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In Defence of Democracy

It’s difficult to know where to begin with David Cameron’s intervention in Scottish democracy. After months of prevarication and brow-beating, we’re now being lectured on democratic matters by failed-Tory grandee, the rejected Lord Michael Forsyth, and by David Cameron, who’s own elected MPS north of Carlisle are outnumbered by Pandas. Curious.

Patrick Wintour writing in the Guardian seems to be re-producing Tory press releases: “Salmond has been talking about holding a referendum  to coincide with the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn (1314)”, a claim which I dont believe to have any basis whatsover but neatly allows Danny Alexander and Michael Forsyth (Dumb and Dumberer?) to raise the straw man of Bannockburn. I note that the online version of his article is different from the paper version. It states instead: “Tories claim Salmond has been talking about holding a referendum to coincide with the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn in 2014.”

We’re now entering a feeding frenzy of disinformation, misinformation and propaganda.

The Guardian, clearly faliling about also writes: ” The Scots Tory peer Lord Forsyth, who is leading the campaign to preserve the union, said: “The idea that we should decide the fate of the UK on the basis of the date of a medieval battle when we are in the middle of a financial crisis and youth unemployment of one in four would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.”

Is Lord Forsyth leading the campaign? God, let’s hope so.

So what is the basis of Cameron’s intervenion. While today he is claiming he is not interfering, here are the four key areas he is attempting to dicate:

The Date
The eligibility for voter registration, both in terms of Scots who live outside Scotland and the age (the Scottish Govt has suggested that the poll be open to anyone over 16).
That the Electoral Commission oversees the election.
The poll’s legality.

That’s not really interfering is it?

“There is no point in mucking about any longer. As things stand, Alex Salmond cannot be allowed to manipulate this referendum the way he wants. Full stop,” said one senior minister last night.

Cameron said on the Andrew Marr programme yesterday: “Let’s not drift apart. I think he [Alex Salmond] knows the Scottish people at heart do not want a full separation and so he is trying to create a situation where that bubbles up and happens.”

It’s the old ‘independence by the back door trick again’ isn’t it. Oops I’ve just established a new state. So what should and will be the independence movement’s response? I suggest it should be succinct and direct and need not contain more than two words. Anything else would ‘create confusion and uncertainty’. My view is that sooner rather than later would be better too..

Comments (36)

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  1. Tom says:

    I’m slightly dismayed that some pro independence supporters are blustering in their own turn at this ridiculous policy manoeuvre by Cameron. (Not you Mike…)

    Maintain a dignified silence and let the pro union camp keep digging for a wee while yet.

    1. allymax says:

      ‘a dignified silence’ is an honourable way of conducting politics and manners; we’re not dealing with ‘honourable’ people when we deal with Westminster.

      I think what you’ll find is that both sides are ‘moving’ along with these political debates to their own agenda; it’s now a game of who can outsmart who.

      “And now, folks, it’s time for “Who do you trust!” Hubba, hubba, hubba! Money, money, money! Who do you trust? [SNP, or Westminster] ?”

  2. My immediate reaction was to wonder what David Cameron is planning or expecting for 2014 that might make the Scottish population more inclined to vote for independence. Maybe he’s just concerned about how “Yes” vote a year before the Westminster election would affect his popularity down south, if he was perceived to have “lost” Scotland, but it’s probably more likely that he wants to minimise the risk of alienating voters ahead of the referndum.

  3. Alex Buchan says:

    They’ve been working on this for a while. They trailed it to the BBC just before Christmas. They did the feild work for it in Canada, Allan Trech wrote about their feid trip. Ultimately it’s got little to do with Forsyth.

  4. Confused. As an English born person who has lived and worked in Scotland and called it home for over 40 years ,do I get to vote in the Scottish referendum or the English one that would surely follow? If expat Scots are included would that include all the expats Wales, Ireland the World, or just those living in England?
    You can be Scottish by birth, heritage or domicile. Some of the English who live here may or may not stay : I consider it a lifechoice, I want to be here.
    Can my Scottish born children have the Scottish vote, or would they have to vote in England, a country they have never lived in?Yet, wait a moment -their Dad was born inWales.
    I think that I live here and I vote here . I think my vote should be based on my opinion of what is best for my Country of domicile. Mr Cameron is nothing to me, I have not voted for him or his party. I am a socialist by background ,who voted SNP .I will probably vote yes.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      The original Scottish Govt position was that anyone who lived in Scotland would be eligible to vote.

