The old pros are the best. It took Jim Sillars to blow an exocet through the case being cranked up daily to justify a second Scottish independence referendum.
I should quickly point out (before he does) that Jim and I are not exactly soul brothers on constitutional questions. He wants to achieve an independent Scottish state; I don’t. He voted to leave the European Union. I didn’t.
But none of that matters in the immediate context when the question is not how to vote in a referendum but whether one should be either called for or allowed. It is the intellectual dishonesty of the case in support of that proposition which Mr Sillars has clinically highlighted.
The only argument presented in favour of an early referendum is that the decision to leave the European Union is such an affront to Scottish interests and opinions that the alternative option of leaving the United Kingdom, in order to rejoin the said European Union, is essential.
For several months, I have found extraordinary the extent to which this highly contrived argument has been given currency, particularly by our broadcasters, without adequate challenge. We are breathlessly informed, night after night, of the manoeuvres which flow from what is, in essence, a bogus proposition.
From my perspective, the obvious question is: “What right do the Nationalists have to pray in aid the votes of 1.6 million Scots who preferred to stay in the EU?”. The answer is: “None at all”. There is obviously a proportion who share the SNP’s perspective – out of the UK and back into the EU. Equally obviously, hundreds of thousands of “remain” voters should definitely not be counted as supporters of a second independence referendum, four years after the last one.
Jim Sillars draws attention to the mirror image of that deception. Over a million people in Scotland voted to leave the EU including up to 400,00 who vote for the SNP. It is equally absurd to count them as automatic supporters of a referendum based on the demand that Scotland must, at all costs, rejoin the EU.
If you put these two arguments together, the logical conclusion is that there is absolutely no correlation between how people voted in the EU referendum and the case for a second Scottish referendum. They involve two different questions and provide no basis for throwing Scotland back into the turmoil of another 18 month referendum campaign.
Anyway, what would that campaign be about? The Sturgeon household will know better than anyone that a referendum around the EU issue would be a disaster for them. Apart from the boredom factor, nobody would know whether or on what terms a return would be deliverable while a third of the Nationalist camp would be as likely to follow the Sillars line as the Sturgeon one.
Therefore, the cry that Scotland’s future depends on the European Single Market would be sidelined as soon as the referendum was agreed to. That would become an issue for another day. Far from “our place in Europe” involving a principle of near sacred proportions, it would have served its usefulness as a short-term mechanism, to dupe the naïve into granting IndyRef2.
It seems equally unlikely that a referendum campaign would be about the economy. As Andrew Wilson acknowledged this week, the oil-related falsehoods which were going to make us the sixth richest country in the world are well past their sell-by date. I have no doubt that new fictions are being concocted as I write, probably at public expense and written by the same debased Scottish civil service which was forced to puts its collective name to the last travesty. But even the most creative functionaries of the regime might have difficulty making a £15.9 billion deficit sound like good news.
Foreseeing these difficulties, the greatest minds in the Nationalist firmament have been offering advice. Their leading media propagandist suggested that the answer, next time round, will be to not offer answers on pesky questions like EU membership, the currency, the deficit and so on. The lesson from the Trump and Brexit campaigns, he argued, is that most people are not interested in such detail, as opposed to bold themes.
I doubt if they could get away with this since not everyone regards the question of what currency they might be paid in or, indeed, if they are going to be paid at all as mere detail. But I am sure the thrust of the advice would be accepted. IndyRef2 would be based on the big lies - shameless assertions, many times repeated, that would make both “oil at $115” and “£350 million a month for the NHS” seem like playground whoppers.
That – rather than a civilized debate on how best to pursue our European relationships - is what we are being asked to open the floodgates to and it would be a deeply unpleasant, divisive 18 months in which, once again, every pressing need of Scottish society was flagrantly marginalised in the interests of “getting the gloves off” – to quote another would-be Nationalist street-fighter - over our constitutional future.
Meanwhile, the UK Government would be trying to get the best possible deal in Brussels and just might succeed (though the distraction of a secessionist referendum would scarcely help). As Jim Sillars put it: “The SNP would look very silly, having chuntered on all the time while negotiations are taking place, if Theresa May turns around and says: ‘We’ve got a tariff free deal’.”
Of course, the whole point of demanding a referendum next year would be to avoid knowing the outcome of Brexit before the “gloves come off” for a plebiscite based on ignorance, assertion and absence of answers. Heaven forefend that the Scottish people might be allowed an informed choice between what will eventually be two reasonably coherent sets of options.
Back in the real world this week, the Scottish Parliament - remarkably - passed a motion which castigated the Nationalist government’s record on education. Hugely disproportionate cuts to local authorities, 4000 fewer teachers and 1000 fewer support workers reflected “ten years of letting down teachers and pupils”. Perhaps Heriot Watt could find space for a monument with these damning words inscribed on it.
No wonder the Nationalists want to talk only about referendums.