Margo McDonald has suggested that the SNP should drop any notion of having two questions on the ballot for the referendum. Of course her comments were met with an immediate denial from the SNP that they wanted two questions on the ballot paper. Stewart Maxwell MSP was very quick to assert that the SNP wanted only one question, as the party is very confident there will be a majority voting "Yes" in the referendum. Despite their repeated denials that they are looking to have a second question on the ballot paper, as a fall-back position just in case a majority vote "No", few commentators or informed observers believe the SNP. Stewart Maxwell was equally quick to point out that the consultation process had yet to be completed and not until that was done, would there be any decision taken on how many questions there would be on the ballot. He concluded, "After all, what is the point of having a consultation if the result is to be ignored?"
Why is it, that someone as politcally savvy as Margo and most other commentators simply do not believe the SNP when they claim to want a single question? Perhaps it is the number of times Alex Salmond has let it be known that he finds the idea of a second question "attractive" or the frequency with which the SNP insists there is a large number of Scots who want an alternative to a straight "Yes" / "No" and that they should be given the opportunity to have their case heard, that convinces observers that the SNP - or at least Alex Salmond - wants a second question, if only someone else could be blamed for it. It is a reasonably valid argument to suggest that there is little point in consulting the people of Scotland if their views are simply to be ignored. But it was never suggested that the views of the majority, whatever it might be, in the consultation, would be binding on the Scottish Government. In fact, it was never made very clear why the consultation was being held in the first place. What did the Scottish government intend to do with the findings? The numbers who have responded is a relatively small minority of the numbers elligible to vote in Scotland, therefore their views could never be more than a guide to what those who responded feel, but that is all. It is a nonsense to suggest they could be anything else.
The latest TNS BMRB poll shows that the number in favour of independence now stands at 30% while those opposed is 50%, out of a total of just over 1000 people polled. If a "more powers" option is added, the number supporting independence falls to 23% and the number favouring "more powers" is 37%. Angus Robertson, the director of the SNP campaign, by adding the 23% in favour of independence and the 37% in favour of "more powers" comes to the conclusion that a total of 60% of Scots reject the status quo and favour "progress for Scotland". And so the politics speak continues, while the Scottish electorate continues to add to the ever increasing confusion of what it actually wants, in terms of constituional change. Charge and counter charge is made by the politicians as each side attempts to put the best gloss on the figures that are produced by successive opinion polls.
Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, continues to demand answers to what "independence means" while continuing to ignore similar demands for explanations of what is in it for Scots if they remain as part of the UK. At face value, membership of the UK offers more cuts to living standards, higher levels of unemployment as public expenditure cuts continue in the NHS, defence and public services; a corrupt banking and financial services system, a political regime where standards of integrity have never been lower and where the fiddling of MP's expences are accepted as the price we are expected to pay for what passes as democracy in this country. David Cameron promises Scots "more powers" if we remain as part of the UK, just as one of his predecessors did and then reneged, some thrity-three years ago. On Cameron's record of broken promises, is there any reason why any Scot - other than Ruth Davidson - would trust him one iota? Significantly he studiously avoided stating what the "more powers" would mean, just as Ms Davidson and her colleagues in the No Campaign, avoid explaining why Scots should remain as part of the UK.
When the SNP asked the Scottish electorate to give them, the SNP, the authority to provide Scots with an opportunity to vote in a referendum, it was made quite plain that the question would be about independence. There was no word of the referendum offering the choice of several options ranging from independence to Devo-Max, Devo-Plus or Devo - anything at all. Margo Mcdonald made the perfectly valid point that the Scottish government's referendum cannot offer increased powers because the Scottish government does not have the power to do so. When the debates on devolution were held inside the SNP in the 1970s and 1980s, I consistently pointed out that Scots could not declare a "Unilaterlal Declaration of Devolution" that the power to grant devolution rested with Westminster. We needed no one's permission to decide we wanted to be independent, that was within no one's gift but our own. That constitutional position has not changed. A question on the ballot paper in the referendum which asks Scots if they want "more powers", will be totally irrelevant because no Scottish government can deliver. Westminster is still the only legal and constitutional entity which has the power to change the range of powers of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish people are still the only legal and political entity which needs to be consulted on whether or not we want to be independent.
In June, John Swinney, writing in The Scotsman under the headline, "Give us the tools and we can build a stronger, sustainable economy", went on to argue that Scotland had the resources to be a successful, independent country. He concluded, "Independence will enable us to to utilise all the economic levers (my emphasis) to provide the stable and supportive environment Scottish businesses demand." What John should have emphasised much more strongly is that independence and only independence can do that. When Scots have been asked what they think they mean by "more power" they invariably list control of taxation, both the raising and spending. What seems to have passed them by completely is the likely impact on the thinking of politicians in Westminster, of what has happened to the euro zone, where lack of control of the tax systems of the member states, allowed the profligacy of some of them to get completely out of hand. While there is still resistence in the euro zone, to centralised control of the taxation and budgetary policy of the member states, there is also the recognition that without that centralised control, the euro cannot survive with its current membership intact.
Anyone who thinks that any Westminster government is going to agree to give Scotland control over its tax and budgetary policy, where we can offer lower tax rates for foreign investment - as has happened in Eire - or the Scottish government can borrow beyond levels which Westminster believes to be sustainable in the current financial climate or which would put regions of England under economic pressure, is being totally unrealistic. It is not going to happen. To allow a second question on the ballot paper, which suggests it might be possible for any of that to happen, would be the height of dishonesty. The referendum should be about independence and it is time Scots were made to face the hard questions, to decide what kind of future they want their children and grandchildren to have. As a nation, do we have the courage to take control of our own future, or are we to be forever in search of the comfort blanket our political leaders seem to be determined to provide? If Scots decide they don't have the courage to be independent, they can then petition Westminster to increase the powers of the Scottish government but they should not be surprised if the promises of "more powers" end up on the cutting room floor.