      Now, according to Scotland on Sunday, former Labour chief whip Baroness Taylor of Bolton, a BID to open up the independence referendum to Scottish-born exiles living in other parts of the UK has been launched in the House of Lords. See here:

      1. Albalha says:

        But in fairness no one expects that the Taylor tabled ammendment to the Scotland Bill will come to anything when debated in the Lords at the end of the month.

      2. and what about me in France as well as my cousins in Australia, Canada and the USA. That is another 6 votes for the SNP. Their spouses too, could they qualify to vote.

        Labour’s typical muddled thinking.

        I believe that Johanne Lamont has sided with Cameron on his intervention. So now we know what Ed is thinking.

        Another Labour suicide note then.

      3. tioram says:

        Salmond has said quite clearly, and repeatedly, that if you’re on the electoral role in Scotland, you can vote. If not, you can’t. I think that’s probably the only reasonable position to take.

      4. J West says:

        If they open the vote to Scots outside of Scotland, then the YES campaign has another 3 votes here in Hong Kong.

        The thing is, I would probably have voted for devo-max, as would most of my family back home. But if they force a straight option of “in or out”, then I would be forced to vote YES to independence. It’s not that I’m a die hard nationalist, it’s about me wanting Scotland to have the tools to make life better for me and my family. I am only abroad for a fixed term, I hope to return to a radically different Scotland.

  5. LJS says:

    The way I see it Salmond just has to say no thanks Dave I’ll stick with my own plans, while DC may not like this he’ll pretty much have to lump it as he can’t then force the referendum on Scotland as he is entirely lacking a mandate to do so from the people of Scotland. Also the facts on the ground are the SNP controls apparatus by which any vote would be conducted, this being the case all DC has done is give AS and the Scottish government a great a opportunity to tell a deeply unpopular (in Scotland) PM to do one

  6. Albalha says:

    Re the point about the Guardian and the Bannockburn point having Tories added to Wintour’s online piece that’s because it was pointed out btl as incorrect but of course the print version rather gives the game away. Having followed much on the Guardian today their ignorance of the facts is a tad more than worrying going forward. I realise I shouldn’t be surprised but the sheer scale of the scrabbling aroud to understand is worse than I’d imagined.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      To be fair to Patrick Wintour he has contacted us to say that it was corrected – and it was his mistake.

      1. Albalha says:

        Okay but the live political blog carried it is a statement of fact as well, while Patrick Wintour is not in charge of it it seems to be it was accepted without question at a Guardian editorial level. Indeed R4 PM at it too.

  7. PeterGPeter Glasgow says:

    I’ll be voting YES to independence no matter when the SNP call the referendum.

  8. Castle Rock says:

    Totally agree about the “feeding frenzy of disinformation, misinformation and propaganda” and the Bannockburn date is part of that.

    I haven’t believed for one minute that all those terribly nice mandarins in the corridors of power have been sitting on their hands waiting for political direction from all those terribly nice old Etonians who are currently in charge of Mother England. They’ve all been busy beavering away on their lies, smears, fears and schemes to undermine Scotland becoming independent. Sadly, the LibDems and the Scottish Labour MP’s have all been part of that.

    I did chuckle at Cameron’s interview yesterday when he said that the legal advice surrounding the referendum will be published later in the week, in other words when Salmond is out of the country creating international links and planning new jobs for Scotland. This has backfired spectacularly as Nicola Sturgeon is showing that she can more than hold her own parring the misinformation and lies of Westminster. If anything, this is working in Scotland’s favour as its beginning to show the depth and breadth of political talent in Scotland – its not a one man band after all.

    I tend to agree with Tom’s comment above about letting them dig their own grave for a wee while longer but some of the more outrageous and outlandish comments do need to be challenged – humour is still the best way to deal with that.

    Finally, as a word of caution to us all, the lies and fears being spread by Westminster won’t stop at Holyrood, anyone and everyone who stands up and argues against their machine will be fair game in their eyes. Websites, bloggers and the occasional commentator who gets too close to the mark will also come under their scrutiny. Its going to be dirty and they will use every underhand tacic available, we aint seen nothing yet.

