For a host of reasons Scotland feels just a little bit different this June than is usual. With the sort of high-twenties temperatures we have had over recent days, and with back-to-back World Cup matches to provide temptation, many of us would ordinarily be thinking end-of-term thoughts as the political year draws to a close. Not so summer 2014: for better or worse, this season Scottish politics simply refuses to take a break.
And so this was the week that Nicola Sturgeon launched the ScottishGovernment’s draft Scottish Independence Bill, which included an interim constitution for an independent Scotland. We’re told that the constitution is the first such written document of its kind ever produced on these shores and that it will make a huge difference to our quality of life (leaving aside its pledges not to change quite a lot of things, like the monarch as head of state, the structure of the Scottish Parliament and the role of the judiciary). Still, nuclear weapons are formally barred and “the people” are “sovereign”, not the legislature or – erm – The Sovereign (sure I’ve missed something).
We’ll also get a constitutional convention in the immediate wake of the referendum to give ‘the people’ and not just the political classes the opportunity agree upon a permanent charter. In the meantime, I expect that, like me, many referendum watchers will be calmly waiting until September 19th before deciding whether to take the plunge and devote valuable hours to the task of drafting responses to the consultation which closes a month later.
Up on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill the leaders of the unionist parties got together to issue a joint statement committing their parties to a different brand of constitutional revision. Each pledged to “strengthen further the powers of the Scottish Parliament, in particular in fiscal responsibility and social security” in the event of a No vote. That’s tax and welfare in plain English, but what we didn’t get was a blueprint showing precisely the extent of the changes, or indeed, how they would affect the constitutional balance of the rest of the UK. Apparently, half of Scots believe Holyrood will get more powers after a No vote, so Better Together have a job to fully persuade voters that they can and will deliver.
Meanwhile, in what has become a continuing trend, people from out-with the usual Holyrood orbit kept popping up having a say on the referendum. Ed Balls threatened to resign in the event of any post-independence currency union, leaving some to wonder whether this would provoke George Osborne and Danny Alexander to reconsider their stance on the issue. Sir John Major warned that Scotland would trade “real influence” for “possible irrelevance” under independence. Even Chinese Premier Li Keqiang got stuck in, telling journalists he would prefer a ‘united’ United Kingdom.
At the end of the day though, it is people with a vote here in Scotland who will decide the outcome and shape the aftermath of the referendum. In the business community differences of opinion remain over the economic prospects of an independent Scotland. Keith Cochrane, CEO of the Weir Group predicts a “substantial hiatus” in future investment in the event of a Yes vote, together with a potential move south of the Border for the company’s Glasgow HQ. On the other hand, Jim McColl, boss of Clyde Blowers Capital will ‘consider’ a move in the opposite direction, with a shift in his own domicile from Monaco to Scotland if it votes for independence.
For those interested in where things stand though, the average of polls in recent weeks puts Yes at 44 per cent and No at 56 per cent when ‘don’t knows’ are discounted. Still, a long distance to cover for Yes in the 90 days of campaign remaining, but enough uncertainty to keep us away from the football and deckchairs for the foreseeable future.
Account Director, Indigo