This is Thursday, 27th November, the day of publication of the Smith Commission Report on extra powers for the Scottish Parliament. Tomorrow, Ed Miliband will speak in Glasgow. When he does so, he should bear in mind his responsibilities to the Scottish people, and seek to reinforce his political credibility from the opportunity which the occasion represents.
His responsibilities to the Scottish people are both political and democratic.
Politically, he must support the clear mandate given by the people of Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. He must speak uncompromisingly for the 2 million.
Democratically, he must support the referendum process: the people of Scotland have spoken and our decision is paramount, no matter how many flags are waved and sentimental or warlike songs are sung by those who will not accept that verdict. The referendum was for real and, as the SNP told us repeatedly, a one-off chance to decide whether Scotland should be an independent country. The people are sovereign, and our decision is clear. No means No.
Moreover, it is practical common sense that the recommendations of the Smith Commission should be given time to pass into law and be implemented. It is also practical common sense that the consequences of Smith should be allowed time to judge their effectiveness. The timescale for these processes is clear but not short.
The precedent of the Calman proposals show that legislation in 2012 is leading to implementation in 2016. So legislation on Smith in 2015 (after the General Election) would suggest targeting implementation for around 2019. The first post-Smith Holyrood election will therefore be in 2020, and the effectiveness of a post-Smith Scottish Government of any stripe will not be voted on until 2024. It would reasonable to allow at least two electoral cycles to pass before undertaking an evaluation, to see how different administrations deal with a range of internal and external pressures. Therefore such a process would not be appropriate until at least around 2030.
The opportunity offered to Ed Miliband is to show his political strength and leadership qualities. Ken Livingstone insists that Ed is the toughest-minded Labour leader he has met, and compares him to John Smith. Now is the time to show it. Ed must set out how he will honour the vow he made, and the verdict of the Scottish people. This should comprise two elements.
The first must be to incorporate the Smith proposals into the 2015 Labour General Election manifesto. This is obvious.
What is also obvious is that Ed Miliband must rule out a further referendum or any other concession towards independence under his Labour leadership. This must remain the case, irrespective of election results in Scotland, and irrespective of manifesto commitments of any party elected to government at Holyrood.
Independence may be the aspiration of the SNP, the Greens and others. However, following Smith it is clear that responsibility for the constitution remains a reserved power, and the people of Scotland have agreed to that in rejecting independence.
So even if the current opinion polls are correct and the SNP were to gain a majority of seats in Scotland in 2015 and 2016, Ed Miliband must insist: no new referendum on his watch. End of story.
Having set out that principle, Ed can present this position as the background to a challenge to the other political parties. To the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, he should say:
“Will you join me in protecting the outcome of the referendum and with it the democratic will of the majority in Scotland? If so, sign up to the same guarantees on no independence, no ifs, no buts.”
To the SNP and its allies, his challenge should be:
“Your aspiration for independence has been rejected. However, you have been integral to the deliberations and conclusions of the Smith Commission. It has taken courage and no small compromise to do so. Therefore it is logical and sensible that you should invest in the success of the implementation of its proposals, and you should commit to do so.
“I have set out that there is no logical, political or democratic case for you to pursue your aim of independence at the next election, or for several thereafter, if the Smith proposals are to be judged as a constitutional settlement.
“To present independence or even a further referendum to the electorate would be to mislead the electorate, as it will be vetoed in the name of the 2 million Scots who voted No, and whose view I am championing. Therefore my challenge to you is that you should accept the will of the Scottish people and commit to making this new settlement work for the people of Scotland.
“It is your choice: you can choose either to be part of progressive devolution, or to continue to go down the longest of blind alleys in pursuit of independence. The choice is between the unity of purpose offered by Smith, and continuing division that is inevitable if the battles of the referendum are continuously re-run and repeated.”
By setting out these challenges, Ed Miliband will show leadership on behalf of the Labour Party and on behalf of the 2 million No voters who won the referendum.
He will also offer a route whereby the people of Scotland can unite and begin to heal the bitter divisions which have been caused by the referendum.
And if the SNP refuses to meet his challenges, they will be forever seen as the party which chose dogma over commonsense, and much worse, chose division over unity.