Frankly, the legal intricacies of EU accession, successor states etc. mean sod all to me. Like everything the EU does, the terms of the new Scottish state’s entry to the club will be decided by politicos and civil servants in back rooms on the basis of political expediency. Whatever legal advice either side receive is only as good as the laws it’s based upon, and the wriggle room within those laws will be used in the actual negotiations to get around whatever obstacles may be there. There will likely be some bumps and potholes on the road in, but the politically expedient outcome for all parties is an independent Scotland in the EU, and that will in all likelihood be the end result. It all makes for some interesting academic discussion, but in terms of determining the ultimate destination for Scotland I feel it’s pin-dancing. Then again, I’m an incorrigible cynic. [And for those fond of pointing to Spain as a massive rock on that road, unshifting and unyielding to the idea of newly independent nations elsewhere setting a precedent to their own agitators, think about whether the Spanish would fancy having 2 non-EU countries, smarting from their blocked attempts to become members 28 or 29, controlling main entry and exit points to and from Iberia and the rest of the continent, particularly at a time of deep economic malaise in Spain. Gibraltar has some experience of such tactics at the hands of the Spanish themselves – always best to learn from your opponents – and as the Spanish playing hardball just now know, the prospect of the Catalans and Basques playing hardball post-independence will put a stop to any more posturing from the Spaniards.]
I can see why opponents of independence would want to make hay with these legal grey areas though. They see the onus of proof as falling on the Yes campaign and the Scottish Government, and given the lack of black or white answers in play, look to undermine the independence case via such uncertainties. I think it’s pretty disingenuous myself, and I’d like to see Catherine Stihler MEP pursue the principle with equal energy by asking the Westminster government what legal advice they’ve sought with regards the UK pulling out of the EU, something the backwoodsmen of the Tory backbenches seem to be propagating with ever increasing vigour recently. But that’s politics.
So why the Scottish Government didn’t kick this one into the long grass for as long as possible, I don’t know. Regardless of the sophistry employed, the impression was definitely left that formal legal advice from within the Government was floating around somewhere within St Andrew’s House. Going to the mattresses to defend its non-release under Freedom of Information may have been technically correct within the letter of the law, but to the average schmuck – myself included – it looks bad. A simple statement months ago, along the lines of “we’ll wait for the formal consultation to be analysed and published before moving to the formal legal advice stage” (which is where we are now after Tuesday’s statement from the DFM), laying out a process and rough timetable, seems infinitely preferable to the last week of the press writing stories about trust and efficiency, rather than the fact that the consultation revealed that the majority of responses were broadly supportive of the government’s preferred framework for how the referendum was to proceed.
That was the afternoon tea to the leaden breakfast/brunch (delete depending on employment status) that emerged earlier as John Finnie and Jean Urquhart announced their resignation from the party and parliamentary group. Having discussed that at the time there’s not much to add, other than to point to the contrast between the reception they received from virtually everyone in the party – respect, sadness, and best wishes for the future – with another individual who left soon after, holding aloft his hitherto unknown concerns about the EU and currency union as part of his holy trinity of Bad Things About The SNP. Life is obviously tough for these “leading activists” I’ve apparently been running up and down stairs with all these years, so nimble and swift on their feet it was almost as if they weren’t there at all…
So not my greatest week as an SNP member (although the time
the computer I accidentally deleted a year’s worth of canvass records was probably worse §). Coming off the back of an emotional conference, losing 2 MSPs, and making a fair old Horlicks of the EU legal advice stuff. It was looking bad by Tuesday afternoon.
