He has been criticised in the past for offending women, gays and the Irish. Now Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, stands accused of insulting the people of Scotland and interfering in the country’s independence referendum on September 18, writes Jamie Smyth.
Is the referendum debate causing a rift in Scottish society? The Church of Scotland is worried enough about this to propose a service of reconciliation following the vote in September. We put the question to our panelists – were their personal relationships strained? Were they worried about life after September 18?
Most of them said no – Scots are grown up enough to have the debate without lasting damage. But interestingly, our pro-Union panelists were the ones most clearly voicing fears about a divide.
Last night, politicians, government officials and a smattering of journalists gathered in the ornate surrounds of the Scotland Office to hear Jean Chrétien, the former Canadian PM, give his view on referendums.
Chrétien knows more than most world leaders about what it is like to try and stop nationalists in one part of the country from seceding – he won two referendums against Quebec separatists.
And in case coalition officials were beginning to feel comfortable with the convincing lead held by the pro-union side in the Scottish independence debate, Chrétien had a rather ominous message.
I’ve written on this blog before about the dispute between Westminster and Holyrood on whether there should be a third option – dubbed devo-max – on the eventual referendum on Scottish independence. The coalition doesn’t want it to be, worried the SNP will use it to muddy the waters and keep the independence debate rumbling on. But the Scottish government says the option should remain open if Scottish people show they want it.
The dispute is so tense that Westminster officials recently started questioning whether it could scupper the referendum altogether. But it seems Alex Salmond could be about to back down.
In an interview with the LA Times, the first minister said:
Independence regularly is the most popular option of three options that are usually offered to people. One is no change from the current situation; second is what’s often called devo [devolution] max, or fiscal autonomy; and the other is independence.