Throwing the Union away…

At least that is what the Tories appear intent on doing if this story in the Scotsman is anything to go by (Just for reference, Michael Moore is a Lib Dem MP and is the current of Secretary of State for Scotland). By way of background, the Scottish National Party won a majority government in the Scottish Parliamentary Elections last month, and its leader Alex Salmond promised a referendum on Scottish Independence before the end of his current government.

The Tory backlash came the day after Mr Moore suggested that the first of two referendums would be held on the principle of Scottish independence.

Assuming the Scottish people voted in favour of independence in the first poll, Mr Moore said that a second referendum would then have to be held to ratify an independence deal brokered between the UK and Scottish Governments.

The second vote would be held after the two governments had worked out details such as what proportion of national debt should be taken by an independent Scotland, what share of North Sea oil revenue it would receive and how the Armed Forces would be divided between the two countries.

But Mr Moore’s decision to flag up the prospect of two independence referendums was attacked by Conservatives, who believe that such an approach will add to confusion and will discourage voters from voting “no” to independence in the first vote – thus handing even more political momentum to the SNP.

What Mr. Moore seems to be doing is what Stephane Dion and Jean Cretien did in drafting the Clarity Act in the late 1990s (admittedly following in the footsteps of Stephen Harper who’d previously tabled a private member’s bills the Quebec Contingency Act). He’s beginning to set down the conditions under which Scotland could separate. Admittedly it’s a rather weak first step, but it’s a start.

The Tories claim that by suggesting that two referendums would be required, that Mr. Moore will confuse the poor stupid Scottish voters who will think that since they get two referendums they can all vote yes on the first one.

In fact suggesting that two referendums would hopefully serve to inject a note of realism into any debate on Scottish independence. You can be sure that Alex Salmond would prefer to talk about how independence for Scotland will mean a haggis in every pot, a pet unicorn for every young lass, and a rainbow with a free pot of gold for every one else. What he won’t want to discuss, is questions such as how much of the national debt does Scotland take with it, how many Scots are going to be left unemployed when the Royal Navy removes its submarine forces from Faslane, just who owns the now-nationalized Royal Bank of Scotland and Halifax Bank of Scotland and various and sundry other issues. You would hope that Moore’s comments would raise the notion in Scots’ minds that in the event of a yes vote in an independence referendum, all sorts of facets of life deriving from the Union that they take for granted would no longer be guaranteed, and that the government of the United Kingdom would no longer have any interest in guaranteeing their survival.

So are the Tories really so stupid? Well an argument can be made that they are, but in this case I suspect their motivations may be more malign – they might prefer Scotland (and Northern Ireland, and perhaps Wales) to secede from the Union and with it damage Labour’s competitiveness. Since Thatcher, the Tories have been deeply hated north of the border. They currently hold one of 59 Scottish seats in Westminster. Labour currently hold 41. If Scotland were to leave the Union, overnight the Tories electoral position would be strengthened.

Don’t expect Call-me-Dave to put up much of a fight if the SNP holds a referendum on Scottish independence.