Leaders: Independence deadline a reality check

Alex Salmond announced the date of Scotland's referendum. Picture: Jane Barlow
Alex Salmond announced the date of Scotland's referendum. Picture: Jane Barlow
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IT MAY not have come as any surprise, after all we knew that the independence referendum was coming in the autumn of 2014, but somehow the setting of the exact date makes it suddenly real.

Now there is a deadline. The clock is ticking, Scotland’s date with destiny has been set. Exactly why 18 September was chosen has not been revealed, although it is certain that it will have been carefully pored over. Practical considerations will doubtless have played a part, the date being clear of school holidays but before the onset of cold, dark evenings which would have made final campaigning difficult.

Opposition politicians have hit out at the length of time between now and then, but surely that is just politicking, as everybody expected a similar timeframe. And perhaps, given the issues involved, that length of lead-in time is no bad thing.

More than two years have elapsed since Alex Salmond’s historic victory in the Holyrood election and barely a week has gone by since without earnest and often fractious discussion on the many issues surrounding independence. In that time there has emerged, from claim and counter claim and assertion and counter assertion, a little clarity.

We know that the SNP want to keep the pound, although we do not know exactly how that relationship will work yet. We know that membership of the EU will not be an automatic continuation but again are not exactly sure what the process will be. The UK government has made it clear that Scotland will not get any defence shipbuilding contracts should it choose independence, although the SNP says this does not mean the end of shipbuilding in Scotland.

So over the past months there has been an inching towards clarity on some issues. On others however there has been none and it is clear there will be none, like the division of UK assets and liabilities. Such precision will be impossible to achieve given that detailed negotiations with the UK government would only be held after a Yes vote.

But now that we have a date, it will have a powerful psychological effect in lifting the independence issue from the hypothetical. It will provide a sharp focus for the respective campaigns. And it will add urgency to the demands for more clarity and precision on the ambitions of a government of an independent Scotland and the negotiating stance such a government would adopt.

The SNP administration has set out a timetable for the release of detailed papers on the major issues surrounding independence between now and September 2014, a process already begun.

It is also incumbent on the UK government to be as illuminating as possible on the matters where more clarity can only come from them. The key issues need to be fully examined. It is only right that people are armed with as many facts as possible before they can make an informed decision.

Public back lower drink-driving limit

Few subjects trigger more instant condemnation than attempts by government to regulate people’s behaviour. The cry “nanny state” is instantly heard. But when people are asked for their responses to particular interventions the reaction can be resoundingly favourable.

Thus it has proved with the Scottish Government’s proposal to lower the drink-drive alcohol limit from 80 milligrams per 100ml of blood to 50 milligrams. Almost three in four of those who responded to the public consultation said they wanted the limit to be lowered.

No-one, of course, would

express a view in favour of drink-driving. The problem is in determining how far the Scottish Government, which was recently given control over drink-drive limits, can reasonably go in its wholly desirable ambition to eliminate road deaths where

alcohol has been a contributing factor. There is the option of an outright ban – indeed, many drivers already practice this as a matter of course. It removes the risk of impaired judgment. But others would find this an intolerable intrusion.

For many, a lower limit may seem over-fussy and intrusive, and, considering differences in alcohol tolerance, a doomed

attempt to find precision where none exists. And to be completely absolved of accusations of nanny state-ism there has be clear evidence that the steps being taken, a reduction of around a third, will have a significant impact on road deaths, and frankly that has not been a well-made case.

But, all that said, the less alcohol in people behind the steering wheels of cars the better. We have come a long way on drink driving in a relatively short time. With this the progress continues.