendum result, and that we're not just the party of independence but also the party of bread-and-butter issues and good governance. I believe that was broadly the message of the guest post Marco Biagi MSP wrote on Lallands Peat Worrier's blog just after referendum day. In the other corner will be people who think now is Scotland's golden opportunity to make a huge constitutional leap, and that to put off doing anything at all about it for seven years or whatever would be utterly crazy.
Nor can this choice really be averted by leaving a degree of creative ambiguity in the manifesto over whether an SNP government would seek to hold a referendum within the coming five-year term or not. There are two reasons for that. Firstly, for as long as there is legal ambiguity over Holyrood's ability to hold a referendum without Westminster's acquiescence, it'll be particularly important to secure an explicit and unambiguous popular mandate for any referendum that is proposed, as happened in 2011. And secondly, if there was one big lesson from this year's Quebec provincial election, it's that a lack of clarity over plans for a constitutional referendum can prove fatal.
Luckily, I think there may be ways of squaring the circle. Most obviously, the manifesto could make a conditional commitment that the SNP would seek an early second independence referendum if the UK voted to leave the European Union. Moderates might seek the insertion of an equally clear commitment that there would be no independence referendum over the five year term in any other circumstances. That would be a crystal-clear position that I think voters would see as reasonable.
But that can't be the end of the story, because the balance of probability remains that the UK will not leave the EU. And that brings me back to a possibility that we've discussed before, and that Kevin raised again on the previous thread - why not commit to a referendum on full Devo Max instead? That should be something that the moderates can accept, because there would be no question of it being a "re-run" of September the 18th. It would build on the popular will that has already been expressed, rather than seeking to overturn it. Fundamentalists in the party shouldn't have any great problem going along with it either, because it's not hard to see how it might bring independence closer - if there's a clear mandate for Devo Max established and the UK government ignores it, the next step is fairly obvious.
There are also legal advantages in making the next referendum about Devo Max rather than independence. Lallands Peat Worrier recently claimed that the Edinburgh Agreement had weakened the argument that Holyrood already has the power to hold a consultative independence referendum. I suggested to him that a Presiding Officer from a pro-independence background might use a generous interpretation of the law to certify a referendum bill as being within the parliament's powers, and then let the courts decide - an act which would in itself demonstrate that an exercise in Scottish democratic self-determination was being thwarted by London diktat. LPW dismissed the idea out of hand, and insisted that the Presiding Officer didn't have the discretion to act in that way. I'm not entirely convinced by that line of argument, because one thing you can be sure of is that any proposed referendum question will have been written by an ingenious lawyer trying to make it as indirect as possible in order to have at least a theoretical chance of being deemed to be in conformity with the law.
But luckily, all of this would be an academic point if the referendum was about Devo Max, because the Edinburgh Agreement had no effect whatever on the legality of consultative referenda that are not about independence (the word "independence" was specifically used in the Section 30 order). LPW has confirmed that a Devo Max referendum would be a runner in legal terms, subject to the correct wording.
What format could it take? The most obvious option would be a straight Yes/No question on the blueprint for maximum devolution that the Scottish Government submitted to the Smith Commission. But there would also be the opportunity to do something more imaginative. Why not do exactly what some of the polls do - give voters a shopping list of individual powers, and ask them to say in each case whether they think the Scottish or Westminster governments should be in control of them? (We could even be cheeky and add foreign affairs and defence to the list - that might be seen as an attempt to secure independence via the backdoor, but if nothing else it would force voters to think carefully about what their specific objection to independence really is.)
The recent Catalan consultation offers another potential way forward. It asked two questions - should Catalonia be a state, and should it be an independent state? In our case we've already had the answer to the second question, but we've yet to ask the first. You might wonder what a non-independent state actually looks like - well, it could be a sovereign state-within-a-state like a US state or a Canadian province, but a more interesting possibility lies closer to home, in the shape of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. Those territories are states, they are not independent of the United Kingdom, but they are not part of the United Kingdom either. It's been lazily stated by a number of people (and I'm one of them) that by rejecting independence we've chosen to remain part of the UK for the time being, but that isn't strictly speaking true.
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Bobmidd left this comment on the previous thread -
"there's an opinion poll coming out tomorrow giving the SNP 50% in Scotland."
Obviously I can't vouch for whether this is true or not, but I just thought you might like to know. "50% in Scotland" might imply a subsample, in which case it wouldn't be quite so significant.
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The second Scot Goes Pop fundraiser closes on Wednesday morning at 8am (UK time).