“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”
So I've been reading with great interest Paul Kavanagh reporting to Wee Ginger Dug readers, under the title "Referendum 2023", that the Scottish Government's "plan" to hold a referendum in the latter part of next year "remains on track". That could be seen as rather carefully chosen language, because of course any plan to hold a referendum next year would technically "remain on track" until the Tory government and/or the Supreme Court are given the chance to formally say no - and part of the whole problem is that we haven't even got to that stage yet.
But in fairness Paul goes on to use what appears to be much less tricksy language. He notes that some people (hi!) will never be satisfied because they have "convinced themselves" that the Scottish Government are only pretending to want a referendum. (Translation: we've learned from repeated past experience that the Scottish Government are only pretending to want a referendum.) He adds that "the rest of us" have received "welcome confirmation" that a referendum "will indeed go ahead in the latter half of 2023".
Well now, blimey, that's quite a statement. Since when have the Scottish Government - or their most loyal supporters - conceded that they have the ability to simply decide that a referendum will indeed go ahead on a certain date? They are the ones who insist that we must have a "gold standard" process requiring consent from Westminster that we know is not going to be forthcoming within such a tight timescale. They are the ones who idiotically use language like "legal referendum", implying that any referendum not sanctioned by the Tory government or by the Supreme Court would be "illegal". (In reality, we do not live in Spain, and in the United Kingdom there is no such thing as an "illegal vote" - merely a vote that has no legal effect.)
So unless there's been a complete U-turn while we were all napping, Paul's statement that a referendum "will indeed go ahead" appears to be literally devoid of all meaning. I can only assume the get-out clause will be "no-one could possibly have foreseen that Boris Johnson would say no, but don't worry, he's sure to realise his stance is totally unsustainable by 2025!"
Long-term readers may remember that I was bemused in mid-2017 by Peter A Bell's repeated use on Twitter of the hashtag #Referendum2018. I pointed out to him that no-one in the SNP leadership had actually committed to a referendum in 2018, and judging from the mood music it was extremely unlikely to happen that early. But he explained that it was a kind of "fake it until it's real" exercise - he thought that if enough people used the hashtag often enough, the Scottish Government would be forced to accept that a referendum in September 2018 was strategically inevitable. Well, I think we can safely deduce from the failure of Peter's wheeze (and the failure of his similar #DissolveTheUnion wheeze) that hashtags alone cannot change the course of history.
But now that, for the first time, the SNP leadership have committed themselves to a rough date, the calculation may be slightly different. It would be interesting to see if liberal use of #Referendum2023 could make it harder for them to allow the timetable to slip yet again. So here are some thoughts about what you can tweet with the #Referendum2023 hashtag:
* Your plans for a referendum night watch party with your mates. #Referendum2023
* What nibbles you plan to get in for referendum night. #Referendum2023
* Speculation on who the BBC presenters will be for the results programme. Will Sarah Smith be brought back for one night only? #Referendum2023
* Invite SNP MSPs to speak at referendum hustings in your town. #Referendum2023
* Should you take your own pen to the polling station? Thoughts, please? #Referendum2023
* Make suggestions for a new hat George Galloway could wear at the televised debates. #Referendum2023
And if, as impossible as it may seem, we arrive at New Year's Day 2024 without a referendum having actually taken place, for heaven's sake don't stop using the #Referendum2023 hashtag. It'll be an important way of forcing SNP leadership loyalists to notice and accept that they've allowed the goalposts to shift yet again. So tell us about...
* Your favourite fictional memories of encounters with dogs at polling stations on referendum day. #Referendum2023
* Your favourite fictional result on referendum night. Was it that sensational Yes majority in Clackmannanshire? #WellDoneClacks #Referendum2023
* Reminisce about that priceless fictional expression on BBC pundit Blair McDougall's face as the results came in. Memories to last a lifetime! #Referendum2023
* * *
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