The right approach

Writing in The National, Robbie Mochrie wants to “ensure that policies which form the independence platform…“. Perhaps he might explain to this non-academic how policies can form the platform for a constitutional referendum which will decide no policies.

Suppose Robbie Mochrie finds what he’s looking for, how does he propose to guarantee that his “pragmatic plans” will be followed by future governments which are actually elected on the basis of a policy platform?

Does the policy platform he seeks even exist? Can it exist? Is it possible to formulate a detailed and specific policy platform which has the breadth of appeal to voters that will be required? For decades political parties have sought precisely this. None have succeeded in doing more than offer the illusion of the perfect policy platform which was quickly dispelled after their election leaving only disappointment and disillusion. Is that what we want for Scotland?

I am all in favour of having a bright, ambitious vision of what we would like to achieve once our independence has been restored. But it is, in my view, a serious mistake to pretend that this vision is what people are voting on in the constitutional referendum. The referendum will decide one thing only – do we #DissolveTheUnion and thus restore Scotland’s independence. The referendum does not decide what Scotland’s future holds once our independence is restored. The referendum decides only the question of who will decide what Scotland’s future is. It’s not about the shape of our future but who will shape it.

Let’s be honest with voters. Let’s not make promises we cannot be certain will be kept.

Robbie Mochrie appears to envisage a referendum campaign which closely emulates that adopted for the 2014 referendum. This may be fully in keeping with the Sturgeon doctrine. But that doesn’t make it a good idea. And we can’t afford to get it wrong.

All of which is totally academic, of course. The matter of the campaign is subsequent to the matter of the referendum itself. If the referendum itself doesn’t materialise; or if it materialises in the wrong form, then it won’t matter much what kind of campaign is mounted. As things stand, there is no prospect of a free and fair referendum made and managed entirely in Scotland under the auspices of the Scottish Parliament and new National Convention. Securing that referendum has to be our immediate focus.

We cannot decide the form of the campaign until we have settled on the form of the referendum. Because the form of the referendum dictates the form of the campaign. Everything flows from the question on the ballot paper. Bothe the Yes and the No campaigns will take their form from the way the issue is framed.

It is a matter of profound regret and a cause of considerable anger that there has been no meaningful debate about the form of the referendum – and therefore the form of the campaign. The leadership of the SNP has worked very hard to ensure no internal debate, and has turned a determinedly deaf ear to such discussion as there has been in the wider Yes movement. People such as Robbie Mochrie are proceeding on the basis that Nicola Sturgeon’s approach is the right approach or the only approach possible.

There has been no attempt to “sift evidence” and ensure that “pragmatic plans” are laid for a referendum and a campaign which will actually work. As a non-academic, I find that unsatisfactory and unacceptable.