Wendy Alexander, the leader of the Labour Party in the Scottish Parliament, yesterday made a shock announcement. She announced that she is considering bringing her own referendum on Scottish independence forward ahead of the SNP Government (who plan to introduce the bill in early 2010).
The Labour Party in Scotland, as with the UK party, is a strong unionist party that will campaign against independence (along with the Scottish Conservatives and the Scottish Liberal Democrats). It is a surprised because she has been involved in talks with the Tory and Lib Dem Leaders (Annabel Goldie and Nichol Stephen) over providing a third option on the ballot paper.
However, her plans are to put a straight forward yes or no bill. I agree with what Wendy Alexander has said are her reasons for doing this, but the probable real reasons I do not agree with.
The SNP Government are deliberately waiting until the end of their session in parliament (the next election being due in May 2011) while saying they are confident there is the support in Scotland for independence (despite polls placing it at between 20% and 40%). Following the SNP’s shock win last May the support for independence grew, but over the last year it has subsided to levels more reflecting pre-election support. If the SNP are so confident then they should end the uncertainty and let the pole of Scotland express their views and let the country move on. With the independence referendum out of the road the Parliament will be able to focus more on successful governing Scotland without having this big constitutional change hanging over it.
The SNP say they will not be rushed into it, but if Wendy can get the Bill before Parliament and can convince enough MSPs to support it then the SNP will be forced into holding the referendum several years. Also, if a bill for an independence referendum were to be placed before parliament and they abstained from the vote or voted against it they would look rather foolish and may end up being resented by the Scottish People.
Personally I am a supporter of the Union, but would like to see a bit more power flow to the Scottish Parliament and for it’s powers to be largely protected. As it currently stands, the Scottish parliament can be overruled by Westminster and the UK Government retains the power to legislate on devolved competencies for Scotland.
Interesting times ahead.