  9. John Campbell says:

    Really, who gives a toss what DC (and NC) say about Scottish Independence?

    We, the people are what’s important here, not self-serving Westminster nonentities.

    The date, the format, the question/s should and will be decided by the Scottish Government, not by politicians down south who have no real interest in Scotland whatsoever.

    Alba gu brath!

  10. John Souter says:

    So the passive lion has mewed!

    I’m fairly sure that’s exactly what the rampant lion has been waiting for.

    As to the timing, you have to wonder what the ‘powers that be’ believe the position of the UK will be in 2014/15 that induces them towards an earlier test?

    Is it just vanity to ensure the diktat of Westminster maintains its precedence, or real and benevolent concern for the well-being of the Scottish people within the UK ‘family’.

    I’ll leave the reader to sort that one out since I’ve no desire to be branded as a pathological democrat.

    Personally I find its more difficult to evaluate Westminster’s democratic ‘concerns’ than that of squaring the circle, to more measuring the volume of a burst bubble.

    Instances, such as the cancellation of carbon capture projects, the re-routing of pipelines and boundaries et al. And, especially when the first mentioned is followed within a week by a £1.8 bn investment in Petro Bas for exploration way down South America way, somehow don’t equate with true concern.

    Questions have been raised over the ‘legitimacy’ of a Holyrood referendum as opposed to a Westminster version.

    The argument is the first would be advisory and possibly subject to legal challenge while the second would not because it is instigated by Westminster. Hardly a levelling of the playing field and you have to ask – since when was the Law given legitimacy to query, interfere or proscribe the result obtained by a democratic mandate?

    As to the Devo Max proposition – it was not introduced by Salmond nor has it been referred to other than as a side issue for very sensible reasons. The main one of which it is blatantly rhetorical for the sake of division. Westminster, hoping the problem will disappear accuse Salmond and the SNP of not revealing their strategies or the case for independence yet apply the same obfuscation to the solution they offer?

    Surely, while we all want to know the reasoning and purpose behind the inner temples of independence it’s only reasonable – some might argue required – for the power that argues for its superiority and legitimacy to define exactly what it means. Is it Devo Max – Min or merely as little as it can get away with?

    9 January 2012 14:04

  11. Albalha says:

    Re my post above on the Guardian, this is as it reads on the Live political blog they have it in brackets

    (Salmond wants to go for 1314, the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn, once branded – by Andrew Marr, I think – Scotland’s “Battle of Britain” because it saved the country from foreign domination.)

  12. Donald Adamson says:

    This is a curious intervention by Cameron. The British government must have thought about this intervention, including the various options available to the SNP in response. Given the prefatory language that Cameron has used, effectively issuing imperatives to the extent of setting a time limit, this suggests that one possibility here is that the Tories believe that there is some new information available in the legal advice that they will be publishing this week that (they believe) will force the hand of the SNP. We’ll soon see.

    If this isn’t the case, then surely this intervention can only weaken Cameron even further in Scotland while strengthening the position of the SNP? The spin that’s coming out of Westminster – that this intervention is explained on the grounds that it is an “astute” move on Cameron’s part, as it will put pressure on the SNP – is so painfully Westminster-centric that it beggars belief! If this is the real reason, and if there really is no new information in the legal advice to back up Cameron’s position, then it might be that we’ve been over-estimating the sophistication of the unionists’ strategy.

    1. Albalha says:

      On the legal advice Aidan O’Neill QC seems to be backing up the Cameron claims and he’s been out and about a lot on the media today. Does anyone know who is giving them legal advice? Could he be in the mix?

    2. Alex Buchan says:

      In all the news reports the word binding has been used, i.e. only Westminster can legislate a binding referendum. So that tends to indicate that the legal advice won’t contain much that’s new, unless it rules that a consultative referendum to get popular support to start negotiations is ultra. The constitutional experts have tended to say it would not be ultra vires but in itself it would not be enough of a popular manade because all it is is consent to negotiations to be commenced. Robert Hazell on the radio today explained that binding just meant that it would be conclusive, requiring the UK government to negotiate in good faith, and pass an act granting full independence.

