The afternoon was dragging on as I waited for the doorbell to sound.
I was just about to switch off my laptop when I thought I would quickly remind myself of what the Edinburgh Agreement actually said. But the search engine offered another link that caught my eye: “Salmond stuns SNP – May 2011”. Curiosity got the better of me, so I clicked and entered.
The site was the plain old BBC News site, but a page that I had not seen before. As usual for the news stories around that time, it featured big pictures of a beaming Alex Salmond stepping out of a helicopter, but the following pictures and accompanying story were very unfamiliar indeed.
Salmond was widely trailed to deliver an unashamedly triumphalist speech, but departed abruptly from the script distributed to the assembled press. He said:
“Someone told me rumour – that we got a majority. However, I must acknowledge two things from that fact.
“The first is that such a majority confers on me as First Minister, and on the Scottish Government a great privilege and also a great responsibility. We must therefore govern for all of the people of Scotland.
“We have seen in the past at a UK level how narrow and partisan government divides and damages the country. If anyone doubts this, they should look at our mining communities, which were split in the 1980s, with rifts which still have not healed and may never do so.
“So we will leave one-party rule and winner- takes- all to the likes of the Tories. We will not take risks with our nation such as those taken by Margaret Thatcher. Scotland is not like that.
“The second fact which we must acknowledge – and this is linked to the first – is that although the Scottish National Party has majority in the Chamber at Holyrood, we do not have a majority amongst the voters.
“Only 45% of those voting elected us, and on a 50% turnout. So really, we only have about 22% of the vote to support us.
“Friends, and colleagues, this is not a mandate on which any reasonable government could act to take such a momentous decision as Scottish independence.”
At this, Salmond’s Deputy, Nicola Sturgeon visibly blanched. She began to interrupt, but he pressed on:
“Therefore I am saying today that my Scottish Government will now start a process which will seek to unite a clear and demonstrable majority of the Scottish people behind a single proposal for the better governance of Scotland.
“I am and always will be a Scottish Nationalist” (heckles began from his newly elected backbenchers, as Sturgeon sought to restrain her impatience) “and I will always support the idea that Scotland should be an independent country, nuclear free and outside NATO. We should throw of the millstone of the Pound Sterling and either adopt the Euro or develop a Scottish currency of our own to go with our new economy.
“However, I respect my fellow Scots, and I am therefore inviting the leaders of the other parties represented in our Parliament to join with me in a rational, respectful process.”
That process turned out to be the development of the terms of reference of the Kennedy Commission.
Chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy, and supported by the new leaders of the Scottish Labour Party (Johann Lamont), Liberal Democrats (Willie Rennie) and Conservatives (Ruth Davidson), the Commission held many open sessions over the following twelve months.
It was covered live on BBC Alba, making that channel relevant and value for money for the non-Gaelic majority, and attracting million-plus audience figures.
Finally, in October 2013, the Kennedy Report was published. Over 300 pages long, it was not a wish list or a manifesto, but a summary of the collected and sometimes conflicting views which the public and the political parties had submitted. Dame Helena described it as “not a roadmap but an atlas of our hearts and heads.”
The major recommendations of the Kennedy Report were twofold.
The first was that there should be a referendum on the future of Scotland’s constitutional position. This had been promised by the SNP in its majority-winning manifesto, and was also essential to reflect demand as expressed to her Commission from many sides.
The second recommendation was that the governments of the United Kingdom and Scotland should remain neutral in the referendum campaign, with their only roles being to finance the exercise, and to publish a range of balanced and factual “Blue Papers” on the various issues.
These would be edited and approved by an academic board comprising Sir Tom Devine, Professor Adam Tomkins and Sir Tom Hunter, responsible to Sir Kenneth Calman. It was also laid out in the Board’s remit (set by Kennedy) that if any issue of fact was so contentious as to be irreconcilable, both sides would be put forward as possible factuals. However , in these cases, a higher level of academic justification would be required.
And so the voters went to the polls on 18th September 2014.
Their ballot papers were as designed by the Kennedy Commission: an Alternative Vote ballot, with four options:
1. A devolved Scotland with its current powers (including the extra 2012 Scotland Act powers)
2. A devolved Scotland with further powers to be negotiated between the two parliaments
3. An independent Scotland.
4. Direct rule from Westminster, with extra regional government.
The referendum campaign was a mercifully brief four-week affair, and the respective governments and the PM and FM had kept to their neutral roles.
For the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon stepped down from her role as Deputy FM to lead for the independence campaign (although she was later to be dismissed). Johann Lamont led for the current settlement, as Labour had always been the party of devolution, and committed itself to the Morrisonian principle of ‘making what we have work better before demanding more.’ LibDems found Option 2 (“devo-max”) closest to their historic commitment to federalism. The Tories held a fractious conference and finally also came out in favour of the devo-max option.
Option 4 found no support from the mainstream Holyrood parties, but a campaign group was set up by veteran Labour anti-devolutionist Tam Dalyell, supported by ex-Strathclyde Leader Sir Charles Gray. Other members included George Galloway and remnants of the far Left, who logically but unfashionably argued for “the unity of the working classes of Britain.”
Votes were cast on the Alternative Vote system, with voters listing their options in order of preference.
The night of the count went smoothly.
First to be eliminated was Option 4, although many were surprised at the number of first preferences it attracted. However, it was no surprise that many of its second preferences went straight to Option 1 – the status quo.
Next to fall was Option 3, which was less of a surprise, as many voters had been alienated by Sturgeon’s hectoring and shrill debating style early in the campaign (which had led to her sacking), and by the hooliganism shown by its supporters during the campaign.
However, commentators later found that the main stumbling block had been the lack of credible proposals for Scotland’s currency. Quite simply, voters knew that to walk away from the UK meant walking away from the Pound: this had been part of Alex Salmond’s honestly-put proposition, and the people rejected it. Most second preferences went to Option 2.
Option 2 – devomax – had started as the least favoured option, as it was the least well defined. However, it had gained traction during the campaign, as two factors became clearer. The first was that there was widespread support from the UK government parties to entertain real change.
The other was the way in which the parties in Scotland began to work together as the debate went on – it became apparent that they respected that each was trying to get the best for Scotland, and then realised just how much they had in common. The turning point had come when the SNP had sacked Sturgeon for putting off so many voters, to be replaced by the mild-mannered John Swinney.
And so the outcome of the vote was that Option 2 won the day, supported by the second preferences of the independence camp. Devomax was also found to be the Second preference of a majority of Option 1 supporters.
The result was the reconvened Constitutional Convention, and the prospect of a unanimous resolution of the Scottish Parliament to support whatever package it comes up with, as pledged by all party leaders at Holyrood, as set out in their historic joint declaration: “The People of Scotland Have Spoken.”
In turn, the Ed Miliband/Vince Cable Labour/Liberal Coalition in Westminster comprises parties both elected on a mandate to carry out the will of the Scottish people as expressed in the referendum. It will also expect little opposition in the Commons from the Tories, whose manifesto contained a similar pledge, despite the rhetorical flourishes of their new leader, Boris Johnson.
The laptop beeped to tell me of an incoming email. It was the glazier’s bill (again).
I had just a few minutes to read the real headlines before shutting down:
“NHS Scotland in firing line as currency crisis bites – Swinney under pressure”
“NATO says Trident must stay on the Clyde for a further 10 years.”
“EU Commission President: ‘No membership for Scotland without central bank’”
“Salmond popularity at all-time low as Scotland’s voters say ‘You lied to us.’”
“New anti-immigration curbs introduced by Osborne-Laws coalition at Westminster”
Then the doorbell rang. It was the removal van, at last.