Thursday, May 08, 2008

A referendum for Scotland?

Last year, the Scottish National Party won a narrow plurality in the Scottish Parliament and were able to form a minority government. Their key policy is a referendum on Scottish independence in 2010, but with all other parties opposed, it looked unlikely. However, in a major reversal, the Scottish Labour leader, Wendy Alexander, has called for the SNP to bring it on, saying that she wants a referendum within 12 months.

This is really an effort to game the timing. Currently there's not an obvious majority for independence, but with the SNP flexing their muscles and showing what a more independent Scottish government can do (free tertiary education, cheaper prescriptions, rebuilding council houses) and picking fights with Westminster over wanting to do more, there might be. So by going early, Labour hopes the referendum will fail. They also want to avoid the SNP being able to use their planned 2010 referendum as a platform in the 2010 UK and 2011 Scottish elections.

However, there's a serious danger of the tactic backfiring. By putting up a specific proposal and making the debate concrete, they may find support solidifies. Especially if the choice is between an independent Scotland under Alex Salmond, or being part of the UK under Blair IIBrown.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown is flailing trying to pretend that the entire thing isn't happening. It's going to be a very amusing debate...