From England: A message of support for Alex Salmond and the SNP
Dear Alex Salmond,
You have played an absolute blinder today. Well done. Anyone who knew anything about Scottish politics warned David Cameron not to interfere in the referendum but he just couldn't help himself. And now he looks to everyone in Scotland like an arrogant fool who thought he could dictate the terms and timing of the referendum on Scottish independence to the Scottish Government. Does he not realise that the Scottish people are sovereign; and that they elected a government to deliver them a referendum; and that the government they chose was yours not his? The Scottish Government may not have the legal authority to hold a binding referendum but it has the moral authority.
Ignore the critics who say that you are frit, those same people deny England a referendum on an English parliament because they know they will lose. You are quite right to wait until 2014 so that Scotland can have a full debate on the pros and cons of independence; so that the Scottish people can see that the Calman proposals in the Scotland Bill are inadequate; so that the Scottish people can see what effect the West Lothian Commission will have on the ability of their MPs to represent them at Westminster; and so that the Scottish people can experience life under austerity Britain, caused by the economic incompetence of Westminster politicians (albeit Scottish ones).
Autumn 2014 is a good date for the independence referendum because in 2014 Scotland plays host to the Ryder Cup and the Commonwealth Games, and celebrates the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, and in all likelihood the Scots will be complaining about the British media's biased coverage of England's World Cup campaign. .
You are also right to prevent Westminster from insisting that the referendum should be a straight YES/NO question on Scottish independence. We all know that the Scottish people would prefer Independence Lite (or Independence in Britain as I prefer to call it) and so, as a party of the people, you should do what you can to ensure that Independence Lite is an option.
Gerry Hassan suggests that Scottish Government should use the following wording for the independence referendum:
Do you authorise the Scottish Government to begin negotiations with the UK Government on Scottish independence?
These are words, according to Hassan, that are easily understood by everyone, with no doubts about what it means that is open to claim or counter-claim. I think he is right, no reasonable person could object. But having secured a mandate from the people to enter into negotiations with Westminster over Scottish independence, it is then possible for the two governments to come up with a bipartisan middle-way that can be put to the Scottish people in a legally binding referendum.
Independence (as was pointed out by DougtheDug on this blog) can be declared by Scotland on a unilateral basis, and there's not a great deal that Westminster can do about it. Whereas the problem with Independence Lite is that it has to come about bilaterally: it has to be offered by Westminster and accepted by Scotland. By using Hassan's suggested question you are more likely to engineer a situation in which both Independence and Independence Lite are on the ballot paper.
I would like you to know that there are a great number of people in England that are cheering you on. It's not only the Scots who feel trapped under the weight of the Imperial Parliament, an increasing number of English people do too. England is not a democracy and it lacks the basic trappings of nationhood: Parliament, Government, anthem, national holiday, etc. The government that we're lumbered with - the UK Government - is incapable of speaking for England; it can speak of England but not for England, the English question is ignored and we're left without a vision of an English future - England unimagined. Regrettably there is no English version of Alex Salmond, there is no politician for whom the interests of England are paramount. It doesn't matter how often we express a desire for an English dimension to governance, we are ignored, and it is the multi-national nature of the UK and the Unionists' desire to retain absolute sovereignty at Westminster that is the main reason preventing them from recognising English popular sovereignty. As an Englishman it makes me ashamed to say that you are the greatest hope for England, but at present you are. And not just England, you have the opportunity to shape the democratic future of the entire UK for the better.
Not that I want to put any greater pressure on you.
Good luck and God speed.