It has been assumed in Westminster for several months now that the Scots will get an independence referendum, and it will happen in 2014. But mutterings are beginning to emerge that this may not happen at all - and here is why.
After David Cameron signalled he was willing to give way on his preferred date of 2013, the only things left to work out were supposed to be who got to vote and what the question would be.
The first of those points of tension looks close to being settled. Number 10 this morning all but admitted it was willing to let 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in the referendum if the SNP insisted on it. When asked if allowing this to happen would set a precedent for general elections, a Downing Street spokesman said:
These are two different things. One is a referendum on the independence of a nation which is an irreversible decision. The other is an election for the government, which can be reversed after five years.
After four days of heated argument about the complex process of holding a referendum on Scottish independence, unionists are finally starting to get the debate they have been wanting to have for a while: about the substance of what independence means.
At first, Westminster politicians seemed to have been outmanoeuvred (again) by Alex Salmond, getting drawn into a row over the timing of a referendum and what questions would be asked – allowing the Scottish leader to depict them as interfering in Scottish politics.
Now, they are beginning to put him on the spot, asking the kinds of difficult questions they think will guarantee that the Scottish people will not vote for independence when they eventually get the chance to do so. Read more
Michael Moore, the Scottish secretary, will address MPs at 4.30pm today to explain why the Westminster government is offering Alex Salmond the chance to hold a legally-binding referendum on Scottish independence.
Ostensibly, the answer is that government legal advice says that any “consultative” referendum could be open to challenge in the courts. But there is another, political reason. If Westminster offers the power to have a referendum, it can also tie in certain conditions.
The two things unionists want to stop are:
- Salmond delaying the referendum until 2014 or later, by which time the first minister might have built up a sense of unstoppable momentum and;
- A third option appearing on the ballot, dubbed “devolution max”, which might appeal to those nervous about full independence.
The proposals for reducing the number of Scottish MPs in Westminster by seven seats, put out to consultation today by the Scottish Boundary Commission, does the Government no favours.
The FT’s initial analysis of the Boundary Commission for Scotland proposal (which can also be seen on our interactive map) suggests both Coalition parties are likely to lose out, with the only Scottish Tory and three of the 11 current Scottish Liberal Democrat MPs likely to lose their seats as a result of the boundary changes.
Among the Lib Dems, this could provoke a tussle between party grandees Charles Kennedy and Danny Alexander, whose adjacent constituencies could be merged into a new “Inverness and Skye” constituency. Alternatively Kennedy, Alexander and John Thurso could all compete for the new seat of “Caithness, Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty”, which has boundaries cutting across all three MPs’ existing constituencies. Read more
Picture editors always struggle to illustrate stories about Whitehall.
The Times did a decent job this morning with this shot of some bureaucratic types strolling past a Whitehall street-sign. The caption says “thousands of civil servants” may be losing their jobs. Read more
An interesting chart from the Institute of Government. Note the Lib Dem cabinet positions control less than 10 per cent of departmental spending (excluding the all powerful David Laws, of course).
Not sure whether this is a blessing. Axing 25 per cent of spending from transport or the police is never a career enhancing move in politics. But Vince Cable and Danny Alexander face some particularly tough choices on Scotland and student fees, which have the potential to backfire horribly on the Lib Dems. Read more