      1. Albalha says:

        Interesting thank you, but my reading of O’Neill is that if the SNP hold a consultative referendum ie prior to the 1998 Act being amended or provision in the Scotland Bill, then that could be legally challenged by anyone and his cat and that it could be argued all UK citizens should have the vote. Not to mention the UK Supreme Court having the final say. Is this just all stuff and nonsense? You see I think they’ve been reading his numerous articles which appeared in November but of course I don’t know for sure who their legal advice is coming from and maybe as James Mitchell has said today it’s mere posturing.

  13. Alex Buchan says:

    Robert Hazell, the constitutional expert, was interesting on the Today program. He said that the UK government might be “over reaching” itself. But it was reading between the lines of the rest of what he said that was most interesting. In essence he seemed to be implying that Cameron was taking a massive gamble. The point he was alluding to was that if he let the Scottish Government put their referendum on opening negotiations, then Westminster still had a lot of options even if there was a YES vote in that referendum, but, he suggested, if they impose their own, straightforward YES/NO to independence, referendum then they would have no option but to co-operate fully with the Scottish government in bringing in full independence. It will be interesting to see if anyone picks up on this in the Westminster village.

    Even if Cameron puts no time limit on it I still think the Scottish government should not co-operate with them. Their desire for an early vote must be because they know that the cuts have hardly begun to bite yet. When they do in 2013 to 2015 we could find ourselves in a time-warp back to the time when Maggie faced mass direct action. They fear is that the SNP could win the referendum on the strength of anti-Tory sentiments in such a situation. My mention earlier of a field trip to Canada referred to Alan Trench’s piece on senior civil servants’ mission to Canada to learn how the Canadian government fended off Quebec independence and specifically to see how the Clarity Act aided the Canadian government. Today’s announcement seems to have all the hallmarks of the influence of the clarity act but in a way that makes it not too obvious.

  14. allymax says:

    Mike, clever article.
    “Tories claim Salmond has been talking about holding a referendum to coincide with the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn in 2014.”
    Yeh, I think that’s the crux of this story; it’s a Westminster msm push of propaganda.
    it’s actually true that Westminster think Scots are too wee, too poor, and too stupid*; they are effectually showing their contempt in truth at the last* of their paradigms of relevance. As for the date of the referendum on independence; whenever Salmond thinks is a good time, that’s good enough for me. It doesn’t matter if it’s anywhere between 2014, through to 2016; it’s good enough for me when Salmond says so. I’m not too caught-up on 2014, it could be after that if Salmond wants; whenever he thinks it is best for Scotland, is good enough for me.

    As for castle rock above;
    “the more outrageous and outlandish comments do need to be challenged – humour is still the best way to deal with that.”
    You are contradicting yourself with your next piece of advice that you deem we take very important notice of;
    “Finally, as a word of caution to us all, the lies and fears being spread by Westminster won’t stop at Holyrood, anyone and everyone who stands up and argues against their machine will be fair game in their eyes. Websites, bloggers and the occasional commentator who gets too close to the mark will also come under their scrutiny. Its going to be dirty and they will use every underhand tacic available, we aint seen nothing yet.”

    Sorry mate; don’t know what you mean ?

  15. John s says:


    It says on that live blog that the Cabinet sub-committee that is overseeing Coalition strategy for Scotland is chaired by George Osborne!

    1. allymax says:

      This Calamity gets better for Scotland as it goes on.

  16. Donald Adamson says:

    Hi Alex,

    That’s a very interesting point that you make about Robert Hazell. This was always going to get more and more interesting and that, too, IMHO, may also play into the hands of the SNP (but I’ll be posting on this broad issue myself on Bella so I won’t develop it here). If you’re right in your interpretation of what he says then this is a big gamble by the Tories. That, in itself, is revealing. I mean, where else can they take this given the predictability of the SNPs response?

    I agree wholeheartedly with your point about the non-cooperation of the SNP. I’ve long argued against an early referendum as well as argued for a straight Yes/No question. On this, the SNP, thankfully, has been consistent, notwithstanding the Devo-max kite-flying. This isn’t a risk-free strategy, of course, as it assumes, among other things, that Labour won’t be a serious threat at the 2015 British general election. One of the key points here is that Ed Miliband remains in place as Labour leader and, fortunately, it looks as if, as with Gordon Brown, Labour is stuck with him.

