If it were true that Scottish voters need London’s legal permission to vote on their own future, that would in itself be a strong argument for independence.
As it is, Cameron’s despicable effort to try to use legal pretexts to interfere in the timing and question of Scotland’s independence referendum, is almost certain to backfire. Cameron both with unionist lickspittle Marr yesterday and with Adam Boulton today, kept saying the government will “clarify the legal position” on a referendum.
Cameron’s constitutional knowledge seems worryingly shakey. The government cannot clarify legal positions; that is the role of judges. The government can make legal claims, it can even publish its own legal advice (something it hates doing); but the law is decided by judges. English judges interfering in Scotland’s referendum would of course be no more popular than English Tories.
We will see later today, but I cannot see any possible legal argument that Cameron can use to back his desire to bring the referendum forward to 2012 or 2013 instread of 2014. Why one date can be legally more justified than another is beyond me. Politically, the SNP campaigned very clearly on the basis of a referendum “in the second half” of this Scottish parliament. Salmond is trying to do what he said he would do when he won the election – a rare and praiseworthy thing for a politician.
I also cannot see the legal argument why there should not be a three choice question. Personally I would prefer a two choice question, and my two choices would be more devolution or independence, on the grounds electoral support for “status quo” parties was insignificant. Cameron of course wants two choices, status quo or independence. But plainly Cameron is acting purely politically, to try to boost the chances in both question and timing of status quo winning. Again his claims to be acting on “legal” grounds appear simple tripe.
Has he consulted Scotland’s Lord Advocate? Is this like the infamous decision of Lord Goldsmith to change his mind and argue that the war in Iraq was legal? Goldsmith flew to Washington to consult George Bush’s law officers, but did not ask the view of Scotland’s law officers.
I strongly suspect Cameron’s “legal” pretext is concocted by English lawyers – lineal descendants in office of those who tried Wallace for treason to a man who was never his King.
Most shameful of all is the position of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, and their continued slide into unreconstructed unionism. I have explained before how the Liberal party’s very political identity was forged in opposition to unionism, how Gladstone fought a massive battle for Irish Home Rule, how Rosebery helped invent modern Scottish nationalism and Lloyd George fought huge battles for at least partial Irish freedom. Being the antithesis of the “Conservative and Unionist Party” is a vital part of the raison d’etre of liberalism as an independent political force in this country, and why for years organised liberalism survived largely in the Celtic fringes.
The political institutions descended from the old Liberal Party have now been taken over by political careerists with no ideological connection to, or interest in, the beliefs of their predecessors. Their only interest is personal power and income.
When I announced I was leaving the Lib Dems for the SNP, a very senior Lib Dem and friend of long standing tried to persuade me otherwise. I explained the party’s enthusiastic unionism as something completely antithetical to its traditions, something which this individual did indeed understand. He said the party remained strongly federalist. I asked whether that meant it would campaign stongly for the “Devolution max” option in a referendum. He replied that certainly, it would.
Yet we now see the Lib Dems are party to a coalition attempt to use legal pretexts to keep the devolution max option off the ballot paper, let alone campaign for it. The Lib Dems have become, as a party, lying, deceitful, untrustworthy bastards completely alienated from their ideological heritage. The good people remaining captive within the institution should leave now.