THE Advocate General can ensure that the cunning Nationalists play it by the book over the independence referendum.
Lord Wallace is a pleasant, warm and engaging individual. However, I have never been convinced that he is the most erudite lawyer in Scotland. He became Advocate General as a result not of outstanding forensic performance, but because David Cameron needed to offer some minor posts to the Lib Dems in order to get his coalition off the ground.
Given his lack of juridical credentials he was right, therefore, to create a forum of legal experts to advise him on the likely implications of independence over a range of issues – from the question mark over Scotland’s EU status, to the use of the pound in our “independent” country.
In contrast to Wallace acting and speaking on his own, the authority of this group is sufficiently impressive for Mike Russell, the education minister who is presiding over the anglification of Scotland’s student bodies, to smear it as a “kangaroo” court.
This is only the latest in a series of attacks on the UK judiciary. Justice secretary Kenny McAskill has previously criticised the UK Supreme Court. These are not mistakes – despite Russell’s apparent back-down – but a carefully planned attack to demean the reputation of the body which the SNP see, quite correctly, as the rock against which their plans for an unconstitutional referendum will perish.
Despite the legal scenario which forms the backdrop, this always was and always will be a political fight. Thus Lord Wallace’s long career in parliament which denotes him as a skilful politician makes him a suitable man, if properly advised, to report to the UK government on matters of Scots Law. Before his party is wiped from the landscape at the next General Election he can perform one last important duty for Scotland: he can stop the SNP getting up to any more dirty tricks and ensure that the upcoming referendum is, in his words, “legal, fair and decisive”.
He has made an excellent start. Clearly and simply he laid out the reasons why a second question will not be justified or tolerated. First, it would produce confusing answers. Secondly, no referendum is needed to devolve more powers to Holyrood – the constitutional mechanisms to do that not only exist but have been used. But, fundamentally, while independence is a matter for Scots (irrespective of where they live, I would suggest) devolving more powers involved the consent of the rest of the UK as well.
As Lord Wallace put it on Newsnight on Tuesday, leaving a club is a matter for you alone. If, however, you want to remain in the club but change the rules, all the other members are entitled to a say. That shuts that one off.
Wallace’s logic was equally ruthless when dealing with the threat of the Scottish Government going ahead with its own referendum. First, he argued that before one could consider the outcome of such a referendum, one had to establish whether or not it would be found by the courts to be beyond the powers of Holyrood. His view is that it would fall at that hurdle, hence the reason the SNP must denigrate the courts. But would even the SNP, after failure in court, dare to press ahead with an unconstitutional referendum? They might try, but they would not find a single returning officer to arrange it for them. So that’s another avenue of escape cut off.
Thus the UK government and other unionists are in very strong position to insist that the referendum is the only one that Alex Salmond has his mandate for – a simple, single question on whether or not Scotland wants to break away. Devo-whatever is for all of us in the UK to explore and implement under existing legislation.
But a more sinister aspect to the platform on which the referendum will be fought by the nationalists emerged this week from the musings of Pat Kane. “Hue” (or is he “Cry”?) tends to use rather too many words for what he wants to say. Through the obfuscation, what I took from it was that the institutions, policies and practises of the post-independence Scotland that the SNP will sketch out in their referendum manifesto need simply be no more than a working drawing. This can be subject to major revision or even scrapping after we find ourselves cast loose from the UK.
Thus, while he condemns the First Minister’s scheme to fiddle with the SNP’s stance on Nato as “not a principled or honourable position”, Kane does not see it as fatal to the pro-independence camp. That is because – and here is the sleight of hand – everything would be up for grabs at the general election in Scotland that would follow independence.
That has been my concern all along. While the SNP are busy amending what voters have seen as its traditional stances – on the Queen, the euro, the pound, Nato, currency regulation – removing anything which might scare the voters, they cannot deliver on these promises even if they want to.
As Pat Kane has pointed out, an independent Scotland will have to hold a general election pretty well immediately. The grass roots, the fundamentalists, the extremists – whatever you like to call them – are currently nursing their wrath in silence at what they see as principles being ditched. They fear outspoken honesty may jeopardise the “Yes” vote. Post-independence they will break free from the shackles that the party leadership and loyalty has imposed on them. Local selection committees, always more radical, will seek to choose candidates who are opposed to the monarchy, Nato and the pound and return to Holyrood delegates who will vote all of these relics of the hated British state down.
There will then be no Westminster to turn to, no British courts, no European Union – we’ll still be waiting for our entry application to be considered, by among others, the rejected England. Will we even be in the Commonwealth?
Given that there will be no going back I see the only option is now to demand the vote be published so that when Glasgow says “No” it can be declared an enclave of the United Kingdom. I might ask Lord Wallace to chair jointly with me this nascent movement. After all, this week he indicated his sympathy for his former constituents in Orkney in their move for self-determination.