    I like your “time warp” scenario also, though, with respect, maybe let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here. As I said on the previous thread, we need to credit the SNP with a well-thought out strategy on this while not under-estimating the unionists. None of the parties, including the SNP, are going to conduct their campaigns always on their own terms but so far, it has to be said, the unionists appear to be doing much of the SNPs work for them.

  17. Freoboy says:

    I can never understand why people get so worked up about legal advice. Its almost as if they don’t want to talk about the substantive issues so instead they go in for a kind of displacement argument. The Guardian was full of it today, going down a cul de sac in the process.

    A vote for independence in a properly conducted referendum, no matter whether its run by Westmnster or Holyrood, trumps everything. Its about national self determination, not lawyers arguments at the Supreme Court!! Did the US Declaration of Independence face a challenge in the courts? Did they care? Silly question, isn’t it?

    Of course the mandate rests with the Scottish Government. The SNP won the election on that basis, they have the majority in Parliament so they get to choose. Interference in that is simply interference designed to stymie the Scottish Govt and it will be seen as such.

  18. Tearlach MacDaid says:

    Re the Bannockburn date “myth” – great piece of trivia posted on WoS by KWB

    “But but, the last referendum for devolution was held on the 700th annivesary of the battle of Stirling Bridge, where the Scots humped the English in the first of the wars of independece. And that was Labour. Did they do it “deliberately.”

    The Battle of Stirling Bridge was a battle of the First War of Scottish Independence. On 11 September 1297, the forces of Andrew Moray and William Wallace defeated the combined English forces of John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey and Hugh de Cressingham near Stirling, on the River Forth.

    The Scottish devolution referendum of 1997 was a pre-legislative referendum held in Scotland on 11 September 1997 over whether there was support for the creation of a Scottish Parliament with devolved powers, and whether the Parliament should have tax-varying powers. The referendum was a Labour manifesto commitment and was held in their first term after the 1997 election. This was the second referendum held in Scotland over the question of devolution, the first being in 1979. Turnout for the referendum was 60.4%.”

    So Labour got their first. I do not recall this being raised at at the time, does anyone else?

  19. Alex Cullens says:

    I don’t mind DC trying to talk a tough game; most Scots hate his guts- by patronising us by pretending he’ll be dictating the timing and “ground-rules” of the referendum he’ll only piss people off, he’s also belittling the democratic choice the people of Scotland made in May (he’s a wee bit sour yano!). First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. Revolution not Devolution!

  20. Tories will guarentee Independence for Scotland. We get freedom and they get England. However, one assumes the main reason to delay independence is to get as much of the remaining oil money as possible(also like teh whisky taxes and the fish stocks to trade off with EU deals). Maybe a mite cynical, but why else would they be so opposed to letting us have our freedom when all the English keep complaining that they are keeping us financially afloat. This I doubt, given that Margaret Thatcher did not give us Independence yet was known to all as being a hardnosed politician. She of all people would have got rid of us if we had been costing England money.

  21. James Coleman says:

    I believe the timing issue is a bad shot in the foot for Dave et al. 18 months from now is mid 2013. Adding 6 months to that for the brouhaha and legal challenges open to the Scottish government takes us to Dec 2013. Now no one holds an election/referendum in mid winter so the most likely date is Spring/early Summer 2014. Which is probably the last practical date for a referendum after which much administrative work would be rquired win or lose before UK and Scottish Parliamentary elections are due in 2015/16.
    Meanwhile Cameron and his English cliques are open to constant attack about interfering in Scottish affairs. Where is the much vaunted privately educated English intellects there?

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      The 18 month clause appears to have come – and gone.

  22. James Parker says:

    Michael Moore claimed that the Scottish Parliament does not have the legal authority to conduct a referendum on independence as the union between Scotland and England is a reserved matter. However, the UK Parliament has not right to amend or repeal the treaty under which the union was made. This is a treaty in international law. It follows that any referendum directed by the UK Parliament will be open to challenge in an international court. See “The Union and the Law”, by David Walker, The Journal Online, 18 June 2007.

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