But of course, you can always rely on the clots running the show at Labour HQ to spectacularly make a complete Archie of things. Putting out a statement with Paul Martin’s name attached branding Salmond a “liar” was an error of Chris Iwulemo proportions. Firstly because his credibility when it comes to these things is low already – witness his previous feeble attempts to use the Ministerial Code against Government ministers. Another brainfart from him was never going to carry much credibility with anyone, and could safely be filed under “the usual guff”. Secondly because the mere act of using the word “liar” was immediately going to focus a chunk of the attention onto the Labour front bench to justify it. As Iain Macwhirter said during the week, “politicians very rarely lie”. So if you’re planning to take the whole thing to DEFCON 1, you’d better make damn sure you’ve got your sources and justification lined. A 6-month old YouTube clip from the Andrew Neil show you’ve had gathering electronic dust in a virtual desk drawer isn’t going to cut it, in particular when you doctor the transcript in your press release. People usually ask questions about things like that. So we had footage on Reporting Scotland of Martin looking sweaty and uncomfortable and avoiding having to use the actual word “liar” on camera, and Jackie Baillie down the line on Scotland Tonight having to defend the Labour accusations when the spotlight should have been on the Government and the FoI request.
And First Minister’s Questions… I doubt there are words in the English language to describe the calumny Lamont & Davidson presented as their version of holding the executive to account. Let’s get the crystal ball out right here – Ruth Davidson should make the most of signing her Christmas cards “Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party” because it’ll be the last time she spreads festive greetings from her current position. Comparing Alex Salmond to Bill Clinton must rank amongst the kindest things the FM’s opponents have ever said about him, yet Davidson seemed to think this was the kind of deadly satire needed to pierce his armour. A wee word, Ruth – most punters who care see Clinton as a sharp, successful political operator who led the Democrats to two successive Presidential election victories after 12 years in the wilderness, looking like Plato compared to his successor, despite his cigar-chomping foibles. If you fancy drawing parallels between him and Alex, go right ahead. Then there was the Nixon comparison. The words “I am not a crook” gushed forth from her gub, and for a second I felt sure she would be pulled up by the Presiding Officer. That she did not I feel owes more to the grey area around Parliamentary etiquette when quoting others, and given other circumstances when FMQs does not carry the charge it did on Thursday, I reckon she’d have been humiliated by the PO into withdrawing. That then led to Salmond producing the Romney comparison, a line put out in a press release a couple of weeks back – which, incidentally, I thought was pretty weak at the time (oh what great political antennae I possess) – but which came into its own when faced with Davidson’s kamikaze tactics. Do none of her advisers ever have a look and see what the other side are up to? “Ruth, just a word. That US Presidents thing you were planning on going on? Best leave it.” Have a watch back of FMQs and you’ll see Annabel Goldie behind Davidson, jaw hanging open at the mince being pedalled by her former protege. The only question now is whether she hangs on until the easter eggs are in the reduced bin, or at full price.
Johann, of course, came first. It’s now becoming a running joke that her only public appearances happen at FMQs. You’d like to think she spends a good chunk of the other 167 1/2 hours of her week preparing for Thursday lunchtimes. If she is, it appears her preparation must consist of playing Ker-Plunk with marbles etched with the FM’s face. Great fun I’m sure, but not cutting a lot of opposition mustard.
I feel cruel just going through her performance. A year from now, it may well seem that this was the biggest chance of her leadership to land one on the FM. There will undoubtedly be other mistakes made by the administration in the months to come, but this was one made for an opposition leader. A situation created, in part, by the FoI requests of Lamont’s own MEP, doubtless made in the knowledge or hunch that she was onto, well, literally nothing. Weeks and months to prepare for an event that could’ve made her leadership count in one fell swoop. Instead it was a carbon copy of every other appearance at the FMQ lectern. If great politicians rise to the occasion, Johann was the failed dough tossed in the bin in the early rounds of the Great British Bake Off.
So, a week best put down to… I don’t know. Nerves? Nine-dimensional chess? I hope it’s all the entree for the great debate we’ve been promised though, cause another 103 weeks like the one we’ve had and I’ll be ready for the knacker’s yard.
§ The wonders of computer technology sorted it eventually. Though not after a great deal of worry and vodka.