Today Prime Minister David Cameron and First Minister Alex Salmond will sign a historic deal in Edinburgh.
The agreement, reached after months of negotiation, is of profound significance for the future of Scotland and the UK constitution. It will enable the Scottish Parliament to proceed towards a referendum on independence under legal powers transferred from Westminster.
It is a delicate compromise, and one from which both sides can claim to have secured victory. There is clear substance to the claim by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that the ballot will be “made in Scotland”. Indeed, it would appear as if the SNP administration has won a sweeping victory on most points. It has obtained what it sought on the timing of the referendum, the wording of the referendum question and the issue of 16- and 17-year-olds securing the potential opportunity to vote.
All it now needs is the choreography of a signing ceremony that portrays Mr Salmond as the generous “mine host”, signing diplomatic protocols with a representative of a foreign state suitably stooped in gratitude.
But to one major issue Mr Cameron attached key importance. This was the single- question ballot. Here, the wishes of Mr Cameron have prevailed. For what the UK Prime Minister feared most was a two-question referendum.
Such a ballot presented the prospect of a Pandora’s Box of constitutional consequences.
The argument for a two-question referendum had considerable appeal – and not just to those in the SNP camp who wanted to have a political safety net. Recent opinion polls have shown “Max Dev” to be the single most popular option among Scottish voters. It would seem perverse to remove from the referendum ballot paper the very option which would seem to be the most popular.
It may well have also been the one which would have drawn significant support away from the option of full independence. But there were real and complex issues of presentation, administration and interpretation. There are well-founded doubts that a clear and credible result would emerge.
What is now in prospect is a clear, fair and unambiguous ballot. Scotland’s political class, academics and civic and business leaders now have two years in which to explore all the implications of the independence vote in full detail. That result – and that long period of analysis and exploration – is surely to be welcomed.
We thus have good cause to celebrate that the clouding issue of process will be over by the end of today. We can now move to debate on the substantive issues. The critical issue now is that Scotland can move forward to making an informed choice.
To this end The Scotsman has every intention of playing a full, fair and positive part, through our news coverage, analysis and commentary and, of course, our letters pages.
Name change more than cosmetic
Plans by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond to rename the Territorial Army are surely long overdue. The name in no way reflected the vital role the force has played for more than a century in fighting alongside full-time troops in overseas operations.
The move will be widely
welcomed within the TA and by many outside. The new name, Army Reserve – a more accurate reflection of the role and purpose of this vital force – means the reservists will be formally recognised for the duty they have long discharged of being an integral part of the army. Pre-announcing the new name in this way, as well as being a clear statement of purpose, should defuse the objection that it will be no more than an expensive rebranding exercise, pouring millions into the pockets of outsourced “branding consultants”.
In truth, it is more likely to see a welcome uplift in the budget for this force and for purposes that will be widely appreciated.
In addition to a doubling of the numbers to 30,000, the change will also see the reservists get regular army kit and train with full-time forces. It makes sense for many of the support functions, such as logistics, to be done by reservists.
And the army does need to attract to its ranks those who are competent with modern technology and who can deploy these sophisticated skills in a defensive capacity for our armed forces.
This has the potential to be one of the most successful and rewarding reforms of our armed forces in a period of austerity that has been painful and bruising. We have much to be proud of in our reservists, and this reform should rightly and properly augment their standing.